European mobilisation

European Social Forum: Should we cooperate uncritically with the European Trade Union Congress (ETUC)? How important are the anti-war protests? Should we demonstrate against the new constitution of the European Union? Comrades from France, Italy and Britain have pretty different views on these subjects

The last item on the agenda brought to the fore some interesting political divisions on the European left. Should we cooperate uncritically with the European Trade Union Congress (ETUC)? How important are the anti-war protests? Should we demonstrate against the new constitution of the European Union? Comrades from France, Italy and Britain have pretty different views on these subjects, which to some extent reflect the different levels of class struggle and political outlook of the dominant forces in these countries.

The harmlessly named item, ‘Assembly of social movements’, centred around a draft discussion paper, presented by Pierre Khalfa, one half of the leading duumvirate of the French organising committee. The paper, headed ‘Act for a Europe of rights in a world without war’, is a continuation of the assembly of social movements that took place at the last day of the Paris ESF on November 16. Then, a different text had been agreed, which was privately cobbled together during the ESF and which called for three European-wide days of action in 2004. They are:

However, since then the ETUC has called for two days of action against the dismantling of state welfare provision - on April 2-3. So the main question was, how should the European left respond to this announcement? For comrades in France the case was clear-cut. We abandon our protests on February 15 and instead fully cooperate with the ETUC, Pierre Khalfa argued. This of course reflects the close links the comrades in the French organising committee have with the larger trade union centres - and their bureaucracies. Many of the leading French comrades represent unions in the ESF, which have historically been very close to the Socialist Party and the Communist Party of France.

The Italian comrades in particular begged to differ: “Our movement is very different from the ETUC,” argued comrade Luciano Muhlbauer, who represents the leftwing union federation, Sin Cobas. He pointed to the fact that April 2-3 is very close indeed to the European parliamentary elections, and governing parties might attempt to take advantage of the days of action for their own purpose. Also, the ETUC “supports the EU constitution and we do not. This is such an important issue for all the people of Europe. We should not let ourselves be used by governments who are close to the ETUC,” he said. He reminded comrades that “we have made a proposal to the ETUC” by suggesting February 15, but the ETUC had responded by simply announcing this new date.” The comrades are hoping to get the major Italian trade unions to support protests on February 15, said Pierro Bernocchi, who represents Cobas.

A compromise formulation now says that there are a number of actions, organised by the European trade unions and merely notes that “the ETUC has proposed April 2-3 as days of action”.

Another difference of opinion became apparent over the role of the anti-war protests. The French comrades had ‘forgotten’ to include any mention of the March 20 protests. “There are only 10 days in between March 20 and April 2-3”, one comrade argued. “We cannot mobilise for both.” With the French government having kept out of the war against Iraq, the anti-war protests have been a lot smaller than in Britain, Italy or Spain, which all committed troops and money. So the comrades have simply put the French situation to top of the agenda. They certainly did not do anybody a favour. Predictably, the SWP sent speaker after speaker to the front to stress the importance of putting the anti-war protests back into our appeal. Finally, mention of March 20 was included.

SWP comrades also used the opportunity to argue against any mobilisation on May 9. “We do not know what is going to happen on that day or whether the constitution will be ratified at all. Why should we have a demo if there is no ratification?” comrade Alex Callinicos argued. Of course, it is unlikely that the comrade would mobilise his members even if the ratification were to go ahead. As with most other democratic demands, the SWP does not take the issue of the European constitution seriously. “It is just not an issue”, according to Chris Nineham. It ought to be, comrade.

It seems that May 9 will stay in the text, though it is unclear if any protests will go ahead on the day. Comrade Muhlbauer indicated that it would be difficult to mobilise for a date in Italy that has lost its potentially crucial significance. Nevertheless, French and Italian comrades were not as relieved as the SWP about the changed situation. In both countries, the workers’ movement is taking the question of Europe extremely seriously and the Italian movement is planning a massive demonstration in Rome on the day of ratification, whenever this turns out to be.

The problem is of course that a single day of action will not in itself make any difference to the outcome. A united international campaign, led by the workers and progressive movements in all European countries, is long overdue. A campaign in which the needs of the people, not the needs of international capital, are put to the fore.

A united, European-wide campaign for a referendum on the constitution could still prove very useful in this context. Of course, we do not ask for a referendum that merely allows us to tick ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in a stitch-up from above. The Communist Party of France and Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire are very vocal in demanding a referendum in which they would call for a ‘no’ vote. But surely we must demand more: a referendum in which the peoples across Europe can chose between a constitution of the bosses and one of the people. The left in Europe must start to put together its own ‘constitution’ - a social Europe that works to our benefit.

That means campaigning for far-reaching democratic demands, not just trade union and employment rights. When our movement is able to unite across the continent behind such a call, then we will truly be on the way to challenging the rule of capital on every level.