Skip to content or view screen version

ESF 2003 Day 2 Report

Glasnost | 11.11.2003 20:18 | European Social Forum

Here is a day 2 report of the ESF 2003.

11 November, 2003 Paris

This is my second report from Paris. After the farcical
scenes yesterday over the decision for next year's forum to
be London, the day began on a much calmer footing. Two
issues today dominated the preparations for the opening
ceremony tomorrow: the looming accommodation crisis and the
lack of consensus among the European social movements for
the next big European-wide day of action. What is
interesting is how the ESF actually lasts for a week, not 3
days, as for the first 3 days of this week and on Sunday
most of the 'political decisions' are made by a very small
number of party or trade union officials of very much the
'old' left, beit reformist or revolutionary groups.

1. The Accommodation Crisis

The second ESF is just one day away from its official
opening ceremony and there is a looming crisis. In
plummeting temperatures, many volunteers - many of whom
feel badly treated and in the dark about what is going on
-are telling anyone who will listen that thousands of
people arriving tomorrow will be without accommodation. The
database collapsed a few days ago, reinforcing the problem.
Already, early arrivals are having to argue for ages with
volunteers to get some kind of help; most are finding
floors to sleep on but only the social movement delegates
are here at the moment; the situation is predicted to
overshadow the next few days of the Forum. As usual, the
facilities for disabled people are drastically

The problem is for all those people seeking accommodation
as 'individuals' - there is no accommodation designated for
such people. The only way you can get it is if you are part
of a national delegation or an organisation - so in the
British case, you either camp out in gyms with those
Globalise Resistance comrades who aren't in hotels, or you
have to be in an organisation that has registered for the
forum. This excludes a lot of people. 3000 people from
Barcelona arrive tommorrow as 'individuals' - at the
moment, they will have no space.

Perhaps even more shocking is that many of the 1000
volunteer translators have not yet been allocated any
accommodation - they will be working at over 300 events in
the next 3 days and some feel just a bit pissed off that
their basic welfare hasn't been guaranteed.

This is not meant to be critical - the translators also say
that the general organisation and treatment of the
translators is much better than at Florence, although this
is a lot to do with a political campaign by the translators
to secure better working conditions and more input into the
organisational process.

2. Remaining Problems over the Next European-wide Day of

From 9.30 until early afternoon, a preparatory meeting for
Sunday's Assembly of the Social Movements took place at the
Bobigny site.

It took the same format as yesterday's debacle to decide
the next ESF in London 2004: Sophie Zapharie of ATTAC-LCR
and SNUIPP-FSU (French teachers union) chaired the debate,
strongly attempting to impose her view of the proceedings
onto attempts to arrive at a consensus. Her main technique,
and she has a sense of humour at least, was to say what was
'reasonable' and that any other position was

A continuous queue of speakers managed to keep the
discussion going for hour after hour. The objective was to
try and find an agreement of the European Social Movements
(I use the term in its widest possible sense - there wasn't
much social or movement about this lot) on a European-wide
day of action for next year. In brief, there was
disagreement on three core issues:

- date
- theme
- nature of action

Three dates were discussed: February 15th, March 20th, May

Three themes were proposed: anti-war, social issues,
European constitution

Two types of action: mass demonstrations and popular

There isn't space to go into all the bullshit arguments
that some people came out with about what demonstrations
are for and so on. In short, most people want a day of
action not assemblies, but the assembly idea was proposed
by ATTAC around a day of action on the European

The SWP argued that assemblies make us look weak as a
movement - we are a movement of the streets and the
workplaces, apparently. They had a point that the European
constitution would not get millions out on either the
streets or in assemblies, but this brought home the very
different political realities conditioning the arguments.
The fact that the SWP don't want to try and engage the UK
people about the constitution shows their very simplistic
form of politics - protest, protest, protest. But ATTAC's
idea for an assembly is undoubtedly due to its specific
context in which an anti-war rally would not mobilise, and
their far more sophisticated understanding of how the EU is
constitutionalising neoliberalism. There were positions in
between, but noone stated the blindingly obvious - lets
have both demonstrations 'and' assemblies.

I talked to a lot of people today inside the meeting and
the volunteers; most thought that just another
demonstration was a waste of the knowledge and dynamism we
have built up in the last few years. The Italian delegation
wanted a demo about the EU, neoliberalism and war; but
there was little desire of these people to actually engage
with the public on issues other than having a big demo.

There was much more said. In the end, it appears that there
will be a world-wide demo on 20 March to coincide with the
Iraq invasion. But the date of the European-demo remains
undecided because of the politics of getting the trade
union to march on May 9 after May 1st, with particular
deference to the German situation.

This will be decided on Sunday but what is interesting is
how the Assembly meeting on Sunday, which in Florence had
15,000 activists, is put together by the same individuals
involved in the ESF French and European process - there are
very few people pulling a lot of strings here and there is
no process for democratic representation in the Assembly.