Since the anti-globalisation movement of the late ’90s and early 2000s, wherever the political representatives and economic thinkers of capital met, they encountered protest and opposition. The anti-worker and environmentally unsustainable implications of their free trade and neo-liberal agenda were exposed at Seattle, Genoa and worldwide.
With the understanding of the limitations of the model of protests at summits across Europe, came the rise of counter-summits. Generally called Social Forums these were an opportunity for socialists, trade unionists, environmental activists and others to meet and formulate alternatives and discuss strategies for resistance.
The World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in Brazil which 12,000 people attended opened the process of the WSFs. It was followed with successful events in Athens, Mumbai, Nairobi and elsewhere. After playing a vital role in mobilising for the demonstrations on 15 February 2003, where tens of millions marched against a war on Iraq, the summits suffered a general decline, becoming somewhat disconnected from the real struggles happening around the world.
The model was successful in opening an important discussion, but it also contained within it an important contradiction that was always present in the anti-globalisation movement. This was the tension between an approach that was fundamentally reformist, aiming to curb the worst excesses of globalisation and capitalism and a more consistent anti-capitalist position.
There are currently moves to re-invigorate the counter-summits. An Alter Summit will take place in Athens this year and the World Social Forum takes place at the end of March in Tunisia. Central to their success will be to connect these summits to the revolutionary movements that are taking place. A clear identification of capitalism as the problem and the working class as the central force to bring about change, despite the betrayal of the trade union leaders, is vital.
Now the Irish government holds the Presidency of the European Union, at a time when the EU is viciously imposing austerity. It is also at a time when a false story about the success of austerity in Ireland is being wielded around Europe as a stick to beat the peoples of Greece, Spain and Portugal with. It is essential that we take our opportunity in Ireland to discuss the austerity being imposed and how to resist it.
I therefore took the initiative to host a counter-summit which will take place from 15-17 February in Liberty Hall in Dublin (www.countersummit.eu). It is a chance to have precisely those discussions that are necessary for all of us struggling against austerity across Europe and to learn from the experiences of our brothers and sisters across the continent.
There are three essential elements to this event – educating people about the austerity and anti-democratic processes that are taking place, discussing about how we build a common front of resistance across Europe, and debating and discussing the alternative. Speakers such as Owen Jones (Author of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class), Kenneth Haar (Corporate Europe Observatory), Alex Gordon (President of the RMT union), Jimmy Kelly (UNITE Regional Secretary) and many others will debate and discuss the key questions facing workers and young people across Europe. On the Saturday evening, the connection with Ireland will be made concrete with a debate on ‘Alternatives to Austerity’ – featuring Joe Higgins TD for the Socialist Party, together with with Richard Boyd Barrett TD (People Before Profit), Eoin O’Broin from Sinn Fein and Paul Dillon from the Campaign for Labour Policies.