Friday, 2 October 2009

Afghanistan: unions support ‘troops out’ rallies

Pip Hinman, Sydney
Green Left Weekly, 26 September 2009

“The country is weary of the war. What I’m trying to do at this point is to make sure that ... we have got a coherent strategy that can work”, United States President Barack Obama told David Letterman’s Late Show on September 21.

For anti-war activist Christine Keavney, Obama’s latest bid to convince an increasingly oppositional US population that a troop surge combined with a so-called counter-insurgency strategy will bring good results sounds very desperate.

“Obama was elected by a war-weary public”, she told Green Left Weekly, “though he campaigned for more war in Afghanistan. That was less than a year ago, and now the polls show the American public disagrees.

“True, many are still worried about calling for the troops to leave, but many more are reaching the conclusion that the bigger the US-NATO presence the worse the war will get.

“These polls reveal a political shift. They don’t translate automatically into a force for change, but they show there’s an opportunity to have that discussion with a lot more people now.”

Keavney is a member of the Sydney Stop the War Coalition (StWC) and the Socialist Alliance. She is helping to organise a protest on the eighth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan on October 8. She said she was pleased with the support for the rally so far.

“Already a couple of unions have signed on — the Fire Brigade Employees Union and the Maritime Union of Australia (NSW branch) — and we are in discussions with others.

“We set out to engage with unions and other community groups that were active in the anti-Iraq war movement. Not everyone is supportive, but at least our approaches are prompting some broader discussion, especially among unions, about Australia being at war for eight years, and why pulling the troops out will assist the people of Afghanistan.”

The Victorian branch of the Maritime Union of Australia is supporting a similar rally in Melbourne on October 10. Other endorsees include: Victorian Trades Hall Council; the Electrical Trades Union (Victorian branch); community Radio 3CR; Campaign for International Cooperation and Disarmament; the Federation of Australian Muslim Students and Youth; the Victorian Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (mining and energy division); the National Tertiary Education Union (Victorian branch); the Socialist Alliance, Resistance and other socialist groups.

While the Victorian Greens decided not to support the rally, the NSW Greens will, and NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon will speak. The NSW Greens have also signed on to a statement issued by StWC called “Ten reasons to get out of Afghanistan”.

Keavney said that an important part of organising these protests was the contribution to public discussion about the war.

“We have to try to convince people to do more than simply disagree privately. These rallies are just the beginning of a more systematic campaign to pressure the Rudd government to bring the troops home”, she said.

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