Issue 267 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 2002 Copyright © Socialist Review
|Resistance on the rise in Brussels|
The European Social Forum in Florence from 6 to 10 November will be a crucial staging point for the anti-war movement. Organisers have called a huge demonstration against the war and neoliberalism on the evening of Saturday 9 November. This will be the first pan- European anti-war action, and the Italian organisers are expecting at least 200,000 to march. On top of that, Florence is an opportunity to discuss the experience of the anti-war movements and to organise more cross-European action. This is important because the experience up to now across Europe has been so patchy. Despite huge mobilisations against war in Greece, Italy, Germany and Britain, there are still many countries--including France--in which the anti-war movement is weak and fragmented.
Stopping the war has rightly become activists' main preoccupation. But rather than narrowing the political focus, Bush and Blair's war has generated a very politicised anti-war movement and radicalised the various movements against neoliberalism. It has become the common sense of the anti-war movement here to understand the 'war on terror' as a war with corporate interests at its heart. Stop the War meetings up and down the country quickly become discussions about the causes of war, how we can get rid of Blair, and whether a world without weapons is possible.
Meanwhile, anti-capitalist mobilisations continue to grow. Three weeks ago the South African social movements organised their biggest ever action against privatisation. Some 25,000 landless peasants, community activists and trade unionists marched against the misnamed World Forum on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. The same weekend the Argentinian movement held a 20,000-strong Social Forum in Buenos Aires.
As well as being a focus for the anti-war movement, Florence will be a unique chance for tens of thousands of us to pursue these discussions, to deepen understanding of the links between globalisation and militarism, and to strengthen resistance on every front. The full agenda has not been finalised, but proceedings will probably start with a demonstration in support of migrants on the afternoon of Wednesday 6 November, followed by an opening event in the beautiful renaissance square of Santa Maria Novella. The main conferences, organised in three strands--against neoliberalism, against war and for rights and democracy, start on Thursday morning.
Every afternoon there will be self organised seminars and workshops hosted by a variety of movement networks including Attac, trade unions, peace groups, Globalise Resistance (GR), and radical NGOs like the World Development Movement. Among other events, GR has organised a forum with leading anti-capitalist intellectuals and activists on the way forward for the movement. Britain's Stop the War Coalition has organised a seminar with key anti- war activists from Germany, Italy, Britain and Greece. The International Socialist Tendency is among the political networks hosting workshops, including an event to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.
For three days and nights Florence will be buzzing with ideas and activity. Every evening there will be concerts, theatre and film shows and still more discussions. During the day there are plans for more actions in defence of asylum seekers, against militarism and more. The ESF will be a three-day festival of resistance.
The 14 months since Genoa have seen a spectacular broadening of the anti-capitalist movement. Trade unions from across Europe, including at least four British unions, will have delegations in Florence. Mainstream NGOs including Oxfam, Amnesty, Cafod and Save the Children have signed up, and a European student network is under construction involving student union groups from ten European countries so far.
This means plenty of different approaches to the movement will be on offer at the ESF. Some sections of the movement, including some NGOs and, importantly, the leadership of French Attac around Bernard Cassen, want to see the Social Forum movement as a kind of think-tank for social democracy. Their strategy is to pressurise parties like the French and Italian social democratic parties to implement the Tobin Tax, write off debt to developing countries and so on. Moderate elements in the World Social Forum process globally are arguing against the involvement of political parties at any level of the social forum movement, mainly for fear of the far left gaining influence.
Autonomist groups respond to this with a great deal of suspicion. They emphasise independent spontaneous action of different kinds, and are very wary of alliances with what they see as institutionalised sections of the movement, whether trade unions, NGOs or political parties. Meanwhile, a radical left pole is beginning to emerge trying to construct the widest possible unity, but unity round action over key issues--privatisation, war and resisting racism.
Florence will be an incredible encounter between tens of thousands of activists with different approaches and different histories. But the experience of collectively organising the event suggests that the majority of the activists on the ground share an awful lot. The last preparatory meeting issued a call to action against war on Iraq that has gathered the backing of hundreds of organisations and activists across Europe. Most involved agree that opposition to the war on Iraq has to be central, and many are sympathetic to the idea that the key for the movement is fusing the energy and ideas of anti-capitalism with the power of the trade unions.
The debates at the European Social Forum will shape the movement for the months ahead, and they could hardly be more crucial months. A European anti-war movement may be decisive for the future of Bush and Blair's war. The more British activists can report on the power of the coalition that has been constructed here, the more chance there is of a European movement that rattles the masters of war. There are other crucial tests coming up. The G8 is planning its next summit in the lakeside town of Evian in south eastern France from 1 to 3 June. ESF organisers have called a meeting of the Social Movements on the morning of Sunday 10 November to launch the mobilisation for Evian and several other initiatives. Activists here need to go all out to mobilise for the ESF--it's a chance to shape our future.
For more information on the English mobilisation go to www.mobilise.org.uk
For details on Florence go to www.fse-esf.org
BETWEEN THE LINES
Argentinian senator Jorge Capitanich ruffled a few feathers recently, when he proposed that all political candidates in future elections submit to psychiatric and neurological tests. Maybe this would be a good idea for some of our own cabinet ministers.
Proving once again that artistic integrity is the touchstone of the music industry, Starburst have shot into the Australian charts at number 28 with the single 'Get Your Juices Going'. But before you rush to the import section of your
local music shop, be warned: the band doesn't exist. It's the creation of sweets firm Mars, whose next Australian product will be... Starburst sweets.
Coca-Cola and PepsiCo were among 12 companies fined for defacing the Himalayas. They were ordered to pay 200,000 rupees (£2,680) each towards repairing the damage after their logos were painted on the rock surfaces. Some of the rock surfaces are 45 million years old. You can't beat the real thing!
A hot autumn ahead
After years of simmering resentment, there are clear signs of a return to industrial militancy.
The most dramatic example of this has been the unmistakable confidence of firefighters and control staff in their fight for a pay rise to £30,000 per year. On numerous rallies and demonstrations, called by the FBU leadership, a militant rank and file were willing to push the action further. There has been a colour and vibrancy about the firefighters' rallies which is reminiscent of recent anti-capitalist protests. CWU general secretary Billy Hayes was loudly cheered at the London rally for denouncing New Labour's warmongering spending priorities.
If the firefighters strike there is a distinct possibility that other workers may take solidarity action. The RMT is currently debating the most effective strategy for delivering solidarity if green goddesses are called in to replace firefighters. This action could shut the tube network and the Channel Tunnel. The potential health and safety implications in other workplaces is something that many trade unionists are eagerly examining. At this year's TUC conference there was unanimous support for the FBU's pay claim. Craig Johnson, the chair of the Arriva Trains Northern strike committee told Socialist Review: 'I think there's no doubt at all that the firefighters have got a great deal of public support. I think it can be taken as read that they've got support across the movement. They've also got support outside the trade union movement. All I'd say as far as the FBU is concerned is they were one of the first organisations that were eager to donate to our hardship fund and they will not be forgotten for their support.'
Recent strikes on the railways and London underground have contributed to an increased willingness to turn strike votes into the real thing. The first strikes against corporations abandoning final salary pension schemes have also helped to put industrial action back on the agenda. The strikes at the Caparo steelworks forced the company to abandon its attempt to withdraw the scheme from existing workers.
The GMB is balloting 160,000 workers employed by private contractors in public sector jobs to try to equalise pay. The encouraging efforts to 'catch up' with other sectors or industries is one that has also been evident in the disputes over London weighting allowances. Doug McAvoy is to ballot the NUT for further strike action on 14 November. Many council workers are now arguing to take simultaneous action. The fear of these struggles giving other workers confidence to mount a more generalised wage drive prompted Tony Blair to mount a ridiculous attack on the firefighters. The pressure at home is building against New Labour just at a time when they want to launch another war.
The poison that doesn't kill
The reaction of the Washington hawks should dispel any doubt that it was opposition to war on Iraq that sealed victory for Gerhard Schröder's Red/Green coalition in Germany. US secretary of state Donald Rumsfeld refused to meet his German counterpart the day after the election, and repeated the charge by George Bush's national security adviser that Schröder had 'poisoned relations' with the US.
Schröder has said he wants to repair relations with the US. He is certainly capable of buckling under. Despite continuing to speak against war on Iraq since the election, he is looking to free up US forces by sending German troops to replace them in Afghanistan. But Schröder faces strong pressure from the left. Tens of thousands of SPD members have told party officials they expect him to keep his word. And he was returned only because his Green coalition partners got their best ever parliamentary vote, 8.6 percent, which made up for a fall in support for the SPD.
The Greens have been compromised by participating in a government that has presided over an increase in unemployment to over four million, and by their support for two US-led wars--in the Balkans and Afghanistan. But they picked up votes--particularly from young people--because they were seen to be a left wing check on Schröder.
The former Communist PDS lost votes and faces a rift after its leader Gregor Gysi resigned over a sleaze scandal and its Berlin councillors voted through a cuts package with the SPD. The election is a blow for those who advocated moving towards the centre and joining coalitions such as the SPD-led Berlin administration. There is pressure, often from younger members, to take a more active stand against war and neoliberalism as a way to rejuvenate the party. Two days after the election PDS leader Gabi Zimmer called for street protests against the war.
There are similar tensions inside the Greens. Electoral success has not sweetened the disappointment left wing Green activists feel over the record of the last four years. They hope the party's stronger showing will be reflected in more left wing government policies. But there are powerful pressures pushing the other way. The German equivalent of the CBI has called for sweeping labour market deregulation. Schröder, despite his tack left in the election campaign, is committed to that. He has accepted, but not yet implemented, proposals from an employment commission to slash the unemployment benefit system.
The European Central Bank and German big business are also calling for public spending cuts to keep government borrowing within the targets set for joining the euro. This opens up the biggest potential challenge to Schröder. He relied heavily on support from the unions in the election. But he is headed for confrontation with them. A militant strike by construction workers broke out at the start of the campaign. The fear of a victory for hard right Tory Edmund Stoiber and warm words from Schröder about social solidarity over the last two months kept the lid on discontent with the government.
But the mood against Schröder is likely to develop quickly. And his weakened government is in worse shape to deal with it than in 1998 when there was rejoicing over the end of 16 years of Tory rule.
Breaking their own rules
An increasing number of government agencies are using tax havens such as Guernsey to avoid paying the higher rate of tax in this country, according to a recent report in the Observer (22 September 2002). Network Rail, London Underground and the Strategic Rail Authority are all funnelling millions to the island where insurance costs less and tax is lower.
The Association for Accounting and Business Affairs, a pressure group made up of Labour MPs and tax experts, has argued it would be unnecessary to raise taxes for ordinary people if corporations were prevented from channelling millions into offshore tax havens.
The Inland Revenue's special investigation section, which scrutinises sophisticated tax avoidance schemes, is clawing back less now than in 1997 when Labour came into power. The government's new found willingness to make use of offshore ruses itself may signal an official acceptance that tax havens are here to stay.
The great firewall of China
The Guardian has been running a series investigating the extent to which our lives are recorded and analysed (see www.guardian.co.uk/ bigbrother/ privacy). Of particular interest is the capabilities of governments and companies to view and read e-mails, and to log websites visited. Several e-mails have asked about the hushmail e-mail account I use for this column. Well, www.hushmail.com offers a free e-mail service with the ability to encrypt and protect your e-mails so that they can't be read.
The internet was meant to herald a new era of information and communication. The argument went that as more people connected to the internet, it would become easier for activists to discuss and organise. But many attempts by governments to limit the access of their citizens to the internet have been documented by civil rights groups. The recent decision by the Chinese government to block two internet search engines brought this into the headlines.
The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard university has been tracking and documenting attempts by China and Saudi Arabia to restrict access to particular websites. Their site cyber.law.harvard.edu/ filtering/ is a revealing list of the things that certain regimes would rather their population didn't see. For instance, you can't access Amnesty online or the BBC from China. Nor can you access sites such as www.freetibet.org. Looking at the list of blocked sites for Saudi Arabia gives a real insight into the paranoia of this regime. Readers will be unsurprised that sites that look at abuses of human rights are blocked. But why does the Saudi royal family block access to a website devoted to the pleasures of angling for trout?
Which brings us back to the two search engines that have been blocked by the Chinese, google and altavista. Sites like these offer little content themselves, but provide collections of links to other websites. These two were blocked because some of their links are to sites critical of the Chinese government. The censors' subsequent backtracking on its google ban merely made the block more selective.
But why not block other search engines like yahoo.com? Well according to a BBC report at news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/ technology/2240493.stm, yahoo and 130 other web portals have signed a voluntary pledge not to post information that will 'jeopardise state security and disrupt social stability in China'.
So much for the abilities of the internet to provide accessible information to users across the world.
|Thumbs up for neoliberalism?|
Some 115 million Brazilians go to the polls on 6 October to elect a new president, and various federal and state deputies. The frontrunner for president is the Workers Party (PT) candidate, Lula, with 40 percent support in the polls.
All four candidates call themselves 'social democrats'. However, the 1 million member PT is the only political force closely linked to the unions and popular movements. For this reason Wall Street and the IMF have expressed strong reservations about a PT victory. Despite Lula's agreement with recent IMF dictates to increase debt payments, the international financial community fears he will increase spending, potentially threatening the stranglehold the IMF has on Brazil.
A PT victory would be an inspiration to tens of millions of Brazilians who want a change from the pro-business politics of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, an admirer and friend of Tony Blair. Eight years of Cardoso in office have seen wholesale privatisation, mass unemployment and growing income inequality. Yet there are many worrying signs that a PT government would continue the 'business as usual' politics of Cardoso.
The PT still claims to be socialist, but in practice it has grown into a bureaucratic party, increasingly oriented to winning elections. This rightward political drift has only increased as social and economic misery deepens in Latin America's most populous nation.
Twenty years of IMF-imposed structural adjustment policies and neoliberal federal governments have created social and economic apartheid in Brazil. The statistics are chilling. About 20 million people, out of an economically active population of 62 million, are either unemployed or earn less than the $70 a month minimum wage. If we include these people's dependants it adds up to half the population being too poor to give their children a decent upbringing. Brazil is one of the top four worst countries in the world in income inequality, and suffers from a crumbling state education and health sector, and appalling levels of violence.
In response to this brutality the PT has sadly chosen to make a deal with neoliberalism rather than challenge it. This is apparent in the current election campaign.
On the economic front the PT accepts the moderate macroeconomic policy of currency devaluation to encourage exports--a policy that Cardoso adopted with disastrous results. Renationalisation of privatised industries and controls on big capital have been shelved in PT circles. The party is more interested in encouraging 'entrepreneurial spirit' among small and medium scale businesses.
At the state level the PT is pushing participatory budgeting, co-operatives and a people's bank. While socialists support these reforms, they do little to challenge the structures of economic power in capitalism. Looking inward to internal markets fails to confront the awesome power concentrated in the hands of the powerful national and multinational companies which are supported by the IMF and World Bank.
The alarmingly high level of debt also stifles social and economic investment. This is why 5 million Brazilians endorsed non-payment of the debt in a plebiscite organised by the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in 2000. A similar plebiscite in the first week of September 2002 produced similar results, yet this time the PT leadership not only refused to endorse the campaign but discouraged its militants from participating. Once in favour of a moratorium on debt payment, the PT now merely calls for its renegotiation.
From its origins as a party 'expressing' movements, the PT has distanced itself considerably from its base. As a mainstream newspaper headline recently put it, 'The PT Professionalises, Grows And Throws Aside The Social Movements'. If party leaders rhetorically express support for the movements, they also routinely chastise militant occupations of land and buildings by the MST as detrimental to the PT's respectable image.
One of the most worrying developments in the campaign is the PT's alliance with the Liberal Party (PL). From working class political independence in the 1980s, we now see the PT willing to make electoral alliances with right wing parties. Lula's vice-presidential running mate is PL president José Alencar, a prominent textile magnate. Carlos Alberto Martianano, local union president in one of Alencar's factories, stated, 'When Lula was in the factory with José Alencar, I thought, what is he doing here with the boss of the company? How do we explain to the workers that a person who represents their dreams of change is walking around with the boss?'
It is ironic that at the very time the PT is moderating its politics, militant anti-capitalist movements across Latin America have arisen to defy neoliberalism. The workers and peasants in Bolivia and Ecuador defeated privatisation, and the tremendous demonstrations and 'panelaÁos' of Argentina threaten to turn the tide of the offensive against workers and the poor in that country.
Instead of helping to build and extend radical challenges to capitalism, as it promised during its first years of existence, the PT has opted for solely winning elections. Small wonder that it has recently earned the nickname 'PT Light' among even sympathetic observers.
Activists in the unions and popular movements will welcome a victory for Lula. Proposed funding boosts to education, health and the minimum wage have attracted much support. But it is also clear that activists will need to continue fighting the neoliberal agenda even after a PT victory. As César Benjamin, a leading activist in the Popular Consultation Movement, says in a critique of the party, 'We should no longer think of society as it is nor how it appears, but what it can be.'