World opposition to Bush-Blair

More than 30 million protested on February 15 in over 600 cities and towns, across more than 60 countries and on every continent. They marched to stop the impending war against Iraq - even at the McMurdo base in Antarctica. Tina Becker looks at how the left across the world has reported the events of the day

Germany "The people of the 'old Europe' have spoken," says the Party of Democratic Socialism in a press statement marking the 500,000-strong march in Berlin. Germany's largest leftwing party says that the "rallies, demonstrations and activities of millions of peaceful civilians are giving hope that the campaign of the barbaric military machine might be stoppable." But it harbours illusions in the UN and the German government and its statement reeks of pacifism: "This was a clear demand aimed at our politicians to keep Germany's anti-war position, to resist all attempts to break or abolish the UN charter and the principle of the peaceful resolution of all conflicts. Like many of Saturday's protesters we are on the side of those in world politics who want to exclude war as a means of politics. International rules to resolve problems peacefully "¦ would be destroyed in a military attack." Italy Rifondazione Comunista's daily newspaper Liberazione is maybe exaggerating when it states that "about 110 million people" around the world protested against the war (February 17). Of the Rome event it writes: "It was the largest demonstration in Italian history with more than three million people attending, and the police not sure whether to admit to 1,800,000 or 1,650,000. The fact is, it was not only an impressive and politically mixed demonstration, but above all represented, as a natural outgrowth of the march itself, a popular democratic assembly. "Within the streams of protesters and the thousands of forms the demonstration took - from vans blaring music to prayer, a hundred different versions of 'Bella ciao', and the thousands of different ways of taking part that were invented right up to the last moment, with gymnastics, tambourines and dancing, or the chanting of political slogans (the most radical calling for a European-wide strike), the groups of buddhist monks and the ICorvi collective, Rifondazione and the Scouts, Young Communists and the Women in Black, and of course all the trade union centres "¦ for once united together, all with Arci balloons festooned with banners - three generations of Italians became a new people. "The first of these became politically active after World War II; the second were those who 'did' 1968, and who lived through the frozen 80s; and the last, the young, who are shaking things up now and demanding a better world. A dream that is finally possible. Three generations, united one with the other, conscious that this war is not only against Iraq, but against them, against all of us, against life itself and our hopes of the future. It is for this reason that they recognise a common goal and a common banner: that of peace. A banner no longer of individual nations, but in this age of global war, of the whole world." USA It is estimated that over one million people protested in 250 cities. Although mayor Michael Bloomberg banned the planned march in New York, "we estimate that at least 500,000 people attended the February 15 'World says no to war' protest in New York City - despite frigid weather, and repeated attempts by the NYPD to limit our freedom of speech," reports the umbrella group, United for Peace and Justice, to which hundreds of American political groups have affiliated. Another 60,000 marched in Los Angeles, 50,000 in Seattle and 10,000 in Chicago with many more taking to the streets in other cities across the USA. The next major anti-war protest in the US will be a convergence on the White House on March 1. Australia Green Left Weekly, the paper of the Democratic Socialist Party, reports that "Almost one million people in Australia mobilised on February 14-16 to tell prime minister John Howard and Labor leader Simon Crean that they oppose any war on Iraq, with or without UN backing." Kicking off a weekend of massive international protest against war on Iraq, nearly one in 50 Australians attended anti-war protests. The weekend began with what was up to then the largest peace demonstration in Australia's history, as 150,000 people took to the streets of Melbourne on February 14. At 2pm on the same day, 1,000 high school students staged a strike and rally, marching to Melbourne Central behind a 'Youth against war' banner. More than 500,000 people marched in Sydney, writes GLW: "This was the biggest protest march Sydney, and Australia, has ever seen. And the people there knew it. The confidence, solidarity and empowerment in the air was palpable. Many people said they had never marched before, and complete strangers passionately discussed the issues involved, shared drinks as they stood in the blazing sun, and laughed and cried together as they listened to the speakers." Scotland The Scottish Socialist Party's website vividly describes Glasgow as "a sea of humanity, as demonstrators poured into the city from all over Scotland and the north of England". So many had tried to come through by train from Edinburgh that Waverley station was closed for some time. Some of those gathering at Glasgow Green did not start marching until an hour and a half after the front of the demo left. Ninety thousand marched. The event came under attack just before February 15, when the Labour Party called on the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, the venue for Labour's conference, to refuse permission for the demonstration to be provided with a stage and PA system. But Tommy Sheridan promptly responded to this move by successfully tabling a motion in the Scottish parliament to allow the event to take place. The demonstrators "wanted to tell Tony Blair, 'Not in our name' ... But Tony was not prepared to face the people. He rescheduled his speech so that he could make a quick getaway. "As thousands poured into the grounds of the SECC for the rally, speaker after speaker condemned Blair for his lies and hypocrisy. Speaking for the SSP, Tommy Sheridan MSP called for mass action to stop the war. He called on the demonstrators to vote out the pro-war parties. He exposed New Labour, who are ready to spend millions on war but who cannot find resources to fight poverty or pay our firefighters. Tommy pointed out that socialists had been campaigning against Saddam Hussein whilst Britain and the US were selling him arms and chemical weapons. Finally he contrasted murderous intent of the warmongers with another vision of a world of love, justice and human solidarity." Ireland The Socialist Party in Ireland comments on its website that "February 15 was an historic day in Ireland. Dublin saw 150,000 demonstrators take to the streets in protest against a war on Iraq. This was the biggest anti-war demo in Irish history and the biggest protest in decades. Firefighters led the massive 20,000-strong anti-war demonstration in Belfast. Pride of place at the front of the march was given to the fire service workers, who have been taking strike action recently." Sinn Féin's spokesperson on international affairs, Aengus O Snodaigh TD, speaking at the Dublin rally, said: "Today's massive turnout is surely the largest political protest I have seen in this city since the hunger strike protests of the 1980s. Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen can not now be under any illusion about the feelings of the people of this state. We are opposed to this war and we are opposed to the Dublin government's complicity in it, through the use of Shannon Airport." But SF's opposition was not exactly consistent. O Snodaigh went on: "It is to Ireland's shame that this government - who fought for the right to be on the United Nations security council, who said they would represent the interests of small nations there - failed to use this position to strongly oppose war. Instead they have left the initiative to France, Germany, Russia, and others. "We are saying let the UN inspectors continue with their work which they have said is making progress. We are demanding, no war on Iraq." New Zealand Green Left Weekly reports that "around 10,000 people marched in Auckland on February 15. In the capital, Wellington, 8,000 people rallied outside Parliament House. Protesters demand that the NZ Labour government withdraw a New Zealand navy frigate and an air force Orion aircraft from the Gulf. There were anti-war actions in at least 20 centres in NZ ... The protests, which were organised by Global Peace and Justice Network and Peace Movement Aotearoa, were the biggest in NZ since the huge anti-apartheid protests of the 1980s." Spain Spain saw some of the world's biggest mobilisations. While the bourgeois media put the attendance at 2.5 million, organisers claim that well over five million people took part. Comrade Gemma Galdon, a regular attender of the preparatory meetings for the European Social Forum, estimates that "about 14% of the total population" took part in demonstrations. There were over two million in Barcelona, one million in Madrid, 250,000 in Seville, 200,000 in Oviedo, etc. Comade Galdon writes on the ESF email discussion list that "we have got no idea of who was at the front of the march - probably a group of high-school students or a group of neighbours with a hand-made banner. The politicians and trade union officials left after 10 minutes." While comrade Galdon is jubilant that the "ordinary people took over the march" and sidelined the "politicians", the World Socialist Website criticises the fact that "largely lacking was a political perspective to combat the drive to war. There were few organisations selling literature, and few leaflets. Although there were small contingents from the UGT and CCOO trade unions, and a handful from the Catalan counterpart of the Socialist Party, most of the visible placards and banners were those of the anti-war coalition." When the speeches at the end of the march began, the official banner had covered only half the route. Demonstrators at the starting point did not move for some hours. The speeches at the Placa de Tetuan were repeated four times, as demonstrators continued to arrive. The protests coincide with legislation placed by Aznar before the parliament that would shift official responsibility for launching military action. At present, only the king can declare war. Under the proposed new law, prime minister Aznar would be able to "conduct the leadership of a war or military action". France As we go to press, none of the main leftwing organisations have reports of the numerous demonstrations on their websites. Undoubtedly the Communist Party of France, the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, Lutte Ouvrière and Attac were involved in the protests, which saw something approaching 500,000 marching against the war, including up to 200,000 in Paris. There were smaller demonstrations in 72 towns and cities. Hungary Around 60,000 marched in Budapest after the reversal of a ban on the demonstration. In a last-minute meeting between representatives of the Hungarian anti-war movement and social democratic prime minister Peter Medgyessy, the latter "apologised" for initially banning the event, according to a report by comrade Endre Simà³, who attended the meeting: "I support the demonstration for peace. I agree with its goals," Medgyessy is reported to have said. Comrade Simà³ writes on the ESF list: "He promised us that Hungary would not be implicated in the war and he would not send Hungarian troops to Iraq - 'I have told this to Bush too' "¦ He compared Saddam to Milosevic and said that if the Munich Pact had not been signed maybe World War II could have been avoided. Finally he expressed hope for a new UN resolution and asked us to accept it. We told Mr Peter Medgyessy that we were against the war with or without a UN resolution and we invited him not to follow the oil interests' war plans of the Bush administration." In a rare display of direct, physical opposition to anti-war marchers a small group of fascists unsuccessfully tried to block the Budapest demonstration. Poland With 10,000 people on the Warsaw march, comrade Filip, another regular at ESF meetings, remarks: "This was the biggest anti-war demonstration in Polish history! It was much more than we expected." He reports that those involved in the preparations included "Arab and muslim associations, leftwing and green organisations, Amnesty International, people who went to the ESF in Florence and many new, non-organised people. But, what is even more important, the demo was attended mostly by 'ordinary people', sometimes with their own banners! We had also some anti-war catholics. After Hungary, this was the biggest protest in eastern Europe." Israel The World Socialist Website reports on a 3,000-strong march in Tel Aviv: "The demonstration was held by a coalition of peace organisations, political parties and alternative media groups, including the Communist Party, the National Democratic Assembly, the Democratic Arab Party, the Independent Media Centre, the Alternative Information Centre, the Jewish-Arab Partnership Group (Ta'ayush), the Peace Bloc movement (Gush Shalom) and the Organisation for Democratic Action. The Zionist left, including Meretz and Peace Now, decided to boycott the demonstration. Many Arab youth came with Palestinian flags. Others danced while singing the Palestinian anthem."