Socialist Worker

Another step, but many more ahead

Gill Hubbard from Scotland and Salvatore Cannavo from Italy both attended the European Social Forum in London last week. They reflect on the event and give their view of the way ahead for the movement.

Issue No. 1924

Standing room only at the main ESF session on liberating Palestine

Standing room only at the main ESF session on liberating Palestine


The issues of neo-liberalism and war dominated the ESF—they were themes running through the whole event, including the “Assembly of the social movements” on the final Sunday.

The assembly united around plans for a Europe-wide demonstration against the war. This is set to take place on the anniversary of the start of the bombing on 19 or 20 March.

The call to demonstrate is important because it shows people understand that the war is still the key issue.

It is the issue that brings everything together—oil, the environment, the power of US corporations, the poverty of our democracy.

Opposing the war is not just about stopping the killing. It has also thrown up key issues about our society. The anti-war movement keeps saying that we don’t live in a real democracy. People are angry at being ignored and they have proved they are still prepared to take to the streets.

The second issue for the movement is next year’s G8 summit, due to be held in July in Gleneagles, Scotland. This is a gathering of the leaders of the eight richest countries in the world.

They are the people who oversee the whole neo-liberal project and wage the world’s wars.

If our movement is serious about showing there is an alternative to neo-liberalism and war, we have to show something different. The world will be watching what happens.

That’s why we are having an alternative summit. Whatever is on the agenda at the G8 will be on the agenda at our summit. People across the world can choose who they really think has the answers to issues like environmental devastation, AIDS or war.

On Saturday 2 July we will be holding a Make Poverty History march through Edinburgh, focusing on trade aid and debt.

The alternative summit will feature bands, films and lots of other cultural events.

On Saturday 9 July there will be a protest at the G8 summit.

The third important issue for the movement is the European Constitution. It brings together the neo-liberal agenda and the attacks on the welfare state.

Activist Susan George told the ESF that as a movement we are having to defend what a previous generation fought for after the Second World War.

And it raises the question of opposition to Fortress Europe and what happens to immigrants and refugees, and attacks on workers’ rights.

Finally it was decided in London that the movement will assemble again—for the next ESF in Athens, Greece.

Gill Hubbard is the convenor of Globalise Resistance Scotland and was a part of the Scottish mobilisation committee for the ESF


Sunday afternoon’s demo—100,000 people against war and neo-liberalism—confirmed what we had written: the London ESF was a success. With many internal problems, difficulties, delays and misunderstandings, but a success nonetheless. This was also shown by the 25,000 people who attended the event.

How striking, therefore, the enormous lack of media attention by the Italian press.

A lack of curiosity—perhaps due to the absence of violent clashes—that should make us reflect on the present system of media information.

But, at the same time, it reveals a political distance between an “establishment” increasingly entangled in the deceptions of the ruling elite, and the spirit that moves the young generations.

In London we saw many young people, a lot of desire to participate—not always fulfilled—and a great desire not to throw away the most interesting political novelty of this century.

The fact that we did not find any trace of this in the Italian newspapers is a sign of the times. This political space, a gigantic popular university, is still capable of being the engine of initiatives and mobilisations at an international scale.

Specially important, therefore, is the proclamation of the European day of action against the occupation of Iraq on 19 March.

It responds to two requirements: ensuring that the original path of the movement—the critique of capitalist globalisation—and its subsequent phase—opposition to the war—are recomposed in a single vision.

There are many problems on the road ahead, but indeed they are ahead. The first one concerns relations with European trade unionism—will we be able to achieve the necessary convergence between unions and the movement? Or will the divisions prevail?

The answer is in the hands of the European TUC that still has not got a clear position on war and neo-liberalism.

In London there was a strong British participation and a significant presence from CGIL, the Italian trade union confederation.

Secondly there is a problem of democracy and effectiveness inside the movement itself.

The forum’s political space should be followed by many other spaces centred on permanent campaigns that allow different subjects to intervene and make more decisions.

Finally, there is the political problem. A good editorial in Monday’s Guardian reproaches the British political elite for their absence from the forum, and underlines how, from the experience of the ESF, we can expect “the emergence of a genuine new politics of the European left”.

The success of the Respect meeting, the presence of living forces of the alternative left within the Forum, tell us that this possibility is now there.

And it largely depends precisely on the behaviour of this left itself.

Salvatore Cannavo is deputy editor of the left wing paper Liberazione


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Sat 23 Oct 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1924
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