All eyes on Paris

"The sheer volume of people gave me a sense of a growing European movement," says Unison shop steward Lee Turner of the first European Social Forum (ESF) last year. Participating in this new Europe-wide movement for social justice had brought him a powerful sense of a new common identity.

November 1, 2003
4 min read


Hilary WainwrightHilary Wainwright is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective and a fellow of the Transnational Institute. @hilarypepper

That’s the easy part – the almost euphoric initial phase of a new movement. I remember the same exhilaration at the first conferences of the women’s liberation movement. Then comes the difficult bit. The second ESF in Paris must provide a launch pad from which this new Europe-wide social justice movement (hugely reinforced by the 15 February protests against the war) can transform itself into a material force for resistance and change.

There’s a need for strategic thinking to exploit the present contradictory moment. On the one hand, as anyone in Cancun will bear witness, EU institutions are pursuing neo-liberal economics to globally Dickensian conclusions. On the other, in Italy and the UK – the homelands of the European right in all its dubious forms – a popular awakening to the damaging consequences of neo-liberalism has already begun.

We must clear the ground by challenging the beguiling rhetoric, attractive to most Europeans, that a united Europe will counter the US. Equally plausible is a future of European multinationals competing with US rivals for cheap labour and plentiful markets in the South, or for any public sector deals that the US and EU connive to “free up”. There could be a military build up in a “Fortress Europe”, and a strengthening of European monetary policy not only against the dollar but also against the pressures of democratic accountability.

What is needed is an anti-imperialist, anti-neo-liberal alternative to US dominance. Rigorous policy proposals should be high on the list of what the next ESF stimulates. We need policies that bring us towards egalitarian economic relations with the South, towards a non-military security policy, towards democratic control over financial institutions, towards a just peace in the Middle East.

But policies are not enough on their own. We know that from the non-deeds of governments whose radical policies are subverted by the vested interests they supposedly set out to challenge.

We need to build new kinds of democratic power to reinforce the vote. We need workers” power that reaches out to citizens to improve public services and resist the global pressures to privatise. We need the power of an international peace movement backed by radical municipalities and able to open up inter-governmental contradictions. We need the strength of a movement for the free passage, and dignity, of people – built through solidarity between refugees and the labour and community movements.

To build these new kinds of power requires ways of organising that will be new in two respects. First, we will have to move beyond traditional electoral power. And second, we must make sure that whatever centralised power we put in place is accountable. We do not yet know the appropriate forms of political organisation for creating democratic and socially just alternatives at all levels – local and global. But most of us are involved in practical experiments and know of hundreds and thousands of organisations, networks and campaigns that share our values and goals. It makes sense to come together and exchange experiences. Together we can see more precisely where we want to go. And that is the point of the social forum.

The overriding concern must be to open up for all those resisting injustice a space conducive to the full exchange and thoughtful cross-fertilisation of ideas and action. Each organisation must come away from the ESF and similar forums strengthened in its capacity to resist and achieve positive change. This is especially important given the likelihood that next year’s ESF will be in London.

What is needed is a real shift in culture throughout the left, so that we can engage wholeheartedly in building an infrastructure for supporting and connecting a diverse array of organisations and movements whose independence is integral to their strength. We need to labour in a process of social change that will be led in ways we cannot predict or control.


Hilary WainwrightHilary Wainwright is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective and a fellow of the Transnational Institute. @hilarypepper


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill