European Social Forum – playground for opportunists

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The concept of a European Social Forum grew out of the first Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2000, which aimed to bring together people interested in collectively voicing their opposition to the ideology represented by imperialists, neo-liberals and proponents of capitalism at the annual World Economic Forum. The third ESF took place in London in October this year.

The slogan of the ESF is ‘Another world is possible’ – of that there is no doubt. From a world without poverty, illiteracy, torture, racism, sexism, homophobia, war, environmental destruction, towards one with social justice, human rights, democracy and ecological responsibility. A world run in the interests of humans not profit – a socialist world.
Up to 20,000 people attended the London ESF, participating in a wide range of meetings and activities. The real lessons of the event, however, are not ones that will be learned from any of the speakers, but from studying the way in which the ‘left’ trade unions and the ubiquitous and iniquitous Socialist Workers Party (SWP) sabotaged support for real struggles and tried to cover up for collaborators with imperialist warmongering.

TGWU stop march
While delegates milled around the two ESF venues talking about changing the world, the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) leafleted to tell them not to attend a march in support of low-paid cleaners in Canary Wharf financial district whose annual salary, £8,000, is similar to the bankers’ hourly rate. A speaker at the alternative meeting organised by SchNews announced that for the first time in years of TGWU membership he had received an urgent email – insisting that on no account he join this demonstration! The spineless TGWU had pulled out after a legal injunction earlier that week. In the end 150 people listened to speeches at Canary Wharf.

Stop the War Coalition shares platform with Iraqi collaborator
One of the main speakers at the ESF plenary session on ‘End the occupation of Iraq’ was the General Secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), Subhi Al Mashadani. An angry crowd of demonstrators assembled including Iraqis and Kurds opposed to the occupation, determined that under no circumstances would Mashadani be allowed to speak. They occupied the central aisle of the meeting, chanting ‘Mashadani, you have blood on your hands!’

Many people at the meeting were perplexed and angry, yet what Subhi Al Mashadani represents and why he was invited to the ESF was obscured from most of those present. Here are some of the facts:
• The IFTU was the only trade union grouping recognised by Bremer, Bush’s proconsul in Iraq. It is the only one officially recognised by the interim government and gets backing from the occupation authorities.
• The IFTU does not campaign against the occupation within Iraq and attacks those resisting occupation as terrorists. It does not campaign against the US bombardment of Iraqi cities and civilian populations.
• The IFTU openly backed Blair’s attempt to get puppet interim government leader Ayad Allawi to speak at the Labour Party Conference. UK IFTU representative Abdullah Muhsin spoke at the Conference, pleading with delegates not to support a motion calling for the early withdrawal of British forces from Iraq. Muhsin wrote an open letter to trade union delegates, stating that this ‘would be bad for my country, and would play into the hands of the extremists’. The motion was dropped.

Mashadani was invited to the ESF by two British trade unions – RMT and UNISON. The decision was controversial and had been opposed for weeks before the ESF started.

The chair of the plenary, Lindsay German (Stop the War Coalition/SWP) accused the protesters of denying Mashadani freedom of speech. She then asked participants to ‘vote’ on whether he should speak, without any explanation of the protesters’ reasons for their opposition. German won the ‘vote’ and demanded the protestors leave in the name of ‘democracy’. They refused and continued to oppose the presence of this collaborator. Eventually the meeting was abandoned and Mashadani left with his bodyguards.

Wombling against Livingstone
There was more opposition at the antifascist plenary of the ESF where Labour Mayor Ken Livingstone was billed to speak but did not turn up. 200 demonstrators erected banners that read ‘Ken’s party, War party’ and ‘Another world is for sale’ on stage in the 2,000 capacity hall. Chair of this session, Weyman Bennett, (United against Fascism/ SWP), claimed the protesters were racist thugs, who attacked a meeting with black and Jewish speakers, and that he had his phone and wallet snatched in the process. These allegations were easily and swiftly refuted – the protesters had been making a political point and got significant support from the audience.

The state of the movement in Britain
The SWP speaks on platforms with Iraqi collaborators, condemns those who point out Labour’s record, and keeps quiet when faced with Cuban revolutionaries (see p14).

We need to build an open, democratic, anti-imperialist, anti-war movement, in solidarity with those fighting imperialism in Iraq, Palestine, Latin America.A movement which will fight
for the interests of the poor and oppressed at home and abroad and those facing racism and discrimination, a movement which will defend socialist Cuba. To succeed, this movement must break from the Labour Party and all those who cover up for it.

Hannah Caller and Bill Bolloten

FRFI 182 December 2004 / January 2005