The meeting was held in the City Hall of the GLA (also known as ‘the Egg’ because of its interesting architecture) only a few hundred yards from Tower Bridge. As usual with the ESF, it was a rather chaotic day, lasting from about 10.00am to 5.30pm, with heated debates and heckling, the participants’ moods swinging from joy to despair in the course of a few minutes.
I can only give you a taste here, though I also hope to put up at least one audio file plus a few photos, to give you a clearer idea. I was not at the Sunday morning meeting. I don’t guarantee my spelling of people’s names – sorry.
Essentially this weekend was intended to be ‘make or break’ for the London ESF in 2004, when delegates from continental Europe (including Hungary, Turkey, Austria, France etc) came to listen to UK proposals and decide if they could give us the green light to go ahead this Autumn.
Laurie Hazeldean from the South East Region of the TUC gave the welcoming speech and set the tone by reminding us it was the twentieth anniversary of the miners’ strike. He stressed the contrast between the world of Thatcherism and the principles of the ESF/WSF according to which ‘another world is possible’
The UK proposal was presented by 2 members of the UK Organising Committee, one of whom was Dave Hillman of the Tobin Tax group.
It rapidly became obvious that there were certain groups, especially from the UK, who were not happy with the organisation of the meeting or the UK Forum. These groups, which can loosely be described as ‘Horizontals’ because of their rejection of hierarchy and the stress they lay on the need for an open, transparent and inclusive ‘process’, insisted that more should be done to democratise the ESF. They had already circulated a document on the internet ( http://www.esf2004.net/component/option,com_contact/Itemid,3/contact_id,3/) and mailing lists, with the title ‘A call for democracy in the ESF process’ which had received the support of a large number of groups and individuals. Their criticisms included inadequate records of meetings, the need to clarify the role of the GLA and make the whole process less London-centric.
Many continental speakers came to the microphone in support of these calls to improve the process, with few if any dissenters. It was decided that in the afternoon when we divided into workshops, there should be one specifically for tackling these issues.
Meanwhile the other major problem was one of funding and costs. As public money was not forthcoming for London, unlike the previous Paris and Florence ESFs, the cost of entry to the forum in October was going to be so high that many people would be excluded. Current figures are £30 waged and £20 unwaged, if pre-booked, or £40 and £30 on the gate (as far as I know, this is just for one day of a 3-day event). If you add in travel/accommodation costs, this risks becoming a thoroughly elitist event. One UK speaker said costs could be cut dramatically by using Bloomsbury as a venue, rather than the proposed (eileen: and now confirmed, I gather) Alexandra Palace.
In the afternoon I chose to go to the crucial ‘process’ workshop, chaired by Pierre Khalfa of ATTAC France. This broke down into such disorder that it was finally decided to nominate 3 representatives for each of the 3 main ‘camps’ (‘Horizontals’, Organising Committee, seen by some as ‘Verticals’, and European representatives) to go through the two opposing documents on principles and try to thrash out a compromise. We got thrown out of the City Hall halfway through this at around 5.30pm as they needed to lock up, so a whole gaggle of us, negotiators and observers, went to find a restaurant where the negotiations could continue. Unfortunately quite a few of us had run out of money by then and while the negotiators chomped their pizzas, we adjourned to a nearby pub…..