World-wide protests demand: `Don't attack Iraq!'
World-wide protests demand: `Don't attack Iraq!'
BY ROHAN PEARCE
The wave of global anti-war protests on January 18 was a massive show of opposition by the world's working people — in particular those in the United States — to a US war on Iraq. The protests also signal that the US administration no longer enjoys a free hand to pursue its aggressive, post-September 11 imperial agenda.
Up to 500,000 people mobilised in the huge Washington demonstration, while 200,000 marched in San Francisco demonstrations. Many other anti-war protests took place across the US: in Portland, Oregon, 20,000 protested; in Montpelier, Vermont, 3000 marched; 5000 protested in Tucson, Arizona; and more than 1000 protested in Salt Lake City, Utah.
In Las Vegas, Nevada — the US gambling capital — 200 people protested; a sign at the demonstration read “Elvis hates war”. Three hundred rallied in Houston, Texas. A similar number rallied in Orange County, California. In Lansing, Michigan, several hundred marched. In Florida, around 200 people protested in St Augustine, 500 in Tampa and 400 in Venice, according to an Associated Press (AP) report.
In Des Moines, Iowa, AP reported, “More than 125 marched two miles in temperatures that felt as if they were below zero”. More than 500 protested in Indianapolis, Indiana. Eight-hundred people protested in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Protesters performed street theatre in Richmond, Kentucky.
There were protests in other parts of the world. One-thousand people marched in Egypt. A banner at the protest stated: “Iraq and Palestine one issue”.
In Amman, Jordan, 300 people protested and burnt flags; 4000 protested in Lebanon. Ten thousand demonstrated in the Gaza Strip in occupied Palestine. There were also protests in Turkey and Syria.
In Bologna, Italy, part of a 2000-strong rally was tear-gassed by police; 2000 people protested in Florence. In Germany, several thousand people attended protests in Tuebingen, Rostock and outside a US base in Heidelberg. Around 1000 protested in Austria. A small group of activists protested in Moscow, Russia, chanting. “US hands off Iraq”.
Protests were also held in Spain, Argentina and South Africa.
AP reported that in Japan, “Students wearing face masks lampooning President Bush or carrying toy guns with flowers rallied in Tokyo.” Hundreds marched in India and 500 demonstrated in Lahore, Pakistan.
In Britain, 2000 marched in Bradford and 2500 rallied in Liverpool. In Ireland, 3000 protested in Dublin. Five-thousand people marched in Sweden. Between 5000-6000 rallied on January 17 in Switzerland. Anti-war protests were held in Belgium.
The January 18 protests are just the start. Huge anti-war mobilisations are expected throughout Europe, US and Australia on February 15-16. Organisers expect millions to take part in demonstrations on those days, boosted by the huge US mobilisations.
After taking stock of the massive size and breadth of the protests, even the New York Times felt compelled to caution the Bush administration that it “would be wise to see the demonstrators as a clear sign that noticeable numbers of Americans no longer feel obliged to salute the administration's plans because of the shock of Sept. 11 and that many harbor serious doubts about his march toward war... [P]eaceable throngs of mainstream Americans came forward demanding more of a dialogue from political leaders.”
AP on the day of the demonstrations explained, “Most Americans want the [US] to take more time seeking a peaceful solution in Iraq rather than moving quickly into a military confrontation”. AP was reporting on a Newsweek poll conducted on January 16-17 and a CNN-Time poll conducted on January 15-16. The Newsweek poll that found that 60% of people “would prefer that the Bush administration allow more time to find an alternative to war”. Although 81% would support a war if it was waged with “full allied support and the backing of the UN Security Council”.
Bush's approval rating has suffered a significant decline, to 53% according to the CNN-Time poll and 56% according to the Newsweek poll. Much of the opposition is based on the fear of a “unilateral” US war and the view that UN inspectors need more time to find Iraq's alleged “weapons of mass destruction”.
“His approval rate was in the 60s in both polls in November”, notes AP. Approval for Bush's handling of foreign policy has declined to 50%, from 64% in July; 42% disapprove.
Polling by Washington Post-ABC News on January 16-20 has showed that Bush's approval rating has decreased from 92% in November 2001 to 59% on January 20. This poll also revealed that, since September 2002, there has been a decrease in the number of people who believe that Bush has “presented enough evidence showing why the United States should use military force to remove Saddam Hussein from power”; the number thinking the opposite has increased. Fifty-seven per cent of those surveyed favour military action for “regime change”, while 41% oppose it. In November 2001, 78% supported military-backed “regime change” and only 17% opposed it.
Breadth of opposition
The Washington and San Francisco demonstrations illustrated not only the growth of the US anti-war movement, but also its breadth. Veteran socialist and anti-war activist Fred Feldman told Green Left Weekly that the Washington demonstration “was so large that organised contingents of labour, blacks and other groups tended to break down, although many individuals and small groups and individuals from these sectors could be seen scattered throughout the vast crowd”.
“A tremendous number of hand-made placards — some quite beautiful — highlighted the consciousness and care that countless individuals brought to the march”, reported Feldman. “College and high school students were the largest single presence. They were everywhere and in truly massive numbers.”
The impact of the peace movement is being reflected in other ways. For example, at least 37 city councils — including Chicago, Seattle and Detroit — have passed anti-war resolutions and declared themselves “cities for peace”. Campaigns are being conducted in more than 40 other cities and towns for similar resolutions.
Opposition to the war drive has found a significant response the trade union movement. There were large labour contingents at the January 18 protests.
When the Bush gang's “war on terror” was launched, the bureaucratised peak US trade union federation, the AFL-CIO, had a cravenly pro-war position. Many unionists are breaking from this position.
On January 11, union activists launched US Labor Against the War at the headquarters of Teamsters Local 705, the second largest Teamsters local in the US. More than 100 trade unionists attended. The call for the conference had been signed by members of the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America International Union, the Service Employees International Union, the Communications Workers of America, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
The founding resolution of the conference declared that the more than “100 trade unionists from unions, Central Labor Councils and other labor oranizations representing of 2 million members”, who had gathered in Chicago stand “firmly against Bush's war drive” and will “promote union, labor and community anti-war activity”.
US veterans are also moving into action. A “Call to conscience from veterans to active duty troops and reservists”, issued earlier this year, has been signed by more than 250 US military veterans. It states: “We stand with the majority of humanity, including millions in our own country, in opposition of the United States' all-out war on Iraq... In the  Gulf War, as troops, we were ordered to murder from a safe distance. We destroyed much of Iraq from the air, killing hundreds of thousands, including civilians... When orders come to ship out, your response will profoundly impact the lives of millions of people in the Middle East and here at home... Your commanders want you to obey. We urge you to think... If you choose to resist, we will support you and stand with you.”
Anti-war organising is at its most visible on US universities. The National Youth and Student Peace Coalition has called a student strike across the US on March 5. The call issued by NYSPC states: “The Bush Administration's war on Iraq is a venture for control of the region and its oil supplies, not national security, democracy, or human rights... As students who value freedom, democracy, and our education we say: there is an alternative!” (see article page 14.)
According to an article by Thomas Bartlett in the January 24 Chronicle of Higher Education: “Faculty members have been among the most vocal critics of the Bush administration's war plans. Groups like the Modern Language Association; the Massachusetts State College Association, a union that represents 2400 faculty members at nine colleges; Law Professors for the Rule of Law ... and the newly formed Historians Against the War have all either started petitions or drafted resolutions opposing military action.”
The article reported that anti-war resolutions have been passed by the faculty senates at the University of Montana, the University of Wisconsin and the Oregon State University.
“In September, David L. Fox, an assistant professor of geology and geophysics, wrote a letter to the student newspaper explaining why he opposed an invasion of Iraq. He showed the letter to colleagues, many of whom asked to sign as well. Soon the list of signatures grew too long for the newspaper's editorial page, so supporters paid $900 to purchase ad space.
“It was then passed on to professors at other colleges, including Nancy Kanwisher, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who posted it on a web site, allowing anyone associated with a college to add his or her virtual signature. It later appeared as a full-page ad in the New York Times, at a cost of $28,000. To date, more than 32,000 people have added their names, about half of them professors... More than 250 signers are from Columbia University and more than 500 are from Harvard.”
Other “sectoral” organisations, such as Code Pink, a women's organisation, which “encourage[s] all actions, from public education and free speech to nonviolent civil disobedience that can disrupt the progress toward war”, are flourishing
Some organisations, such as the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network, a gay, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexual organisation, have taken up anti-war organising as part of their cause.
Impact on Europe
Most worrying for the White House is the response of the imperialist governments in Europe. On January 21, Dominique de Villepin, France's foreign minister, stated that the French government cannot see a “justification today for an intervention, since the inspectors are able to do their work... We could not support unilateral action.” The January 22 New York Times reported that more than 32% of people in Britain oppose any war on Iraq. In Germany, 76% hold the same opinion, while 77% are opposed in France. Polls show that most French people would support Paris casting a veto that would prevent UN endorsement of a US war.
The “opposition” of the French and German governments — particularly since France can veto UN Security Council resolutions — is a diplomatic hurdle the US is still to overcome. Both countries have governments that were elected on the basis of anti-war sentiment.
On January 21, Bulgaria's foreign minister Solomon Passy identified the key factor hampering pro-war European governments from wholeheartedly supporting Washington: “We still have to work with public opinion”.
A January 17 article in the New York Times reported: “As for the rift with the United States, analysts point out that the [German] chancellor has begun to say that Germany would not actively take part in a campaign, a subtle shift from his earlier blanket refusal to participate. Germany has already acceded to requests from the United States and NATO that would give it more than an incidental role. It would allow the Pentagon to send troops to and from its military bases there. It has granted American warplanes unfettered access to German airspace. Schroeder has also indicated that in the event of a war, he would allow NATO surveillance planes, with German crews, to patrol the skies over Turkey.”
The January 23 New York Times claimed that the White House “would confront France, Germany and other sceptics of military action against Iraq by demanding that they agree publicly that Iraq had defied the United Nations Security Council”.
The January 19 UK Independent reported, “Privately, British ministers are confident that the UN will pass a second resolution condemning Iraq if its government is found to be concealing weapons of mass destruction. British diplomatic activity has been aimed at persuading the US government not to act alone.”
In an effort to reinforce the image of an international coalition, White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer thanked the Australian ruling class for its support at a January 23 press briefing. Bush “would like to thank the people and the government of Australia for their efforts in working to achieve peace through the military force that Australia has dispatched to Iraq”, Fleischer said.
Much of the growing global opposition is expressed in terms of the UN “putting the brakes on” rampaging US imperialism, hence a UN-backed “multilateral” war still has significant support in many countries. As Fred Feldman told GLW: “One of the most striking experiences I have had in the protests, since the calling of the April 20 demonstration, is the way people who entered the fight against the war under various patriotic or seemingly half-hearted slogans have stubbornly stayed with the fight, even as their supposed partial demands have been met (“Let Congress vote!”, “No unilateralism!”, “Let the Security Council be heard!”, “Let the inspectors in!”, “Of course Iraq must be disarmed but...”) and hardened their opposition. The whole movement is directed against the US war, and is in that sense anti-imperialist, not just those who put forward the more unconditional [anti-war] slogans that I advocate and march under.”