Kiraz Janicke, Sydney
As the warmongering federal Coalition government gears up for a new round of neoliberal attacks on universities and attempts to politically silence students through its anti-student union legislation, a small but significant revival of student anti-war activism has emerged across Australia.
In December last year, more than 40 anti-war activists from around Australia met during the National Union of Students conference to discuss and debate strategies for rebuilding the anti-war movement. Out of this came a decision to run a campaign against Australian companies profiting from the neoliberal restructuring of the Iraqi economy that is being forced by the US occupation. One of these companies is the ANZ bank, which is part of an international consortium set up by the Coalition Provisional Authority (the US-run body that controlled Iraq until the "handover of power" on June 28, 2004), called the Iraq Trade Bank.
Since then, protests against ANZ have spread around the country. On February 11 in Perth there was a peaceful anti-war protest of 30 people outside the ANZ bank, called by the youth organisation Resistance. The action was violently broken up by police, who removed their identification badges before attacking protesters and arresting two Resistance members.
In response, Resistance called another protest on February 18 against ANZ's war profiteering. As well as calling for the troops in Iraq to be brought home, protesters defended their right to free speech, and the action was even bigger than the first. Resistance activist Emma Clancy told Green Left Weekly: "We have a right to feel solidarity with the Iraqi people being killed by the brutal US occupation with the help of the Australian government, and we have a right to demonstrate that solidarity. No matter how violent the police are, the anti-war movement will not be silenced."
More than 60 people attended a "Troops out" picket of the electoral offices of foreign minister Alexander Downer and defence minister Robert Hill, called by Resistance and the Student Activist Alliance, in Adelaide on February 25.
Protests against ANZ have also been held in Brisbane. In Melbourne, student activists in the Stop the War Coalition have initiated a weekly picket of ANZ.
Perhaps most significant, is the formation of the cross-campus group Students Against War in Sydney. On January 20, US President George Bush's inauguration day, SAW activists held a "die-in" outside ANZ's business centre in Martin Place. Students Against War has also called a March 17 student strike against the war, which will be followed by the March 20 global day of action.
As SAW activist James Robertson argued, "Our conditions on campus are being attacked in the name of profit. HECS and fees are increased, private money is brought in to replace the loss of public funding. This process is turning our universities into degree-factories, not centres to better the community. This same process is happening in Iraq, only it is being carried out much more brutally. Iraqi industry is being used to [increase] profit margins for Western companies, not [increasing] living standards for Iraqis."
From Green Left Weekly, March 2, 2005.
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