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100,000 fought for our interests

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Issue 1727

While Europe’s leaders quibbled

100,000 fought for our interests

By PAUL McGARR reports back from Nice.

A TIDE of workers flowed through the streets of Nice on Wednesday of last week in the biggest demonstration by trade unions from across Europe yet seen. For over six hours some 100,000 workers marched through the French city where European leaders were meeting.

Inside the official summit talk was of a Europe for business, of the euro currency, of wrangles over voting rights in the European Commission. Outside in the streets there was a different message and vision. One phrase summed up the feeling behind the protest and was on almost everyone’s lips: “We are marching for another Europe, a social Europe.”

Massive delegations of workers from across France had travelled on trade union chartered trains, buses and planes to join the demonstration. There were workers from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Britain, Slovenia, Poland and elsewhere.

It was more than simply a protest. It was a celebration of workers’ unity across borders. People’s slogans may have been in different languages. But the underlying feeling was the same wherever people had come from-a point underlined by the red flags which were everywhere on the demonstration.

“We have to insist that it will not just be a Europe where everything is for sale. We want a Europe for workers, one where the needs of people are more important than the needs of capitalism,” argued Glenn, a Belgian teacher who was marching with his FNV union contingent.

Michael Novak is a council worker from Austria, and was marching with his OGM union contingent: “This sends a message to European leaders that they had better watch out for the workers. We are fighting for our rights-the right to work, the right to live, the right to have democracy.” Isabelle was one of a group of rail workers from Nice who were delighted that so many people had come to the demonstration in their home town.

“You want to know what we are against,” she laughed. “Look at England-your privatised railways and your mad cow disease! That’s what privatisation and the market have brought you. We don’t want that imposed across Europe. We want a Europe of people before profit, one where public services like health, education and transport are based on people’s needs.”

Jean Pierre was an engineer there from Belgium. “We have to put a brake on the drive to neo-liberal policies in Europe,” he argued. A huge and lively delegation from Spain was there too. Jos had travelled with the Workers Commission union from Valencia.

“The leaders of Europe talk about Europe like it’s a business. It’s all about money,” he explained. “We want more equality, more jobs.” Vicenzo is a council worker in Genoa in Italy, and had travelled to Nice with his CGIL union.

“The governments talk of a single market, of free movement of goods,” he said. “We have to say we want free movement of people. We have to fight racism. The kind of Europe I want is one where workers are united whatever their colour or language.”

A big group from the Basque Country, which straddles France and Spain, was also there. “We are saying that Europe has to respect the rights of people like the Basques-our social, cultural and political rights,” argued Geronimo from Bayonne. “People are not simply commodities to be bought and sold. Workers have rights, the right to work, to decent housing, to sick care.” The CGT union federation from France had a vast contingent at the heart of the demonstration.

Marc is a printer and CGT member who had travelled from Paris to march in Nice: “We don’t want a Europe ruled by finance, by money. We are here to tell those at the top that we, the workers, are ready to fight for our Europe.” Thomas is a factory worker from St Nazaire in western France, and was part of big contingent from the CFDT union.

“Look. In France we have fought and won some good things in the last few years, like the 35-hour week,” he explained. “That’s the kind of thing that should be introduced across the European Union. That could cut unemployment.”

Alexander, a teacher in the Portuguese city of Oporto, was there with a lively delegation from the UGT union federation. “In my work I want to give young people hope for the future,” he argued. “But then they can’t get proper jobs. What kind of life can they have?” Brigitte lives in Nice and decided to join the march as she saw it pass by: “It’s marvellous, this sight-people from all these different countries marching together for a different life, a different world.”

Simone from Aix en Provence is a member of the ATTAC group which campaigns against financial speculation. “The European Union wants to change its rules when it enlarges,” she argued. “They want to make it easier to impose the policies of the World Trade Organisation, the privatisation of public services. That’s what they mean by globalisation. We are marching to say we want another globalisation, one based on people from different countries coming together.”

Britain-rank and file shame union leaders

WORKERS, STUDENTS and pensioners travelled from Britain too to join the big demonstration. But that was despite, not because of, the trade union leaders here. The official delegation from the TUC was shamefully small.

There were more people from trade unions in Slovenia (with a population of just two million) marching in Nice than Britain’s trade union leaders had mobilised. At the head of the march were key trade union leaders from almost every European Union country. But neither TUC leader John Monks nor a single leader of a major British union was there.

For years TUC and trade union leaders have argued that European laws can help British workers. They have looked to getting European legislation implemented here rather than militant struggle. Yet when European trade unions came together in Nice to press for even the most minimal workers’ rights to be included in European laws, Britain’s union leaders did virtually nothing.

Fortunately that miserable failure to mobilise did not stop British workers travelling to Nice, and forming a lively and visible contingent. Nick Riley is a steel worker at the Avesta steel plant near Rotheram and a member of the ISTC union.

“I’m here in Nice because it’s important to have solidarity among workers across Europe,” he told Socialist Worker. “Tony Blair and other European leaders want privatisation and cuts in services. I want a social Europe, but more than that I am fighting for a socialist Europe.”

“The issues we are fighting over in Britain are no different to those workers across Europe are facing,” argued Willie Hatton, a health worker in the UNISON union who had travelled from Scotland. “Today is great. It’s about showing that workers and trade unions know no borders.”

Teargas could not bury anti-capitalist message

THE TRADE union march in Nice last week was followed the next day by a protest outside the opening of the European Union summit. From the coverage in the British media you would think that a handful of wild eyed people smashed windows and fought with police If the people who wrote those reports actually saw what happened last Thursday in Nice then they are simply lying.

In fact thousands of mainly young people were determined that European Union leaders should not be allowed to meet without some protest at the pro-market, neo-liberal policies they are pushing. For many of these people the European Union stands with organisations like the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisation as a pillar of the global capitalist system.

Early on Thursday last week some 6,000 people marched in several contingents towards the bunker-like conference centre. It was surrounded by thousands of the infamous French CRS riot police and miles of steel barriers. Before a single protester had reached the police barriers the loud crack of the police guns rang out-firing CS gas pellets and grenades into the crowd. Without a word of warning, and without a single protester doing anything but walk in the street, people suddenly found themselves choking on thick clouds of CS gas.

In difficult circumstances people bravely attempted to continue their peaceful march and protest, only to find yet more gas being fired. For one and a half hours the police poured the choking gas into protesters’ ranks.

Determined to uphold their right to protest, those on the march held their ground. After each gas attack people regrouped and marched, chanting slogans such as “Internationale Solidaritt”, “Tous ensemble!” (All together!) and “Resistance!” Then they marched through the town to a rally in a sports hall. As people were leaving that rally police launched another CS gas attack. There were some clashes with police later in the day, and some windows were smashed. But the vast bulk of these clashes were sparked by savage police assaults on small groups of protesters.

Europe’s governments could only meet to discuss how to push more privatisation, and smooth the way for more domination by the giant capitalist corporations behind lines of riot police, clouds of CS gas, and by attacking the right to peaceful protest.

Blair stops mild reform

EUROPEAN TRADE union leaders called last week’s demonstration around the Charter of Fundamental Rights being discussed by the European Union. The union leaders were demanding the charter should be included as part of European Union law. They also wanted workers’ rights strengthened within the charter.

EU governments backed off from adopting any charter, and instead only issued a much watered down declaration. Much of the pressure to drop any formal charter came from Tony Blair. He insisted that any talk of the right to strike and rights at work are axed or made meaningless.

No wonder workers across much of Europe see Blair and Britain’s New Labour as champions of neo-liberal, free market, privatisation policies.

Border shut to protesters

EUROPEAN LEADERS talk of free movement of goods and of people inside the EU. Yet they are prepared to trample on basic rights and shut down borders to prevent people protesting.

The French government closed the border to Italy, a few miles from Nice, last week to stop a train load of Italian protesters joining Thursday’s protest. When the Italian protesters occupied rail tracks and motorways against this outrage they too were gassed and attacked by riot police.

Unite to go forward

ALONGSIDE THE marches and protests in the streets of Nice last week was a series of inspiring rallies. On Wednesday night after the great trade union march, Nice’s Salle Leyrit sports hall saw some 2,000 mainly young people pack in to hear speakers including Susan George.

She is a well known campaigner over Third World debt and a key figure in the French ATTAC movement against neo-liberalism. Her excellent speech was greeted with enormous enthusiasm and people chanting the slogan that has marked the strikes and social movements in France in recent years: “Tous ensemble-All together!”

The following day the same hall saw a similar sized rally following the day’s protests. Among the speakers at that rally was Socialist Worker editor Chris Harman. His speech too drew an enthusiastic response, and more chants of “All together!”

The messages in both these speeches are important for everyone who wants to build and develop the resistance to global capitalism that has marked the last year. The most visible symbols of that resistance have been the demonstrations in Seattle a year ago, Prague in September and now in Nice. Susan George argued, “The road we have travelled since Seattle is without historical precedent. A year ago a movement was born which has become one of the motor forces of history. You and people like you are responsible for that. We have to increase the crisis of the international institutions, whether the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund or the World Trade Organisation.”

She stressed the need for people to know what such bodies were about: “A good militant today is an informed militant.” And she also stressed, “We need to move to make even stronger alliances. We must not allow small differences to separate us. We also have to get rid of some illusions. There is no level of human suffering which by itself will make the powerful change their policies. Those who have wealth never have enough. They are not going to agree to share their wealth. Change does not come from on high. Nothing is going to change unless we make it change. We have a lot of things to fight for. Let’s set our objectives high. As someone who has been in a variety of struggles for the last 30 years I profoundly believe that we can win. We are demanding to change the world totally-it’s not nothing! It’s something no one has ever done in history. It won’t happen tomorrow morning but it can be done. We have to fight and fight, again and again until we win. Tous ensemble! All together!”

At the following day’s rally Chris Harman argued, “We have had a great two days here in Nice. Yesterday we had 100,000 people from right across Europe marching. Many of the trade union leaders try to pretend that the message on yesterday’s demonstration was different to that on the protest we have just taken part in outside the summit today. Those of us who marched with the union contingents yesterday found that the spirit was exactly the same as that in today’s protest-an opposition to the market and neo-liberal policies. We should tell the leaders of all the institutions of global capitalism that wherever they meet, we’ll protest. We’ll be there when they meet in Genoa in Italy next summer. It’s not just a question of these protests, but also of connecting them with the feeling that was there among the 100,000 workers who marched yesterday. Every day in workplaces, factories, schools, hospitals and offices around the world there are struggles taking place against the effects of neo-liberalism. The union leaders in every country would like to keep these struggles separate from the spirit we have seen on the protests from Seattle to Prague to Nice. We have to fight to make exactly these connections in every day to day battle. Our slogan has to be ‘Tous Ensemble! All together!'”

Globalise Resistance tour

Our world is not for sale

Speakers include: 

Kevin Danaher (Organiser of Seattle protest and editor of ‘Globalize This’) 
George Monbiot (Campaigning journalist) 
Clare Joy (World Development Movement) 
Chris Harman (Editor ‘Socialist Worker‘) 
Lindsey German (Editor ‘Socalist Review‘) 
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