UP TO a million people marched against war through the Italian city of Florence last Saturday. All day they arrived to swell the city to two or three times its normal size. The march was a dense, colourful and energetic show of total opposition to any attack by Bush and Blair on Iraq.
Coming the day after the United Nations Security Council vote, it sent the defiant message that millions will take action against war. The march was made up of teenagers and 90 year olds, trade unionists, debt campaigners and political parties, people from all over Italy and delegations from other countries who came after attending the European Social Forum.
José Bové, the French activist famous for opposing McDonald's, was there in a tractor. Sergio Cofferati, who has just stepped down as general secretary of the CGIL Italian trade union federation, was among the 100,000 CGIL members who marched. This was a transformation from Genoa in 2001, when CGIL refused to give official support to the marches against the G8 summit of world leaders. The march was both intensely serious in its political message and an exuberant carnival.
There were thousands of anti-war banners and placards with slogans such as 'Stop global war', 'Peace not war', 'Don't attack Iraq', and 'Bush, Blair, Berlusconi are murderers'. But there were also wider slogans: 'People before profit', 'For a just and equal Europe', 'Anti-capitalist', 'F**k capitalism, f**k imperialism' and, very popular, 'One solution, revolution'.
Coaches carrying marchers choked several major streets, and there were 20 special trains in addition to all the usual services. The start time for the march had to be brought forward three hours in an effort to clear space for the hundreds of thousands pouring onto the streets. By early evening, hours after the first marchers had come to the end of the demonstration, great swathes of trade unionists were just starting off.
Many local people clapped and cheered the marchers. From balconies throughout the city they hung banners reading 'Peace' or 'Down with the war' in Italian. In one road an old man with tears in his eyes held an umbrella with a message written on it in Italian and English, reading, 'Thank you children'.
Few marchers reached the end of the route without feeling intensely emotional about the power of the day and the bonds it had created between generations of activists. The international delegations were made especially welcome and placed right near the head of the march. People from Greece, Britain, Spain, Germany, France and Italy stood together to sing 'Bandiera Rossa' and the 'Internationale'.
Guido Vecchi, a bank worker from Venice, said, 'We saw your protest in Britain against the war. It lifted us - it made us want to do the same and more.' Huge contingents of workers filled big sections of the march. The march was led by a contingent of Fiat car workers who are fighting redundancies.
Further back came tens of thousands from the Cobas unions, from smaller union groups, and then the massive CGIL contingent, including thousands of FIOM metal workers. Roberto Teramo, a trade unionist from Rome, told Socialist Worker, 'I am proud to be here again to march alongside the young people. We are all against the war, a war that will help only the rich. Today is an inspiration. Now I feel that we should try to strike against the war.'
Felicita Galimberti, a student from Turin, said, 'I feel angry that the war is coming and happy that so many people are against it. 'We are the majority! They have no right to take us to war. Today Florence was our city and our streets, not Berlusconi's or Bush's.'
Florence came to a halt against the war. We must work to do the same in every European capital in two months time on 15