By Sacha Ismail
The first European Education Forum took place in Berlin on 18-20 September. The event, initiated and largely organised by the German-based Education is Not for Sale Network, was generally agreed to be a great success.
Five hundred people attended: mostly students, but some educational and other trade unionists (the first thing you saw on entering the conference centre was Hackney NUT's Blair Peach banner); about half were German, but there were significant numbers from other European countries. Fewer than a dozen Brits showed up. They included two right-wing NUS hacks who had been attending a European NUS meeting, and stayed for a day before running off in terror.
The first two days were mainly taken up with discussions organised by a wide variety of organisations, from the German Stalinist (as far as I could tell) Young Struggle to the Swiss national union of students, VSS/UNES. In contrast to the British student movement, where political debate has been dumbed down to 'Grants or no grants', some of the discussions were interesting, with topics including 'education and class power' and the relationship between mass access and the democratisation of education.
A lot of debate focused on to what extent the Bologna process, an EU initiative to create a single 'European Higher Education Area', is separable from the drive toward competition and privatisation in treaties such as the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services. There are surely analogies with debates on the British left about European monetary and political union.
On Saturday, chanting 'Education not profit', marched to a joint demonstration with the city's trade union youth sections, who were protesting against cuts in apprenticeship provision.
Speaking at the rally, I stressed that demands such as more jobs, and free education only make sense as part of a coherent political programme that seeks to make capital pay for all the services people need; and that such a programme will be won through workers and students linking up internationally, not through relying on "our own" governments against international institutions. (I think my references to Liebknecht and Luxemburg, and to the Berlin workers' uprising against Stalinism in 1953, went down well too...)
On the CFE's suggestion, the EEF organising committee has agreed to produce a pamphlet detailing the situation in as many countries as possible. It was very useful to meet two left-wing Irish student unionists who have been involved in setting up an Irish Campaign for Free Education. As a result, the CFE has been invited to send a contingent and speakers to the Irish Social Forum which will take place in University College Dublin in October.
The EEF representated a big step forward in student and labour movement co-operation on education issues across Europe.
l More information about the EEF at www.eef2003.org and
2nd European Social Forum, 12-15 November, Paris
Tens of thousands are expected in Paris at the second European Social Forum. Register individually on the ESF website www.fse-esf.org from October, or at the event. Booking accommodation through the ESF is easier if you register beforehand: details are on the website.
The ESF will be spread over four sites: La Villette, Saint Denis, Bobigny and Ivry. A cheapish transport deal will be available to help people get around.
Details of mobilisation from England and Wales, including the specially chartered Eurostar train, can be found at www.mobilise.org.uk. But you are not obliged to travel with this group if you come from the UK!
For details of AWL/Solidarity at the ESF email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Mon 11-Tues 12 Nov: trade union conference organised by ETUC and CGT activists; topics to include social rights across Europe and links with Latin American trade unionists.
- Wed 12: European Assembly for Women's Rights, Bobigny. Details from email@example.com and the No Sweat website.
- Wed 12: ESF opening ceremonies in the evening on the four sites.
- Thurs 13-Sat 15: main programme of the ESF. Details - slowly - on www.fse-esf.org
- Sat 15: march through Paris.
- Sun 16: 'social movements' conference, effectively an ESF report-back.
Forum Social Libertaire, 14-16 November, Saint Ouen, Paris
Organised by people who think the ESF is an attempt by social democrats, trade union bureaucrats, and authoritarian Communists and Trotskyists to hijack the anti-capitalist movement. So they abandon the tens of thousands of unaligned people who turn up to the ESF to their misleaders, and organise an elite event up the road. Perhaps we should be grateful. More details at: here (English) and here (French).