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Storm of protest descends on G8

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The anti-capitalist movement burst onto the scene again last weekend. Paul McGarr reports from the Evian summit protests
Issue 1854

‘TO THE eight who want to rule the world, the world replies – resistance!’ The chant was in French, but taken up by people from a dozen or more European countries – and some from Africa, Asia and Latin America too.

All were united in rage against the G8 summit of world leaders on a 100,000-strong protest on the Swiss-French border on Sunday. George Bush, Tony Blair, French president Chirac and five other of the world’s most powerful rulers were meeting in the remote French town of Evian. They window-dressed their summit by inviting leaders from African and Latin American countries to join them. But they couldn’t mask their real agenda. Bush, Blair and their fellow rulers were discussing how to continue tearing people’s lives apart across the world by imposing their neo-liberal policies of privatisation and welfare cuts.

They were determined to continue sucking the life out of the world’s poorest people by enforcing murderous debt payments on them. And they hoped to paper over differences between those like Bush and Blair who launched war on Iraq, and those like France’s Chirac whose opposition to war has now turned into rubberstamping the US and British occupation.

The G8 rulers know the anger their wars and economic policies provoke. So they met in a remote town, sealed off from the outside world, defended by tanks, missiles, troops and riot police. That could not stop a storm of protest descending on their summit. On Sunday impressive demonstrations took place in the adjacent towns of Geneva in Switzerland and Annemasse in France, and smaller protests in Lausanne in Switzerland.

Tens of thousands marched from the centre of Geneva out to the nearby French-Swiss border. Equally huge numbers headed from Annemasse towards the border. In all over 100,000 people joined a colourful and lively but angry and determined protest. And a few thousand marched in Lausanne. The anger went wider than the immediate policies of the G8, and key issues like Third World debt. Protesters made clear in their slogans and placards that they were standing against capitalism itself.

As on other anti-capitalist protests in the last two years, in cities from Seattle to Genoa and Florence, the vast bulk of protesters were from the area itself. Wherever they meet, the world’s leaders’ presence condenses into protest a mood of anger against them and their system.

Sunday’s Geneva march was made up mostly of Swiss people, young and old, families with children, trade unionists and pensioners. They were joined by impressive delegations, hundreds, even thousands strong, from across Europe – including a lively and well received 500-strong British contingent. ‘I am proud that we are having an event like this here in Geneva and in Switzerland,’ said Marie-France Jalbert, a local student.

‘Me and my friends demonstrated against the war, and today is still about that, but also about the G8, which doesn’t do anything about Third World debt’. Press, politicians and police had tried to whip up panic among local people in Geneva that their town was to be sacked by some invading army. The reality of the feelings of many local people was underlined by the vast numbers of rainbow-coloured ‘Peace’ banners in shops, offices, houses and apartments around the city.

The Annemasse demonstration was made up of people from the surrounding region of eastern France, though they too were joined by impressive international delegations. At the front of the French demo marched big contingents of striking teachers, who are heading a massive revolt against France’s Tory government’s attacks on pensions and education (see page 16).

Charles Pirroux, a teacher, said, ‘I’ve come because we are fighting our government over education and pensions, and I really hope we can get a general strike over that. ‘I am also here because we have to tackle issues like debt and the AIDS crisis in Africa, and also be against Bush and Blair.’

As the two marches met at the border there were jubilant scenes, and cheers from the waves of people lining a succession of bridges above the protest route. The united march pressed across the border, and in a moving moment the strains of the workers’ song the Internationale were taken up by many protesters.

Protesters climbed and danced on the roofs of the abandoned border post buildings, creating a brilliant, colourful and festival-like atmosphere. The protest confounded anyone who believed the worldwide anti-war and anti-capitalist movements have evaporated.


Violence from cops

THE BRITISH media have focused on vandalism and clashes between police and some protesters at the G8 . They hugely exaggerate the scale of that. The overwhelming majority here protested forcefully but peacefully, and were well received by local people. There were some incidents. Very small groups of masked people – labelled the ‘Black Bloc’ by some in the media – who had nothing do to with the bulk of protesters engaged in causing pointless damage and deliberately provoked clashes with police.

That gave the police the pretext to use provocations and attack both protesters and local youth. By far the worst violence was meted out by police.

One British protester, Martin Shaw, was hospitalised after police deliberately cut a rope he was suspended from as he took part in a protest aimed at blocking the road from Geneva to Lausanne.

Police also invaded a campsite at Lausanne, and arrested around 400 people for a time, and they teargassed protesters staging a sit-down protest near Annemasse. British photographer Guy Smallman, who has often taken pictures for Socialist Worker, had to have hospital surgery after he was injured by a police stun grenade.

But over 100,000 people on the main demo made clear their anger at the far greater violence meted out by the world’s rulers.

First time protesters

AMONG THOSE from Britain who travelled to join the G8 protests were many young people from the anti-war movement now determined to be part of the resistance to capitalism.

Hannah Marsden, a 19 year old Birmingham student, said, ‘Before I went to university I hadn’t been involved in anything political, but then there was the war. Now we are taking the fight to the G8, and this whole event has just been fantastic.’

Kimberley Hamilton, a 16 year old, had travelled for 27 hours on a minibus from Glasgow to join the protests: ‘It’s the first time I’ve been to anything like this and it is just incredible, all these people from all over the world, all against war, and Bush, Blair and the G8. The war is important, but it’s also that they just want to privatise everything and attack workers everywhere, like Blair is doing in Britain.’

Build up to protests

Discussions took place late into the night

SUNDAY’S march was the culmination of days of protest, debates and meetings. Protesters set up giant campsites, which attracted large numbers of local young people. Around the tents and stalls with anti-capitalist and anti-war material, a hum of discussion went on late into the night.

At 5am on Sunday morning over 500 people from the camp marched right across the city to join other protesters in blockading bridges across the River Rhone in central Geneva. ‘A-Anti-Anticapitalista!’ was the chant as people converged on the first bridge. Soon the five key bridges were in protesters’ hands, and remained so for several hours.

The blockades could not, of course, stop the rulers’ summit taking place over 20 miles away. But they could disrupt the hangers-on and bag carriers at the summit.

Previous days had seen other protests and marches of several thousand, including one to the World Trade Organisation headquarters in Geneva. Meanwhile in both Geneva and Annemasse conferences, debates on debt, war and much else attracted audiences hundreds strong every day.

A highlight was a 500-strong meeting addressed by anti-war activists from across Europe, including anti-war British MP George Galloway.

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