The echoes of last year's anti-capitalist protests in Genoa are still being felt all over Italy.
They were heard quite literally last month in Florence, during the first showing of the film Carlo Giuliani ragazzo, a documentary about the last day in the life of the protester who was murdered by the police. Some 2,000 people packed into the city's largest theatre and gave the director a standing ovation.
It was no coincidence that the premiere was organised in Florence, as the city will host the European Social Forum (ESF) in November. In a debate which followed the showing Vittorio Agnoletto, one of the main organisers of the Genoa protest and the coming ESF, called for 'the spirit of Genoa' to be used in mobilising for the ESF--a broad coalition of forces, often involving radical ideas.
Most decisions on the ESF will be taken at an international level, but what will become crucial is organisation on the ground in Florence. The Florence Social Forum (FSF) came together spontaneously when people returned from Genoa last July--they were angry and wanted to protest against police violence. Sara Nocentini, one of the six spokespeople of the Florence Social Forum says, 'All that was needed was a quick ring-round, and 10,000 people demonstrated virtually spontaneously.' Since then a permanent structure has been built, and the FSF has become part of the local political scene. For example, in January university lecturers turned to the FSF for help with a demonstration they wanted to organise. Some 15,000 people marched through the streets. In April the FSF took part in the local demonstrations in support of the general strike. They also made it a 'generalised' strike by protesting outside temporary work agencies, criticising their lack of job security.
As an independent force the FSF has involved local people, such as on the 10,000-strong demonstration in May against a racist immigration law. They also organised several torchlight processions in support of the Palestinians when the Israeli army attacked Jenin. As Sara says, in a situation where people are totally fed up with Labour-type parties, 'The movement manages to reach an audience which doesn't want to listen to political parties anymore.'
One of the key strengths of the social forum movement is its links with the trade union movement. One of Italy's biggest, the Fiom engineering union, has officially been part of the movement for a year now. Mauro Fuso, Florence provincial secretary of Fiom, regularly goes to the meetings. 'When multinationals such as General Electric take over companies in Florence, workers directly experience the effects of globalisation through sackings and so on,' he says, 'social forums are places where globalisation is discussed critically, and we want to be involved. They've got radical criticisms to make, and they force us to think about things differently.'
But all is not sweetness and light in Florence. The equivalent of New Labour, the DS, runs the council, along with the Greens and Catholics, and has been consistently trying to privatise local services. Yet at the same time DS councillors attend social forum meetings, claiming they support the movement's policies. The slogan 'Think globally, act locally' is posed very starkly in Florence. The council has recently privatised council-owned chemists, the municipal milk service, and many council houses. Now it wants to set up public-private partnerships to run museums, libraries, and most council houses. It's also proposing a tourist tax, in which any bank transaction will go into a public-private fund, partially run by managers of big local hotels.
The FSF are planning a series of 'ESF Sundays' over the coming months--carnival processions through working class areas explaining what the ESF will be. Sara adds, 'The lesson from Porto Alegre is that it has to be a party as well, not just debates.'
There are also more serious reasons to come. As Mauro from Fiom says, 'Anyone can come and bring their own point of view on globalisation.' And Sara adds, 'If you don't come, you'll miss the chance of being where all the peoples of Europe will come together for the first time and discuss the building of a new future. Nowadays it seems that whether Blair or Berlusconi is in power, there's very little difference between them. So come to Florence, and protest against the Blairusconis of this world and their faith in market forces.'