Filip Staes reports on last weekend's antiwar demonstration in Brussels and on the 'shipspotting' activities of the Anti-War Committees set up by the supporters of Vonk in Antwerp. Antwerp has grown in importance for the war effort as a large part of the military hardware for the Gulf is transported through this port.
The weekend of 18 and 19 January thousands of people all over the world protested against the impending war in Iraq. In Belgium there was a demonstration with about 10,000 participants that took to the streets on Sunday. Various NGOs, immigrants' organisations, left groups and parties and delegations of trade unions were present.
In mid October 2002 the Marxist tendency 'Vonk', which is part of the international Marxist tendency gathered around the 'In Defence Of Marxism' website, launched an anti-war campaign. From the beginning we stressed the importance of the port of Antwerp in the preparations and transportation of supplies for the US troops in Iraq. Due to reliable contacts in the port of Antwerp we were able to organise a ‘shipspotting’ network. We produced a four page tabloid size document in which we published information on how the US army was shipping its military hardware through the port of Antwerp, technical details, which companies were involved, etc.
We started organising anti-war committees and campaigning around our ‘shipspotting’ document. Politicians tried to fudge the issue by saying that this military transportation was nothing special. They argued that this was part of normal NATO activities and that they had nothing to do with the impending war against Iraq. We on the other hand remained firm and kept up the campaign around this issue. We also managed to convince parts of the broader peace movement to campaign with us on this issue. The turning point came when Freddy Willockx, Socialist Party member and mayor of St-Niklaas, a town near Antwerp, replied negatively to the request of 40 US military personnel who are staying in his city, to have police protection. This incident highlighted the fact that the US army had sent these people to overlook and coordinate the transportation of military hardware to the Gulf that was being prepared in the port. Today the whole anti-war movement in Belgium is focussed on this transportation.
Last Sunday we continued our series of actions around this issue by participating with a delegation of our anti-war committees on the demonstration in Brussels. At the head of our delegation we had a huge banner which read "Havens Wapenvrij!" meaning "No weapons in the ports!". Besides this slogan we shouted; "Nato out of Belgium, Belgium out of Nato!", "Bush, Blair, we don’t want your capitalist war!", "No war for oil!", "no bullet, no cent , no man/woman for this war!", and so on.
The next step in the campaign will be a demonstration on February 12, in Antwerp, against the shipping of military equipment and troops through the port. The official appeal that has been sent out calling on people to take part in the demonstration has been backed by numerous organisations among which are the local youth organisations of the Socialist and Green parties. At the moment efforts are also being made to involve the trade unions in this call. At the same time we are also campaigning for a trade union boycott of the transportation.
January 21, 2003