Thousands Down Tools Over Iraq War

Thousands Down Tools Over Iraq War
Friday, March 14, 2003

MADRID, Spain -- Thousands of workers across Europe were reported Friday to have observed a labor union's call for a short strike to protest against possible war in Iraq.

The stoppage took place ahead of more anti-war marches planned throughout Europe on Saturday, and supported by the unions.

The walkout was organized by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), a Brussels-based group representing unions in 35 European countries. The group says it favors the disarmament of Iraq but wants it done through peaceful means, not war.

CNN's Al Goodman said the strikes represented a "ratcheting-up" of anti-war protests.

Figures on how many took part across Europe are not available yet, but tens of thousands were reported by The Associated Press to have downed tools in Germany, where polls have showed there is widespread opposition to military action.

Unions said more than 150,000 workers halted work at German factories -- including three Volkswagen car plants and a DaimlerChrysler works in Duesseldorf. In the eastern city of Halle, trams also stopped, AP said.

Goodman said about 100 union members stood outside the Madrid headquarters of the ruling Conservative party of Spain's Jose Maria Aznar, who is one of U.S. President George W. Bush's closest allies on a possible war with Iraq.

A further 100 clerical officers demonstrated outside the city's Supreme Court, including Spain's most famous anti-terror investigative judge.

ETUC hopes the strikes will be a prelude to huge marches on Saturday, outstripping even last month's Europe-wide demonstrations in which millions took to the streets.

"The ETUC Executive Committee believes that the rush to war in Iraq is not justified and that the legitimate goal of the international community to disarm the Saddam Hussein regime can be effectively pursued by other means and in the framework of the United Nations," the ETUC said in a statement released last Monday.

Unions in 12 countries -- France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Luxembourg -- confirmed their participation in Friday's short strike, ETUC spokesman Wim Bergans told CNN Friday.

He said support elsewhere in Europe was expected because the ETUC executive committee unanimously approved the work stoppage at its March 7 meeting in Athens, when all 35 member nations were represented.

But Bergans said that legislation or national practices in some European nations could make it difficult for some unions to "organize an interruption of work for non-national matters."

"In certain countries, it won't be so spectacular," he said.

The ETUC statement added that European governments "need to act together under the conviction so largely shared by European citizens that war is not inevitable."

"All possible attempts must be made to spare the human suffering and the devastation which it entails, including its negative consequences on the economy, the last thing Europe needs at this point in time," the statement added.

But the main Spanish employers group, the Spanish Confederation of Business Organizations (CEOE) said it regrets that a strike is being used for non-labor issues when the citizens have ample other methods to express their political views.