Evian anti-G8 demonstration

By Michael O'Brien, in Socialist Voice, June 2003

THE POLITICAL and economic background to last month's G8 summit in Evian, France was vastly different to the last time the heads of state of eight of the biggest world powers met in Europe two years ago in Genoa.

The recent war in Iraq, the ongoing occupation and the divisions it brought out into the open between the rival powers cast a long shadow over proceedings. The G8 summit effectively sets out to get as common a position as possible amongst the big economic powers about what policies will be enforced by the World Trade Organisation, World Bank and International Monetary Fund. In the present economic climate, this spells a global assault on workers and poor in the form of cutbacks on social and public services, privatisation and ongoing enforcement of "third world" debt.

While the heads of state met in Evian, the real discussions between state officials took place just over the Swiss border in Geneva. With a militant nationwide strike movement in France, the powers to be probably thought that they would get a quieter life in Switzerland. As it turned out, the anti capitalist movement rose to the occasion with a successful blockade of the centre of Geneva on the Sunday morning of the conference and mass demonstrations beginning in Geneva and Evian that converged on the border. Unlike Gothenburg and Genoa, where the capitalist state tried to take the movement on by intimidation and violent repression, the strategy they employed for Geneva and Evian was somewhat different, a backhanded recognition that the movement is here to stay. On this occasion the main blockade and demonstration in Geneva was totally unimpeded by the state. Likewise the French and Swiss border guards, immigration control and customs officers were nowhere to be seen when the mass demonstrations of over 100,000 converged on the border.

Far more useful in terms of propaganda from their point of view, were the violent clashes that did take place in nearby Lausanne and later in the evening in Geneva between riot police and the Black Bloc anarchists. Naturally the media gave disproportionate coverage to these clashes despite the fact that the numbers involved were completely dwarfed by the main demonstrations.

A counter summit was organised by the Geneva Social Forum addressing the key issues facing the anti capitalist movement internationally. The highlight for many was the anti war forum which was addressed by suspended Labour MP George Galloway as well as an Iraqi oppositionist. Reports on anti war activity and the state of the movement in general were taken from 20 countries including Ireland. The recurring point made by some delegates was the fact that the level of opposition to war and imperialism that was demonstrated around the likes of 15 February isn't yet matched by an opposition to neo-liberalism in general.

This is less the case in the likes of Italy, Greece and Spain where a full frontal assault on workers, students and pensioners' rights has been ongoing for several years and where there is now an identifiable generalized opposition to the system embracing workers and the anti capitalist movement.

However, these assaults on the conditions and rights of ordinary people apply throughout Europe now and have been met with a ready response in France, Germany, Sweden and Austria in terms of strikes and protests in recent weeks. Ireland is by no means cut off from these processes. The World Economic Forum (WEF) meets on 20 October in Dublin. There, representatives from around 1,000 corporations will discuss how to bring "competition" in to areas of the economy currently served by the public sector. This is about the commodification of everything from public transport and bin collection to health and education. Between now and 20 October a number of huge struggles are likely to take place precisely around these issues. A mass protest to shut down this Forum should be seen by public sector workers, students and householders as a natural extension to their struggle because the attacks they face in terms of privitisation, bin charges, health cut backs etc. are manifestations of neo-liberalism here in Ireland.

An Irish Social Forum is in the process of being launched with the participation of groups and organisations including environmentalists, NGO workers, solidarity groups, women's groups and political parties outside the establishment including the Socialist Party. It has taken on the task of organising a counter summit in the days leading up to the WEF. However unlike the more successful Forums of Italy, Spain and Greece the Irish Social Forum (ISF) has abstained from taking a clear position of supporting strikes against privatisation and backing the protest on 20 October. This abstention arises from the way in which the ISF operates on the basis of consensus which, while sounding good in theory, in practice has meant that a small minority who don't see the importance of a working class orientation for the anti globalisation movement are holding things back. With further debate and these struggles actually taking place, this situation may change.

The protests that will take place around the World Economic Forum and Ireland's European Union presidency during the first six months of 2004 provide an opportunity for the diverse struggles taking place in Irish society to converge. The prize at the end of this process is a mass anti capitalist movement which will challenge the establishment politically in terms of fighting for socialist policies as well as economically by being able to draw on the latent power of the organised working class.

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