On Saturday, 12 April, at noon, a peace vigil was held in the centre of Dunedin, beginning a day of action in solidarity with similar anti-war protests and demonstrations in other parts of New Zealand and right around the world.
At the rally following the conclusion of the peace vigil various speakers spoke from the platform condemning the US led invasion of Iraq in what was a mainly moral and religious argument against the war, with the exception of representatives from the Dunedin Coalition Against War and from the International Socialist Organisation who took a more principled political position.
There were approximately 300 – 350 people assembled by 1.00 pm for the march which proceeded down the main street headed by a procession of coffin bearing citizens dressed in black and local drummers. A vocal crowd made anti-imperialist and pro-peace chants until the main procession ended up at the office of local Labour MP (and senior cabinet minister) Pete Hodgson.
A petition was handed to Hodgson demanding the withdrawal of the frigate Te Mana and air force Orion currently stationed in the Persian Gulf as part of New Zealand’s contribution to the so-called "war on terrorism". The petition also demanded an apology to the Iraqi people for New Zealand governments’ supporting the previous 12 years of brutal UN sanctions and an undertaking not to recognise the new puppet government in Iraq that will be set up by the US and Britain.
Pete Hodgson responded by denying the frigate had any involvement in the current war, refusing to offer an apology to the Iraqi people for the inhumane sanctions, and said he would have to see what was proposed as to the setting up of a government in Iraq before he could respond to the final demand.
Government assists war effort
The crowd was overwhelmingly dissatisfied with Hodgson’s response to the petition handed him – especially in light of the fact that the frigate Te Mana, which arrived in the Persian Gulf just one month before the beginning of the US invasion, is known to have been actively assisting with the war effort by escorting US troop and supply ships through the Straits of Hormuz.
The demonstration finished soon after 2.30 pm with many people wishing that the rally had come to the cabinet minister’s office a few weeks earlier when protest numbers were in the thousands. The numbers were down this week due to lower levels of advertisement being for the march and also because of large dosages of pro-US propaganda in the corporate media leading many people to wrongly believe that the war was over.
Also last week, in Dunedin, Youth Against War, held a ‘die in’ outside one of the main shopping malls in Dunedin in which about 15-20 people took part. This was followed up with a meeting of YAW on 14 April, at which high school students decided to organise another action on Mayday outside the offices of TRADENZ – the international business and marketing arm of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which is the driving force behind negotiations for a free trade deal with the US. The prospect of a free trade deal is being used as one of the principal justifications for New Zealand’s ongoing commitment to ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ and also the so-called "democratic reconstruction" of Iraq.
The next major initiative in the fight against the war in Dunedin is likely to be on 1 May (International Workers’ Day), when protests are being planned to draw attention to the links between the policies of the US and British imperialism in the Middle East and the day to day problems facing working class people around the world and particularly here in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
This is, in fact, the greatest challenge for socialists in the coming period: to clearly and effectively explain to workers and young people that the system we live and work under – capitalism – is the ideal breeding ground for imperialism and war.