London ESF money challenge

European Social Forum: short on cash, will those organisations involved cough up?

Redmond O’Neill, the GLA policy director set out the financial situation in stark and not very encouraging terms. Faces fell - especially those of the comrades from Europe who had supported the London bid, believing it to be serious and fully worked out. They obviously believed the SWP’s boasts about things being virtually cut and dried. Now we face the stark reality.

In short, nobody has yet given any hard cash. And if a “substantial amount of money” is not found by March 1, the GLA will drop its support. This threat shocked everybody, including the comrades in the inner loop (SWP, CND and War on Want), who have been organising for the ESF in secret for the last five months or so.

Not that you would know it. True, a few venues like Alexandra Palace and Earls Court “have been investigated”, according to O’Neill. Faith groups “have been approached” to see if they could provide free accommodation for the tens of thousands expected. Trade unions “have been asked” to give money. But so far, nothing firm has come out of this. We are actually in the red to the tune of £2,000 - following a £4,000 bill for the use of the City Hall for the weekend’s assembly.

Although O’Neill spoke about “match-funding”, he made it clear that the GLA would not be putting in a great deal of money. The Labour-dominated authority will not vote to give the ESF anything in its own right and the only way that GLA funds might come our way would be through the budgets allocated for tackling racism, etc. Some of our plenary discussions might be ‘sponsored’ by the GLA - if we put on the right kind of meetings. O’Neill did not give a figure, but indicated that it would be tens rather than hundreds of thousands of pounds.

As if we had not been shocked enough already, he then said that there would need to be a commitment of about half a million pounds from others before the GLA would consider contributing anything at all. And he gave a deadline of March 1 to raise that sum. Otherwise, said O’Neill, it was all just “hot air”.

This came as a major reality check for all those present. It showed in particular the continued weakness of the organised left in Britain. Where in Italy and France Rifondazione and the Parti Communiste Français have influence and representatives in local government - enough to fund a big event with not too much difficulty - which levers can the main organisation in Britain, the SWP, apply? Not many - that much is clear.

There was talk about getting financial help from individual union branches, but the figures in the mind of speakers like Kenny Bell (Unison) and Adrian Weir (TGWU) were clearly nowhere near enough to meet the target set by O’Neill - the fact that they did not mention any sums said it all. Alex Gordon, a member of the RMT executive, raised the prospect of unions using their political funds to contribute. He made the link with the current struggle in some unions against Blair and pointed to an important opportunity to link the forum with these struggles. He said that the RMT had agreed to contribute - but, again, he could not say how much.

There are suggestions therefore that the ESF in Britain will be a scaled down version, compared with the two previous forums. For many O’Neill’s target does not appear within reach. There is also despairing talk of the GLA itself being an unreliable partner, especially now that the mayor is about to rejoin the Labour Party. Some even mumble about abandoning Britain altogether and having it in Athens in the spring of 2005.

What we in the CPGB shall be doing though is fighting to make the ESF in Britian a resounding success. We shall neither seek to blame the SWP for everything that goes wrong. Nor shall we passively leave the ESF in its hands. As part of the ESF we take our responsibilities seriously. That means taking the ESF into the trade unions, into the working class communities of London and the rest of the country and getting the money raised from all manner of different quarters. Benefits and concerts can be held and workplace collections organised. Trade union branches and executives can be won. So too can Labour Party wards, constituency organisations and councils. The money can be raised … if there is the will.

Help may also come from elsewhere in Europe. Though the ESF is to be held in Britain, it is still a pan-European event. It is pleasing therefore that others too are facing up to their responsibilities. For example, Marco Berlinguer, programme officer of Rifondazione Comunista, told us that “maybe we in Italy can get local governments to help finance the ESF in London”.