European Social Forum: Union rights at forefront

CWI gets good response

Demands for the defence of trade union rights and the right to strike were carried on the main banner of the 15,000 strong march at the European Social Forum in Malmö, Sweden. It was the biggest demonstration in Sweden since the anti-war campaign before the US intervention in Iraq in 2003. Demonstrations were also organised in defence of the right to asylum and against the damage being done to the world climate.

The Malmö ESF was the smallest since the first one held in Florence, Italy, in 2002. The claim by the organisers that up to 10,000 participated in seminars seems an exaggeration. There was also reason to be sceptical because of an increased influence by ’official’ organisations, particularly trade union leaders. Among the speakers at the inauguration was, for example, Wanja Lundby-Wedin, leader of both the Swedish trade union federation, LO, and the European Trade Union Congress, ETUC. She is also in the leadership of the Social Democratic Party in Sweden. Another speaker was the former arch-bishop of Sweden.

However, just organising a mobilisation that is big by Swedish standards has offered a much-needed injection of energy for many rank and file activists. The ESF, being based in Malmö city, made it easier to reach out to local workers and youth.

The media tried to fulfil its predictions by describing a ’Reclaim the Street’ party as a riot that vandalised Malmö. While not defending the behaviour of some of the participants – there was obviously no conscious political idea behind this party – it is important to know that in total just 13 windows at one bank office were smashed. The police, however, kept a low profile compared to the police violence in Gothenburg 2001.

Trade union rights

Workers’ rights were most to the fore at this ESF, with some interesting seminars. In four rulings, the European Court has decided that the free movement of business can over-ride trade union rights. These cases – Laval (Sweden), Viking (Finland), Rüffert (Germany) and Luxembourg – has opened the door for wage dumping. Companies with foreign workers are not obliged to follow national wage agreements and trade unions (or governments) cannot take proper action against them. This was one of the issues high-lighted by CWI comrades and union activists in the ’No’ campaign in the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty – the new constitution of the European Union.

Sweden and the Czech Republic are the only EU member states – apart from Ireland – that have not yet ratified the Lisbon Treaty. The Social Democratic party, however, is prepared to cooperate with Sweden’s right-wing government in a ’Yes’ vote in parliament in November. At the same time, the Swedish LO (TU federation) leadership are in discussions with the employers’ federation about a new deal that could include further limitations on the right to strike.

At the ESF, even a Social Democratic MP spoke out against the Treaty. Trade unionists from Denmark and Norway urged the Swedish unions to mobilise against the vote in parliament. In the debate, this was strongly echoed by Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden). No clear indication was given by the Swedish Building Workers’ Union whether this will happen, but there is a growing opposition within the Swedish and European trade union movement which wants a struggle against the anti-union legislation of the EU. As mentioned, these issues dominated the front of the main demonstration on Saturday.

Threat of climate change

Around one thousand people participated in a climate demonstration on Friday. The demonstration also blocked traffic on some key roads in central Malmö. Consciousness of global warming as a man-made phenomenon and a threat to human existence has risen rapidly over the last year alone. New networks have been formed and a lot of material produced. One much-debated issue during the ESF was, for example, the link between the struggle to save the environment and the struggle for a socialist society. Even though most ESF participants regard themselves as left-wing, they are still prepared to look for ”short term solutions” such as rationing and emission rights’ trade. Implemented by a capitalist state, however, those measures will not solve the problems. Workers and poor people will be forced to pay the price while big business can carry on as usual.

The need for a democratic plan of production and an energy-saving housing programme, as well as transport, underline the need for nationalisation under workers’ control and democratic planning of the use of resources. International socialism is the only solution to the threats to the climate.

Climate is also the focus for the next big international mobilisation of European anti-capitalist and environmental activists – at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December 2009.

Anti-racism and asylum

The action on the right of asylum during the ESF focused on the need to stop deportations. In Sweden alone, 200 children (orphans) from all over the globe, are waiting to be deported. On Thursday, 18 September, the Malmö office of the Migration Authority was surrounded by activists and later the same day 500 people took part in a demonstration. Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden) was part of the demonstration and is currently involved in organising several campaigns for refugees. Unfortunately, the organisers of this ESF demonstration focused too much on criticising the staff at the Migration Authority and too little on attacking the Swedish politicians and the European Union itself. Later this year, the French president, Sarkozy, will present a new, even worse, migration policy for the EU. Again, it is a question of linking the right of asylum and the rights of the growing number of ’undocumented people’ to the struggle to change society.

Role of the CWI

The material, meetings and paper of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden) was met with a thirst for socialist ideas and initiatives among younger ESF participants and Malmö people. We were without question the most visible and active political party and international organisation at the ESF, with many stalls around the ESF area. Our meeting on the mass struggle in China was a spectacular success, with 116 participants early on Sunday morning, the day after the big demonstration. A lot of questions and answers filled the room and many contributed financially at the meeting. This was one of the biggest seminars at the ESF. Also our meeting on the class struggle and new parties in Europe was in a fully-packed room, fueled by the ongoing global financial crisis.

During the four days of the ESF we sold over 1,150 copies of our weekly paper, Offensiv. In total, we raised 32,000 SEK (3,330 euros) from paper sales, stalls and an anti-racist petition. We recruited three new members to our party, which will lay the basis for a new branch in Malmö. Another 40 people expressed an interest in joining us, some of them from other Nordic countries. The possibilities for expanding and building our party and the CWI was clear for all of us during these hectic days of action.

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September 2008