By Sacha Ismail
In September, I attended the European Education Forum in Berlin as a representative of the UK Campaign for Free Education. There I met Paul Dillon, an Irish Labour Party activist and president of the student union in University College Dublin (UCD), who-inspired by our struggle-had been involved in setting up an Irish CFE. Paul invited me and other CFE members to visit Dublin between 17 and 19 October, when his student union would be hosting the first meeting of the Irish Social Forum.
We were eager to go, not only because of our positive experience at last year's European Social Forum in Florence, but because the Irish CFE is itself pretty inspiring. Through a campaign of sit-ins and other forms of direct action, it played a central role in forcing the Irish government to abandon its plans to reintroduce tuition fees last year. And, indeed, those of us who attended were not disappointed.
The event was the first of its kind in Ireland, the culmination of a series of local and regional meetings and actions organised by a wide variety of political groupings, campaigns, NGOs and individual activists. About 200 people attended over the course of the weekend, mostly young, with representatives from the Irish Socialist Party and SWP, the anarcho-syndicalist Workers' Solidarity Movement, the left-wing of Irish Labour Youth, the Irish peace movement and numerous other organisations. The atmosphere seemed less full of sectarian tension than it would have been at similar events in England (though that may be because the SWP and SP did not mobilise en masse), and the debates I attended were both interesting and constructive.
In addition to five plenaries on war and peace, the environment, defending public services, the fight for equality and the future of the movement, there were 30-odd smaller sessions on topics from the future of feminism and abortion rights to free education, Sinn Fein and the landless peasants' movement in Pakistan.
There was a reasonably strong focus on the labour movement, with a Labour Youth-hosted session on unionising young workers and lively debates on international solidarity and the role of the unions in the campaign against bin charges (see page 15).
Last but not least, there was a great deal of interest in the politics of Solidarity and Workers' Liberty, with comrades from the Workers' Solidarity Movement, Labour Youth and Socialist Alternative (a group of ex-SWP students in UCD currently poised between Marxism and anarchism) buying publications and wanting to find out more. We look forward to working with the Irish comrades in the future.