Europe Against Austerity conference builds enthusiasm for fightback

By Fred Leplat

October 3, 2011 -- Socialist Resistance -- The Europe Against Austerity conference, held in London on October 1, was attended by 681 people including 150 from outside Britain. This happened the same weekend that two big demonstrations took place. In Glasgow, there was the "People First" demonstration of 15,000 called by the Scottish TUC on October 1. On October 2, 35,000 joined a demonstration in Manchester on outside the Conservative Party conference, called by the Trades Union Congress and backed by the Coalition of Resistance and the Right to Work Campaign.

The Europe Against Austerity conference adopted a declaration (see below) agreeing to establish a network, to plan for a day of action against austerity next year, as well as to call on unions to organise a day of industrial action across Europe. The conference put on the agenda in Britain and across Europe the need for an audit (although that is not in the final declaration) and cancellation of the "illegitimate" debt. It also started a debate in Britain on the European Union (EU) and the euro currency, hopefully drawing it away from a simplistic "No to EU" position, and putting withdrawal from these capitalist institutions as a consequence of our campaign against austerity, rather than as a starting point.

It was a serious and sober event that recognised both the scale of the economic crisis and the tasks ahead in escalating the resistance against austerity. Olivier Besancenot for France's New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) explained it starkly (see full text of his speech below):

We have to find ways of coming together to build this social movement of the people in Europe… And this isn’t a whim or just propaganda, working towards the first general strike in the history of Europe is a duty for political activists in the coming months.

The breadth of representation was impressive as it encompassed most of the anti-neoliberal European left (Germany's Die Linke, Ireland's Sinn Fein, the European Left Party) and a particularly strong anti-capitalist current (NPA, Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt, Portugal's Left Bloc, Ireland's United Left Alliance). Major unions supported the conference such as UNITE, the NUT and the RMT from Britain, Solidaires from France, the teachers' union OLME from Greece, and LAB from the Basque Country.

There were also representatives of the CGTP of Portugal, COBAS of Italy and many others. Particularly noteworthy was Elżbieta Fornalczyk of the free trade union "August 80", representing Tesco workers, who outlined the dramatic condition of women in Poland. Sonia Mitralia of the CADTM in Greece also stressed how the crisis was hitting women hardest.

[A full list of conference supporters is included below.]

This conference, as well as the demonstrations that weekend, was an excellent springboard for making the November 30 strike by more than 20 trade-unions a massive success. We need to mobilise other sections of society not on strike about pensions, but who wish to fight to defend the welfare state. It is also important to mobilise from the conference for European-wide events such as the G20 on November 1.

Congratulations were sent in by many people. Those who travelled from far, such as the 12 CGT, FSU and SUD stewards from Le Havre in France, thought it was interesting and a necessary event for stepping up the resistance across Europe.

[Fred Leplat is a member of Britain's Socialist Resistance group and one of the organisers of the conference.]

Europe Against Austerity declaration

After a day of intensive debate, analysis and planning for cooperation and action, the Europe Against Austerity conference heard Coalition of Resistance Secretary Andrew Burgin propose the following declaration, on behalf of the European Preparatory Committee. The declaration was unanimously endorsed by the Conference which was attended by over 600 people.

* * *

This European conference meets not a moment too soon.

The peoples of Europe face an unprecedented social, political and economic crisis.

Our governments are implementing the most savage spending cuts designed to destroy all the social gains of the post-war period. These will wreck the lives of millions by devastating jobs, pay, pensions, health, education and other services.

The world financial crisis of 2008 was transformed into a crisis of state debt -– nation states bailed out the financial system, but in doing so seriously weakened their own balance sheets. Greece stands on the verge of default and other states will not be far behind.

The only solution offered by the ruling elite is austerity for the great majority and bailouts for the banks and the wider financial system. While ordinary people face great hardship, trillions of euros are being poured into the pockets of the rich. There has never been a greater disparity of wealth between capital and labour -– between rich and poor.

Throughout Europe people are fighting back. They are determined to defend their societies and to overturn the barbarism of austerity. Our aim is to help unite these struggles. We need a common European front to defend the peoples of Europe. We are committed to opposing all cuts, privatisation and attacks on the welfare state and to build solidarity with resistance to these attacks.

Thus we support resistance by the trade unions through strikes and other forms of industrial action. We say no to imperialist wars and their endless drain on resources and say yes to welfare, peace and justice.
We oppose the scapegoating of immigrant communities for the economic crisis and the stirring up of racism and islamophobia which divides and weakens our resistance. We will campaign against the rise of the far right which seeks to do this.

The way forward relies both on resistance and the elaboration and promotion of an alternative economic strategy: the banks must be placed under democratic control. Private banks must be socialised and the financial markets regulated. The European Union and national governments must meet the needs of people –- not impose austerity programs. Taxes raised for the rich and corporations. Illegitimate debt must be renounced. The creditors must be held responsible. We won't pay for their crisis!

An alternative economic and political strategy would support welfare, develop homes, schools and hospitals, protect pensions and foster a green approach to public spending -– investing in renewable energy and public transport, thereby creating millions of new jobs.

This conference resolves to build on the links developed in preparing this conference and to establish an ongoing European coordination to organise and support resistance to debt and austerity.

We pledge to support the mobilisations of the indignados on October 15, actions against debt and international financial institutions from October 8 to 16 and the G20 in Nice in November. We also pledge to work towards a common day of action against austerity in 2012 and call on the trade union movement across Europe to prepare a day of industrial action against austerity.

Olivier Besancenot's address to the Europe Against Austerity conference

By Olivier Besancenot

The sovereign debt crisis follows on from the subprime crisis in the United States in 2008. What we are seeing now, in spite of the intervention of different governments, is the explosion of the financial crisis across every economy and every society. In just the same way that the subprime crisis was itself the outcome of the crisis of overproduction and overaccumulation, in the Marxist sense, which had been brewing in our societies for years and years.

And that's the whole problem with the neoliberal policies we’re fighting against. They’re not only unfair. They also make the economic crisis much worse. This crisis of capitalism is global because it combines questions of climate change, food supplies and energy sources. We are seeing an historic tipping point in the relationships between the imperialist powers. We already spoke about wars, but we must remember that the great powers like Europe and the United States are now in decline and the United States barely manages to compensate for it by its military supremacy. New powers are emerging.

The powers that dominated the world through the history of capitalism are currently in decline and that has political consequences for us and the political debates that concern us.

What type of movements and what type of alternative? We can no longer debate in the way we used to debate. Previously it was a thing we had big arguments about. Some people thought that it was only workers' mobilisations and nothing else which would allow us to establish a political alternative and there were others who thought that we had to recreate a credible political alternative in order to encourage workers mobilisations. Today there is a complementary, dialectical relationship which obliges us to try to create a synthesis between the left in the social movements and the political left in each of our countries. This needs a complementary relationship in which one strengthens the other, without a hierarchical relationship between them and which gives us both political responsibilities and responsibilities in the movements. In the movements, we have to find ways of coming together to build this social movement of the peoples of Europe.

Of course we have to help and support the indignados on the 15th October. And it needs to be not just for amusement or just for propaganda: working towards the first general strike in the history of Europe is a duty for political activists in the coming weeks and months.

In each of our countries we are having days of action and general strikes or semi-general strikes. The fact that for the first time we find ourselves on strike at the same time on the same day would give us the possibility of having a European unity, not just for the sake of it, but to enable us to be on the streets for a long time, to continue the strike, to bring the economies and governments to a standstill.

What is the anti-capitalist perspective suffering from at the moment? It's the absence of victories for industrial action. There is resistance and there are struggles because there is a crisis of capitalism. However we haven't yet demonstrated that we are able to stop a single part of an austerity plan. To destabilise even one part of a government which is implementing these policies. None of what we are talking about will happen if we can't persuade a significant part of the population to burst onto the political scene, to stop allowing politics to be conducted by the professional politicians.

To make a program we have to be a bit more radical than we can imagine, not for the pleasure of being radical but to respond to what is at stake in the economic crisis itself. For the austerity programs are being carried out by governments of the right and the left, and sometimes they are helped by what calls itself the radical left.

The question that is posed today is to understand that the response to the crisis is neither borders nor the capitalist state. It's not borders because they put peoples in conflict with one another. For us the real question isn't whether or not we should stay in the euro zone, it is should we stay under the dictatorship of the financial markets.

The response is not to have stronger capitalist states. We had illusions in the anti-globalisation movement that to turn back the neoliberal wave we needed a bit more state intervention in the economy. However we can see that capitalists are quite comfortable with state intervention when it's a matter of sharing their losses across society while privatising their profits. The anti-capitalist movement today should be leading campaigns to cancel the illegitimate debts across Europe, to demand transparency to know who own what and to expropriate the private banking system and propose a public European banking system which will be the basis of a radically different Europe, a Europe of the workers and the peoples.

About a 150 years ago someone used to say that the emancipation of the workers would be achieved by the workers themselves. In a new context, in a new period, in the countries of the south and in the Arab world, our responsibility is to see that the wind of this Arab Spring blows across all of our countries.

[Olivier Besancenot is the best-known spokesperson of France's New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA). This is a translated and slightly edited transcript of his speech.]

Conference supporters

[Australia's Socialist Alliance was also represented.]

other Pan-European & other
European Left Party
Joint Social Conference
Transnational Institute
Belgium Belgique / België / Belgium
Centrale Nationale des Employés (CNE)
ATTAC Wallonie Bruxelles

Britain Britain
Ken Loach
John McDonnell MP
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Caroline Lucas MP
Kate Hudson
Tony Benn, President Coalition of Resistance
Imran Khan, the People’s Charter
Andrew Burgin, Secretary Coalition of Resistance
Globalise Resistance
Lindsey German, Convenor Stop the War
Paul Mackney, former UCU General Secretary
Clare Solomon, President ULU Students Union
Hilary Wainwright, Transnational Institute/Red Pepper
Lee Jasper, BARAC
Len McCluskey, Unite General Secretary
Bob Crow, RMT General Secretary
Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary

Czech Republic Česká republika / Czech Republic
Martin Mikula, New Anticapitalist Left

Ireland Éire / Ireland
Sinn Fein
Richard Boyd-Barrett TD (United Left Alliance)
Joan Collins TD (United Left Alliance)
Séamus Healy TD (United Left Alliance)

France France
ATTAC France
Union syndicale Solidaires
CGT, FSU & Solidaires du “Havre de Greve”
Fondation Copernic
Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste

Germany Deutschland / Germany
Attac Germany
Die LInke (Left Party)
Initiative for a Network of the Trade Union Left (Initiative zur Vernetzung der Gewerkschaftslinken)

Greece Ελληνικά / Greece
Committee Against the Debt
Costas Lapavitsas
Yannis Almpanis, Network for Political and Social Rights
OLME – teachers’ trade union

Italy Italia / Italy
Sinistra Ecologia Libertà (UK section)

Netherlands Nederland / Netherlands
ComitÉ Ander Europa

Norge / Norway
Asbjørn Wahl, Campaign for the Welfare State

Polska / Poland
Bogusław Ziętek (WZZ “Sierpień 80″, Free TU “August 80″, leader)
Elżbieta Fornalczyk (WZZ “Sierpień 80″ Tesco, Free TU “August 80″ Tesco)
Krzysztof Łabądź (WZZ “Sierpień 80″ Budryku, Free TU “August 80″ Budryk coal mine)
Zbigniew Zdónek (PPP, Polish Labour Party, defence of public health service)
Franciszek Gierot (WZZ “Sierpień 80″ Fiat, Free TU “August 80″, Fiat Poland)
Zbigniew Pietras (WZZ Sierpień 80 Opel Polska, Free TU “August 80″, Opel-Poland)
Przemysław Skupin (WZZ “Sierpień 80″ górnictwo, Free TU “August 80″, Mines)
Tatiana Michalik (Stowarzyszenie osób poszkodowanych przez sieci handlowe, Association of supermarkets victims)
Grzegorz Kulczycki (Organizacja emerytów i rencistów, Organisation of pensioners)
Zbigniew Kowalewski (PPP, Polish Labour Party)

Portugal Portugal
Attac Portugal
Left Bloc

Spain España / Spain
Plataforma pels Drets Socials de Valencia
Izquerdia Anticapitalista
Mesas Ciudadanas de Convergencia y Acción
Entrepobles/ Entrepueblos/Entrepobos/Herriarte
Attac Spain

Sweden Sverige / Sweden
Psykologi Utan Gränser – Sverige/ (Psychology Without Borders – Sweden)
Stockholms Antiracist Cultural Association (STARK)

Switzerland Schweiz / Suisse / Switzerland