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Growing challenge to a bosses' Europe

May 12, 2006 | Page 2

JESSIE KINDIG reports from the European Social Forum, held last weekend in Athens.

ALMOST 30,000 people gathered in Athens May 4-7 to discuss the way forward for social movements and the left at the fourth European Social Forum (ESF).

More than previous ESFs, the meeting in Athens was marked by an activist-oriented, left-wing tone. Rather than non-governmental associations (NGOs), the majority of booths at the main fair were sponsored by radical trade unions, revolutionary groups, and antiwar and feminist coalitions.

Over the course of the weekend, three main themes surfaced: the war in Iraq, privatization and job insecurity in Europe caused by neoliberalism, and the question of immigrant rights. In addition, hundreds of seminars and workshops took up political questions ranging from the threat of a U.S. attack on Iran to the relation of the radical left to more moderate European Social Democratic parties.

Some of the largest sessions focused on the main questions facing the antiwar movement--escalating U.S. threats against Iran, the question of immediate withdrawal, and whether or not to support the Iraqi resistance.

Almost 800 people attended a session on the antiwar movement and the resistance in Iraq and Palestine, featuring author and veteran activist Tariq Ali, International Socialist Review (ISR) editor Ahmed Shawki, and Piero Bernocchi from the independent workers' union COBAS in Italy.

The speakers argued in favor of supporting the resistance as part of opposing the entire logic of the U.S. "war on terror." "Without the armed resistance of the Iraqi and Palestinian people, today we would be talking about the war in Iran or the war in Syria," Bernocchi said. While the ESF didn't take an official position on the resistance, the general sentiment was for unconditional support.

The ESF also took aim at the "Washington model" of neoliberalism, which has had disastrous results in Europe. Pro-business policies have shredded union rights and the social safety net, resulting in skyrocketing rates of job insecurity and unemployment, higher housing costs and worsening poverty. The recent victory of French students and workers against an anti-worker law was one of the first major victories against neoliberalism.

Forum attendees also took up the issue of immigrant rights. Ibrar Bukhari, a Pakistani activist who works in Barcelona with two mass immigrant rights groups, noted that the situation for immigrants has worsened in the past decades--and that the ESF was a next step toward continuing and broadening protests in Europe. "Capitalism can move all over the world, oney and capital can move, but why can't migrants and workers move?" Bukhari said

Bukhari spoke on a panel discussion with the ISR's Ashley Smith, where many people celebrated the exploding movement for immigrant rights in the U.S. "Radical actions in the streets are the right place to fight for your social rights," Bukhari said. "I think that soon you will see many people getting their papers in the U.S."

On Sunday, almost 80,000 people marched through the center of Athens, past the U.S. embassy and to the Greek Parliament, in a Forum-organized protest against the Iraq war. Banners and chants in Greek, English, Italian and Turkish denounced the U.S. war, the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the saber-rattling towards Iran.

Antonis Davenellos, a leader of the Greek socialist group International Workers' Left and member of the Greek Social Forum organizing committee, said, "This ESF is more radical because of the political situation. The victory against the CPE in France is an example that we can challenge neoliberalism and win. To win something stable has been unimaginable to the European left until now.

"Our fights need a common program--we must articulate a concrete challenge to the dominating politics of the neoliberal assault. Our political duty is to resist, and we must use the ESF as our stage to discuss and debate our strategies."

The fourth ESF was an important step forward for the European left and indicates the growing challenge to a bosses' Europe.

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