There is no alternative than to fight for a just and sustainable world – this was the message of the former Greek PM Alexis Tsipras on the first day of the European Forum in Athens. Between 21 and 23 October activists, politicians, labour unionists, climate and feminist fighters gathered to share their experiences, learn about the situation in different countries and seek inspiration for a more effective struggle.
It was the 6th edition of the Forum, dominated this time by the themes of green transition, peace and workers’ and women rights. When Heinz Bierbaum of the European Left called for making steps towards unity in the struggle, the participants understood already that only combining the forces in a common fight might bring us closer to our goals. Uniting forces is already the reality in the countries where the left made the most spectacular progress – like France or Belgium, as Conny Hildebrandt of transform!europe said in her Forum opening speech.
During the political session on the same day, Alexis Tsipras spoke about the necessity to make people hope again. The far right, he said, which is so succesful nowadays, does not promise hope or change – it just gives the option to get rid of frustrations by bullying someone who is even weaker than you. The left could regain ground, he suggested, if the message of hope and expectations is heard again.
The most immediate demand, though, should be to shield the most vulnerable from the effects of the new economic crisis.
Ernest Urtasun, the vice-president of the Greens/EFA group in European Parliament called for taxing the enormous profits that the giant companies make – to gain funds for policies aimed at supporting everybody. Petros Kokkalis, representing The Left in the European Parliament, had no doubt: we needed a new pact for sustainability and the green welfare state… if we want to have a future as humanity. Another strong voice came from Irish fighter and Sinn Fein politician Martina Andersson, asking all present to support the cause of united, democratic Ireland.
On the following day, the participants divided into groups to take part in different debates and workshops. A vivid discussion on both immediate and long-term policies took place in the ‘Social Justice’ tent, where labour unionists and left activists gathered to talk about possible solutions to the energy crisis.
Roland Kulke of transform!europe sketched the crucial importance of the problem, by pointing out that
energy poverty has affected more than 80 million Europeans ,
and that the number is going to rise. He pointed out that energy market is dominated now by just 7 huge companies and named the alternative solution: nationalization, and then socialization of energy sector, or, in other words, putting it under control of the workers and local communities. Nikos Fotopoulos of the General Confederation of Greek Workers spoke about the roots of energy crisis, proving how false are the claims which blame Putin only for the prices rising. While the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been indeed a factor, the energy speculation was going on well before this war, and would not stop if market logic is still applied to energy and electricity, which should be treated as a common good instead. Sarah Beran, representing Austrian trade unions, spoke about immediate solutions her organisation developed, before we have the chance to nationalize the industry. She reminded that workers were already being hit by the crisis, and that together with long-term plans we needed ideas that could be implemented this winter. She went on to speak on solutions advanced by her union, such as guaranteeing every 2-person family an electricity package for no more than 600 euros.
Housing was another extremely urgent problem discussed during another workshop session – with participation of people who are already engaged in solving the question.
Ian Brossat of the French Communist Party, who is responsible for housing and refugee support in Paris local left-oriented govenment, spoke about the initiatives aimed at building communal flats, capping rents and not allowing Airbnb to develop in uncontrolled way. He pointed out that this housing policy, social-oriented policy, has actually Paris from total pauperisation and blatant unequalities. Jon Rodriguez Forrest, representing the Spanish Izquierda Unida now being the part of center-left ruling coalition in Spain, spoke about immediate solutions implemented by the party now, and announced a future detailed law on housing that the organisation is working on.
The workshop on how the left could address the energy crisis turned into a real experience exchange between Belgian, Norwegian, British and other comrades. Matthieu Strale of the Belgian Workers’ Party pointed out, again for this day, that the energy price crisis began with speculation and marketisation of energy: in his country, the prices doubled once the market logic was applied to them.
A vivid testimony from Fredi Gentz, activist of the ACORN union, gave everybody present an insight into the historical mobilisation now taking place in Great Britain, where thousands of workers are joining Enough is Enough campaign, joining strike actions and picket lines led by different unions, and putting pressure on the political elite which has nothing to offer but more austerity.
After the workshop, the conference participants could have more informal talks, listening to Marina Satti concert.
Solidarity was the key word for the final day of the conference –
as Dagmar Svendova or transform!europe pointed out, it is in the DNA of a left-wing thinking person.
During both the final discussion on many dimensions of solidarity and mutual help, and during the final conclusive session, the speakers summed up how disastrous is the international situation nowadays, where imperialist powers unleash wars and the arm trade is flourishing, on the expense of public services and saving the planet.
As those present in Athens have no intention to give up the struggle, even if the current situation is not bright, they pledged to unite forces, keep fighting for affordable housing, electricity and other basic goods and to combat patriarchy in all its forms. For many of the participants, these three days in Greece were just a working pause between organizing, demonstrating and doing everything what is possible to secure the interest of the many.