The gathering of tens of thousands of Europe’s radicalised youth in Florence in November was proof of far more than the scale of mass disaffection, which would barely have been news, but was testimony to the competence, creativity and capability of the largest and most diverse movement in history.
Well over 40,000 delegates – registration credentials ran out after that number had entered Florence’s historic Fortressa on the second day – with an average age of no more than 25, gathered to participate in the European movement’s coming of age: moving from destruction, opposition and confrontation to sowing the seeds of a new society.
It is acute political and economic disenfranchisement which has brought these diverse groups and individuals together – the violence of a tiny global elite, seemingly determined to turn a majority of the world’s population to the margins in a push towards war, blood, starvation, unending inequality and impoverishment.
The cross-section of European society represented at the European Social Forum (ESF) – from large environmental and development NGOs, reformist economists and mainstream trade unions to the anarchistic "Hub", assorted far left parties and liberation movements – incorporated a range of ideologies and political practices that would traditionally have been unable to share the same conference centre.
But beyond even the ideological wonder was the scale and competence of organisation, almost all volunteer, which was enough to put American political conventions to shame and make even a cynic truly believe that another world is possible. Simultaneous translation into 5 languages was provided for 1,000 speakers at 30 conference sessions, 200 workshops, 150 seminars, 25 campaign meetings, and a huge range of cultural and practical events, fringe meetings with subjects ranging from oppression and resistance in Africa and Asia to the creation of alternative economies; from the betrayal of the environment to closing down tax havens.
Like many others, War on Want argues that the struggle against neo-liberalism’s iniquitous structure as witnessed by currency speculation and tax havens; the elimination of poverty caused by sweatshop labour and privatisation; and the right of the Palestinian and Saharawi peoples to basic human dignity, are all part of the same war. It is the globalisation of capital which created this movement and, therefore, only a globally focused movement can create change, as powerfully enunciated by War on Want partner Berenice Celeyta municipal services union SINTRAEMCALI (Colombia).
ANOTHER COLOMBIA IS POSSIBLE
The starkness of life as a trade union activist in Colombia paints the world structure more clearly than many of us in Europe can see it. Berenice, in a seminar on trade unions and privatization, told delegates how their struggle against Plan Colombia and President Uribe Velez’s new and fanatical ‘war on terror’ was part of the same process as the struggle of European unions against privatisation – a process "that used to be called neo-liberalism and before that neo-colonialism". Cocaine is not the problem, but the self-sufficiency of the Colombian peasant at the foot of the Multi-national corporation. The strength of a European movement which the ESF formally called into being was the "only space for solidarity in the west".
Berenice, talked of the 36 day occupation by SINTRAEMCALI in defence of public services in Colombia’s second city, and explained how a strategy based locally, nationally, and transnationally had managed to hold back a privatization plan orchestrated by multinational corporations, the World Bank, the IMF and the Colombian government.
A MILLION PEOPLE MARCH AGAINST WAR
But the best was still to come. Until you see what 1 million people looks like on the streets – and very few non-Italian delegates would be old enough to remember such a demonstration – it is impossible to imagine the scale, the colour, the sound. Those who thought the days of genuinely popular mass struggle faded with the ascendancy of neo-liberalism looked in disbelief as demonstrators marched through tower blocks with older men and women hanging off their balconies waving thousands of rainbow peace flags; listened as thousands of bystanders lining the streets trying to get round the city showed their solidarity by singing the moving anti-fascist anthem "bella ciao".
As night drew in, thousands still poured through the streets chanting, dancing, waving banners and everywhere the Palestinian scarves, for Palestinian resistance is the symbol of this movement – an emblem of hope in the teeth of powerful adversity for millions of young people the world over, for whom the political and economic system that rules the globe seems not merely unfair, but utterly insane.
Never before have so many enjoyed the pain of a hangover and sleep deprivation than those sitting in the closing ‘assembly of social movements’ on Sunday morning, with thunderous voices coming through their translation headphones, and the belief truly engraved in their souls that another Europe is possible. Or as the Colombians put it "the river grows in strength as it moves from its source and is joined by other streams to ultimately become the ocean – the most powerful force on earth."
Campaigns Officer, War on Want
Colombia Solidarity Campaign at ESF
Our delegation of 6 members raised the banner of solidarity with Colombia proudly at a range of events during the conference. The Colombia Solidarity Campaign worked jointly with a range of European organizations and Colombian exiles in The European Coordinating Committee for the Colombian Human Rights Campaign ‘ Colombia Clama Justicia’ (Colombia Calls For Justice).
Our group had speakers in several meetings including one seminar specifically dedicated to the issue of Plan Colombia, another in conjunction with War on Want on trade unions and privatization, and also in a much bigger forum on Latin America. Our delegates sold magazines, handed out leaflets and worked hard to raise the issues of Colombia inside and outside of the conference. We stayed with Italian members of the rank and file trade union – COBAS in the INTIFADA – community centre in EMPOLI, just outside Florence.