Socialist Worker

100,000 head for Paris Conference

by Kevin Ovenden
Issue No. 1876

THE EUROPEAN Social Forum (ESF) next week will see at least 100,000 gather in Paris for an event that will concentrate the militant mood building up across the continent. The ESF is the body that met in Florence, Italy, last year.

The event called for the international day of action against the war on 15 February and saw one million people march against neo-liberalism and war. The political temperature in Paris today is at least as high as it was in Florence. A wave of mass strikes swept France in May and June. They shook the Tory government and the employers.

That action by hundreds of thousands of workers, with the strong involvement of the far left, created turmoil in French politics which continues today. The issues of pension and welfare cuts that led to the strikes are not resolved. People who organised the resistance will be at the ESF discussing a new round of struggle.

Thousands of people are coming from elsewhere in Europe-people who have built the anti-war movement, strikes and major anti-capitalist initiatives. 'We think a couple of thousand people will be going from Germany,' says Werner Halbauer.

He is a member of Socialist Worker's sister organisation in Germany, Linksruck, and was a key organiser of a magnificent 100,000-strong demonstration in Berlin against welfare cuts last weekend. 'The demonstration on Saturday really was the anti-capitalist movement coming to Germany in a big way,' says Werner.

'We forged a coalition of anti-capitalist activists along with trade unionists. This delivered the huge protest at the cuts package social democratic leader Gerhard Schršder is pushing through. The number taking part took me aback. I was the optimist before the march-expecting 30-35,000 people. On the day even the police admitted 100,000 people marched. It would not surprise me if even the most optimistic estimates for the ESF are surpassed when it takes place. It was not just the size of the demonstration, it was the spirit. There was a real understanding that the attacks on welfare in Germany are part of a wider neo-liberal offensive. And they are part of a system that puts waging war above providing for people. There were large numbers of trade unionists from the public sector union Verdi, IG Metall and the building workers' union, despite the fact that the union leaders did not mobilise for it. A month ago it became clear we could get support from rank and file union members. That led to an argument in the organising coalition. Some people said that trying to involve the trade unions would dilute the militancy of the protest. We rejected that and moved to include the unions in the coalition. Last Saturday showed it was right to do that. We have seen something of Seattle or Genoa in Berlin-radical anti-capitalist forces coming together with powerful groups of workers. 'It's the way forward in Germany, and across Europe.'

There will be a delegation from Greece to the ESF. On Monday of this week hundreds of striking teachers in Greece tried to invade the education ministry and fought with riot police. The action is part of a wave of public sector strikes. Many hundreds of people are also coming from Britain-part of the anti-war movement, trade unionists and anti-capitalist activists.

Hundreds of people heard campaigning journalist John Pilger, a Bolivian activist and the organiser of the Cairo conference against war and neo-liberalism at a meeting on Monday in London organised by Globalise Resistance.

Many there were going to the ESF, or decided to that night. It's not too late to join them.

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Sat 8 Nov 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1876
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