Editorial, Workers' Liberty 29, February 2003
No to Bush, Blair and Howard; No to Saddam; Stop work to stop the war
Once again, the US prepares to unleash the horror of war to ensure the interests of big capital. Once again, an Australian government follows along slavishly. But also once again, a powerful movement is developing to oppose that war.
The anti-war movement has got off to a much earlier start than the movement against the Vietnam War. Already we are able to arrange street marches of many thousands. These protests are an important part of building the movement of opposition. However, in themselves, they will not stop Australian involvement in the war.
Howard can resist very large protests. He ignored the huge reconciliation marches. But Howard has staked his credibility on this war. In order to achieve the object of stopping the war we would have try to make the ruling class fear that society could become ungovernable. To put it another way, the working-class movement and its allies would need to make prosecution of the war too costly.
In the movement against the Vietnam War, unions played a pig part. We need to learn from that experience and adopt one of the main mobilising slogans "Stop work to stop the war". Unionists everywhere should learn from the example of the West Australian Trades and Labor Council, which has taken the lead in proposing industrial action in the event of war (see Unions against the war page 4).
Workers and our unions have central importance in taking action that can actually stop this capitalist war. We can act by refusing to handle any military equipment and material that might be used in a war on Iraq. Unionists can also have an impact through a range of disruptive actions, such as strikes, pickets, walkouts, civil disobedience and occupations. We can win support for these actions in unionised and unorganised workplaces and in our communities.
As an initial rallying point for workers and unions who want to stop the war, we can campaign for our unions, trades and labour councils and the ACTU to organise a national day of protest and rallies supported with stop-work and other industrial action as already proposed in Western Australia (see accompanying article).
Socialist Alliance has rightly made union anti-war work its top priority. SA is seeking signatories to a statement urging union action and distributing a model motion for union meetings (see accompanying article.)
We cannot predict the progress and outcome of this war. If we don't stop it, it could be very short and devastating, over before we even have the time to end it ourselves. It is barely a year since US troops invaded Afghanistan, and Bush and Blair promise a never-ending "war on terror" with North Korea next. The war on Iraq is set in this bigger context, which means that the anti-war movement needs to take on the ruling classes of the major capitalist countries who are driving this war on and on without end. As such, slogans to withdraw troops from one particular theatre of war will be rapidly redundant, as we need to stop the whole war machine. We also need to take up policies on broader issues based on democracy and international solidarity; for serious disarmament and an end to the waste of military expenditure; for freedom from political, religious and sexual persecution by political Islam; for national independence for peoples of the Middle-East, including Kurds, Israeli Jews and Palestinians; for refugee rights; for opposition to all corrupt or dictatorial regimes, whether in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel or Egypt.
The Socialist Alliance is taking the fight against the war up to the political front by campaigning in elections. The anti-war campaign needs a political voice, a voice in parliament for a working-class anti-war struggle. The Greens' opposition to the war is clear but it is not anti-capitalist, and the Greens do not recognise the centrality of working-class action against the war.
Whilst socialist candidates or MPs cannot alone stop this war, they can voice the possibility of a government on our side, and they can support struggles by unions and community groups.
A sustained working-class movement against war will necessarily come up against the capitalist ruling class on all fronts: political, industrial and ideological. Its struggle could rekindle working-class self-confidence in solidarity. It would have the potential not only to stop this war, but also to fight for and win other demands, including an end to the waste of military expenditure. In such campaigns, we could learn our own capacity to run our country in the interests of all, and take power from that wealthy, privileged minority who are indifferent to human suffering and need, who spend poor people's blood for a rich man's war.