Archive article from The Socialist Issue 277
Florence anti-war demo
Huge Turnout Shows Growing Radicalisation
SATURDAY 9 November, saw the biggest protest so far against the threatened war against Iraq. Up to a million marched and sang through the streets of Florence, Italy, in protest at Bush and Berlusconi's policies.
The many hundred thousands of Italian protesters were joined by tens of thousands of foreign participants in the European Social Forum assembly and by others, like the French CGT union, who came to Italy just for this demonstration.
Weeks of increasingly hysterical anti-demonstrator propaganda from Italy's government didn't lessen the turnout. It increased it and kept protesters on guard against any agent provocateurs trying to provoke clashes. This, and the minimal police presence, resulted in a peaceful protest.
At least double the size of last year's Genoa march, this was the fourth mass protest in Italy this year. Almost immediately after Berlusconi's May 2001 election victory protests and mass struggles started. Since then they included two successful eight-hour general strikes in October.
While smaller than March's three million trade union demo in Rome, this protest brought together the themes of fighting against unemployment, neo-liberal attacks, the right-wing Berlusconi government and imperialist war.
The protesters were very clear that they opposed Berlusconi, but there were hardly any indications of what should replace his government.
The fact that the UN Security Council had earlier accepted Bush's resolution on Iraq had no effect. It was widely seen that Bush's administration had bullied, threatened or bribed other countries to get support.
No one expected the UN to stop the Bush/Blair right to attack Iraq, only a mass movement could defeat Bush's colonial plans.
The march's size and enthusiasm showed the mass opposition Berlusconi is facing. Most of the march were workers and youth, but many middle class protesters showed the widespread opposition to the right and to Berlusconi's shameless attempts to stop being tried in court for corruption.
The delegations present included political parties, especially the Rifondazione Comunista (RC) that had the largest contingent, although most of their young members marched with other groups of youth.
Groups of workers came from different workplaces, including Fiat where thousands are threatened with redundancy. The 'unions of the base' (like the different Cobas organisations and Cub-RdB) had some sizeable workplace groups and also attracted many youth to their contingents.
However, compared to Genoa last year, there was less organised presence from the workplaces. Cgil's own contingent was relatively small, whether through failure to mobilise or from some workers feeling that demos on their own won't stop Berlusconi.
Nevertheless, the huge turnout shows the radicalisation underway in Italy. Now, even more than before, activists will be discussing what steps need to be taken next and what policies need to be fought for.
A Day Of Singing And Red Flags!
THE 28 September anti-war demo in London was the biggest I'd been on... until last Saturday. It was also the liveliest demo I'd seen... until last Saturday. Florence was incredibly inspiring and definitely distracted any tourists from the renaissance art the city is traditionally famous for.
People marched throughout the day dancing, chanting and singing traditional workers' songs as well as more modern stuff. Old and young, workers and students, from Ireland to Russia and from Sweden to Sicily let it be known that Europe is against the war.
A CGIL delegation marched behind a banner calling for general strike; red flags and anti-capitalist slogans showed that the opposition extended to much more than the plans to bomb Iraq.
I'd worried that not speaking the language would stop communication with the Italian young people on the demo but the words "Socialismo" and "Communismo" were nearly always greeted with a thumbs-up. Our CWI pamphlet "Lotta per il socialismo" (Struggle for Socialism) sold out in a matter of hours.
Demonstrators were angry at the inequality that exists under capitalism, where governments will spend money on a war for oil and profit at the expense of decent health and education systems.
And with red the predominant colour there was some understanding that an alternative system to capitalism is the only way to end war and terror.
European Social Forum: A Socialist World Is Necessary
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 (see page 3) - 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.
A trade unionist's perspective
AS AN active trade unionist I found the European Social Forum (ESF) quite impressive - thousands of people commited to opposing global capitalism, most of them young, discussing and debating issues. Although some of the political messages were a bit confused, at least there was the opportunity to talk about globalisation and its harmful effects, uncommon given the domination of public debate by the capitalist media.
I was pleased to see that a number of trade unions, like UNISON, were supporting the event. The ESF should encourage trade unionists to campaign for closer links between the anti-capitalist movement and the unions, to draw in the organised working class.
As for the future of the ESF, I would like to see less platform speakers, perhaps just two at each discussion, putting different points of view, and allowing for more contributions from ordinary participants. This will help focus minds, and develop strategies for the anti-capitalist movement, so that people leave it with a clear idea of what to do in their own countries, organisations and trade unions.
Roger Bannister, UNISON National Executive Council (Personal Capacity)