European Social Forum: March against racism and capitalism

20,000 expected in Malmö

Politicians in Malmö, Sweden, are warning of ”chaos” and ”riots” during the European Social Forum (ESF) 17-21 September. Newspapers are listing everything that can ”go wrong” during the ESF because of left-wing ”hooligans”. The worries of demonstrators, however, will be over Europe’s rapidly deepening economic crisis, the attacks on trade union rights, racist migration policies, climate threats and many other issues.

The organisers estimate 20,000 participants will take part in the main demonstration during the ESF, on Saturday 20 September. The police operation is the biggest ever in southern Sweden. Media and police particularly focus their warnings on an unofficial street party against the arms industry and the migration policies of the European Union. Unfortunately, organisations like Attac have also condemned the street party. Politicians complain about Malmö council giving 2.5 million SEK (250,000 euros) to the ESF, which is actually a drop in the ocean compared to what capitalist political parties and think-tanks receive from the Swedish state.

The CWI in Sweden (Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna) is mobilising for the ESF and the demonstration. We will hold two public meetings, as part of the ESF programme. One meeting will discuss, ’The rise of class struggle in Europe and new workers parties’ and the other will look at, ’China in turmoil – mass struggle and environmental disaster’. We have produced a 16-page issue of our weekly paper, focusing on the ESF and current key issues in Europe.

Europe’s economic crisis

Not long ago, most economists predicted that Europe and Sweden had better economic prospects than the US. But over the last month and a half, the crisis has seriously hit Europe. Spain, Denmark, Ireland, Britain – it is difficult to decide which country has been worst affected.

The economic fall is dramatic. In the second quarter this year, GDP in the eurozone fell by 0.2 %, compared to the first quarter. Annualised it would mean a drop of 0.8%. This is the first drop in the eurozone’s GDP since the euro was launched, ten years ago.

It is the largest economies that have lost most. Germany, accounting for more than a quarter of the eurozone’s economy, dropped 0.5 % compared to the first quarter, while France and Italy both fell 0.3 %. Spain’s increase was only 0.1 % and the Netherlands was on zero.

The financial bubble is bursting, which threatens the banking system and puts enormous pressure on all ’leveraged’. i.e. debt-driven financial deals. There are huge price hikes on food and raw materials and huge gas price increases. Consumption, which accounted for an increasing part of economic growth, is now restrained by both price hikes and the credit crunch. The sharp drop in demand is now further aggravated by increased unemployment and workplace closures because capitalists can no longer find profitable markets.

Housing is in crisis and the building industry. Construction permits have dropped 60 % in Spain, over the last year, and by 20 % across the EU.

Given all this, the OECD revised down its prognosis for the eurozone to 1.3 % growth this year (in June, they predicted 1.7 %).

Who should pay for the crisis? The downturn is already being used as an argument for further attacks on workers’ conditions. In Spain, for example, the employers demand a more ”flexible” labour market, i.e. making it easier to sack workers. Capitalist economists are also attempting to block unions from demanding compensation for price rises, saying this would increase inflation. The present record price hikes, however, have developed despite extremely modest wage increases for many years.

European capitalists have lost their confidence. The stock markets have lost a third of their value over the last twelve months.

Exactly how deep the economic downturn will be remains to be seen but it is likely to be a deep and drawn-out crisis. The neo-liberal programme of privatisations and deregulation has been a disaster. Capitalism will now attempt to put the burden on workers and the poor. This opens up a stormy period.

Europe’s political crisis

The ’No’ victory in Ireland – the only country that was allowed a referendum on the new European Union treaty – says everything about the political situation in Europe. Constant attacks by politicians on workers’ conditions and rights has been met by gigantic distrust and opposition. The need for new workers’ parties is acute.

The almost non-existant support for all governments or established capitalist parties is a result of their policies. Social democracy in Germany, France and England are in deep crisis. Right-wing parties have won elections in Italy, France and Greece, only to be met by mass protests. The old parties try to portray themselves as ”new”, as for example the Sweden’s right-wing Moderates claiming to be a ”workers’ party”.

The mood is turning leftwards. In an opinion poll, a majority in Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Germany supported increased taxes on the wealthy and lower taxes for the poor. In the newer EU states, in central and eastern Europe, preference for a market economy does not win a majority. And only a small minority believes corruption is less rife than in 1989, at the time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

The European Union is a big business project. The purpose of the Lisbon Treaty and the new EU constitution, is to underpin the EU’s role as an imperialist bloc. The important ’No’ referendum victory in Ireland was based on resistance to neo-liberalism, defence of workers’ rights and opposition to the militarisation of the EU.

A new radicalisation is noticeable both politically and in increased industrial struggle. This is despite important factors that are holding back the process. The most important is the lack of workers’ parties. The collapse of Stalinism, and the massive capitalist propaganda during the process of globalisation, effected mass consciousness.

But mass struggle and experience of capitalist crisis will change consciousness and create the ground for new mass socialist parties. Several European countries have seen strike movements this year. Wage strikes took place in over 80 workplaces in Belgium. The Netherlands and Poland have also seen strike waves, as did Germany, earlier this year. Workers in Poland and Romania have won wage increases after strikes.

General opposition to right-wing policies led to three general strikes in Greece over the last year, one of them the biggest for many years. Public sector workers have been on strike in Britain and Portugal. In Italy, Berlusconi’s return as prime minister is causing new mobilisations.

New political alternatives have developed in many countries. The left alliance, SYRIZA, in Greece, and Die Linke (The Left), in Germany, are each the third biggest party in opinion polls in Greece and Germany, respectively. The LCR’s initiative for a new anti-capitalist party in France is receiving a lot of attention.

Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna, and the CWI, supports and participates in these new formations. We stress the need for the new formations to orientate towards struggle; to strive to organise new layers of workers and youth; to be democratically organised, so that different socialist and workers’ alternative can participate.

The capitalist class will attempt to counter radicalisation and workers’ struggle. In Sweden, we have seen how the conservative Moderates are using both concessions and talk about new ”reforms”, by which they attempt to derail and tie-up leaders of struggle, and the Moderates also whip up nationalism and racism, with anti-immigrant rhetoric.

In Italy and France, even leading politicians have attacked the euro and the EU for being a ”straight-jacket”. In France, last year, and Germany, this year, governments decided to put limits on foreign takeovers of companies.

Governments will use racism. In the election campaign, Berlusconi, argued that Italy should close its borders and put unemployed foreigners in camps. This was directed against Roma people, already subject to increased racism.

Openly racist parties have gained high polling in elections, in, for example, Austria, Belgium, France, Romania, Slovakia and Switzerland. In Denmark, the racist Danish People’s Party influenced the right-wing government, as well as the opposition social democracy and the Socialist Peoples’ Party.

The real challenger against the capitalist class in the EU, however, comes from the workers’ struggle and mass protest movements.

Workers’ struggle and radicalisation lays the foundation for a renewed class movement. The struggle against capitalism and exploitation must be international. New parties must defend working class families and the most oppressed, orientate to and be a part of the class struggle and participate in struggle against racism. These parties must be democratic, oppose the bureaucracy and privileges of today’s established parties. The alternative to the capitalist EU is a democratic and socialist Europe.

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September 2008