The fourth European Social Forum (ESF) met in Athens at a crucial point following the victory of the French movement against new labour laws and as the US threat of military attack against Iran gathers pace.
Over 150,000 people joined a vibrant demonstration through the centre of Athens at the end of the forum. Shouts of “kato ta xheria ap’to Iran” (hands off Iran) echoed through the streets.
Greek anti-war activists said the march was comparable to the huge anti-war demonstration they held on 15 February 2003.
Concern over a possible attack on Iran was reflected in the meetings at the ESF. Over 1,500 attended a meeting on Friday night to hear anti-war activists from across Europe, Iraq, Iran and the US.
French activist José Bové was greeted with huge cheers as he briefly joined the session to argue that military and economic domination are part of the same system.
The recent victory of the French movement over their government had a big impact on the debates at the ESF.
A lively meeting of students brought together French, Greeks, Italians and others to debate the lessons of their struggles across Europe.
Students discussed how to fight privatisation of education, build links with workers and strategies for uniting the left in universities.
One of the weaknesses of this ESF was that there were no plenary sessions to bring people together where they could get an overview of the forum and debate some of the major strategic issues facing the movement.
Some of the best attended seminars helped to fill this gap, such as the debate on the future of the movement involving Walden Bello, Susan George, Alex Callinicos and others.
Recurring themes at the largest seminars were France, Bolivia and building a new left.
Organisers of the ESF reported that it was the biggest political gathering in Greece since the student uprisings of the 1970s.
Delegations reflected many of the struggles currently taking place. Many of the anti-war activists at the forum had been on the recent protests against US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Athens.
A delegation of striking workers occupying a fertiliser factory in Salonica attended the forum, as did Greek lecturers building support for their strike action next week.
Other delegations included over 1,000 from Turkey, 700 from eastern Europe and 100 from the Middle East.
A small group of democracy campaigners from Egypt made it to the forum.
One of the Egyptian activists said, “It is important to meet people from different nationalities and see that they are fighting to overcome similar problems.
“It is also important to let people know about the situation of democracy activists in Egypt.”
At the assembly of the social movements on the final day of the forum, the Greek and British Stop the War Coalitions along with Focus on the Global South and many others called for a week of action against war on Iraq and Iran for 23 to 30 September.
There were calls for a week of action against job insecurity in October and a call to support the mobilisations against the G8 in St Petersburg, Russia, later this year and in Germany in 2007.
Activists unite in struggle
Some of the participants at the ESF spoke to Socialist Worker
“Our lecturers will be on strike next week and we are trying to organise occupations to support them.
“More students in Athens are getting involved because of the ESF coming here. What happened in France has forced everyone to see the need for students and workers to act together.”
Pauos Pauoulas, student at Athens university
“I came in a contingent of over 1,000 from Turkey. This is the biggest group we have ever taken to an international event.
We have around 200 trade unionists, lots of students, young workers, and activists from the left and the movements.
“We have received a fantastic reception from the Greek people at the ESF.
“Greek and Turkish people are often portrayed as enemies but we want to show that it is not the people who create this vision, it is our governments.”
Yildiz Onen, Turkish Peace and Justice Coalition
“We have got rid of the terrible prime minister Silvio Berlusconi but I don’t think that we can have a friendly government.
“We are the generation who came from the Genoa protests in 2001.
“The new Romano Prodi government has come to power with support from the left and the movements. It can only stay in power with our support.
“We can’t keep quiet – we have to keep the movement going.”
Francesco Chiodelli, student at Bergamo University, Italy
“A group of 16 students from our university has come to the ESF. The millions we had in the streets of France can give encouragement to the rest of Europe. We have to organise to make sure political decisions come from the bottom.”
Teddy Franciscot, student from Paris VII Jouelot University