Iraq: One year on – World wide protests against occupation – one

Reports from around the world part 1

Iraq one year on.

World wide protests against occupation

Australia, Belgium, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Chicago and New York

Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets around the world, last Saturday, 20 March, to mark the first anniversary of the Iraq War. They demanded an end to the occupation and for imperialism to stop meddling in the Middle East.

CWI members participated in the protests in many countries, advocating anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist policies that received a great response. We publish today reports from some of those demonstrations – Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, US, Belgium, and others – and we will post more this week.

There were also demonstrations in Spain (including 150,000 in Barcelona), the Ukraine, Poland, Germany, Greece, Egypt, and the Philippines and throughout Asia, and throughout cities in the US (including 50,000 in San Francisco, according to organisers, and a protest of 800 in Crawford, the hometown of George Bush). Around 10,000 took part in protests in Athens and Paris, according to organisers. Overall, 120,000 took part in protests throughout Japan, whose government sent troops to Iraq.


Cities protest against Howard’s backing for Bush’s war

Thousands demand an end to Australia’s involvement in Middle East

The main centres of Australia – including Melbourne, Sydney and Perth – saw thousands of protesters take to the streets last Saturday. They were demanding an end to the US-led occupation of Iraq and also in opposition to Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, who has been a fervent supporter of the Bush administration. The right wing Howard government was shaken by events in Spain, fearing they can receive the same popular anger over their foreign policy.

Socialist Party (CWI) members participated in protests in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. Around 3,000 marched in Melbourne and 6,000 in Sydney. Socialist Party members sold papers and badges and carried banners denouncing the imperialist occupation of Iraq.

There were many youth on the Melbourne protest. SP members also highlighted the first conference of Unite! – a successful anti-low pay campaign – which takes place on 3 April.


Thousands protest against war and in defence of social rights

Demo ‘Red Bloc’ calls for anti-capitalist and anti-war policies

Bart Vandersteene, LSP/MAS, Gent

On Saturday 20 March the main item on the news was a union demonstration in Ostende against social cuts. About 20,000 union members assembled to demand measures from the government to improve the benefits for those out of work. The government was holding a ministers’ council meeting in Ostende to present some new “initiatives” on the social and environmental level.

The anti-war demonstration in Brussels, on the same day, attracted about 5,000 demonstrators. The bad weather conditions, and the separate union demonstration, had an impact on the anti-war protest mobilisation.

LSP/MAS (CWI in Belgium) participated in both demonstrations and energetically put forward a socialist alternative in the run up to the EU elections in June. In Brussels, our contingent, of about 100 members and sympathisers, formed a ‘red bloc’, with anti-capitalist and anti-war slogans.

In Ostende about 40 of our members took part in the anti-cuts demo, which had a mixed character. There was a lot of anger amongst the participants about the neo-liberal policies of the government, but the leadership of the unions did everything to present the demo as not being against the government, but to “support” the social initiatives taken by them. A lot of the discussions on the demo centred about the resignation of the president of the social democratic union, Mia De Vits. She left the union two weeks ago to head the list of the Flemish social democrats in the upcoming European elections. This step clearly shows the close collaboration between the party and the union leadership. At this moment it provokes a lot of discussion about the role of the union.

LSP/MAS members sold more than 130 papers on both demonstrations and collected about 350 euros for the party’s fighting fund. We also collected signatures so as to allow us to stand a list of candidates in the upcoming European and regional elections.

cwi Italy

Up to two million march against the war

Mass opposition to occupation of Iraq

Philipp Fleischmann, Rome

While capitalist politicians everywhere are having big problems because of the Iraq War, Italian workers and youth have once again shown that they have not lost their power to protest. Last Saturday, we declared a firm ‘No to the war!’ and the firm demand for the withdrawal of Italian troops now …from all countries.

Estimates of the number of participants on the 20 March demonstration in Rome go up to two million. When, at 6pm, after four hours of the march, the Circus Maximus was already half-full, the end of the demonstration was still at the meeting point! People from all over Italy came to the capital, making long journeys in busses and trains to show their anger against the war and occupation in Iraq.

The World Social Forum in Mumbai, last January, had made a call for demonstrations world-wide on the first anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. Undoubtedly, the biggest one was in Rome. It was special not only for this reason.

The majority of the Italian population, as in most countries, opposed this war from the beginning. Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi ignored this and sent Italian troops into Iraq. Recently, the Italian parliament had a vote on continuing the military missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo, and even the so-called centre-left did not oppose it clearly! Three parties of the Olive Tree – the ‘Tricycle’ parties – did not vote against it. These are parties that in the ’90s, when in government, sent the army into Kosovo. That is why Berlusconi, despite the crisis in the ‘coalition’ of the occupation forces in Iraq, after the announcement of the withdrawal of Spain, got a short breathing space on the issue.

But the masses still came to Rome to oppose the war. They were actually strengthened by the Spanish example, where a big majority of workers and youth had been able to exert pressure on the new premier, Zapatero, to announce the withdrawal of the Spanish troops. The Italian protesters were also there to show their anger at the role of the Italian centre-left parties in the vote in parliament.

That is why it is not surprising that when Piero Fassino and his ‘Democrats of the Left’ (Ds) – one of the parties of the ‘Tricycle’ – wanted to join the demonstration, they were simply thrown out by the militant youth of the ‘Disobbedienti’. Now they are screaming about “violence on a pacifist demonstration”. But that is hypocritical; just think what violence they have ordered, in practice, with their vote in parliament.

The row over this incident cannot be allowed to obscure the fact that two million people demonstrated loud and clear for the immediate withdrawal of the troops.

The main demands of the leaflet distributed in Rome, on Saturday, by ‘Lotta per il socialismo’- the Italian group of the Committee for a Worker’s International – were:-

  • Stop the occupation of Iraq!

  • Withdraw the troops!

  • Self-determination for the Iraqi people!

  • Nationalisation of the oil and energy industries under the democratic control of the workers!

  • For a socialist world, free from war and terror!

cwi Japan:

Unions join protests of youth

Thousands call for withdrawal of ‘Self Defence Forces’ from Iraq

Simon Cole, CWI Japan

10,000 people gathered in the city of Osaka to oppose the US occupation of Iraq and to call for the withdrawal of the Japanese ‘Self Defence Forces’, dispatched to Iraq by the Koizumi government. The Osaka demonstration was slightly larger than those held in the city a year ago, at the time of the invasion. In part, this was a response to actual dispatch of Japanese troops.

There was a sizeable contingent of youth on the demonstration, most of them organised in ad-hoc peace groups. There was also a big turnout from independent unions, such as the dock workers, and the ‘Ready Mixed concrete’ workers, but also from some of the Rengo unions affiliated to the Social Democratic Party, such as Jichiro (a municipal workers’ union).

After listening to speeches, protestors set off on two different marches; the main contingent marching to the Osaka Prefectural

Government offices, while a Jichiro contingent marched to Osaka City Hall.

A leaflet produced by Kokusai Rentai (International Solidarity), supporters of the CWI in Japan, got a warm response.

cwi Luxembourg

Youth take to the streets against imperialism

Around 500 people turned out last Saturday for the anti-war/anti-occupation demonstration in Luxembourg City.

Goran P. Hastenteufel

Several cwi members, from Saarbrücken, Germany, participated in the demo, joining other CWI members, including Belgium comrades, who are presently working in the country.

Also participating in the demonstration were a youth group called, ‘Youth for Peace and Justice’, which had a contingent of about 50-80 on the demo. After the march some of their members took part in a blockade in front of McDonalds.

CWI members aim to follow up from the success of the demonstration, including campaigning for a campaign against the 2005 EU summit, in Luxembourg.

cwi Netherlands

1,000 demonstrate against war in Amsterdam

Majority of the Dutch population in favour of withdrawing Dutch troops from Iraq.

Patrick Zoomermeijer, Amsterdam, Offensief (CWI Netherlands)

Despite the torrent rain and fierce wind, about a 1,000 demonstrators turned up last Saturday for a demonstration in Amsterdam against the ongoing occupation of Iraq at Dam square.

The night before the Dutch ‘Queen-mum’ Juliana passed away, causing a change of the time schedule of the demonstration. Earlier it was even reported that the entire event could be cancelled.

But the demonstration went ahead! There were relative few new people (unlike at the 80,000 strong demonstration a year ago), and so left organizations, in general, were very visible. This includes the Socialist Party, a broad left party, several of whose city councillors are also CWI members. The SP was the most visible left party, and together with Green Left, the only party represented in parliament that more or less consistently opposed the occupation of Iraq. According to opinion polls, following the Madrid bombings, a majority of the Dutch population is now in favour of withdrawing the Dutch troops from Iraq. Opportunist, as they are, the social-democrats now call for the withdrawal of the Dutch troops, only after the terrible bombings in Madrid.

The social democrats played no part in the demonstration. An Iraqi refugee and a speaker from Barcelona spoke out against the occupation.

Slogans on the demonstration called for the withdrawal of Dutch troops, and against Bush, Blair and Balkenende (the Dutch Christian-Democrat prime-minister). Protesters condemned these leaders’ quest for oil, and against imperialism and the occupation of the Middle East, in general.

Offensief, the Dutch section of the CWI, handed out 500 leaflets for our new anti-racist youth campaign, and a called for people to attend the coming demonstration against the right wing government’s threatened deportation of 26,000 refugees. We sold 25 of our paper, ‘Offensief’.

cwi Poland

Hundreds protest against Polish troops in Iraq

Opinon polls show a majority against the occupation

cwi correspondents, Warsaw

Around 500 people attended last Saturday’s anti-war demo in Warsaw. There were demonstrations in other cities as well. The biggest was about 200.

Opinion polls show that 53% of the population is against the involvement of Polish troops in Iraq.

The demo was dominated by placards from small left groups.

cwi members participated, handing out a leaflet and selling a pamphlet on how socialism would work and also a bulletin of the OKP, a workers’ struggle organisation.

cwi Portugal

“Aznar’s gone, Durão must go now!”

Workers and youth march against government backing of Bush

Francisco, Lisbon

A 6,000 strong protest of trade unionists, left parties and social movements demonstrated across Lisbon city centre in opposition to the occupation of Iraq. The protesters also demanded the return of Portuguese troops and the resignation the Portuguese prime minister, Durão Barroso.

Barroso was one of the infamous eight members of the so-called "new Europe". He acted as the "bartender" of the Azores’s "war summit" last year and claimed "to [have] seen evidence of WMD" given by Bush and Blair.

This, together with the "social terror" of the right wing government’s neo-liberal policies, makes Portuguese working class and youth angrier by the day.

The events in Spain, after the Spanish working class and youth kicked out the Aznar PP government warmongers, had a big effect in Portugal. We pledge to do the same in Portugal.

cwi Spain

Marchers demand Zapatero withdraws Spanish troops

Millions demonstrate in 50 cities to demand end to occupation

Chris Ridge, Spain

Across Spain, from Galicia on the Atlantic coast to Catalonia on the Mediterranean, from the Basque country in the north to Andalusia in the south, hundreds of thousands, perhaps over a million people, took to the streets in 50 cities on Saturday to demand an end to the occupation of Iraq, justice for Palestine and to show their opposition to terrorism, which took 200 lives and injured nearly 1,500 people in Madrid, nine days ago.

The largest demonstrations were in Madrid – 150,000 according to the organisers – and Barcelona – a quarter of a million, according to ‘Stop the War’.  There, as ever, the march was lively and colourful, with trade union flags and party banners, together with many home made ones, including a poster showing Bush, Blair, Aznar and Berlusconi standing together, with their national flags and the logos of the oil giants in the background.

Aznar, has, of course, gone, thrown out in last Sunday’s general elections by the vote of millions of workers and young people, angry at the policies of the Popular Party (PP) government in recent years. But, in many cases, people were galvanised to vote at the last minute by the PP’s disgusting attempt to stay in power by blaming ETA for the Madrid bombings while hiding growing evidence to the contrary.

The message yesterday in Barcelona, and elsewhere to Aznar’s successor, Socialist Party (PSOE) leader Zapatero, was clear: withdraw the Spanish troops from Iraq whether or not control of the occupation is formally handed to the UN. While saying his intention is to bring the troops home and condemning Aznar’s war, Zapatero and other PSOE leaders, are leaving the door open by suggesting they may stay under the auspices of the UN.  However, many workers and young people here understand that would be a sham and would mean the continued occupation and exploitation of Iraq, not least by Spanish companies, like ‘Repsol’, target for some abuse yesterday.   “An invading army is never humanitarian,” remarked a speaker from the platform.

Zapatero under different pressures

Zapatero will no doubt come under behind-the-scenes pressure from Spanish capitalists (keen to get a finger in the pie), not to do anything that might damage their interests, just as he seems to be coming under more public pressure from Bush and Blair.  However, millions of Basques, Catalans and Spaniards are waiting for him to deliver on his election promise and will undoubtedly take to the streets again in the future if he does not.  As far as they are concerned, 200 people died in Madrid because of Spain’s involvement in the war for oil.

This in no way means support or justification for the slaughter in Madrid. On the contrary, one of the most poignant moments in yesterday’s demonstrations, as in others that have taken place since the terrorist attacks of ‘11-M’ [11 March 2004], was the silence, more powerful than any words, that descended over thousands of singing, chanting, drumming marchers as they stood to remember the victims. The protesters were conscious that the dead were workers and students, parents and children, or immigrants, like themselves. The presence of groups of immigrant workers from Latin America, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent, showing their rejection of Al Qaida, and its methods, was another significant feature of the march in Barcelona.

Now the marches are over but the debate over Spain’s involvement in Iraq, the bombings and who was responsible for them, the failings of the security services, and the actions of Aznar and his ministers, all this is far from finished.

cwi US – Chicago

Police fail to stop “illegal” anti-occupation demo

Vietnam veterans and ethnic minorities join 5,000 strong protest

Steve Edwards, Socialist Alternative, Chicago

Although no permit had been issued for a march, and despite the threat of police violence and the setting up of a rival indoor rally, addressed by liberal politicians and some church and Union leaders, over 5,000 people joined what the cops insisted was an "illegal" rally outside the ultra-rich shopping mall known as Watertower Place.

One year ago, working class Chicagoans under the leadership of a loose coalition of Left groups, organised a rally against the war, which took over a local landmark Lakeshore Drive, stopping traffic for about two hours and making the national news. We did this with no help from establishment politicians or, shamefully, the union leaders. Later in the evening, City police took revenge, smashing sound equipment, ripping up banners, illegally corralling over 1,500 marchers, without allowing them to disperse, and then arresting over 700, including one of our Socialist Alternative comrades. Eventually political pressure forced them to back off into releasing the rest, and later dropping charges on almost all 700.

Prevented from marching down Michigan Avenue by three enormous prison buses (so much for not blocking traffic!) we marched anyway down minor streets, to rally in the jam-packed Federal Plaza. The march was colourful, noisy and energetic, with slogans that not only took on the issues of the Iraq War and Occupation but also corporate rule and attacks on civil liberties.

While many marchers were in their teens and twenties, ages of the participants ranged from babies in their buggies to the elderly.

There were veterans, some marching individually and some under the banner of ‘Vietnam Veterans against War’. There was a large Palestinian contingent, as well as other ethnic minorities, disabled groups, and gay, lesbian and transsexual organisations protesting spending on the war while social programmes are being cut.

Everyone commented on the amount of money the city was wasting to fuel the four helicopters that hung all day long in the sky above us, and on overtime pay for police, who wore scary but ridiculous Ninja Turtle style armour.

Off duty fire-fighter aids protesters

The march was surrounded by these uniforms. In contrast, at the end of the march, a single uniformed figure strode professionally about the plaza, checking the health of anyone who looked as if they were tired or ill. This was a tall and hatless young EMT [emergency services worker] who joined the protest in his Fire Department blues, and was volunteering, on his own time, to do what the police are supposed to be paid for – "to serve and protect".

Tables selling posters, literature, buttons and bumper stickers were eagerly scanned by people looking for information about the war. Socialist Alternative members sold papers and exchanged contact information with buyers, such as two young people from a Downstate college town, whose handmade placard carried on one side the name of Howard Dean, and on the other, "Support our Troops – bring them home!".

These two youth wanted to know "why are there so many different Socialist groups?" and bought our paper, ‘Justice’, after hearing Socialist Alternative members’ explanation of what our organisation stands for and need for a workers’ party.

cwi US – New York

Up to 100,000 protest occupation of Iraq

"Dump the elephant! Dump the ass! Build a party of the working class!"

Bryan Koulouris, Socialist Alternative, NY

There was a massive anti-occupation demonstration in New York City, last Saturday, as part of the international day of action against the US led occupation of Iraq.

The crowd was estimated as somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000; it is more likely that the figure is closer to 100,000. This was the biggest demonstration in New York City in about a year. Unlike last year’s anti-war demonstrations, there were no noticeable attacks by the police on protesters.

Socialist Alternative, the US section of the Committee for a Workers’ International, had over 20 members at the rally. We sold over 200 copies of our newspaper, ‘Justice’. We also handed out hundreds of our "Nader for President" flyer; we were the only group actively campaigning for the anti-corporate candidate.

During the march, we had one of the liveliest contingents on the demonstrations. We had a banner which proclaimed, "A Socialist World is Possible," and we had placards which said, "End the Occupation," "Bring the Troops Home," "Vote Nader," "We Need a Workers’ Party," "Free, Quality Healthcare Now," and other slogans.

Many sympathisers, supporters, and friends marched with us. Many more around us joined in our chants, which were louder than any other contingent. We chanted against the occupation and Bush; we also brought up other class issues, like education, healthcare, job creation, and mass transit [public transport]. Our chant for a workers’ party, "Dump the elephant! Dump the ass! Build a party of the working class!" was (somewhat surprisingly) well-received.

[The Elephant and the Ass are the party symbols of the two main political parties – the Republicans and the Democrats].

We ran three literature tables along the march route. Because we said "Vote Nader" on some of the signs, our tables drew a lot of attention, both positive and negative. The demonstration drew more people than expected, and our intervention was a success.

“The Anti-Occupation March in NYC was larger than expected”, adds Socialist Alternative member, Hank Gonzalez

“I have not heard crowd estimates but I know that the marchers ended up filling 40 blocks in midtown Manhattan. Many protesters emphasised their opposition to US imperialism everywhere, and connected the occupation in Iraq with events in Afghanistan, Haiti, Palestine, Cuba, and Venezuela.

“The crowd was divided between those who called for a vote for [Democrat Presidential candidate] Kerry and those who were willing to acknowledge the Democrats’ crucial role in starting the war and maintaining the occupation.

“We had a Socialist Alternative contingent which included members from New York, Boston, and Oberlin. We sold well over 100 copies of Justice, distributed copies of our Nader leaflet, and collected several new contacts.”

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March 2004