Unions Big Presence at NYC Anti-war March
by Jo Freeman
Labor Unions made a strong showing at the April 29 anti-Iraq-war march in New York City. While the AFL-CIO, at its convention on July 27, 2005, called for a "rapid" return of all US troops from Iraq, this is the first time so many unions have been so prominent in an anti-war protest. Contingents from the United Auto Workers, Unite Here, SEIU, (particularly NYC local 1199) and the United Electrical Workers joined in a march of about 100,000 people down Broadway from Union Square to Foley Square.
Although dozens of unions endorsed the march, these carried identifying banners surrounded by large numbers of members shouting anti-war slogans. Labor also had its own tent at the Peace and Justice festival which followed the march. Concern about a possible attack on Iran joined Iraq in the slogans and signs.
This march was organized by United for Peace and Justice, with major assistance from US Labor Against the War. UfPJ has organized most of the big marches against the invasion and occupation of Iraq, though the earliest ones were organized by ANSWER. The two competing anti-war groups jointly organized the massive anti-war march in Washington DC last September 24. UfPJ later announced that it was such a bad experience that UfPJ would never co-operate with ANSWER again. A few people carried ANSWER placards on Saturday, but there was no ANSWER contingent and information about the march was not posted on its webpage.
For this march UfPJ joined with a wider diversity of organizations, including labor unions, the National Organization for Women (NOW), Friends of the Earth, and Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Push Coalition. Heads of these groups marched in the front line. There was no rally, so none of these prominent people spoke, other than a few words at a pre-march press conference, which featured Daniel Ellsberg.
After labor, groups with the most identifying banners were the usual plethora of left-wing organizations (but not ANSWER), religious groups and those deriving from a military affiliation. Signs of course, don't tell you much about numbers, but do about organization and affiliation. There were a lot of women on this march — probably half – but not many distinct women's organizations. In addition to NOW, women's groups included the Code Pink, the Raging Grannies, and the Media Whores. There was a separate women's tent at Foley Square, but the last three groups had their own tables elsewhere.
UfPJ told the press that at least 350,000 people marched on Saturday. Some newspaper stories printed this figure; most just said "tens of thousands." I watched and photographed the event from Union Square before marching the entire length. My best guess is that it was closer to100,000 participants. By earlier standards, 100,000 is still a massive march. However, since there are no longer any official estimates, which significantly underestimated attendance, the only public estimates come from march organizers, who significantly overestimate attendance. Indeed this march was smaller than most people thought it would be given that public sentiment against the war has increased and the cool, sunny weather was perfect for protesting. It was small because, apart from labor, mobilization was skimpy. Many people in New York did not even know it was being planned and anti-war groups in other parts of the country preferred to do other things than organize and pay for busses. Most anti-war activists I spoke to who didn't come seemed to think that mass protests have served their purpose and it's time for more grass roots organizing.
While protestors were marching down Broadway, the 2400th US soldier was killed in Iraq. Polls indicate that popular support for the war and for the Bush Presidency is at an all-time low. A Pew poll done in March found that half of the public believes that the US should bring its troops home from Iraq as soon as possible. A story in The New York Times on March 27 said "Interviews with voters, elected officials and candidates around the country suggest a deepening and hardening opposition to the war" which may well translate into voting out incumbents.
Now that labor, always a big player in the Democratic Party, is mobilizing against the war, even Democratic incumbents may not be immune. At least one anti-war activist is counting on it. Jonathan Tasini, former President of the National Writers Union, is running against New York's Democratic Senator in the primary. His platform is Hillary Clinton's failure to support withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.