OPPOSITION TO war on Iraq dominated many of the debates and discussions in Florence. Thousands of people crammed into meetings and forums determined to build a united, strong, mass anti-war movement. An overwhelming majority agreed with a call to turn 15 February into a united Europe-wide day of protest.
The aim will be to bring every European capital to a halt through mass demonstrations and protests against the war. Susan George, one of the best known figures in the anti-globalisation movement, spoke about how we now face a 'new moment in the world, where the world's largest and most powerful nation, a megapower, has changed its grand strategy'.
She spoke about how the Bush administration has a strategy which 'is far more offensive. It is about establishing its empire, setting up new military bases around the world.'
'After Iraq', Susan George argued, 'the US wants a presence in many places around the world. It wants to create a world empire based on economic domination.'
Throughout the debates in Florence ran a huge determination to turn the anti-capitalist movement into a movement which also opposes war and imperialism. Michael Albert from the US summed up that feeling, saying, 'The US war on Iraq is about them inflicting the military wing of globalisation. If you are against war in Iraq then you are against corporate globalisation. If you are against corporate globalisation then you are against capitalism.'
Most people at the European Social Forum had been inspired by the one and a half million people in Italy who have protested against the war, and by the 400,000-strong demonstration in London on 28 September.
One mark of that was that many people cheered Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition in Britain, before she spoke to a 2,000-strong meeting. Lindsey paid tribute to the recent 200,000-strong demonstrations against war in the US. But she also warned, 'We have a harder job in the future. No one should be in any doubt that success for George Bush in the US mid-term elections means that the US will go to war.'
Lindsey argued that the anti-war movement in Britain was so strong because it had taken 'a clear stand on the question of imperialism. We understood that this was a war for oil and for US power. We refused to take the view that the Taliban or Saddam Hussein are equal enemies with US and British imperialism. We saw that it is the US which has the monopoly on weapons of mass destruction. And we saw that our main enemy is our enemy at home.'
The discussions around the war involved activists from many countries. Vietnam veteran Dave Baylock spoke about how US troops had joined the anti-war movement in the late 1960s, and how that had been part of dealing a blow to US imperialism.
Lidia Menapace, a veteran peace campaigner from Italy, was cheered when she argued for a militant campaign to kick out US military bases. Maria Styllou from Greece agreed, arguing, 'We have important military bases in Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, and we are coordinating anti-war resistance. Our slogan is 'Close the bases. Open the borders'.'
She also argued, 'After Florence the anti-war movement needs to build connections with the workers' movement. In Greece the government is attacking workers, refusing to increase pensions or salaries because of financing the war. We are calling for no money for bombs. Give us the money so we can have a decent life. We need to go into our factories, schools and colleges and make these connections, use the power we have where we can organise, and be strong to build a movement with the power to stop the war and win our world back.'
There were debates about how to build the biggest and most effective anti-war movement.
'No war at any price' Asad Rehman argued that the Stop the War Coalition in Britain had become so big because it had been inclusive. He criticised the movement in France for failing to make links with North African and Muslim groups. 'There is a danger of Islamophobia from the left as well as from the right,' he said.
There was also some debate about the role of the United Nations (UN). Ariel Denis from the French coalition of associations against war in Iraq said that the choice facing us is 'more power to the US or more power to the UN'.
Hans Abrahamsson from the Swedish section of the ATTAC group which campaigns against financial speculation argued that we need to work inside 'new arenas'. He said we cannot ignore institutions like the UN - rather, we need 'confrontational dialogue' inside them.
But others were applauded when they warned that we could not rely on the UN or European leaders to oppose Bush. Tobias Pfluger from the anti-war movement in Germany said we could not rely on leaders like German chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Schröder was forced to oppose the war in the election in Germany. It was the only way he could win. But in reality he is not opposed to war and will not oppose Bush.'
Manuela from Spain said, 'Our slogan should be 'No war at any price, with or without the UN.' 'If war is wrong then it is always wrong. We should build a mass movement to oppose this war and all wars.'
Piero Maestri from the Italian anti-war movement agreed: 'We are against war - no ifs and no buts. It is a wrong war and we have to fight it on all fronts.' And he stressed, 'We have a fantastic opportunity now to all move together and to create a Europe-wide movement against the war. 'We have to unite on 15 February.'
A MEETING on globalisation and the alternatives brought together Barry Coates from the World Development Movement and several other speakers. Barry Coates denounced the 'gross failure of neo-liberal policies that destroyed lives across the globe. The fall in living standards in Africa during the last 20 years has been greater than that suffered by Europeans in the 1930s.'
He described how the World Trade Organisation would discuss the General Agreement on Trade in Services in September at Cancun, Mexico. GATS would instruct that public services like health and education have to be opened up to private bidders.
He called for everyone to campaign against GATS and quoted Alice Walker's line that 'activism is my rent for living on this planet'.'
OVER 3,000 people packed out a meeting on Latin America's global crisis and social resistance. There were cheers at the start of the meeting when the coordinator saluted Lula's victory in the Brazilian elections. Miguel Urbano Rodriguez said, 'The victory has been welcomed with enthusiasm. But it would be naive to say that there will be no problems with him. If the IMF commitments are honoured, it will be impossible to meet people's expectations for education, for health.'
Hugo Albeto Pena from Colombia argued, 'There is US intervention wherever crude oil is to be found. The US's Plan Colombia will intensify armed conflict in a system of chaotic destruction. The banks and the companies - BP, Esso, Chevron and others - get rich while the people of Colombia are being sacrificed.' The highlight of the meeting was when Estela Carlotto from Argentina spoke. She spoke movingly about how her daughter was one of the 30,000 people who had 'disappeared' in 1967 under the dictatorship that then ruled Argentina. 'The dictatorship ran the state through terrorism. They used force to impose their economic programme,' she said.
'They imposed a system of systematic robbery, of poverty for the people and of fear. That was 25 years ago and we are still fighting for justice.' She also condemned the current government in Argentina: 'Today in Argentina 60 percent of people are poor. Yet this is a country of wheat, of meat, of very rich land, minerals and all sorts of wealth. We tell politicians this is not acceptable, this poverty, unemployment.'
She also stressed, 'We are all brothers and sisters. One of the good sides of globalisation is that we have globalised the struggle. The power and strength lies in the hands of the people and we must use it.'
'WE HAD a huge delegation come to Florence from Greece. It has been brilliant to listen to the debates about the way forward for the movement - on the future of Europe and against the war. The most interesting forum I went to was on the question of the movement and violence.
The meeting was packed out, with thousands of people from many different countries. The main arguments were about the way forward for our side - can we do things as individuals or as token actions, or do we need a mass movement about more fundamental change from below? I am going back to Greece very optimistic and confident that we can build an even bigger movement.'
Michaele Ververis, Athens, Greece