This article originally appeared in
Europeans plan anti-war job walkout
Milan, other cities to see peace marches
03/14/2003 - Updated 11:30 PM ET
By Eric J. Lyman, Special for USA TODAY
ROME -- Anti-war protest organizers say they expect as many as 70 million Europeans to
walk off the job briefly today, and they say Italy will host the largest of a handful of protest
marches on Saturday.
Organizers say the strike and demonstrations will show that the anti-war movement in
Europe is gaining support and moving into the mainstream. The protests are designed
to illustrate to Europe's pro-U.S. leaders -- most notably Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, Tony Blair
of Britain and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar -- that the cost of their support for
military action in Iraq is rising.
''The idea is to show that most people are against the war and that we are organized and
willing to stand for what we believe,'' says Franco Garufi, an official with Italy's largest trade
union, CGIL, which helped organize Saturday's march and the work stoppage in Italy.
''Our leaders are not representing the will of the people who elected them.''
Polls show most Europeans oppose war in Iraq without United Nations support.
Today's Europe-wide strike, which will last only 15 minutes in most countries, is more
symbolic than substantive. But strike organizers say 40 million to 70 million workers
from more than 25 labor unions in 14 countries could stop what they are doing at the
same time: noon. They say it could be Europe's largest coordinated walkout in a generation.
At least 7 million Europeans marched through their capitals a month ago to protest war in Iraq, protest organizers said. Several
smaller marches have taken place in the weeks since then. Protests are scheduled this weekend in Britain and the Netherlands,
among other places. But by far, the largest weekend protest is expected to be in Milan.
''Italy has a history of protests. . . . (They are) a natural reaction when the public feels strongly about something,'' says Antonio di Maza,
a CGIL member who plans to participate in today's strike and Saturday's march. ''This idea of war is an issue that has captured the
Anti-war sentiment is not confined to Europe. Demonstrations have been held in Asia, Australia and South America. In the USA,
thousands of anti-war protesters are expected to march to the White House and Justice Department on Saturday. Rallies also are
planned in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Activists will gather in Sacramento when Democratic presidential candidates appear at
the state party convention.
Though the more than 20,000 Marines posted in northern Kuwait as part of the USA's war plans mostly shrug off news of the
domestic protests, some who are deployed there say they are concerned about how they will be treated when they return home.
''I don't think people realize what we're doing out here,'' says Marine Cpl. Geoffrey Spencer, 25, a reservist from Houston. He says he
worries that American troops could return to the kind of hostility that greeted veterans returning from Vietnam in the 1970s. ''They think
it's an oil war. To us, it's not about that. A lot of people forget about what happened at the World Trade Center,'' he says.
Organizers of the protests in Italy say they haven't forgotten the Sept. 11 attacks. But they say the more than 500,000 protesters they
expect in Milan don't believe that terrorism in the USA warrants an attack on Iraq. The expected turnout is only half the size of a march
Feb. 15 in Rome. Even so, it will be the largest demonstration in Italy's main industrial and financial heartland in years.
The march in Rome in February was Europe's largest. Buildings -- even government offices -- here are still littered with the
multicolored ''peace'' flags that went up ahead of that march. Since then, Italian protesters have halted trains carrying supplies to
Italian NATO bases. News programs carry almost daily reports on regional anti-war activities.
There is no reason to believe the strike and protests will persuade any of Europe's pro-war leaders to change their minds about
military action to force Saddam Hussein to disarm. But the massive display of public disapproval of the policies of some European
leaders could have a long-term effect on the countries involved.
''One thing that is significant is that the groups organizing these actions are more mainstream, like labor unions or universities, rather
than fringe groups,'' says Flavio Colletti, a commentator who specializes in European political issues. ''One impact is that they are
organizing like-minded people, and in future elections or especially if the war starts and goes badly in some way, they will be a major
Maj. Gen. James Mattis, who commands the 1st Marine Division in Kuwait, takes a philosophical approach to the protests. He tells
his Marines to view the anti-war movement as a demonstration of freedom of speech.
''I tell them to be very proud of the protests back home. There's not a single protest against Saddam for a reason.''
Copyright 2003 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
Italian anti-war demonstrators gathered in Rome
during a George Bush visit. Photo by AFP