The Alter-Summit (AS) takes place in June in Athens, with the participation of hundreds of collectives and organisations from Europe and Greece. Already, in the European preparation committee there are more than 150 participant organisations, among them large European trade unions, institutes connected with activism against neoliberal globalisation like the European network transform!, organisations like ATTAC, NGOs, ecological networks, social movements, organisations supporting rights, international and national feminist organisations, movements of solidarity, immigrants’ collectives and antiracist and antifascist movements. Political parties are not regarded as a part of the network, but all those sharing the goals expressed are invited to support it. As this article is written (Mai 2013), thousands of activists are expected to come from Europe, and many more will participate from Greece itself. There are also solidarity caravans organised from different countries, which will find their way to Athens.
The idea arose from the proposals of dozens of organisations participating in the Joint Social Conference, which held its conventions in several locations in Europe in the last three years. The need it hoped to address was that of establishing a new connection between trade unions and social movements to provide the anti-neoliberal resistence with a higher level of unity and convergence. The AS was publicly announced last November, during the Florence 10+10 event organised to connect and re-connect the movements that had constituted the European Social Forum. A European committee was formed, which organised the meetings and the assemblies and had responsibility for their contents.
The Manifesto of the European Peoples was discussed for several months and finalised at the last preparatory meeting which took place on 11-12 May in Zagreb. Its public presentation constitutes the core of the big event in Athens. It targets the policies of austerity and its consequences, and defends social and democratic conquests, strengthening the struggles against the far right, racism and fascism.
The Manifesto was elaborated by organisations that formally committed themselves to the goals of the AS and participated as its representatives in its preparation. This resulted, in contrast to the procedure employed in the Social Forums, in more binding structures and was considered the only appropriate process in relation to the unsatisfactory experience of the European Social Forum, in whose framework the social movements never adopted their resolutions before the last day of the meeting. In the European Social Forum, in the last years of its existence, the closing assembly of social movements only compiled a mobilisation agenda and could not agree any more global positions, due to the diversity of targets of the different movements participating in it.
For the AS, it would have been impossible to come up with a manifesto without the current preparation and deliberation, which renders it democratic in terms of its formation, while it necessarily echoes only the organisations wishing to participate. Thus, the chaos of the Social Forum assemblies, as well as the final incapacity to arrive at political consensus, could be avoided. The last taste of this kind of chaos was experienced in Florence, where in the end the decision was taken to do no more than tackle the upcoming action agenda, since agreement could not be reached on basic demands, due to different approaches.
In Florence, the mobilisations agreed on were those for the 14th of November 2012, with general strikes in a number of countries, the 18th of December (International Migrants Day), 23-27 January 2013 against the commodification of life and against the banks, the 8th of March for the feminist and women’s mobilisations, the 14th of March for the protests in Brussels and elsewhere as a response to the Summit of the European Union, 26-30 March at the World Social Forum in Tunis and the blockupy mobilsation in the beginning of May in Frankfurt.
At the AS in June, new strategic targets will be discussed. In June of 2013 there will also be resistance mobilisations against the G8 meeting in London.
The Manifesto is based on four pillars, on which its analysis and demands are built:
‘Human rights must come before debt service and human needs before profit.’
2) Austerity / environmental transition
Demands: ‘Develop public, Europe-wide investment programs under social control for a social and ecological transition. This transition should be based on an industrial and agricultural policy that addresses the ecological crisis as well as the need to create millions of quality jobs and should rely on ecologically sustainable and socially useful activities in the public interest.’
3) Social rights and income ‘Throughout Europe, particularly on its southern and eastern rims, harsh austerity policies are imposed, supposedly for the sake of debt repayment and reduction. Entire populations are overburdened, public spending is cut dramatically in essential areas, valuable investments in research or industrial activities are downgraded although they could contribute to a social and ecological transition.
These austerity policies enforced by EU institutions and European governments create a downward spiral, destroy economies, add to deficits, debts, unemployment and poverty and intensify the ecological crisis and the looting of the environment. Meanwhile, a small minority continues to enrich itself unduly.’
The demands include jobs for all, rights of collective bargaining and trade-union freedom, a minimum wage and protection from poverty.
There is specific reference to the rights of women, and the particular way in which the crisis hits them, while gender equality generally informs all the demands.
‘The collapse of the private banking system in 2008 was not an accident but rather a direct consequence of finance serving only shareholders and speculators to the detriment of the public interest.’
After denouncing speculative activities the Manifesto demands the imposition of ‘effective and strict regulation of banks and other financial institutions. Enforce complete separation of commercial and investment banks. Prohibit the use of tax havens and off-balance- sheet activities. Abolish bank secrecy rules. Tax financial transactions and restore control over capital inflows or outflows. Break up “too big to fail” banks.’ ‘Enforce democratic supervision of banks and financial institutions. Orient credit towards job-creating activities that encourage social and ecological development. Give priority and incentives to publicly and collectively owned cooperative public credit systems.’
Internationalism is part of the basic outlook of the AS, in the sense that it gives major weight to solidarity among and beyond the European peoples, while it rejects the counterposing or confrontation of persons and of states.
The call concludes: ‘Alternatives exist: our responsibility is to change the balance of power in order to impose them and build genuine political, social and economic democracy in Europe.’
The general target, as proposed, is to build ‘a united movement for a democratic, social, ecological and feminist Europe’.
Of decisive importance for the success of the preparatory work is Greece itself. A working group was formed in Greece, already before the meeting in Florence and in preparation for it, consisting of about 20 organisations, trade union and social movements. The group subsequently made constant efforts at broadening out, and became part of the European organising committee of the AS. It organised an assembly of the European committee in Athens on January 18. In Florence, Athens was proposed in November as the place for the AS convention, but it was finally decided only in January. Thus, after the assembly of the European committee on 14-15 March in Brussels, the Greek working group initiated the process of forming the Greek organising committee, which was established at the end of March. Today, there are more than 30 organisations participating as members of the organising committee with more than 15 as observers, and new participants are constantly arriving.
The Manifesto actually contams a strong critique of neoliberalism, but several of its formulations are permeated with a nostalgia for the old good European Union, the lost paradise. It does not convey an idea of overturning the present-day EU; rather, it speaks of the transcendence of present policies. The ideological debate over the kind of Europe we want takes place in all the assemblies and meetings of the European committee, the arguments being characterised by diverse viewpoints with different proposals, and this discussion is echoed in the Manifesto itself, where several formulations have undergone change.
Large European trade unions and social organisations are AS participants. As for Greece, the General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) participates as well as the secondary-education Federation OLME, though their precise status is still under discussion. The Labour Centre of Athens – EKA participates as a full member.
There was broad discussion on the participation of the big trade unions in this project. According to many activists, the moderate and in part reformist policy carried out by unions in relation to the governments, so goes the argument, call into question how helpful their participation is in the struggles against neoliberalism.
The Greek trade unions are also included in the criticism of the large unions, which the social movements have made. We are familiar with their reformist leaderships, which nevertheless did want, or were forced, to organise several general strikes, even though participation in these strikes and rallies has always been left to certain more militant trade union factions or to the militant cadre. This is, in brief, the situation of the trade unions, and until there is a change in leadership, or until new ones with greater militancy and mass participation are formed, we shall proceed with the existing ones. This was a matter of discussion in the European and the Greek Social Forums for many years, even if neoliberalism was less harsh then and we had chosen to participate and give militant content to the common actions.
Other large participating European unions have organised workers’ struggles in nearly all countries. Smaller and militant trade unions have also been invited to participate, and some of these have already responded positively.
As to NGOs and social movements, they are really participating, but their dynamic today is not what it was. Today radical political solutions are needed, as shown in Greece, and there is need for a break with the existing policy and for a change of government, at least in the first phase, but, as we know, the political subjects are still weak, both numerically and politically. Greece is an exception, but although the emerging disaster has generally pushed the popular masses to the left and mostly toward SYRIZA, which is preparing for government, it is not clear yet when this transcendence will be possible.
In any case, as stressed on many sides, both the movements and the parties are needed in order for such a radical overturning or even rupture to take place. And the internationalist character is necessary, for there is no possibility of any political change without the support of the European movements. In such a spirit, the realisation of the AS event, network and process, has a role to play in strengthening the movements and the visibility of the common struggles. The AS represents an opportunity for resistance, if and to the extent that the social strength of the big organisations is transformed to radical policies. The answer will come from the developments in which we wholeheartedly participate.
In the Olympic Athletic Centre of OAKKA in June 7, there will be a massive assembly of thousands of people for the presentation of the Manifesto and subsequent speeches.
Of great importance too are the assemblies in the three smaller halls on Friday and Saturday, 7 and 8 June, covering the basic questions. The past practice of many seminars and workshops has not been adopted because every collective can find its colleagues and can meet in the way it wishes. The assemblies will deal with the development of solidarity and the struggle against neo-Nazism as well as women’s rights, common goods, austerity, the banks, debt and our answers. The programme is still not precisely established.
The event will close in the afternoon of Saturday, June 8 with a demonstration in the centre of Athens.
Athens, 15 April 2013