Learn to work democratically

Anne Mc Shane reports on the July 25 meeting of the British mobilising committee of the European Social Forum

European Social Forum

A general meeting of the European Social Forum mobilising committee took place in London on July 25. Attended by about 40 people, it took some positive steps towards organising a British contingent to the second ESF, to be held in Paris from November 12-15.

There were various report-backs on the logistics of the forum and some working groups set up. There was generally unhappiness that there are to be national quotas for plenary speakers (see Weekly Worker July 24). Many quite rightly feel that this is against the spirit of the forum and will feed nationalism and division between the various mobilising committees. However, the decision apparently cannot now be overturned and it was agreed to draw up a list of speakers from Britain.

It was also agreed to organise a train from Britain to Paris. Tickets will be on sale for £80.We also hope to get a package together so that those who wish to go can sign up on the website for accommodation as well as transport to the forum.

Jeremy Dewar from Workers Power argued that the mobilising committee needed to encourage the setting up of local social forums. Given WP’s recent walkout from the Socialist Alliance, it appears that social forums are now the answer. However, he did have a point when he said that moves to set up forums had been blocked by the Socialist Workers Party. The SWP has always seen Globalise Resistance as the ‘British section of the ESF’ and has actively tried to discourage an alternative. Nevertheless, now that forums have begun in Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester and London, the SWP has been forced to get involved.

Its representatives, Chris Nineham and Alex Callinicos (speaking for GR, of course), were at pains to stress that they were not against the establishment of local social forums. At the same time they did not want to discuss how they could be encouraged. It is clear that they want to retain as much control as possible over the process in Britain and resent any intrusions on their turf.

This attitude showed itself most forcefully in the last agenda item. This was the question of representation from Britain on the working group to decide the programme of the ESF. The issue had blown up at the previous weekend’s international preparation assembly in Genoa, when the French organisers took the SWP to task for what they saw as its dominance of the British mobilising committee (Weekly Worker July 24). It had been agreed then that the question would be discussed at the London meeting. The position of the present representatives, Jonathan Neale and Asad Rehman (both from Globalise Resistance), were to be reviewed and possible replacements voted through.

Teresa Hoskyns from the London Social Forum said that we should not have two people from the same organisation. Although she did not want a vote, it was clear that we did need to decide on representatives. However, leading SWP members handled the debate very badly. Claire Williams (Unison militant, Newcastle SWP and a nominee to the working group) said she could not understand what all the discussion was about. It was a waste of time. Instead we needed to talk about “how to sell train tickets to Paris”. Other SWP members nodded and the chair, Nick Dearden (War on Want and very close to the SWP), became impatient with those non-SWP members who wished to contribute to the discussion.

Ignoring the legitimate right of the meeting to discuss representatives, we were treated like troublesome children who did not know what was good for them. With comrade Williams repeatedly butting in to try and close the discussion down, it became slightly farcical. Comrade Neale was the only SWP participant to agree that it was important that representatives reflect different political groups. He showed himself able to reach a compromise - much to the apparent annoyance of a very red-faced comrade Callinicos.

Finally it was agreed that he would remain as one of our representatives and that fresh nominations would be taken for a second one - to be voted on at the next general meeting, provisionally agreed for Sunday August 31 in London.

The SWP does not like to be challenged, but it needs to learn how to accept democracy and the culture of inclusion. It is all very well for the comrades to complain about the bureaucracy of the French mobilising committee (something they repeatedly do), but all they offer at the moment is more of the same.