by Martha Root, Massachusetts Nurses Association District 5, SEIU Local 2020
The day the war began, three million workers brought Italy to a screeching halt in a powerful general strike against Prime Minister Berlusconi’s support for the war on Iraq. Airport workers walked off the job in Rome to protest the military’s use of the airport. Workers blockaded the Genoa docks for 24 hours.
In Greece, a massive nationwide strike shut down banks, shops, workplaces, and government offices on April 4. In Spain the UGT union organized a 2-hour general strike on April 10, and 150,000 CGT workers shut down Catalonia for a day.
In Belgium, a scheduled protest against a WTO treaty on March 21 turned into an anti-war action of 30,000. In Gent, public transport workers struck for the day, and Caterpillar steelworkers across the country also downed tools in protest.
These strikes show the potential of the international working class to shut down the war machine. Before the war began, unions representing hundreds of millions of workers came out against the war, many threatening strike action. Unfortunately, most union leaders failed to carry through or only organized symbolic work stoppages for a few minutes or hours. Socialist Alternative and the Committee for a Workers’ International are campaigning to build a union movement prepared to take determined action against the capitalists and their wars.
Anti-War Actions at US Workplaces
A striking example of workers opposing the war occurred on April 7 in Oakland, California. 1,000 protesters blocked the port entrances of two military supply shippers, American President Lines and Stevedoring Services of America (which had just received a multi-million dollar government contract to run Iraqi docks). Police showed up to remove the protesters and intimidate ILWU workers who had recently defeated the efforts of the shipping lines and the Bush administration to bust their union.
While ILWU workers were deciding whether to honor the peaceful picket line, police violently dispersed the protesters by firing shotguns loaded with wooden dowels and concussion grenades indiscriminately into the crowd, sometimes aiming at face-level and often shooting at close range. 50 demonstrators and nine longshore workers were injured, and 31 were arrested.
Although the union leadership shut down the Oakland port for the rest of the day, they should have shut down all West Coast ports in protest, as some ILWU activists called for.
Teachers Speak Out Against War
In Oakland, the school board voted unanimously to host a district-wide teach-in that took place in January about the war on Iraq, under pressure from the Oakland teachers union and students.
The resolution suggested that educating students about the war should include questioning how the government spends billions on war, while cutting budgets for schools. Oakland schools are in a deep financial crisis and are under threat of a state takeover.
State Department officials and Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office declined invitations to the teach-in, and corporate media sources dismissed the teach-in as one-sided. An organizer responded: “Even if the speakers … aren’t balanced, the kids will read the newspaper and see the TV and get the other side.”