Friday, February 15, 2013

Ten years later

The tenth anniversary of the million-strong march through London against the invasion of Iraq has been marked dutifully by a number of newspapers and blogs. Despite the impressive size of the anti-war protests in London, and in many other cities besides, Bush and Blair went ahead with their plans to depose Saddam Hussein and occupy Iraq in March 2003. After the fall of Baghdad in April, the anti-war movement dwindled. The tragic shambles that Bush and Blair presided over for years in Iraq did not prompt the sort of mass protests the world saw in March 2003. 

In the 2006 British movie Children of Men, which is set in a dystopian future, a man recalls that he met his wife on the great London demonstration of March the 15th 2003. He refers to the event with the sort of wistful awe old hippies use when they talk about the protests in the 1960s against the Vietnam War or for Civil Rights. By the 1980s, at the latest, these protests had been made, by historians and by the entertainment industry, into historical landmarks and symbols of human progress. Only the most reactionary or contrarian individuals have been prepared to defend segregation, or the bombing of North Vietnam, and face accusations of standing on 'the wrong side of history'. 
But the Iraq war has not yet become a safe subject for sentimentalists and generalisers. The failure of both the anti-war movement and the Anglo-American occupation has, for many Westerners, left the war's place in history and moral status unclear. Anti-war protesters certainly did not succeed in defeating American imperialism, nor even in discrediting the notion of Western military intervention in the Third World. On the other hand, the neoconservative promise that Iraq would be the shining model for a democratic, secular, prosperous Middle East, and the harbinger of a 'new American century', seems as absurd today as David Lloyd George's claim that the defeat of the German Kaiser would put an end to all wars. 

Against the firm advice of my PhD supervisor, the great Ian Carter, who seemed more interested in model railways than in left-wing politics, I spent much of late 2002 and early 2003 writing leaflets for the Auckland-based protest coalition Direct Anti-War Action. Reproduced below is a text I wrote in the middle of the night, with a typically excited Roger Fox standing over my shoulder. Roger, who was a vital and vocal part of Auckland's left-wing scene until his sudden death in 2007, had persuaded some members of the Seafarers' Union to distribute anti-war leaflets on ships they were working. 

In the aftermath of the great demonstrations of March 2003, DAWA and many similar groups believed that momentum would continue to build against Bush, and that an historic defeat for imperialism was possible. We were disappointed, and it now takes an effort of historical imagination to understand the energy and optimism of the text Roger and I so hurriedly prepared. 


 Direct Anti-War Action (DAWA) is a United Front of various groups and individuals formed to organise direct action to stop the New Zealand government's involvement in the war on Iraq. We support the building of a broad anti-war movement in New Zealand, and think the big marches recently seen around the country were brilliant. But, let’s face it, we can't rely on pressuring Helen Clark and the UN to act as forces for peace - we need to take things into our own hands and revive the proud tradition of direct action which made the anti-Vietnam War and anti-Springbok Tour protests such a powerful force in this country.

Workers around the world are showing the way to stop the war with their own direct action - in Britain, train drivers have refused to move ammunition bound for the war, and their union, which has an anti-war resolution on its books, has backed them up. In Western Australia, 75,000 workers from nine unions have pledged to go on strike the minute any attack on Iraq begins, whether or not it is sanctioned by the UN. In Ireland, mass pickets have forced the US government to stop using the Shannon Air Base to move troops and supplies to the Middle East. Unions representing 130 million workers, from Australia to the Philippines to Togo, have now signed an anti-war resolution drafted by the US group Labour Against War. In Auckland, the Council of Trade Unions has moved from opposition to unilateral war to opposition to a war rubberstamped by the UN.

Many workers recognise that Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ is a war on workers in the West, as well as a war on the peoples of the Middle East. The warmongers want to boost their flagging profits by making Western labour as well as Middle Eastern oil cheaper. Bush used the war as an excuse to attack the West Coast longshoremen when they tried to strike last year, and is trying to use his post-S 11 ‘Patriot Act’ to strip hundreds of thousands of state employees of their right to union membership. In Britain, Bush’s best friend Tony Blair has used the war as an excuse to threaten to ban the right of firefighters to go on strike for higher wages. Helen Clark will pull the same ‘national security’ card out of the pack the moment she is threatened by major industrial action. The Seafarers’ Union has a proud history of opposing unjust wars: it opposed the Vietnam War, and it was one of the few New Zealand unions to take a stand against the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

It’s up to staunch unions like the Seafarers to take the lead in turning anti-war resolutions into anti-war action, by supporting calls for strike action and blockades of military facilities linked to Bush’s war drive. On March the 2nd at 12noon DAWA plans to picket the Whenuapai Air Base, in protest at the sending of Orion planes to the Gulf as part of the Clark government's commitment to George Bush's War of Terror. On the same day, Christchurch activists will be picketing the US air base at Harewood. We call on the anti-war movement in other centres to stage similar actions as part of a national day of direct anti-war action.

A planning meeting for the Whenuapai action will be held this Wednesday 26th of February, 7.30pm at Trades Hall, 147 Great North Road.

 [Posted by Scott Hamilton]


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