This is an edited extract from a report written by Jane Susanna Ennis.
Friday 10 November, afternoon Plenary
Pierre Laurent and Olivier Dartigolles of the PCF, spoke of solidarity with migrants and refugees, and said that there could be a whole new era for progressive forces (the Left, socialists and ecologists). Laurent referred to the need to construct a radically new Left in Europe, as there are many threats to democracy, for instance the rise of populism and also said that the Social Forum should be a yearly event, a space for uniting progressive forces in Europe.
Marco Revelli, an Italian comrade from L’Altra Europa con Tsipras, spoke about the Sicilian regional elections, which resulted in a win for the Right, and about the general rise of Neo-Fascism in Italy. The Five Star Movement (M5S) was never a left-wing movement!! There is even a risk that the left might end up as a minority in the European Parliament. The rights of people in the lower echelons of society are those which are most threatened. This comrade too referred to the danger posed by populists.
Another French comrade said that to some extent we are still fighting Fascism…..we are certainly fighting the rise of neo-Fascism, while a Danish comrade (Mads B. Petersen) referred to the constant efforts by employers in his country to undermine trade unions.
Brexit and Free Movement
The speakers referred to the increase in hate crimes, the first hate crimes were perpetrated literally 24 hours after the referendum result was announced. There are serious implications for the Northern Ireland Peace Process, and all our Freedom of Movement as EU citizens is at risk. The LEAVE campaign was based on racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia.
Andrew Burgin (Another Europe is Possible, the Alliance for Free Movement) spoke of the necessity for the European Forum in view of the crisis in European politics, and where Brexit fits into this. The problems include Trump and the rise of the Far Right. The social base of the Brexit vote had an element of opposition to globalisation – it was basically a Tory, white, nationalist vote, although there was an element of working-class resentment. It has hardly been a success for the Left! Since the referendum, there has been a 90% drop in nurses and agricultural workers coming from the EU, and we need to discuss the rights of EU nationals in the UK. We need to campaign for a United Socialist States of Europe.
The next speaker was Felicity Dowling. She pointed out that the British working class has suffered a big drop in wages and an increase in precariousness and Zero Hours Contracts. The housing crisis has worsened due to the fact that young people can no longer claim Housing Benefit; young women still don’t get equal pay and local authority services have been cut to the bone.
The UK is a financial capital, not a manufacturing society anymore; the City of London is based on financial dealing, the rest of the economy has been globalised. The American model of low wages and fewer workers’ rights has been introduced, rather than the EU social model, and we need a campaign to make people realise that the EU isn’t their enemy. She finally made the point that those who voted REMAIN didn’t advocate staying on economic grounds, but OPPOSED LEAVING ON POLITICAL GROUNDS.
The next speaker was Francis Molloy (Sinn Fein). He pointed out that Europe (the EU that is) is a friend of Northern Ireland, and that Sinn Fein is a party of the Left, standing for a United Ireland and an equal, but reserves the right to be critical of Europe. Brexit, in the view of Sinn Fein, is a disaster, but could represent an opportunity for Irish Unity, as people in UIster would vote for a United Ireland in order to stay in the EU.
If Brexit goes ahead, and Northern Ireland doesn’t get special status, they will lose all the current protections and civil rights guaranteed by membership of the EU. The re-introduction of borders would be most unwelcome.
One Europe peace and freedom
Some of the discussion was about ‘social dumping;’ and it was suggested that the Poles and the Ukrainians are the most hostile to the idea of accepting refugees.
A Greek comrade said that Greek society in in principle sensitive to the protection of immigrants, in spite of attempts to blockade the Balkan corridor – Greece would continue to protect migrants and refugees, and also the LGBT community. Greek citizenship is now being offered to the grandchildren of Holocaust victims.
A French comrade suggested that there is almost a war against migrants, and that solidarity with them is being criminalised. There is massive police violence against migrants in France, especially in working-class districts, and criminal proceedings have only ever been taken against one officer who killed a young refugee (he received a suspended sentence). The comrade delivered a stirring polemic against racism.
There was also a talk by a Belgian comrade from the Movement for International Solidarity.
Saturday 11 November
Morning session: Labour and social rights in Europe
A French comrade started the session with a critique of Zero Hours Contracts and precariousness (casualization), which is a particular problem in the UK …….. outlined the dangers of ZHCs for workers. Reference was also made to the Jobs Act in Italy .
A Belgian comrade indicated that there are three layers of negotiation between management and unions. In Belgium young people who leave school and don’t immediately find employment are entitled to unemployment benefit.
Then there was a talk by Gabrielle Zimmer of DIE LINKE in Germany. She said that the EU needs a social dimension; we need to consider not only people’s working lives (including job security) but also their personal and cultural needs – we need to introduce social rights for EU citizens. She stressed the need for health insurance, and noted the rise of homeless people in major cities, such as Cologne, where there have even been fights between German and Romanian homeless.
She stressed the need for the Left to unite, it is vital for us not to quarrel among ourselves.
A Polish comrade spoke on the subject of inequality, which he said was one of the main causes of the current crisis in Europe. He also referred to the fact that many jobs are vanishing because of automation and to wage inequalities between countries in Europe – some of this fuels the rise of the Far Right. The length of the working week (and working day) was also discussed.
The next speaker was Johann Peter Andersen of the Norwegian RED PARTY. Norway is not a member of the EU, but is a member of the EEA. In Norway, the forces against membership were on the Left.
He referred to the problem of ‘social dumping’. The Red Party believed that workers from Eastern Europe (Poland, etc.), should be employed for Norwegian wages, not be used to undercut wages.
They believe that we can all co-operate in the struggle to reduce working hours. The Norwegian public sector unions are campaigning for a 6-hour working day, as are those in Sweden.
A Young Communist from France spoke of a huge movement in France, particularly among young people, against the neo-liberal project – he said that Macron was a 19th century liberal rooted in the past. There should be a joint programme with Youth Organisations and the Trade Union movement to combat neo-liberalism……we are now feeling the adverse effects of neo-liberal policies throughout Europe, and we need to find points of convergence.
The next speaker was from Finland, and was the first to mention the question of Animal Rights. The call to activate civil society was repeated.
The contribution by Julie Ward, MEP, was in my opinion one of the best contributions to the debate. One of the things she is most passionate about is the role of the arts in society, and the fact that everyone should have access to the arts, including being able to participate.
She talked about the fact that so many jobs are unfulfilling, demeaning and pointless….we should campaign to make work safe and fulfilling for people. She also referred to the damaging cuts to libraries and social services, these roles should not be filled by volunteers but by trained professionals, and paid accordingly.
There should be a balance between work, family and leisure, and Lifelong Learning should be available to everyone. The fact that public services, the NHS and the welfare state meant that people are looked after ‘From Cradle to Grave’ is a GOOD THING – it is not good to demonised the disabled, She referred to the UN damning report about the treatment of the disabled and disadvantaged in the UK.
Towards a sustainable development model
The first speaker was from TRANSFORM! Europe, a European Left Think-Tank. She outlined some proposals for the ecological transformation of Europe, including developing the use of renewables, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and the investigation of agri-business practices. The current industrial model should be completely transformed; we need to reduce our dependence on cars, and we need to protect Nature and the Earth. It is acknowledged that the ecological transformation would be very costly, especially for countries which rely very heavily on fossil fuel.
The question of economic sustainability must also be addressed.
We next heard from Heinz Bierbaum from DIE LINKE. He spoke of the need to develop a Europe 2020 strategy to unite industrial policy and the social and ecological transformation of society – this requires investment in public infrastructure.
The European Trade Union Confederation proposes a programme of investment in public infrastructure, social housing and education. We should be producing goods that fulfil social and ecological needs – some trade unions have been working on transferring military goods into social goods. We need industrial democracy, the participation of workers in corporate policy.
The speaker from the Parti Communiste Francais was the first to elaborate upon the threat of insecticides to wildlife, especially bees, and threats to food supply – the example of contaminated eggs. There should be stricter international food quality regulation. The general topic of Climate Change was raised, with reference to the increase in Climate Refugees, and the future of the Arctic. The riches of the earth should be confiscated from the multi-nationals.
Fiona Edwards from the British Labour Party also made the link between Climate Change and poverty, and pointed out that Western Europe is still not doing enough to cut carbon emissions – perhaps not surprisingly, right-wing governments are especially remiss in this area. She said that Jeremy Corbyn has plans to end austerity and create ‘green jobs’. The era of fossil fuels must come to an end.
A comrade from the French organisation ENSEMBLE also took up the question of a social Europe, and the need for the integration of economic, social and cultural policy. The subject of the Mafia was also raised!! Water and waste treatment are very lucrative for the Mafia , and the Camorra makes more money through trafficking waste than through drugs.
Mike Davies of the Alliance for Green Socialism introduced the subject of Zero Growth or de-growth (décroissance). Economic growth is not actually a good thing, but a disaster, there can be no such such thing as Green Growth, and the idea of de-growth or Zero Growth should be more actively.
Unfortunately, the pressures of time didn’t allow him to develop this point in detail, so he came under criticism from other speakers for advocating a sort of ‘deep ecology’ in an unscientific manner…….a pity, because it could have been a valid point if there had been more time to develop it. Someone pointed out that Ecology is a SCIENCE. I have found a partial definition here – as it says, ‘degrowth’ is not the same as ‘downsizing’.
A speaker from the PCF referred to the inadequacy of ‘greenwashing’. Environmental issues should be included on all political programmes. She introduced the idea of ‘negative VAT’, taxing anything that could be detrimental to society. The root of the problem is CAPITAL….not just accumulated wealth, which could be used to improve people’s lives instead of using it AGAINST people and the environment. We need to develop public services, and the common good must come first. Environmental and social issues need to be reworked and fully integrated.
Where do we go from here, should there be a standing forum, and in which case, what form should it take? A young Austrian comrade said that Europe (the EU) should be a force for peace).
All speakers were in agreement as to what the next forum should discuss – social questions, ecological questions, economic questions; campaigning against economic power and exploitation.
Gregor Gysi, from the European Left, spoke of the need for the Left to be united, and for us to campaign in solidarity for a democratic, ecologically responsible EU. Environmental reform must go hand in hand with social justice. We need to be wary of the ghost of Fascism.
It was concluded that
We therefore undertake to organise a second European Forum of leftist, green and progressive forces, to be held in 2018. To achieve this we will establish a technical working group, comprising representatives of the diverse forces participating in these two days, which, in consultation with the organisations present here, will propose the format of the second edition. The goal is for the next Forum to continue the work that we have initiated this year, going into more depth and achieving broader participation.
Jane Susanna Ennis is a member of Camden Green Party and a Green Left supporter
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