Issue 255 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review
|Attac members Naima, Julien and Sophie look forward to the protests in Genoa|
Sophie Gosselin and Julien Ottavi were on holiday in London, and Naima Bouteldja has recently been living in Luton. All are members of Attac in France but met at the Marxism 2001 conference in London in early July. It was there that they decided to go to Genoa. Sophie said that she was 'fed up with the system that is making thousands either die or suffer. So I just want to change it,' while Julien was excited by the prospect of 'taking part in a world protest, a new kind of world demonstration', Naima thought that 'going to protest in Genoa is the least that I can do. Things have to change.' They are young, angry and excited about the anti-capitalist movement. Ian Roberts went to a Globalise Resistance conference in London and picked up a leaflet about Genoa together with a copy of George Monbiot's book Captive State, which 'just blew me away'. He says, 'When the Blair government got in I was chuffed. I thought everything was going to change. It was the kind of dawning realisation that this is not the case.' By reading books that have grown up alongside the anti-capitalist movement, Ian felt that 'it is necessary to become more active to be true to myself. You can't just say, "It's great this--I will read these books and sit back".'
Manuel Spartaris is trying to study history, but the exhilaration of being involved in the anti-capitalist movement means that 'there are a lot of politics coming in between'. Manuel, a symbol of the internationalism on the train, originally came from Chile, but was forced into exile in 1986 when he was 14. He is now a Swedish citizen living in Norway, and involved in Attac in Oslo: 'I heard about the demonstration when I was in Gothenburg. I said that I had to go to Genoa. I am going to be informed--I am sending information back to small groups in Chile.' What has motivated him? 'One is the injustice that you see. There are people paying for this type of politics every day. There are people dying, others with no rights. The other thing is that I really don't feel free in this society right now. I don't feel I can develop as a person in this society.'
Bill McCanley and Tom Daly, bus drivers from Dublin, found out through friends at work, and were given leaflets by a trade union rank and file group called the Bus Workers' Action Group. Bill was 'sceptical' of the anti-capitalist movement until now, because he thought that 'it was too student orientated rather than having anything to do with the concrete needs of workers'. But he thought at least this was 'a way of linking up with our continental brothers and sisters in the fight against privatisation across Europe', and as socialists and trade unionists 'have always talked about internationalism--this is one way of giving concrete expression to the labourite tradition'.
Tom was frustrated by just talking to his mates at work about 'what was happening around the world that's affecting our job'. Having two sons, he believes this movement is about 'their future as well'. Having seen previous anti-capitalist protests, he thought that 'they are beginning to have an effect, so when I had the opportunity to come along on this trip I said, "There is no point in me talking to people about this at home without going to try and do something myself," and it is the first step really. I have never done anything like this. I have never been involved in any kind of politics, so I thought it is about time to put my money where my mouth is.'
What were the expectations of those on board the train? As Julien said, 'We are here and we don't agree with the system. They are afraid of us and we have no weapons.' The train journey gave a peculiar and unique intensity to the political discussions. 'There is something crazy about it and it is completely amazing,' Sophie thought. 'Usually we have difficulty getting people out of their houses just to demonstrate on their streets. But now people are moving from all over Europe to go to one place. I mean it is completely new. There is something changing in the resistance--something has moved. It is very exciting on the train. I am very touched. I have never had an experience like this.'
Speeding through the French countryside on a glorious summer evening, the organisers from Globalise Resistance invited us all to a workshop on non-violent direct action as part of the preparation plans for the next day. At the first meeting 100 people crammed into a compartment, but before it could even begin someone objected to the presence of the media. After a discussion a vote was taken, and the media were allowed to stay on one strict precondition--as someone added, 'That they report that what they have just heard and witnessed is what democracy really looks like.' Everyone cheered and clapped. The meeting discussed how to organise 'affinity groups' that would 'link arms and stay together' in the event of a police attack. Then in the middle of the meeting a phone beeped, and to rapturous applause someone announced that he had just received a text message saying that over 60,000 people had marched in Genoa that afternoon in support of immigrants. The meeting continued. 'What does it feel like to be teargassed?' someone asks. 'What should we do?' asked another. 'Don't rub your eyes--it will pass,' someone responded. Telephone numbers of lawyers were given out, and the organisers, together with those who had been on the protests in Prague and Nice, assured the others.
|Transporting protest to Genoa|
By 11am we finally reached Genoa, 26 hours after leaving Calais. It was a divided city, encased in a steel fence. Eight men, guarded by more than 16,000 police, separating them from 300,000 protesters, who paraded and demonstrated for 48 hours in a carnival of international resistance and solidarity. What was the effect of this experience on those who had travelled on the train? 'I think I have been through every emotion known to humankind--fear, worry, apprehension, sadness, joy, jubilation, and I think the final emotion is one of empowerment, hope. I feel strong and I feel proud,' said Keith Forbes, a bus driver from London. For Tom, 'The downside was the way we were treated. I have never committed a crime in my life, and I felt it was the first time I have been afraid of the police, attacked by them for nothing, chased by the police for nothing. So it makes me think, "What the fuck are they afraid of?" But for all of this, he still thought, 'I have never been in such a mass of people. I thought that was fantastic. There were people from every walk of life going there. It was great--it was a 99 percent carnival atmosphere. The whole thing was fantastic--the way the people were together, all of us looking out for each other. Everybody was really great, ordinary people.'
Before getting to Genoa, Bill had been suspicious of the anti-capitalist movement. What did he make of it now? 'Greatly impressed with the numbers, the organisation, the diversity, the sincerity and the commitment of the people involved. Certainly not pleased with the police and the reaction to it, or the media reaction, which seems to be an organised attempt to bury this phenomenon.' He continued, 'The people who were there, a lot of them looked like people like myself--more left wing views than me, granted, but they looked like working people, they looked like trade unionists, and they looked as if, like me, they were out there to defend our conditions of employment and our security. There are some things that we may be able to do, and that is trying to introduce some form of direct action tactics in the fight against privatisation on the buses and the railways in Ireland. Also, to maintain the links that we have, we exchanged telephone numbers and our addresses with French railway workers on the march--they had seen our banners. On a personal note, it was a great sense of solidarity, a great sense of purpose for the future.'
Would they go on an anti-capitalist protest again? 'Oh, definitely. I will be first in the queue next time, mate,' said Keith. 'I think I would, I really would,' said Tom Daly, who had never been on anything like this before. 'Yeah, I would, but I think what is more important is that people get more involved in their localities. I think now the task is to reach out to a broader range,' said Miranda, a charity worker from London. Bill told us he was hoping to take back this message to his own trade union: 'We do have a role to play in this globalised resistance to capitalism--we can take them on. We can say, "Hold on a minute--you can't gamble with our lives, gamble with our employment, gamble with our future." We can say, "Yes, we can stop you" Why should we give in to the counsels of despair? There is a future for us--it is a matter of organising.' For Manuel, 'One of the beautiful things that shows that this dream is possible was the ambience between the people in Genoa. You felt that you were amongst brothers and sisters. They made me feel much more secure. Even if we don't win immediately, we are going to lead lives that we can be proud of.'