TENS OF thousands of trade unionists and anti-capitalist activists will be meeting at the European Social Forum (ESF) in Florence, Italy, between 7 and 10 November.
The ESF will provide a chance to build the alternative to privatisation, racism and war across Europe. The Unison public sector and Natfhe lecturers' unions back the ESF. KENNY BELL is a Unison branch secretary in Newcastle. He is committed to getting as big a delegation from the city to Florence as possible. Kenny spoke to Socialist Worker about the event.
WHAT HAPPENS AT SOCIAL FORUM EVENTS?
YOU HAVE to imagine 70,000 people meeting for five days to discuss and debate, and learn from each other. That's what happened at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre earlier this year. All sorts of people, from landless labourers from Brazil to trade unionists from South Korea and community activists from Soweto, were there. There were 4,000 organisations represented.
Everyone believed that another world was possible. It was a real celebration of a growing global movement. There were literally hundreds of workshops, meetings and seminars. There were people who had led direct action, intellectual leaders and political organisations.
At the heart of all the discussions was the question of democracy, of how to make public services democratic and how to build a democratic movement. The whole event was one big experiment in participatory democracy. The atmosphere was like living socialism. People were so friendly, open and positive, and shared information and experiences in such a comradely way. In meetings that varied in size from ten to 100 everyone's interests were catered for in an atmosphere of real solidarity.
I was expecting something much more formal, but the event gave the opportunity for intense debate and learning.
WHAT EFFECT DID THE EVENT HAVE ON YOU?
PORTO ALEGRE was just inspirational. I realised that a lot of the issues we face, especially privatisation, were the same as people throughout Latin American and Asia are facing. There are the same issues, with the same causes, across the world. The forum brought home to me that we are living in a global world and we cannot defeat privatisation just in Newcastle or just in Britain.
Transnational corporations are taking over and national governments are complicit in what they are doing, especially governments like Tony Blair's. But Porto Alegre also showed that a global movement against this is developing.
I saw that in Latin America and Africa people are organising across whole continents. I began to realise the power and strength that we could have, but people were asking why we were not organised at a European level. Europe is a key player in the global agenda, and what the European Union does or doesn't do has an impact on people living in Soweto and Rio.
I felt that we had a responsibility to organise both at home and across Europe against the policies that were having such an effect on people around the world. But there was very limited participation from Britain in the Porto Alegre forum.
There were small delegations from Italy and France, but only a handful from Britain. That is why I think the European Social Forum is so important.
WHAT RESPONSE DID YOU GET WHEN YOU CAME HOME?
I BROUGHT fresh ideas from Porto Alegre. In Newcastle today we are much more aware of things like the World Trade Organisation and the GATS agreement to privatise public services. Out of the Genoa protests last year a massive social movement has grown up in Italy, and it led to a general strike and three million people on the streets. This is the potential of the movement.
When I came back, I didn't find anyone who didn't think there was something in what I was saying. I brought home the immediacy of what people faced in Colombia, in Soweto and in the shanty towns of Rio.
Trade unionists in Colombia face death squads. More people can see the need for international solidarity. I felt it in the discussions at the Unison national conference as well. Whatever political ideas we lost under Thatcher, the feeling for solidarity is still there.
The forum is a chance to do more than just pass a motion supporting other people's struggle. It is a chance to act and build something. My union branch, Newcastle City Unison, now has policy that locates privatisation in a global agenda, with the British government promoting that agenda.
We agreed to acknowledge the social movement, and to build the European Social Forum. The Northern Regional Council also agreed at a meeting to encourage people to go to the European Social Forum in Florence. We are establishing an international committee for the first time to develop a global perspective and help mobilise for the ESF. The activists who come to these meetings are just like I would have been eight months ago.
I would have thought, 'Nice idea, but does it really matter?' Going to the World Social Forum made me realise it does matter and that we can change the world.
I am in my fifties, but I believe that this period now offers more opportunities than the anti-war movement in the 1960s did. There is a real chance to engage young people and to build a relationship between trade unionism and anti-capitalism. We can't afford to blow this chance.
In our union we want to make sure that we are not building the ESF in isolation from building the struggle locally. We have to organise against the wave of privatisations they are trying to push through here, and then link it to a global perspective and to the ESF. Our union will be looking at organising some fundraising, and using the socials and so on to raise the debate about why people should go to Florence with more and more people.
I never thought I would come back from anywhere saying something had changed my political life, but going to the World Social Forum did.
An invitation to Florence
'We stand against capitalism, for a different society. They tried to stop us in Seattle, in Nice, in Gothenburg and in Genoa, yet we keep on building our future. Next stop Florence, November 2002. A new movement is shaking our world, our continent, our cities.
After Genoa tens of social forums mushroomed in every part of Italy and national demonstrations against the global war, anti-immigrant laws and attacks on workers' rights mobilised hundreds of thousands of people. It's time to build a different world. See you in Florence in November!'
CHRISTIAN DE VITO, activist in the Florence Social Forum
Make a resolution to protest in autumn
GET YOUR organisation/trade union to pass this resolution:
- We welcome the organisation of the European Social Forum in Italy from 7 to 10 November 2002.
- We believe the ESF will be a unique chance for activists and trade unionists from across Europe to come together and discuss how to organise against free market policies and racism.
- We will send a delegation to the European Social Forum in Italy. We will publicise the ESF and encourage our members to go.
- We will support and send a delegation to the English Mobilisation for the European Social Forum.
- We affiliate to the English Mobilisation for the ESF.
(Organisations up to 1,000 members: £50. 1,000 to 5,000 members: £100. 5,000 to 10,000 members: £250. 10,000+ members: £500.)
Please make cheques payable to European Social Forum and send to English ESF, c/o World Development Movement, 25 Beehive Place, London SW9 7QR.
For more information on the ESF go to www.fse-esf.org
For details on the English mobilisation for the ESF go to www.mobilise.org.uk or phone 07930 307 815.