- Created: Saturday, 26 September 2009 10:26
- Written by Michael MacGregor
On Saturday 18 January people around the world responded to the call from the International ANSWER coalition – Act Now to Stop War and End Racism – for mid-January actions against war on Iraq to mark the 12th anniversary of the start of the 1991 Gulf War. Actions took place in at least 32 countries from Mexico to Japan.
Across the United States hundreds of thousands of people rallied in dozens of towns and cities. In Washington up to 200,000 people faced the bitter cold to march on the capital in the biggest anti-war demonstration since the Vietnam era. On the same day, 100,000 marched in San Francisco (see report below), 20,000 in Portland, Oregon, and thousands more attended co-ordinated actions in nearly every US city.
After the main event in Washington thousands of people marched to the US Navy installations on the Potomac River demanding to carry out an inspection for weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile other activists planned to inspect their own country’s ‘presidential palace’, the White House. Such a massive mobilisation against a military action that had not yet begun is without historical precedent. A clear majority of US citizens opposes a unilateral attack against Iraq, despite a constant stream of fear-mongering propaganda from the capitalist political parties and the corporate media.
The burgeoning anti-war movement is forcing a confrontation between anti-imperialists and opportunists, most evident in the split that is emerging in the labour movement. On 11 January, 110 trade union representatives, representing millions of US workers, gathered in Chicago to launch US Labor Against the War (USLAW). The meeting passed a resolution which recognised the war as an assault on working-class families in the US and in Iraq, a massive diversion of funds from ‘schools, hospitals, housing and social security’, a ‘pretext for attacks on labour, civil, immigrant and human rights at home’ and ‘a cover and distraction for the sinking economy, corporate corruption and layoffs’.
Despite this growing opposition, the leaders of the AFL-CIO, the largest union in the United States representing 13 million workers, have refused to discuss the impending attack on Iraq. Instead, in a letter to Congress on 7 October, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney declared ‘America certainly has the right to act unilaterally if we need to do so to protect our national interests, but the AFL-CIO strongly believes that our national interests are better protected by multilateral action’. This reflects the position of the Democratic Party, the CIA and many in the defence establishment who believe that imperialist objectives can more effectively be met if US aggression maintains the cover of ‘multilateralism’ and UN approval. However, the dominant themes at the massive demonstrations in Washington and San Francisco were not ‘pragmatism’ or concerns for how the US can best ‘protect our national interests’, but a principled opposition to imperialist plunder.
San Francisco was the scene of the second largest demonstration in the United States. As well as calling for an end to sanctions and war against Iraq, demonstrators linked in the struggle against racism in the US, including the cases of Mumia Abu Jamal and the Miami Five. Around a thousand protestors broke away from the main route of the march to carry out direct actions in the commercial district of the city. Among the targets of the activists was the British Consulate, which was painted with slogans against Britain’s role in the war.
The radical left, church groups, immigrant and civil rights organisations, environmental groups, veterans, labour unions and ethnic organisations were all represented, while the Democratic party was conspicuously absent, except for a few black representatives who spoke from the platform.
It was clear that tens of thousands of north Americans who have never protested before felt the need to show their opposition. Many young people and high school students were in the march. The basic economic motives behind the war are taken for granted: ‘No blood for oil’ was a very popular handwritten placard. There were some pacifist slogans, such as ‘Not in our name’, but political and economic themes predominated: ‘Drop Bush, not bombs’. There were numerous Palestinian flags and many youth wore keffiyeh – a symbol of the challenge to Zionism that has been growing on US campuses over the past year.
ANSWER’s anti-racist, anti-imperialist themes have helped broaden the movement, drawing in ethnic and immigrant organisations. Significant numbers of black people were on the New York march; in San Francisco there were contingents of South Asians, Filipinos and people from other Asian communities. The ‘all-volunteer’ US military is built on the economic conscription of its poorest citizens, making it important to reach out to their families.
Although we’ve started early, the opposition is not strong enough yet to prevent the war, but never has US imperialism been faced with stronger, broader or better-prepared opposition before the bombs fall and the body bags begin to return.
San Francisco correspondent
Protests around the world
Meanwhile, on the US-Mexico border, US and Mexican demonstrators gathered from the cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. Demonstrations were also held in Mexico City and Guatemala. In Canada at least 20,000 braved –20°C temperatures in Montreal to condemn war against Iraq and demand that Canada does not take part in any invasion. In Moscow activists demonstrated outside the US Embassy with their red flags and banners to the sound of revolutionary songs played from loudspeakers on the back of a lorry.
Pakistan saw a coalition of different democratic, secular and left organisations lead demonstrations in Lahore and other cities. In Rawalpindi several thousand school children formed a human chain to show their opposition to the war. Several thousand gathered in Tokyo and other towns and cities in Japan as well as outside US military bases while in Spain demonstrators marched to the Torrejon air base near Madrid which could be used to attack Iraq. More than 10,000 people marched through Berlin on Sunday 12 January.
Representatives from 40 countries gathered at the second African Social Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia between 5 and 9 January to oppose neo-liberal globalisation in Africa. They resolved to ‘support all peoples under threat from imperialist aggression and wars which endanger the lives of millions of innocents’.
Opinion polls show that feelings against war on Iraq are growing. Three out of four Germans now oppose war and the figure for France is similar even if war is given the fig leaf of justification by the UN Security Council. In Spain and Italy majorities against the war are over 60% and the total for Europe and Asia together is over 70%. As in Britain the decisive factor in the anti-war movement will be whether it is led by opportunist forces or whether anti-imperialist and revolutionary organisations are able to channel the peoples’ opposition to war into effective resistance.
Scottish railworkers take a stand against war
At the beginning of January, the rail company EWS attempted to take disciplinary action against two freight train drivers who had refused to move trains carrying weapons and munitions bound for use against the Iraqi people. One stated: ‘It was a political protest over the threat to attack Iraq. It was a sign that as individuals and workers we were not prepared to be part of a murderous war, a conscientious objection to helping kill Iraqi civilians.’
The drivers were expected to move war materiel between the Glen Douglas weapons base in Scotland, which is the largest store of NATO weapons in Europe, and naval depots on the west coast. The drivers’ ASLEF branch in Motherwell has backed its members and issued a clear statement supporting them, saying it is ‘totally opposed to any conflict with Iraq and the USA’s seemingly headlong rush into war’. The statement pledged to defend any action that members take to challenge the war.
A week later anti-war activists blocked the road outside Glen Mallon naval base where the warship Ark Royal was awaiting weapons, munitions and supplies and held up loading for four hours, while another activist locked on to the main depot gates. Other activists swam out and chained themselves to the warship’s anchors.
FRFI 171 February / March 2003