Iraq: 15 February – Biggest demonstrations in history – ‘Stop work to stop the war!’

Yesterday’s anti-war rally in Melbourne was the biggest demonstration in the history of Australia. Over 200,000 people rallied outside the State Library at 5pm to hear speakers and then they had to wait over an hour before they could actually find space to move on to Federation Square, 1km to the south, to hear more speakers and live music.

15 February. No to war in Iraq. cwi reports from around the world. Australia.

Biggest demonstrations in history – ‘Stop work to stop the war!’

New eyewitness reports (17 February, 13.00 GMT)


The rally included a contingent of 5,000 workers from militant unions who had congregated earlier at Trades Hall before marching to join up with the main body of anti-war protestors. Home-made placards denouncing the "War for oil" and calling for the withdrawal of Australian troops predominated over the official placards from the Victorian Peace Network who called the rally.

The crowd was the same as the crowd at a shopping centre in the sense in that it had such a broad community feel. Most people were not organised in official contingents and had come as individuals with their family or friends or colleagues straight from the home, work or school.

The Victorian leader of Australia’s strongest and most militant union, the construction division of the CFMEU, Martin Kingham, announced that unions had decided to call a lunchtime strike and rally the day after war was declared. This was first raised in that union by Socialist Party members and has now spread as an idea to other unions, including in Western Australia.

Three hours earlier, the first ever rally at Melbourne’s new Federation Square in the heart of the city took place. It was organised by Youth Against the War (YAW), a new anti-war high school student organisation established by the Socialist Party. Following lunchtime ’walkouts’, 1,000 students rallied at 2pm to hear YAW speakers, interspersed with rock and hip-hop bands and dance music from decks. An Aboriginal high school student from the Yorta Yorta people opened the rally, acknowledging the traditional owners and calling for ‘peace not war’.

The main organiser of YAW, Yorran Pelekanakis,17, deconstructed the lies of Bush, Blair and Howard and called for the dropping of aid not bombs on Iraq. Matt Wilson of the Socialist Party argued for going further than opposing this war and said we must also organise against the system that breeds war. Students spontaneously asked to get the microphone. Behind the stage was a massive 50 ft. TV screen showing the speakers’ heads, just like at a football game!

At 3.30pm students gathered behind the YAW banner and an 8 – ton truck and marched to the headquarters of BP. There was no need for organisers to use megaphones to egg on the marchers, the students chanted non-stop from beginning to end in spontaneous calls for peace and against war for oil. At BP we had a mass "die-in" with students lying down and being traced in chalk. More speeches followed plus 2 hip-hop bands from the back of our truck. Then at 4.30pm we left BP and joined the main rally at 5pm.

VPN organisers and more experienced activists said this rally was the most lively and inspiring part of the day.

Seven pages of contact sheets were filled with high school students joining YAW and 4 people joined the Socialist Party. The first YAW meeting will be held this Tuesday. Nearly $2,000 was raised in fighting fund. SP comrades sold ’No war for oil’ armbands, mostly used by students as head bands, plus hundreds of badges, stickers and a special broadsheet for the day, with the two main demands being: ‘Withdraw Australian Troops (no blood on our hands)’ and ‘Stop Work to Stop the War’, which looks like becoming a reality now! A taste of the brilliant character of this rally can be seen in the report in today’s Melbourne Age, the main broadsheet newspaper here. The report was followed by interviews and photos of four high school students who attended the rally.

Students hold their own city rally

Hundreds of secondary school students took to Melbourne’s streets yesterday afternoon to protest against a war with Iraq. Untucked white school-shirts, knee-high socks and lace-up black shoes took over Federation Square, as the students gathered for the Youth Against War rally.

With live music and dancing, it seemed more like a celebration than a demonstration, as the students danced and cheered to show their support for a no-war approach. Several speakers then broadcast the message that Australia’s youth were not prepared to accept any involvement in war.

Organiser Yorran Pelekanakis,17, of Westbourne Grammar School, told the crowd that the international community should be thinking about dropping aid, not bombs, on to Iraq. "We can be proud of what we’ve done here today," he said. "We have showed that the youth of Australia does care, does know what’s going on, and will not sit by and do nothing. This war is not about bringing peace and freedom to the people of Iraq, it is a war for oil and profits."

The students, donning headbands that read, "No War for Oil", marched through the Central Business District to protest outside the BP head office in Elizabeth Street, before joining the main rally at the State Library at 5pm.


What a sight! Around 25,000 people in Newcastle – one of the best political rallies in Newcastle since the 1980s. But, on a sobering note, they do not compare to the quarter of a million who gathered in 1997 to welcome the Newcastle Knights (local Rugby League side) after winning the ARL grand final. That aside, there were quite a few good speakers – Uniting church Archbishop Onion, who quoted the bible, "feed your enemies if they are hungered", my local MP, Jill Hall, as well as the most impressive of all, Ian Cohen (Greens leader in the NSW LC).

As for paper sales, I ran out ten minutes before the rally started! Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.

Dave, Newcastle


20,000 attended the March and Rally on 15th February in Perth. The organisers were swamped by three times the expected numbers. The local news is reporting that over 10,000 attended the Rally and March in Perth centre today. The Socialist Party as part of the Anti War Alliance confirmed the figure to be between 20,000 and 30,000 – way beyond the hoped for 7,000. The organisers of the March were overwhelmed by the numbers attending.

The Socialist Party ran out of petitions, having to scribble on the back of printed ones. 3,000 leaflets were gobbled up at our swamped stalls. Unsolicited donations totalled $500. This is remarkable for Perth, which has never seen such a huge peace rally.

More than this, the atmosphere at the Rally and March was electrifying. Total opposition to war was voiced throughout the crowds. The Anti War Alliance is planning a March and Rally on the 22 March. Day X, the day after the war starts, meet at 5pm in Forest Square. Watch this space for more events coming up.


Over half a million marched in probably the biggest demonstration ever in Australia. Protestors just couldn’t move to be able to march. Comrades raised over $250 and sold loads of broadsheets and badges.

Report from 16 February

Australia has seen the largest anti-war demonstrations since the Vietnam War, in protests over three days across the vast country. The Socialist Party (CWI) participated in many of the protests and also organised a strike against the war in Melbourne, last Friday.

Reports of the various protests will be published on CWI online over the next few days. To begin with, we carry a report from the Perth demonstration.

Organisers reported that they were swamped by three times the numbers expected.

The local news is reporting that over 10,000 attended the rally and march in Perth centre today. The Socialist Party as part of the Anti-War Alliance, confirmed the figure to be between 20,000 and 30,000 and way beyond the hoped for 7,000.

The Socialist Party ran out of petitions having to scribble on the back of printed ones. Our 3,000 leaflets were gobbled up. Donations totalled $500 (Australian dollars). This is remarkable for Perth, which has never seen such a huge peace rally.

More than this the atmosphere at the rally and march was electrifying. Total opposition to war was voiced throughout the crowds.

The Anti-War Alliance is planning a march and rally on the 22 March. ’Day X’, the day after the war starts, is meeting at 5pm in Forest Square.

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February 2003