FORTY-THOUSAND people from all over Europe flooded into Florence, Italy, for the European Social Forum, nearly double the number the organisers had been expecting.
They were mostly young, taking part in three days of political discussion and debate, culminating in the biggest anti-war demonstration so far.
The right-wing Berlusconi government in Italy tried unsuccessfully to stop the Forum from taking place in Florence. In the days running up to the event, the media was used to try and whip up fears of thousands of violent protesters invading and destroying the historic city. In fact, both the Forum and the anti-war demonstration - which attracted up to one million protesters - passed off totally peacefully.
The sheer numbers attending and participating in the Forum, with Italians far and away the largest group, marked a new stage in the anti-globalisation/anti-capitalist movement.
Thousands of young people in Europe have become radicalised through the anti- globalisation and anti-war movement, taking to the streets in their thousands in Genoa, Barcelona, Seville, London, etc. In Florence, they came in their thousands to discuss ideas and how to take the movement forward.
Topics under discussion in the main conferences included globalisation and liberalism, war and peace, rights, citizenship and democracy. There were also hundreds of seminars taking place every day on a myriad of different issues.
The discussions and debates were hosted and sponsored by an extremely diverse range of social organisations and groups. Unfortunately, political parties were banned from organising any of the main debates at the Forum, instead they were allocated workshops miles away from the main venue.
Although most people felt enthusiastic about the size and international character of the Forum, with so many platform speakers putting forward so many different ideas, there was no clear alternative or direction coming out of most of the sessions.
Thousands of people attended what was probably the biggest debate on "movements and political parties". The main speaker was Bertinotti, leader of Rifondazione Comunista (RC), which has a mass base amongst workers in Italy. However, he said that it would be "disastrous" for the RC to give a political lead or direction to the social movements.
In reality, the opposite is the case; the movement needs a clear political direction and alternative if it is to go forward to achieve its aims. The theme of the Forum was "Another Europe is possible". Unfortunately, by the end it was no clearer than at the start what kind of Europe or world would be possible.
CWI poses a socialist alternative
CWI members from Italy, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Kazakhstan and England and Wales took part in the Forum. In our material, speeches and discussions we emphasised the need to link social movements with the trade unions and struggles in workplaces. Workers' leader and CWI member Ionor Kurmanov was a platform speaker at a seminar on workers' rights, where he raised the need for new workers' parties.
We explained how war, terror, attacks on workers' rights, racism, environmental destruction and all the others problems discussed at the Forum are rooted in the capitalist system which is based on exploitation, inequality and the pursuit of profit. A political alternative is therefore necessary to fight for a fundamental change in the system and the way society is organised and structured.
Anti-globalisation protesters will be demonstrating in Prague at the NATO summit on 20 November and the EU meeting in Copenhagen in December. The next big focus for the anti-globalisation movement in Europe is expected to be a protest at the G8 meeting in Evian, France in June 2003.
At the final rally of the Forum, speakers also raised the idea of a European wide strike within 24 hours of an attack taking place against Iraq.
Berlusconi feels the heat
OPPONENTS OF war, government corruption and attacks on workers' rights converged in Florence for a million strong demonstration organised by the European Social Forum (ESF).
By Michael O'Brien
The event came off successfully and peacefully despite Berlusconi and his media's best efforts to prepare the public for a riot. His avid support for the Bush regime as well as his blatant efforts to impede judges seeking to investigate his past corrupt deals without doubt contributed to the magnificent show in Florence at both the demonstration and the various meetings and rallies organised by the ESF.
The corruption issue also mobilised 400,000 in Rome in a protest initiated by the radical film director Moretti and other celebrities in September.
The Florence protest has come hot on the heels of a nation wide strike on 18 October organised by the biggest trade union federation Cgil. Demonstrations took place in 120 towns and cities. The level of participation went well beyond the ranks of Cgil and included thousands of unorganised workers and school students carrying banners opposing cuts in education and the prospect of war in Iraq.
Attacks on workers' rights
The impetus for the strike movement, which began in the spring, is the proposed repeal of article 18 of the Italian labour law that protects workers from unfair dismissal. The initial general strike in April had the support of the three main union federations but subsequently the leaders of the Uil and Cisl signed up to a rotten compromise with the government and employers' association much to the disgust of many of their rank and file members. Nevertheless, the success of last month's strike as well and the protest in Florence shows that the Cigl is far from isolated.
The proposed 8,000 job losses for FIAT (20% of the workforce) also featured highly in last month's national strike and has provoked a major debate in the workers' movement in terms of what demands to raise. The proposed job losses and sale of FIAT to General Motors has brought home to everybody the dramatic decline of Italian capitalism. FIAT's crisis follows that of other prominent Italian firms.
When the job cuts were first announced, the Party of Communist Refoundation (PRC) which enjoys the support of the most politically developed Italian workers, confined its demands to one of calling on the government to buy more shares in the company. However, the pressure of events has led them to adopt the demand of nationalisation of FIAT as the only means of safeguarding the industry and the jobs.
Italy has seen continuous strikes and protests for the last 18 months. This has impeded the right wing government's drive towards attacks on worker and welfare rights. Mobilisations by themselves may not be enough to bring down this hated government.
In terms of an alternative, the political and trade union leaders as well as the various leaders of the anti globalisation movement remain unclear about what to replace the government with.
The mainstream parliamentary opposition are completely opposed to the strikes. The Democratic Left (DS), which secures much more electoral support from workers than the PRC, is split on the issue of war in Iraq as well as the struggle to defend article 18.
In the context of a slowing economy and declining industry, the politics of tame reforms and trying to "manage capitalism in the interest of workers" is found to be completely wanting. However, Socialist Voice
's sister publication in Italy, Lotiammo per Socialismo
, is taking on the task of boldly arguing for a socialist alternative for the movement and is getting an encouraging echo on all the demonstrations where it is sold.
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