If not now when?

Although we don't know the details of the Bush and Blair war plan it seems certain we are only around three weeks from the official start of the war. Unofficially the war has gone on for the last 12 years with bombs raining down on Iraq and a regular basis and the economic war credited with killing over half a million.

This coming war has got to be the least popular since World War One, which was also preceded by massive international demonstrations. Unfortunately in that war it was felt 'premature' to take action in advance of the war and when it broke out most, under the enormous pressures of war, took the side of 'their state'. We can rightly take great hop in the fact that millions of people across the world demonstrated against war on Fed 15. But we also have to recognise that these demonstrations on there own have not even slowed the march to war significantly.

Feb 15 demonstrates that the people of the world do not want this war. But the fact we are going to war anyway reveals that nether the US not British government have any intention of listening to this message. We are left with no choice but to force them to listen by attempting to shut down the drive to war through our own actions. This is already happening across Europe and the US with blockades of troop trains, attacks on recruitment offices and invasions of air bases. This level of action against war is probably unique in advance of war breaking out - and clearly represents tactics developed by the globalisation movement been taken to another terrain. In Britain it has resulted in the deployment of the US National Guard to US military bases in Britain!

Here in Ireland it might be expected that we would be something of a sideshow. Yet because of our dependence on US capital and our geographic location on the edge of Europe we have an opportunity to strike a blow against war that can provide real inspiration for those elsewhere.

Our economic dependence on the US (Ireland is by far the largest per capita receiver of US investment in Europe) means that we have a ruling class slavishly chained to the interests of the US government. Despite demonstrations of over 115,000 on the island on Feb 15th they are determined to continue to support the US war effort, not just in words but also in deeds.

Our geographical location has made us relatively essential for that war effort. Official government figures revealed that something over 20,000 US troops were flown through Shannon airport in the opening weeks of the year. The Wall Street Journal of December 19th reported that in the January build up "A defense official said more than 50,000 U.S. ground troops are likely to flow into the Gulf region". It thus appears over 40% of these may have come through Shannon airport, showing the importance of this airport in the US military supply chain.

As elsewhere on the globe protests against the war have not just been passive but have also involved direct action. In Ireland almost all of this has been targeted on Shannon airport. Over half a dozen successful actions have taken place ranging from a large scale breach of the fence in October to physical attacks on planes as the build up to war escalated. These actions and plans for further actions have had a real success, World Airlines was the first troop carrier to announce it was, for a while, not using Shannon. Yesterday North American Airlines and Miami Airline followed this. According to RTE "Both said that security at the airport was of concern to them".

The direct actions to date have been fairly minor, involving no more then 150 people. They had been organised either in secret or by small groups of friends at the protests themselves. Not surprisingly many people (including some of the organisers) felt that this was less that ideal. For cynical reasons of their own some party political hacks used this to label these actions 'elitist' or more bizarrely to claim that while they would support mass direct action they couldn't support these actions.

As it became obvious not only that war was imminent but that opposition was overwhelming a debate began in the Grassroots Network Against War about organising a mass action whose details would be publicly announced in advance. It was reckoned that it would now be possible for thousands of people to take part in such an action. It was also hoped that the public nature of the announcement would help gain the support of those who claimed they were merely against 'elitist' or small group direct actions. So on the morning of Feb 15th after a long discussion a national GNAW meeting took an indicative vote to publicly call for a mass direct action aimed at tearing down the fence at Shannon.

The plan that was later agreed is simple. One group will form a line facing the fence, march over to it and attempt to tear it down. Another group will stand behind them as observers in solidarity with the action. Full details at http://grassrootsgathering.freeservers.com/gnaw.html

Not being stupid I recognised the possibility that for cynical party political reasons and straightforward control freakery some would still oppose that plan. But with war imminent March1st represents the last chance for such a mass action before the outbreak of war. This could not be expected to win over the die-hard 'law and order' brigade but it might be expected that those organisations that claim to be 'revolutionary' would recognise that this was the moment to act (or at least not to get in the way!).

Alas that is not how things seem to be. Now we are being told that such an action is 'premature'. But with war likely to formally break out only days after March 1st the question must be asked 'if not now, when'. With the government going ahead with refuelling despite 100,000 marching in Dublin against it we have to ask what level of active public opposition is required before these 'revolutionaries' consider direct action to be justified. We are at five minutes to midnight friends; the time to act is now.

Alongside this excuse, which at least can be honestly argued for come a range of miserable evasions that do their authors no credit. With three troop carrying airlines already gone from Shannon they seek to assert that such actions cannot work! They mutter darkly about state repression, about soldiers with guns, armoured cars with plastic bullets and the special branch. What should we conclude from this, that we should avoid effective opposition in case a cornered state strikes back? 'The great only appear great because we are on our knees,' it appears these 'revolutionaries' advise us to stay there lest we anger them.

Worst of all perhaps is the argument that direct action will alienate people from the anti-war movements. This ignores the fact that a good part of the movement building in this country happened through the publicity following on from the various direct actions, in particular the physical attacks on planes at Shannon. How quickly they forget that the time the media was ringing them for a change was in the aftermath of these actions, actions they were careful to avoid supporting. How quickly they forget that when 100,000 marched in Dublin national coverage had already been given to the fence being torn down at Shannon and the disarming of planes. I don't argue that every one of these people supports these acts but they are quite capable of understanding them in the light of the mass deaths that war in Iraq will cause. When they marched in Dublin they marched AFTER all these events had taken place.

There is a poisonous insert to this argument. This is that the direct actions will somehow stop workers in Shannon striking against refuelling. The sad truth is that while all of us would recognise such action to be the most effective in stopping refuelling there is little evidence of it being about to happen. There is little evidence in fact that it is any more they a 'pie in the sky' slogan some left groups throw around to pretend they have an alternative.

Some people in GNAW have been talking to Shannon workers. We know that those who work as cops at the airport don't like the direct actions because every breach of security gets them into trouble for failing to prevent it. We know that most workers there fear effective action against military refuelling because some of the jobs at the airport may depend on this refuelling. For these reasons there is little or no talk in support of anti-refuelling strike action by workers at Shannon. The war is just days away, things can change but to put all our eggs in the 'workers must strike' basket seems foolish, to say the least. Particularly if it means failing to take action that has been proved capable of driving out the troop carriers.

We can say this to the workers at Shannon. If they take strike action against the war then they do so in a situation where the mass of the population will support them. Those of us in the anti-war movements will owe them solidarity. Beyond this the vast majority who oppose the war should be open to the argument that any loss of income at the airport should be made up by the state or that equivalent jobs should be created in the area.

On the other hand if the Shannon workers continue to agree with their bosses in insisting that war work is essential for jobs then where will that leave them after the war? This war is all about the same forces of corporate globalisation that are privatising and slashing airlines and ground services across Europe. Militancy and public solidarity are the only weapons Shannon workers have to defend their jobs in the long term, sacrificing both for short term gain (won at the expense of those who will die in Iraq) is no way forward.

Direct action in Shannon has worked. Three out of four of the airlines ferrying troops through the airport have withdrawn citing "security concerns'. Each and every action has catapulted refuelling into the headlines and ensured that the following day people talk about Irish involvement in the war at work, at school and in the pub. And these were small actions. Now we are talking of an action that should involve thousands.

Some are even saying that the action planned for Shannon is just posturing because the plan has been made public. Let's leave aside the fact that these same people were earlier condemning direct action for being 'secretive'! Let's leave aside the fact that those organising Saturdays action have already taken direct action at Shannon on several occasions already and several have been arrested there. We have nothing to prove in terms of our willingness to act.

Leaving all that aside I agree there is no guarantee that the planned action can take place. The previous actions depended on very small numbers of determined people to carry them out. Indeed in two cases they just involved the one person who carried them out. That sort of action required a level of secrecy, it worked because the Gardai did not know what to expect.

In proposing and organising a public plan we recognised that this was not something that the one hundred or so people involved in GNAW could carry through. We recognise that the Gardai can easily mobilise the numbers required to stop so few. This plan could only possibly work if thousands of people who will march against war are prepared to act against war on this occasion. And that includes YOU.

At Shannon on March 1st look out for the pink flags and the while flags. Within a couple of weeks a war will start in which tens of thousands (at least) will die in Iraq. On Saturday consider whether the eve of war is indeed the moment to act. If you consider the risk to be worthwhile on that day join us at the white flags. If you support us but are unable to take the risk of arrest (and there are lots of reasons why many people will not) then join us, as a solidarity observer, at the pink flags.


Detailed plan at http://grassrootsgathering.freeservers.com/gnaw.html

[A Personal report from a Workers Solidarity Movement member, these reports are posted to the Ainriail list when first written]

To the News of Irish struggles Index