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Gothenburg-what really happened

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Issue 1754

Gothenburg-what really happened

‘We are many, they are few’

Eyewitness report by Paul Mcgarr

SWEDISH POLICE tried to smash protesters against global capitalism off the streets of Gothenburg last week. First police turned savage dogs on protesters. Then they fired at people with guns. But the attempt to batter people off the streets failed. Tens of thousands of mainly young people marched and protested. Most of them were from Sweden and neighbouring Scandinavian countries.

They marched to condemn the violence and horror brought by global capitalism. “We are many, they are few,” young protesters chanted in defiance of police and politicians. There were three major demonstrations in Gothenburg in the space of 36 hours, with many smaller protests, and debates on the fight to challenge global capitalism.

First 15,000 marched on Thursday evening against the visit of US president George W Bush. The next day 25,000 marched against the policies of European Union leaders. Some 30,000 people marched after the police had unleashed dogs and batons, cavalry and guns on protesters. This is a huge number. Sweden’s population is just over eight million (less than a seventh that of Britain’s). Gothenburg is similar in size to Sheffield or Newcastle.

The mobilisation was even more remarkable given that Sweden’s trade union leaders refused to support the protests-because of their close links with the country’s Labour government. Gothenburg marked a new stage in the movement against global capitalism that has spread since the Seattle protests against the World Trade Organisation 18 months ago. The spirit of the movement was summed up by defiant protesters who chanted, “Gothenburg, Seattle, continue the battle!”

‘All part of one fight’

SOME 15,000 people marched to a giant rally against George W Bush last Thursday. Most were young Swedish people, with sizeable delegations from neighbouring Norway and Denmark. “One of the biggest reasons I am here is because of the environment and global warming,” said Maria Olund. “Also we are against the way they are building walls around Europe to keep people out. And it is about the whole capitalist system where only money and the economy counts, not people.”

Her friend Lene Lundberg added, “We are also fighting against the inequality between men and women-the unequal pay, the way we are judged by looks, the way our bodies are used to make money. That is connected with the capitalist system which is about making money for a few and keeping people, and women, below.”

“It’s all part of one fight,” argued Maria, ” a fight for equality and solidarity.” Anne Ridderstedt added, “People are starting to wake up to what the world is like. For us as young people it is important. “I don’t want to look back in the future and think we could have done something to change this world but didn’t.”

Friends of the Earth was there, with banners declaring “People not profit! Our world is not for sale!” and “Nature not profit. End neo-liberalism!”

Emil Schon is a Friends of the Earth member in Gothenburg. “The protests here, like others, have particular reasons and issues, but it is part of what started in Seattle,” he said. A significant number of trade unionists joined the protests, despite the lack of support from Sweden’s trade union leaders.

Among them was car worker Hakan Lougren. “I am for cancelling Third World debt,” he explained. “And I am also for doing something about the power of multinational corporations. I work for one of them, Volvo, so I know what they are like and what they are doing.” Martin Persson is a member of the Swedish branch of the ATTAC organisation, which campaigns against corporate globalisation. “It is right to protest,” he insisted. “The corporations have all the power. They and the politicians tell us the market has to rule. We have to build a movement that says we don’t have to obey the market, that we can change the world.”

There were delegations from International Socialist Tendency groups from around Europe. A delegation from Globalise Resistance in Britain also joined the protests.

Police to blame

SWEDEN’S LABOUR government and the police said they wanted “dialogue” with protesters. Yet the police put into operation a well planned assault on the right to protest. The police’s first target was a high school that was, quite legally, being used as an organising centre for the protests. Hundreds of protesters were trapped inside-and many were then arrested.

In the evening thousands of people marched to the school to protest at what they dubbed “Gothenburg’s wall of shame”. The next morning some 5,000 people then attempted to march towards the European leaders’ summit, which was sealed off behind giant steel walls.

Police halted the march with a carefully placed barricade. Then they started batoning people at the front of the march. Among the first victims was Knut Jensen, convenor of the print workers’ union at one of Norway’s main newspapers. He fell with blood pouring from his head. “It was terrible,” he told me later, after hospital treatment. “I was just suddenly hit on the head. The police were responsible for the violence.”

Within seconds of the baton assault a snarling pack of police dogs and their handlers suddenly appeared. They tore into the march and dozens of protesters needed treatment for bite wounds. Seconds later baton-wielding mounted police charged into the rear of the demonstration. Only after these assaults did some protesters start throwing stones. Some went on to vent their rage at shops along the city’s main street, mainly hitting symbols of the global system like McDonald’s.

As I walked through the street past the makeshift barricades some protesters threw up, one thing was abundantly clear. The only threat of violence against people came from the police.

“When people are excluded, denied any voice in society, then denied the democratic right to protest and attacked by the police, they will fight back. We do not condemn people who fight back. The police were responsible for the violence.”

  • Tim Robinson from Norway’s International Socialists and a member of the Gothenburg organising committee

Gothenburg was like a war zone

ON FRIDAY evening young people began a “reclaim the city” event in a city centre square. It was a celebration, with music and dancing in the streets. But the police turned the centre of Gothenburg into a war zone. John Shepherd, a young socialist from Britain, explains what happened:

“People were dancing, enjoying themselves. Then the police started charging. As police kept charging, some people started fighting back, throwing stones. I turned round. The police had their guns out and a young man was lying on the ground. He was lying there shaking, his eyes juddering around.”

Three people were shot by police in the square. “It shows they will go to any lengths to uphold their murderous system,” said John The next morning some 30,000 people joined an already planned demonstration. Some accepted the entirely false government claims that the police acted in self defence.

Others condemned the police, but also accepted media tales of “violent protesters”. But many were clear that the police alone were responsible for the violence. Tove Bister, a young woman office worker, typified the deep shock many felt: “This is not Sweden any more. It is a police state. “Tell the world what has happened here.”

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