CamSAW | 31.10.2002 19:29 | Cambridge
Following the Stop the War Coalition’s call for a National Day of Action (backed by the National Union of Students – NUS), several hundred students and members of University staff have attended a peaceful rally in Market Square at midday, Thursday 31st October, to demonstrate their opposition to the Government’s plans for war against Iraq. Hundreds more wore white armbands in solidarity with the protests, and to oppose a war of aggression.
Following the rally, and in accordance with Tony Benn’s call to “stop the schools,” the Gordon Laboratory in the Austin Building, New Museum Site was occupied. Around 300-350 students took part in this show of symbolic civil disobedience, organised and lead by Cambridge Students Against the War (CamSAW). The Gordon Laboratory had been chosen from a shortlist of possible occupation venues for its “strong links” (the official Gordon Laboratory Open Day June 2003 website) with the defence companies QinetiQ and DSTL. These are the successor companies to DERA (Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, MoD owned), the company which “stimulated” (the same Gordon Laboratory website), the creation of the Gordon Laboratory. Today, DSTL (Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) is still owned by the MoD, QinetiQ is being privatised, and the Blair Government has of late chosen the Carlyle Group as the preferred bidder (The Guardian, 4th September). The Carlyle group is a US private equity firm, and employs a host of former politicians, amongst them John Major and George Bush Senior.
The reasons for the protestors’ opposition to war against Iraq were broad, ranging from general opposition to military action as a method for the resolution of international conflicts, to concern and outrage at the overt imperialist overtones of this latest plan for military intervention. Says Nicholas Martin, CamSAW’s Press Spokesman, “A case of legitimate self-defence against external attack can clearly not be made to justify this war, which means that the government is contemplating fighting a war of aggression. This is a war crime, sadly and simply.” Others stressed the imperialist dimensions of a war that appears dedicated to controlling oil and reshuffling Middle Eastern geopolitics in a way more favourable to Western Power. As Sara Daniels put it “I believe this war is for oil, not for altruistic purposes,” echoing suspicions voiced in the past months by the likes of Mo Mowlam and George Monbiot. Strong concern was also voiced over the possibility that war on Iraq would fuel Islamist terrorism, and the dangers this poses to the UK. If terrorists can hit places as diverse as Bali, New York and Aden, there is little reason why they should not be able to also target Britain. Finally, and for most, crucially, war against Iraq would lead to yet more civilian suffering for an innocent population already hard-pressed by sanctions and the murderous regime of a former stooge of the West.
A short scuffle with the police at the beginning of the occupation apart, the day passed peacefully, and in good spirits. The strength of Cambridge students’ opposition to the war was amply demonstrated. But how effective is student protest? “Of course, one lone University occupation is not going to stop the war,” says CamSAW’s Press Spokesman, “however, Cambridge was not alone – numerous occupations took place nationwide, and hundreds of thousands protested throughout the country. Collectively, we can force the government to abandon its plans. If war really breaks out, then this was just a foretaste of things to come.”