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ESF London : delegates gather to put world to rights

by Open-Publishing - Thursday 14 October 2004
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Edito Social Forum Tania Branigan

20,000 campaigners expected to discuss challenges posed by globalisation
and neo-liberalism

by Tania Branigan

Padmanabhan Krishna Murthy had only just arrived in London, but yesterday afternoon
he had one matter on his mind: how to find Marx’s grave in Highgate cemetery.

Its inscription - "Workers of all lands unite" - seemed an apt summary of the
reason for his latest trip. The Indian trade union leader is one of hundreds
of overseas delegates who have arrived in London for the third European Social
Forum, a global justice conference which kicks off tomorrow with a welcoming
event at Southwark Cathedral.

But he corrected that suggestion: "It’s not only workers. It’s people of the
world," he said.

"The same multinationals are operating in Europe and India; you can’t fight globalisation within one continent. The forum is not about a single way of thinking, but about bringing together people who feel there’s a common challenge."

Around 20,000 campaigners from trade unions, charities and religious groups will converge in London this weekend to take part in over 500 seminars, workshops and talks.

A huge cultural programme of screenings, theatre and exhibitions is running alongside the political debates and the event will culminate in a demonstration against the war in Iraq on Sunday. The Guardian is the media partner of the event.

Its affiliates range from the National Union of Teachers to the Norwegian-Cuban Friendship Association, via the RMT and Oxfam. Its speakers include renowned American feminist and black activist Angela Davis and the musician Pete Doherty, formerly of the Libertines and now of Babyshambles.

To add to the mix, other participants range from Gerry Adams to Ché Guevara’s daughter, Aleida, and from the rapper Asher D to Ahmed Ben Bella, leader of the Algerian independence struggle.

"The whole point of the forum is finding common ground," said Mr Murthy. "People everywhere are feeling the pinch of neo-liberal policies and globalisation ... Coming here allows us to build bridges and remove misunderstandings."

But the event has attracted misunderstandings of its own, with participants of previous events claiming that this year’s has been "hijacked" by mainstream organisations and individuals such as the trade unions and the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. The Greater London authority has given £400,000 to the event.

It has attracted a rival conference, Beyond ESF. Its organisers, backed by the anarchist grouping the Wombles, claim the forum has been "hijacked by authoritarian organisations such as the Socialist Workers party and racist, war-crazy corporate whores Neo Labour [who have] got in on the act through Ken Livingstone and the GLA".

Last month 10 British non-governmental organisations, including Oxfam, Greenpeace and War on Want, wrote an open letter criticising "the lack of transparency and openness in the UK process [of choosing speakers]".

"I think there have been similar problems in previous years, but they have escalated this year," said Hannah Griffiths of Friends of the Earth.

"Because the GLA put the money in, understandably, they wanted to track where it was going. That has translated into a practical way of working which is hierarchical, in direct opposition to the philosophy of the ESF."

But Mr Livingstone said yesterday: "The European and World Social forums [their international equivalent] are the broadest and most representative movements for social justice in the world today.

"As against some backward traditions in parts of the left, they positively celebrate and give voice to the diversity of the movements seeking alternatives to neo-liberalism."

The forum’s spokesman said: "With over 500 sessions and over 250 speakers, no one particular organisation has undue influence."

Delegates may be inspired by the quotation which completes the inscription on Marx’s grave: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways - the point is to change it."

Thursday October 14

6.30pm Bread & Roses, Premiere of director’s cut, introduction by Ken Loach

6.30pm Words of Resistance, Writers including Harold Pinter, Mike Rosen

7pm Mayor of London’s welcome event. Speakers include Gerry Adams MP, president of Sinn Fein; Meena Menon, writer; Aleida Guevara, daughter of Ché

Friday October 15

9am Oil addiction, energy politics, corporate power and global climate change

1pm Iraq: Faultline in British politics, Tony Benn; Anas Altikriti, Muslim Association of Britain

4pm What future for Palestine? With Azmi Bishari of the Israeli Knesset; Fadwa Barghouti, lawyer

6pm Rap, guns and racism, Asher D and musicians discuss the media obsession with black music and crime

6.30pm The Battle of Algiers, film introduced by Ahmed Ben Bella, of the Algerian independence struggle

7pm End the occupation of Iraq, with Subhi Al Mashadani, Iraqi trade unionist

Saturday October 16

11.30am Challenging US imperialism, with Aleida Guevara, George Galloway

2pm Women struggling against oppression, speakers include Thengiwe Mtintso, ANC, South Africa

3pm Music and the Movement, Pandit G, Billy Bragg discuss music and politics

4.30pm Environmental crisis and European responsibility, speakers include farmer Jose Bove and George Monbiot.

7pm Labour and social rights, speakers include Meena Menon, writer from India

Sunday October 17

1pm Demonstration: Against War and Privatisation and for a Europe of Peace and Justice. Meet at Russell Square to walk to Trafalgar Square, ending with concert.


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