Hundreds of thousands people took to the streets of London and other towns and cities on 13 January 2024 in the first mass protests of the year against the ongoing slaughter of the Palestinians. The demonstrations were fuelled by huge anger at the Tory government sending Royal Air Force jets to hit targets in Yemen, as the extremely junior ‘partner’ in US president Joe Biden’s airstrikes against the Houthis.
US imperialism has consistently asserted that it doesn’t want the current situation to escalate into a regional war, as has the Tory government. No doubt this is something both would rather avoid; it would have huge economic and political consequences. The airstrikes they carried out are, nonetheless, the biggest single escalation of the conflict so far, and risk ratcheting it up significantly.
Biden and Sunak have justified the airstrikes by the Iran-backed Shia Houthi’s targeting of more than 25 ships in the Red Sea since November. Yet the Houthi’s stated precondition for stopping attacks on shipping is sufficient humanitarian aid reaching the Palestinians trapped in the Gaza Strip under Israeli military bombardment, facing starvation and the winter. The response of Biden and Sunak? Attacking the Houthis while continuing to back the Israeli regime’s slaughter.
It is not clear if the US and UK attacks will have some effect on the Houthi’s military capabilities short term. But it will certainly not achieve any other goals. It will strengthen rather than undermine the Houthi’s domestic support.
Biden is the fourth consecutive US president to order military strikes on Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East. A coalition led by the Saudi regime, with US support, fought a war against the Houthis over eight years. Thirty million people, 80% of the population, were left in urgent need of humanitarian aid, while tens of thousands were killed. However, the Houthis remained in power in the West of Yemen.
The airstrikes can only achieve an increase in the tensions in the region which, in turn, will increase the danger of terrorist attacks across the world, not least in Britain and the US.
Sunak gave the order to take part in the bombing, safe in the knowledge he would face no significant opposition in parliament. Sir Keir Starmer, so-called leader of the opposition, had been informed of the airstrikes beforehand, and made clear his full support, as he has done publicly since. Nothing could make it clearer that Starmer will act in the interests of the British capitalist class in government, including playing the traditional role of tail ending US imperialism. The Liberal Democrats have fulminated about the need for a retrospective vote, but have not actually opposed the bombing!
While Sunak might face no significant resistance in the Palace of Westminster, it is a different question among the population. For many, especially young people and those from a Muslim background, the horrific plight of the Palestinians is currently the central issue motivating them to take action. But it is far from the only question causing the deep anger felt by the majority – against this government first and foremost, but also against all the capitalist politicians who represent the interests of the elites.
Post Office scandal
The electrifying effect of the TV drama ‘Mr Bates vs the Post Office’ is one sign of the elemental rage in British society against the treatment of the ‘little people’ by those at the top.
In addition to the Post Office and the owners of Fujitsu, who made the flawed Horizon computer system and then covered up its flaws, every major party is in the dock for this huge miscarriage of justice. On top of the Tories’ clear culpability, this scandal has reminded everyone of the Liberal Democrat’s role in implementing vicious austerity as part of the Tory-Liberal coalition government. Their leader, Sir Ed Davey, was Post Office minister and refused even to meet the justice campaigner Alan Bates.
Nor are Labour off the hook. As prime minister, Tony Blair ignored warnings about problems with Horizon, while Starmer was Director of Public Prosecutions and therefore ultimately responsible for some of the wrongful convictions.
Having done nothing over decades, public pressure has now forced Sunak to take action via parliament, which he pledges will “exonerate and compensate victims”. The strength of the public outrage has forced him to promise action.
But why stop there? The sub-postmasters are not the only campaign fighting for justice. How about the thousands of victims of the blood transfusion scandal or the Hillsborough football stadium disaster? Come to that, how about the many who have suffered police brutality and criminal charges whilst involved in protest, from the miners at Orgreave in 1984, to the students protesting against increased tuition fees in 2010? All the endless legal obfuscation and delay suffered by the sub-postmasters and all these other campaigns have been shown to be totally unnecessary.
The Socialist Party is fighting to build the anti-war movement, as well as the struggles against all the injustice faced by working-class people here in Britain. Not least is the battle to defeat the latest Tory anti-trade union laws, the minimum service levels legislation, which is attempting to further curtail our right to strike. One essential part of all those battles is fighting for the creation of a political voice that fights in the interests of the majority, instead of standing with the elites.
It is clear we are on course for a Starmer-led government, but that it – like Blair’s New Labour – will act in the interests of the capitalist class. However, even a small bloc of MPs in parliament fighting for working-class interests, including Jeremy Corbyn for example, and others excluded from Labour, would increase the pressure on that Labour-led government enormously. Whether it was supporting strikes, moving votes against war, or campaigning relentlessly for sub-postmasters and their ilk, MPs fighting our corner would be a step forward.
We need much more than that, however. Here in Britain, the working class needs its own party, fighting for the socialist transformation of society, starting with taking the levers of power out of the hands of the capitalists, nationalising the major corporations and banks, and beginning to build a democratic planned economy. The same thing is needed in other countries across the world, not least in the Middle East.
Before the brutal war in Yemen it, like many countries across the region, was part of the Arab Spring, where the poor masses rose up and pushed out old dictatorships. In Yemen, like elsewhere, the masses’ lack of their own party allowed other forces to step in, including the Houthis, and a brutal civil war ensued. The fight for the working class and poor to have their own parties is essential preparation to make sure future mass movements end differently.