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, a “People First” demonstration of 15,000 called by the Scottish TUC took place on October 1.
The next day, 35,000 joined a demonstration in Manchester outside the governing Conservative Party conference, which was 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 agreeing to establish a Europe-wide network and to plan for a day of action against austerity next year. It also agreed 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 and the euro, hopefully drawing discussion among the European left 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, from the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) in France, explained it starkly when saying: “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 left (such as Die Linke from Germany, Sinn Fein from Ireland and the European Left Party) and a particularly strong anti-capitalist current (such as the NPA and the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt [CADTM]).
Big unions supported the conference such as Unite, the National Union of Teachers and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers from Britain, Solidaires from France, the OLME teachers union from Greece, and LAB trade union from the Basque country.
There were also representatives of union federations from Portugal and Italy. Particularly noteworthy was Elzbieta Fornalczyk, a unionist representing Tesco workers in Poland who outlined the dramatic conditions of Polish women as mothers and workers. Sonia Mitralia from CADTM in Greece also stressed how the crisis was hitting women harder.
This conference, as well as the demonstrations in Glasgow and Manchester, are an excellent springboard for making the strike by more than 20 British trade unions set for November 30 a huge success.
We need to mobilise other sections of society not yet on strike over attacks on pensions, but who wish to fight to defend the welfare state. It is also important to mobilise for European-wide events, such as protests against a meeting of the G20 on November 1.
[Fred Leplat is a leading member of Socialist Resistance, British section of the Fourth International.]