1,500 people protested in Trafalgar Square on 1 November as part of the International Day of Action in support of Kobane, the Syrian Kurdish town being besieged by ISIS.
A big majority of those taking part were Kurdish, an even mix of age and women, all ages, and from a wide variety of organisations. Unfortunately non-Kurdish left, labour movement and student activists were present only in small numbers – probably because the conflict in Kurdistan does not fit the “Western powers vs anti-imperialists” template that much of the British left is used to operating with. I only saw one trade union banner, Paddington RMT. Kurds aside, there were few student activists there except a smattering of NCAFC supporters. Of the “left-wingers” on the National Union of Students executive who insist they support the Kurds despite voting down a motion to support them, only one was there.
Left-wing organisations which had made some effort included Workers' Liberty, the “autonomist” Plan C group and a variety of anarchists. The SWP and Socialist Party were there, but in very small numbers, particularly given their size.
We need to fight to mobilise the British left and labour movement on this issue.
There was also a good turnout from the Worker-communist Parties of Kurdistan, Iraq and Iran (Hekmatists), who we worked with to mobilise for the demonstration. The WCP comrades had a very lively and visible presence in the square, and Dashty Jamal's speech from the platform was well received.
The speakers were a real mixed bag. Most were quite general in what they said. Iranian socialist and secularist Maryam Namazie caused a bit of a stir by (rightly) attacking the SWP for their softness on Islamism. Chris Nineham of Stop the War/Counterfire spent most of his speech denouncing the Western powers, which on one level is fair enough – but he didn't dare to make the case for saying “Stop the bombing”, inserting “Oppose intervention” right at the end in the same breath as “Long live Kobane”.
As far as I could tell there were no placards, from Kurdish activists or anyone else, opposing Western intervention or even criticising it. For the SWP, etc, it is clearly one message for one audience and another for another.
We sold about a hundred copies of Solidarity, and collected two hundred signatures in support of Shahrokh Zamani and Reza Shahabi. We also worked hard to promote the 21 November fundraiser for the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees which we are organising with the Hekmatist comrades. People on the demonstration, particularly young people, were generally very open to discussing.
As a left, let's try to do better!