ESF Istanbul 2010: Another Social Forum was possible

Support for European-wide protest on 29 September

With Europe in crisis, and Turkish undergoing deep changes, the European Social forum was merely business as usual, with a declining number of participants. The summary of the forum merely made reference to the European-wide day of action on 29 September, rather than discussing and developing a strategy for the movement.

On 3 July, thousands of demonstrators noisily streamed through the centre of Istanbul, to Taksim square. A combative block of UPS workers, along with their union, Tumtis, demanded their re-instatement. Their multi-national company sacked them for organising in a trade union. Flags of public sector union, Kesk, were flying. The Turkish left had a significant presence. Red Banners, along with many placards stopped the traffic. Kurdish activists had their own block, the only block which was brutally surrounded by police. Palestinian flags demonstrated solidarity with the people of Gaza. Trade unionists, left organisations and activists from movements all over the world demonstrated “we won’t pay for the capitalist crisis!”.

This was the climax of the 6th European social forum, which took place between 1 and 4 July. But this was also the exception. The discussions and mood were not dominated by the increase of struggle, with 5 general strikes in Greece, mass struggles in Spain, Italy and Portugal and the Tekel workers’ struggle in turkey itself. The discussions had by less than 5,000 participants, who came together in Istanbul’s technical university in small discussion circles, and a few bigger meetings (with up to 300 attending) followed along the same lines as in previous social forums, i.e behind the pace of events.

29 September 2010 – European-wide protest

The ESF’s final decaration states: “In the context of a global crisis and faced with the EU’s, the government’s and the IMF´s offensive to impose austerity and social regression policies, the social movements which have gathered in the ESF in Istanbul issue a call to act together in Europe. […] It is urgent to build, on the long term, a convergent struggle in Europe, which brings together social movements, trade unions, associations, organisations, and citizen networks. This is why we issue a call for a first step on the way to developing mobilisation across Europe, on the 29th of September and the surrounding days. “

The 29 September, which was called by the ETUC (European Trade Union Congress), has the potential to develop as a day of protest in all of Europe. Trade unions in Spain plan a general strike. There has also been discussion about similar actions in Greece and Portugal. But the ESF in Istanbul went no further than merely repeating the ETUC’s vague call for action.

Representatives of NGOs and union officials dominated the ESF. The main emphasis of the discussion was on how the financial system of capitalism should be changed. They did not discuss the strategy: how to increase resistance, how to unite the struggles of workers in different countries and how to overcome the brake of the trade union leaders on struggle in the different countries.

Hugo Braun, from Attac, said that the ESF is an “expression of the of the strong desire for joint European-wide resistance and concrete action” – a desire which was not satisfied. Almost everyone realised this, and participants were generally disappointed. Many comments about the bad organisation of the ESF, only obscured the event’s real political weaknesses.

Turkey and Kurdistan

The struggle of the Tekel workers was mentioned a lot at the ESF. But the experiences and developments of the Turkish workers’ movement were not really felt by the ESF. The Turkish left did not attend in large numbers; trade unions were only represented by officials, with very few rank-and-file activists finding their way to the technical university. Neither the re-awakening of the Turkish workers’ movement, with hundreds of thousands on Taksim square on 1 May for the first time in 33 years, nor capitalism’s attempts to re-create a political opposition to the capitalist AKP party, nor the discussions about a constitutional referendum, featured at the ESF.

Many sessions at the ESF dealt with the situation facing the Palestinian people, following the attack on the Gaza aid flotilla. Speakers quite correctly criticised the hypocrisy of the Turkish regime, which cries crocodile tears over the national oppression of the Palestinians but continues to oppress the Kurds. |Despite the fact that the repression of the Kurdish people was dealt with more, the ESF’s final declaration expresses nothing more than “that we are for a political resolution of the Kurdish issue”.

Which way forward?

Given the deep crisis of capitalism, international resistance is necessary. The debate on the socialist alternative to the profit-driven system and how to achieve it, could benefit a lot from an international forum, with strong representation from the trade union movement and the newly-formed forces of the left, such as Die Linke or Syriza (who were well represented at the ESF). Decisive forces involved in the ESF dismissed the idea of developing from the social forum movement, a movement to change the social system. Jessica Heyser, from the German youth TUC (DGB youth) said “these expectations would ask too much of the forum today”.

If this view continues to dominate, more and more activists will say goodbye to the ESF. In Malmo 2 years ago, 6,000 attended – a low point at the time. This trajectory could continue, unless the new developing struggles taking place, for example, around 29 September shakes up and transforms the forces involved in the ESF in 2012.

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July 2010