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Labour at the 2009 Belem World Social Forum

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Between an Ambiguous Past and an Uncertain Future1

The time, the place and the focus

The time: this was the first World Social Forum (WSF) since the profound financial/industrial crisis of capitalism, late-2008, the consequent labour layoffs, and the desperate and extreme state measures to restore capitalism – largely by throwing obscene amounts of money at the financial institutions that were the immediate cause of the crisis. The place: Belem is a tropical city of some two million, at one mouth of the Amazon river, and therefore a potent reminder of the Amazon basin and forest - 'the lungs of the world' - whose nature and peoples are under threat of extinction by capitalist globalisation (plus local capital and the Brazilian state). The focus: for the first time the WSF declared a single focus – on this Amazonian environment and its peoples and movements.

Now, Point Two of the WSF's objectives reads (in somewhat iffy official translation):

For the release of the world domain [liberation from the world domination – PW] of capital, multinationals corporations, imperialist, patriarchal, colonial and neocolonial domination and unequal systems of commerce, by cancelling the impoverish[ed] countries of debt. (World Social Forum Programming 2009:7).

This may be a long-standing formulation1 but it nonetheless did my heart good to see it confirmed on the front page of the Forum supplement of the regional daily, Diario de Para (February 1). Here it was stated (in English!) that

Criticism against capitalism was the focus of the World Social Forum. But, after all, what are the actual alternatives to build a better world?

A fair-enough question, given that so many anti-globalisers think a re-assertion of state and inter-state power would do the trick. Also because, as we will see, the nature of the WSF is quite ambiguous, giving rise to quite different left analyses (e.g. Toussaint 2009, Pleyers 2009, Costello and Smith 2009).

Another innovation, taking shape over the years, was the devotion of the Forum to 'self-managed activities', these dominating the first days of the Forum. And this move in the direction of...what?...indirectionality? was accompanied by 'thematic tents', and extended by 'Belem Expanded' (locally and globally, in place and cyberspace) and completed by a 'Day of Sectoral Alliances', which included a final 'Assembly of Assemblies' in which it was intended the FSM would sum up or concentrate, or anyway express, its orientations and coming activities.. I am myself not sure whether all this makes the WSF more participatory even if it makes it more diverse. My feeling is that it rather exemplifies the notorious 'tyranny of structurelessness' (Freeman 1972) under which those with the desire, the means and the experience to dominate do so wearing a cloak of at least semi-invisibility.

A final - actually the initial - innovation was the mentioned focus on the Amazon and the indigenous peoples of the world. Whilst, on the one hand, the indigenous peoples, in particular of the Amazon, were highly visible and integrated into much of the programming. But there were complaints from some of the Amazonians that they were still being treated as folklore. And there were – predictably – differences expressed between the comparatively long-organised Andeans and the recently-organised Amazonians. This specific problem/movement focus raised in my mind the question of when we can expect such on labour or on gender/sexuality/women – both clearly multi-voiced parties and neither particularly folkloric.

That maybe 90 percent of the participants were from Brazil (some 60-70 percent from the state of Para alone!) might have given an exaggerated impression of labour participation since the sites were full of people wearing the red teeshirts of the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT, of which more below). It was nonetheless my impression that the presence of national and international union organisations and of labour activists was greater than previously. Survey evidence may later confirm whether this was so.

For the rest, it must be said that – despite the customary complaints concerning its suburban siting, the distance between the sites, timetable changes, room cancellations and the often rough accommodation – most of the experienced participants I spoke to after the event considered the Forum a success. This may have been in part due to the small size of the city, and to the challenge implied by the high temperature, high humidity and frequent tropical downpours. I, in any case, found the city easy to move around, friendly...and most of my events in their scheduled places. Not every participant, of course, had a cellphone and a hotel room (with air-conditioned mosquitoes) or even an umbrella. But even the kids in the tent city on one university site seemed to be comparatively satisfied with the conditions. And the organisation of such a gigantic and complex event by a relatively small team of organisers remains something of a miracle: we saw the future and it worked (if unevenly).

Belem treated the Forum as other cities might do the Olympics. And I do have to say that that bilingual supplement in the major daily paper of the State of Para, the Diario de Para, was not only WSF-friendly but professional, compensating for the absence of the daily edition of Terra Viva from the Inter Press Service, to which we have become accustomed. Indeed, I rather depended on the Diario for reports on what I was missing (umm…90 % of Forum activity?), having early decided that I was NOT going to search through the 142-page, three-column, half-kilo, three-language Programmingto find anything.

It was, thus, only later, at the farmhouse of Brazilian Forum founder, Candido Gryzbowski (some hours North of Rio, surrounded by mountain greenery and in the company of congenial Latino/a guests) that I finally confronted the Frankenstein's Monster of the WSF, the Programme, in search of the word 'labour', 'union' or related terms (in one or more of three or four languages). I have to say that this further convinced me that the Forum is an agora as much in the sense of a marketplace as of a meeting-place. On the assumption that each of the 143 Programme pages listed just 45 events, then dividing by three (for languages), and then dropping a few pages of introduction and a back page list of sponsors, we still have 2,000 3-hour events, which, divided by four (thus excluding the Opening and Closing Days) still leaves us with some 500 events per day! Let us consider the Labour Question for one day only. Whilst inviting anyone with a minimal command of mathematics to do better than myself here, I challenge anyone to reduce the number of competing 'labour related' events, of Theme 6, listed on page 26 for Shift One (of three), for January 29; I make it around 45. These then taking place on one of two campuses, separated by a bus-ride of some 15 minutes (excluding waiting time), and then distributed (in one case) at maybe 30-40 minutes walk from the campus bus stop.

I began at this point to feel nostalgic for the World Youth and Student Festivals of the 1950s, at which the programme was pre-determined by a Soviet-funded vanguard that decided everything for us, shipped us to the site and then bussed us around, with its loyal national subordinates further decreeing that, for example, we individualistic Brits should wear white shirts and grey trousers or skirts (which, having just recovered from the uniformity of World War Two, we signally failed to do).2

The 'division of labour' at the Forum

Perhaps one should talk of a field or spectrum rather than a division of labour. This would better suggest the extent to which labour events overlapped in concerns, that organisations and individuals were present at different labour events, and that individual international friendships existed or were created across or despite differences in identities, ideologies or affiliations. These characteristics are not to be lightly dismissed.

We can, however, at least distinguish between the presence and programmes of the traditional national/international union organisations and that of the 'alternative' Labour and Globalisation network. The former were present, with a whole range of closely allied NGOs (non-governmental organisations), and concentrated in or around the large ‘World of Work’ tent of the major Brazilian union centre, the Central Única dos Trabalhadores. The CUT was a founder organisation of the WSF, is represented on its International Council. It is allied with the Brazilian Workers Party (PT) and therefore with the government of President Luiz Inácio da Silva (better known as Lula, himself a former worker and union leader).3 With its Brazilian allies (Força Sindical and UGT), its International (the Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation) and its various European and Latin American links, the CUT offered a series of events which expressed the globally hegemonic union orientation, concerns and activities. These included:

  1. The holding of an international trade-union forum - to which a representative of Lula was also invited;

  2. A seminar on climate change and sustainable development, with invitees from South Africa and the sphere of the United Nations (this was François Houtart, customarily identified with the socialism and third-worldism of Egyptian political-economist Samir Amin);

  3. A session on migration and development;

  4. Others on labour rights and on the current campaign of the International Trade Union Confederation (adopted, lock, stock and barrel, from the International Labour Organisation), on 'Decent Work'. This session also invited, however, the increasingly-anti-capitalist Filipino academic-activist, Walden Bello (2009).

All in all, this suggests the Global Neo-Keynesian approach of the traditional trade union hegemons, seeking 'social partnership' with reasonable capitalists and reformist states (despite these being thin on the ground, or limited in performance) for a more-civilised capitalism (for more on this see Wahl 2008)

Such an orientation was reinforced by various European union-oriented NGOs as the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES, for which see the classical critique of Evers 1982).4 This had its own extensive and evidently well-funded series of events elsewhere in the grounds of the Forum. Advertised on a well-designed web-site, running over three days, armed with printed or xeroxed documents, supported by well-equipped professional interpreters, the panels of this programme were filled with (presumably FES-funded) delegates and experts from various foreign countries. I heard one such, from a Global Union Federation, utter a few words of formal greeting and accord, only to tell me later that he had come to the WSF only for this two-hour event and then only because he had never been to Brazil! He declined my invitation to join a following Labour and Globalisation event along the corridor. The FES programme covered such topics as 'union networks within multinationals' (with a background paper from the Brazilian researcher, Drummond 2008), Core Labour Standards and Union Strategies in the State of Parra, International Framework Agreements, Decent Work again, even Women and Political Reform. (See Appendix 4).

Whilst none of this might be totally irrelevant to the condition of at least waged labour I did not note in many of these activities the word 'capitalism' - far less opposition to such.5 More, I would suggest, did this activity have to do with routine, late-20th century union defensive strategy, or activity, for the restoration of a capitalism in which ‘social partnership’ practices could be (again) routinely carried out. This contrasts quite dramatically with the declaration of an Assembly of Social Movements (2009), under the slogan:

We won’t pay for the crisis. The rich have to pay for it !
Anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, feminist, environmentalist
and socialist alternatives are necessary

The declaration continues in ringing yet detailed condemnation of capitalism and with the proposal of an alternative society reflecting the long-standing traditions and 21st century demands of the ecological, socialist, feminist and indigenous movements. It is worthwhile reading in full. (Appendix 1).6

How 'alternative' is the Labour and Globalisation network?

But whilst the 'alternative' Labour and Globalisation Network differentiated itself from the traditional labour inter/nationals, was it as radical as this? Pat Horn, a leading figure in the network, had earlier said that the purpose of its Belem event was:

  1. To jointly discuss in more depth how globalisation is shaping labour relations, including a joint analysis on key policy fields that are of particular relevance;

  2. To offer a space for sharing experiences of struggles for labour rights in different regions;

  3. To offer a space for trade unions and social movements and other social actors to build new relationships;

  4. To develop relationships of North-South solidarity based on functional equality rather than financial dependence;

  5. To identify a platform of issues around which such international solidarity can be developed through international campaigns;

  6. To discuss the development of the network itself (what working program, what tools to work together etc.). (Email received 050109).

If this specification suggests some kind of independent 'Labour Forum within the Forum', its final declaration (Appendix 2) issued at the event by L&G was a little more specific. Referring back to the Nairobi WSF, 2007, it suggested that an L&G network could give more visibility to labour within the Forum, develop an ongoing dialogue and exchange of ideas and experiences, discuss a new and broader understanding of labour (covering also reproductive labour and the informal sector), strengthen ties between unions, movements, intellectuals and citizens, go beyond defence toward a new global capacity for action, find common objectives, consider the full meaning of production, and map all possible labour actors.

Given that L&G has miniscule resources compared with the FES or the traditional inter/national unions (compare simply the size of their programmes in Appendices 4 and 5), this boiled down to three three-hour sessions, largely in English. They dealt, in turn, with the following:

  1. Labour: New Struggles, New Alliances: Towards a Charter of Labour?

  2. Labour in the Global Crisis.

  3. Assembly of the Labour and Globalisation Network.

Since I have a long-standing interest in a Global Labour Charter Project (appended to Waterman 2008c), I was encouraged by the numbers of unions/unionists attending this session, but discouraged by the limited time given to the idea of a charter. There was, nonetheless, a generally positive response to the idea of developing such. One must further note the following:

  1. That the number of non-union participants in the L&G event seems to have remained stagnant;

  2. That the Southern unionists who prioritised North-South union conflicts here were nearly all prominent members of national unions affiliated to the European-based and European-dominated ITUC - of which these unions have never made public criticism;

  3. That whilst the less-geographically-fixated South Korean speaker stressed that capital was changing faster than labour was responding, further discussion on a charter (which could specify an anti-capitalist social-movement orientation for L&G) was postponed to some indefinite future.

My conclusion from Session One, from informal exchanges with core L&G activist, Marco Berlinguer, and the final L&G declaration (Labour and Globalisation Assembly 2009, Appendix 2), is that whilst L&G does provide an independent agora in which unions and other labour-oriented movements (like Pat Horn's StreetNet) or research, support and service groups (like the US-based Global Labour Strategies network) can meet and dialogue, it does not (yet?) amount to anything like the World March of Women (with its Charter, _nous_sommes/charte/en), and will therefore not impact on either the WSF itself nor all the left tendencies and labour constituencies that lie beyond union reach (presently some 80 percent of the world's labour force; more if one includes 'housewives' amongst 'workers'). Such feelings were only strengthened by the disappearance of any reference to a global labour charter in the final L&G declaration mentioned above (Appendix 2)! I can only presume that this disappearance is due to L&G’s self-definition, in this same appendix, as ‘an instrument and not an organic actor’. As far as I am concerned, an ‘instrument’ is a tool with particular characteristics, wielded by certain actors, with certain interests, ideas and purposes in mind. But if , in denying a role as an ‘organic actor’, L&G means to suggest that it does not have a particular position, or set of such, concerning the trade unions, the labour movement or the working class(es), then this is undermined by the other clauses in this appendix.

The final labour (and whoever?) assembly

My scepticism had already been reinforced by the final Labour Assembly.7 This was not only shifted a half hour away from the advertised site and one hour late in starting. It also turned out to be the Labour, Solidarity Economy, World Financial Crisis (?), and maybe even Falun Dong, Assembly. True, the Solidarity Economy contributions related to a more-radical socio-political field than the labour one. True the Falun Dong contribution existed only in my over-fertile imagination (although Falun Something was present elsewhere at the Forum). True, even, that I seemed to recall that Labour had been somehow grouped with these others by some earlier International Council decision. But the result, of course, was that there was no way there could even begin to be any dialogue between the L&G presentation (which was split in two) and those of the inter/national unions or pro-union NGOs.

I tried, but failed, to imagine the women's movements and feminists agreeing to be 'grouped' with the UN Reform, Participatory Budgeting and Fair Trade – even with the indigenous movements. They would, of course, have said 'We would rather meet together under a mango tree' (given the numbers involved, possibly in a mango plantation). There could for me be no more striking demonstration of labour's lack of identity and self-confidence, and of the WSF's continued marginalisation of labour (an issue I will return to). The Amazon and its indigenous peoples rightly have their place and day. Labour has its tents and seminars. But neither the WSF IC nor the unions, nor other labour movements and NGOs seem bothered at labour being another letter in one of the Forum's alphabet soups.

To add to my unease at the labour non-assembly, the event was more or less dominated by a declaration on the world financial crisis, presented by my 1980s compañero from 'shopfloor labour internationalism', the Brazilian World Council of Churches activist, Marcos Arruda. When he urged on us a document entitled something like 'Putting Finance in its Place',8 I began to wonder whether I had not stumbled by mistake into an unannounced World Neo-Keynesian Forum. Like the ITUC, this declaration - for which our approval was sought - seemed to assume that there is an evil, if virtual, economy (finance, manned by vicious bankers) and a good 'real economy' (manned by virtuous industrialists, loving unions, embracing the women's movement and worshipping the colour green). 'I will not vote for the restoration of a capitalism which is destroying our world and which is itself broken', I said, to some mild and scattered applause. Bearing in mind that I was hereby endorsing the official anti-capitalism of the WSF, I had expected just a little more enthusiasm...

Lost in 'space' – other labour activities

Apart from such ambiguities as may have existed within the two labour projects I have here chosen to contrast, there were numerous others sponsored by unions and labour-focused NGOs, which took place alongside – even simultaneously with - those of the traditional inter/national union hegemons on the one hand and L&G on the other.

  • Thus the Global Network (another Brussels-based and social-reformist offspring of either the ITUC or Solidar (or both) mounted an event on 'The Impact of China on Decent Work in Africa and China'. I await some outcome that might suggest whether this was imbued with a sense of solidarity with those suffering Indecent Work(lessness) in China or yet another invocation of the late-19th century Yellow Peril.

  • An event on the privatisation of education was mounted by an acronym I am unfamiliar with, GEW, involving also the leftwing SUR in France and various other European left labour or socialist bodies. Why no one outside Europe?

  • The International Labour Organisation (Brazil Office) used the Decent Work label for a session on child labour and sex-traffic, and 'other forms of the precarisation of labour', together with two Brazilian ministries and various local union organisations. This may had been the sole presence at the WSF of an inter-state organisation, buttressed by a national one, even if many in the world think the ILO (75% dominated by states and employers) is part of the labour movement.

  • One such marginal event even featured the presence of the World Federation of Trade Unions which, as far as I am concerned, condemned itself to irrelevance by condoning the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, August 1968 (this was at a Council meeting, four months later). Clearly, however, the soullessness of the WFTU goes marching on, followed by the state-approved Cuban unions and a handful of others nostalgic for Cold War simplicities.

  • The Amsterdam-based Transnationals Information Exchange (TIE), which I remember from the glory days of 'shopfloor internationalism' 25 years ago, mounted an event on labour struggles against precarisation. I look forward to any outcome of this, too, but wonder why TIE is not associated with L&G.

  • India's New Trade Union Initiative is, of course, present within L&G but held a series of events, one of which was entitled 'The trade union and class politics in the era of imperialist globalisation'.

  • Two US networks held separate events, one on strategies to achieve migrant labour rights, one on social movements in the post-Bush era. The Karnataka Sex Workers Union held two or three events, with the support of a US-based labour law NGO (the International Commission for Labour Rights). Given my long-standing interest in 'the internationalism of labour's others' (Waterman 2007b), I regretted not being able to take up an invitation to attend.

  • Other events either overlapped with or might have challenged L&G. The COBAS, an Italian confederation of radical unions independent of the major ‘social partnership’ confederations, actually had an event entitled 'Contents and Shapes of an Anti-Capitalist Trade Unions International Network'!

So alongside my complaints of domination by the traditional union inter/nationals I am inclined to place one on fragmentation of labour concerns and the dispersion of labour activities! Both things can be simultaneously true – just as they are of contemporary capitalism. What this would seem to argue for is not a re-centralisation of WSF activities in the hands of its self-appointed International Council but of serious labour dialogue and coordination over one or two years before each WSF to see if we cannot agree a common programme – or a couple of such – whilst still permitting minorities to mount their own marginal events should they so wish. Such an effort would surely increase the impact of labour within the WSF and in the media.

Why the L&G network has not (yet) taken shape and taken off

My last contribution to discussion on the L&G List, just before Belem, was entitled 'Will an Alternative Global Labour Network Take Off - and Take Shape - at the World Social Forum, Belem, 2009?' (Waterman 2009). Well, despite a distinct growth and spread in unionists or other labour activists attending, I don't think it has done either of these things.

The main reason for this is that L&G sees its primary constituency and its fundamental point of reference to be the trade unions – left, right or centre, old or new, self-subordinated to the UN's ILO or independent of such, tied to national political parties or autonomous of such. I think L&G should be oriented to human labour in general, regardless of whether this is organised or organisable in the form typical of the national-industrial-colonial capitalist era (the trade union) or not. After all, we are talking of some 80 percent of the world's labour force! In India, as one sober union representative informed us, 90 percent are in the 'informal sector'. Such workers – migrants, sex-workers, slave workers, homeworkers, domestic workers and unpaid carers ('housewives') are increasingly organised inter/nationally in the network form. So are certain higher levels of the 'precariat', particularly in the increasingly-computerised and highly-globalised information technology and information services sectors.

A second limiting factor on the L&G network seems is its prioritising of dialogue over programme. This echoes the increasingly empty WSF exchange between those favouring 'space' and those favouring 'movement', 'organisation' or 'politics'. Given that there is no power-free space and that all organisation occupies a particular place or space, the real issue is: what kind of space and what kind of organisation? With what kind of worldview and values – explicit or implicit. With what kind of relationships both internally and externally. Fortunately, at the Belem WSF, one or two longstanding WSF friends and commentators, Walden Bello (2009) and Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2009), seem to be in accord that the WSF has – in the face of the global capitalist crisis (financial, industrial, ecological, climatic) – to have more explicit anti-capitalist orientations. Both think it needs to trade in its self-appointed leadership structure for something more representative and publicly responsive. Santos stresses the necessity for improving the WSF's notoriously problematic communication activities. I make these general points because the problems are reproduced in the L&G network.

A third limiting factor seems to me to follow from the prioritisation of the traditional trade unions: there is an evident lack of L&G interest in what I call the 'emancipatory' tendency within the international labour movement. I myself identify with this new tradition. But those connected with the 'solidarity economy', with precarious labour (its theorisation and experiences) are absent in large numbers from L&G. These may be discomfiting allies for union traditionalists, because they may be critical of trade unionism, but they are often on the cutting edge of innovation, and their absence is a self-crippling loss for L&G. For an example of the critical insight, consider the observations of L&G Session 1 by Chris Carlsson (Appendix 3).9 And, before dismissing them, consider that Chris was associated with the San Francisco-based magazine, Processed World, that discovered the precariat some 20 years before it got this name.

A fourth limitation on L&G is, for me, actually, the lack of any substantial statements from several of its leading figures about what their positions are or what they think about renewing the labour movement globally today. Whilst Pat Horn expresses herself both vocally and in print, and whilst the position of StreetNet can be found on its website, I really do not know what, for example, Marco Berlinguer and Alessandra Mecozzi, or a half-dozen other activists, actually think about the world of work and the global emancipation of labour. From Marco I mostly hear his reactions to what I do or say. This is, however, hardly the same thing as knowing positively what one's comrades believe or desire. This problem may be related to the previous one, of prioritising the creation of a space of dialogue over the development of a position or an identity. However, one of the requirements of the newest radical-democratic movements is also the frank and free exchange of sometimes conflicting visions. Or for that matter of often complementary ones!

Ambiguous past? Uncertain future?

Both Marxists and union professionals tend to simplification and certainty about both the past and future of the labour movement. The past is painted in terms of its heroic moments and its undoubted achievements, be these differently seen by the two parties mentioned. For the Marxists and other revolutionary socialists, the matter is one of the centrality of the working class for global social emancipation – seen as both (potentially) the most revolutionary and (potentially) the most internationalist. For the professionals of the labour organisations, whether unionists, party members or the increasing number of NGOs produced by these, trade unions 'are the largest and longest-lived democratic organisations in the world' (I paraphrase one of several old friends who identify with this belief).

Yet the Marxist tradition recognises the ambiguity of trade unionism, as simultaneously expressing/organising labour protest and/or integrating labour into capitalism. This is why Marxism has customarily depended on the Revolutionary Vanguard (ex-machina, and today, possibly ex-machista) to provide the working class with the consciousness it really, really, ought to have. Labour's professionals and activists are increasingly obliged to come to at least pragmatic terms with the transformations of capitalism, its globalisation, its informatisation, its shifting of precarisation from the periphery (of both the capitalist core and of labour-control strategy) to the centre. Whilst there has been considerable pragmatic adjustment by unions – taking increasing interest in women, in the 'informal sector', in the migrants and marginalised, even in climate change – this has been so far done without abandonment of at least the hope that 'good' capitalism (umm…Sweden 1975?) can be restored - but, now, on a regional or global scale! Since no evidence or argument is produced for this, it remains a utopia. But, then, this is a utopia of the past since it only ever applied to particular national, occupational or industrial sectors, often to ethnic/racial/gender categories amongst such. At a time when even these workers are threatened with unemployment, homelessness, the reduction or disappearance of health or welfare guarantees, this seems a limited foundation on which to base the notion that 'another world of labour is possible'.

I was fortunate enough to carry with me to Belem a couple of books that suggest additional or alternative bases for a labour movement of the future. And then to have the time, after the Forum, to read them whilst still in Brazil. Whilst one is an international compilation, focussed on women workers (Colgan and Ledwith 2002), and the other is on marginal/ised workers in the USA alone (Tait 2005), I consider them to belong to a new and growing tradition of what should be called 'emancipatory labour theory and practice'. The women authors/editors are all labour-linked, feminist, cognisant of the transformations of labour under globalisation and of the necessity to positively accept gender, ethnic and racial difference amongst workers. Both books throw doubt on 'the rise and rise of labour' or its 'inevitable resurgence', suggesting how 'success', 'progress', 'achievement', has been often won at the cost of exclusion of 'other' workers, or by self-subordination to 'social partnership', or 'industrial peace', or ‘national competitivity', or of some right to discriminate against those workers and organisations that are not likewise 'male, pale or stale'. Both books I think, recognise that capitalism is complex, multi-faceted, and that its power rests not only on class divisions but also on those of gender, community, ethnicity, nationality, etc.

The customary inconclusion

Here I just want to make two points that can be illustrated from labour activities in Belem, but that have an application to the WSF more generally.

Overcoming money/power inequalities between participants. If we turn again to a mere measurement of the difference in size between the L&G activities and those of the FES (Appendices 4-5 again), we see a difference of – let us say – 1:3. This is to ignore the extended layout of L&G in the appendix, the compressed one of the FES. It also to leave out of consideration the difference in facilities at the events, the amount of money spent on each, and the source of the funding (the German capitalist state in the case of FES, unknown (to me) in the case of L&G).

I can think of no argument based on the principles of the WSF, or those of global justice and solidarity more generally, that justifies such a disproportion. The principle here expressed is simply a capitalist/statist one: those who have more get more. Applied to this particular case, the principles of justice and solidarity would suggest redistribution to create equality. (I understand that at the 2009 meeting of the Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Encounter, in Mexico DF, all funding went to the organising committee, which was then able to re-distribute it to interested women’s movements and NGOs. The matter deserves further investigation). At the very least there could be a principle that participant organisations/movements declare how much money is behind their WSF attendance and presence (the principle of transparency).

This argument applies to the WSF more generally (which does publish financial reports, of which the most extensive is Lopez, van Koolwijk and Shah 2006). Yet, despite the WSF being full of (and surrounded by) political-economists, none has, to my knowledge, yet produced a critique of the political-economy of the WSF. In its simplest formulation, political-economy refers to the power-wealth complex within a particular society, place or space. We are surrounded – since Belem more than ever – with political, ideological and cultural reflection and critique of the WSF. It is clearly time to study the WSF in terms of money, power and - to move toward Marxist political-economy - class and hegemony within it. (Whereas I customarily complain about the political-economic determinism of the left, without considering this fundament of the WSF we are condemned to indeterminism). For that matter, we could do with an ecological impact study of the WSF. But perhaps I have said enough – for many of my comrades and friends, maybe too much! But if we do not ‘live the change we want to see’, we are self-condemned to reproduction of the social relations that, outside the WSF, we condemn.

The left is dead, long live emancipation! I have said this before elsewhere but find it necessary to repeat in the light of the Belem L&G and the WSF more generally. The origin of ‘left’ lies in the seating of the most democratic and egalitarian elements in the national assembly created by the French Revolution (also know as the Montagne because they sat top left). This ties the term to that particular revolution, and its outcome, a bourgeois liberal national industrial capitalist society. ‘Left’ is also a relative term (relative, obviously, to ‘centre’ and ‘right’). It is surely the term most deserving of the qualification, ‘a floating signifier’. Were the Communist states more ‘left’ than Social-Democratic ones. Are Trotskyists more ‘right’ than the Anarcho-Syndicalists? In contemporary times the concept has become more than somewhat problematic, even apparently amongst Marxist lexicographers (! In so far as we are not only 200 years from the French Revolution but, more significantly, living under a globalised, informatised, capitalist (dis)order, and insofar as we wish to distinguish ourselves from what has passed for ‘left’, then, surely, ‘another concept is necessary’. I propose ‘emancipation’/‘emancipatory’ as the appropriate term for the radical-democratic transformation of contemporary capitalism. It has, of course, a history, relating to slaves, women, serfs, peasants, the working class (the first Russian Marxist group was called the ‘Emancipation of Labour’) and other oppressed groups.

‘Emancipation’ and ‘emancipatory’ can and will be as much disputed as ‘left’, but at least they provoke a serious contemporary discussion that might surpass the arid and partisan claims amongst those still attached to the state, the party, the state-defined nation, the trade-union form traditional to the Eurocentric national industrial capitalist era. I have suggested above that the contemporary trade union left – national and international - is a prisoner of such traditional trade union forms (and ignores the pre-history of this particular form as well as the ‘virtual trade union of the future’ (Hyman 1999). As for a preliminary understanding of ‘emancipatory’ under contemporary globalised conditions, one could start with this:

Social emancipation must…be understood as a form of counter-hegemonic globalization relying on local-global linkages and alliances among social groups around the world which go on resisting social exclusion, exploitation and oppression caused by hegemonic neoliberal globalization. Such struggles result in the development of alternatives to the exclusionary and monolithic logic of global capitalism, that is to say, spaces of democratic participation, non-capitalistic production of goods and services, creation of emancipatory knowledges, post-colonial cultural exchanges, new international solidarities. (

This introduction to an extensive research project of Boaventura de Sousa Santos, today needs possible qualification, in terms of struggles beyond capitalism (as well as old and new fundamentalisms and pre-capitalist oppressions/exploitations), or the self-determined struggle of all such categories against alienation (the loss of past rights or powers, the denial of future possible alternatives), and the expansion of a radically-democratic civil society.

Such an understanding may seem to be embodied in the WSF (and the L&G network), but whilst I would grant it in the creation and early years of the WSF, it seems to me that no emancipatory project is guaranteed eternal life, that every such project is subject to what in the labour movement has traditionally been called incorporation. In other words, every would-be emancipatory project has to be subject to self-criticism and re-invention and that such repeated critique and re-invention must be part of the meaning of emancipation.

[Peter Waterman (London 1936) has spent a lifetime in international labour, socialist and other social movements. He was a labour educator for the (Communist) World Federation of Trade Unions in Prague (1966-9). He taught and researched Third World and international labour and social movements at the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague (1972-98). He edited the Newsletter of International Labour Studies (1980-90). He initiated the international dialogue on 'social movement unionism' in the later-1980s. His latest book is The New Nervous System of Internationalism and Solidarity, published in Lima (in Spanish), 2006. His first online book is Recovering Internationalism: Creating the New Global Solidarity (Waterman 2007). He is the co-editor, with Jai Sen (New Delhi) of a continuing series of compilations on the World Social Forum.]


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Rebick, Judy. 2009. Transforming Power: From The Personal To The Political. Canada: Penguin.

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Tait, Vanessa. 2005. Poor Workers' Unions: Rebuilding Labour from Below. Cambridge, Mass: South End Press.

Toussaint, Eric. 2009. 'A New Start with the 2009 WSF: An interview by Pauline Imbach', International Viewpoints, March,

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Appendix 1

We won’t pay for the crisis. The rich have to pay for it!
Anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, feminist, environmentalist
and socialist alternatives are necessary

We the social movements from all over the world came together on the occasion of the 8th World Social Forum in Belém, Amazonia, where the peoples have been resisting attempts to usurp Nature, their lands and their cultures. We are here in Latin America, where over the last decade the social movements and the indigenous movements have joined forces and radically question the capitalist system from their cosmovision. Over the last few years, in Latin America highly radical social struggles have resulted in the overthrow of neoliberal governments and the empowerment of governments that have carried out many positive reforms such as the nationalisation of core sectors of the economy and democratic constitutional reforms.

In this context the social movements in Latin America have responded appropriately, deciding to support the positive measures adopted by these governments while keeping a critical distance. These experiences will be of help in order to strengthen the peoples’ staunch resistance against the policies of governments, corporations and banks who shift the burden of the crisis onto the oppressed. We the social movements of the globe are currently facing a historic challenge. The international capitalist crisis manifests itself as detrimental to humankind in various ways: it affects food, finance, the economy, climate, energy, population migration… and civilisation itself, as there is also a crisis in international order and political structures.

We are facing a global crisis which is a direct consequence of the capitalist system and therefore cannot find a solution within the system. All the measures that have been taken so far to overcome the crisis merely aim at socialising losses so as to ensure the survival of a system based on privatising strategic economic sectors, public services, natural and energy resources and on the commoditisation of life and the exploitation of labour and of nature as well as on the transfer of resources from the Periphery to the Centre and from workers to the capitalist class.

The present system is based on exploitation, competition, promotion of individual private interests to the detriment of the collective interest, and the frenzied accumulation of wealth by a handful of rich people. It results in bloody wars, fuels xenophobia, racism and religious fundamentalisms; it intensifies the exploitation of women and the criminalisation of social movements. In the context of the present crisis the rights of peoples are systematically denied. The Israeli government’s savage aggression against the Palestinian people is a violation of International Law and amounts to a war crime, a crime against humanity, and a symbol of the denial of a people’s rights that can be observed in other parts of the world. The shameful impunity must be stopped. The social movements reassert their active support of the struggle of the Palestinian people as well as of all actions against oppression by peoples worldwide.

In order to overcome the crisis we have to grapple with the root of the problem and progress as fast as possible towards the construction of a radical alternative that would do away with the capitalist system and patriarchal domination. We must work towards a society that meets social needs and respects nature’s rights as well as supporting democratic participation in a context of full political freedom. We must see to it that all international treaties on our indivisible civic, political, economic, social and cultural rights, both individual and collective, are implemented. 

In this perspective we must contribute to the largest possible popular mobilisation to enforce a number of urgent measures such as:

  •  Nationalising the banking sector without compensations and with full social monitoring,
  • Reducing working time without any wage cut,
  • Taking measures to ensure food and energy sovereignty
  • Stopping wars, withdraw occupation troops and dismantle military foreign bases
  • Acknowledging the peoples’ sovereignty and autonomy ensuring their right to self-determination
  • Guaranteeing rights to land, territory, work, education and health for all.
  • Democratise access to means of communication and knowledge.

The social emancipation process carried by the feminist, environmentalist and socialist movements in the 21st century aims at liberating society from capitalist domination of the means of production, communication and services, achieved  by supporting forms of ownership that favour the social interest: small family freehold, public, cooperative, communal and collective property.

Such an alternative will necessarily be feminist since it is impossible to build a society based on social justice and equality of rights when half of humankind is oppressed and exploited.

Lastly, we commit ourselves to enriching the construction of a society based on a life lived in harmony with oneself, others and the world around (“el buen vivir”) by acknowledging the active participation and contribution of the native peoples.

We, the social movements, are faced with a historic opportunity to develop emancipatory initiatives on a global scale. Only through the social struggle of the masses can populations overcome the crisis. In order to promote this struggle, it is essential to work on consciousness-raising and mobilisation from the grassroots. The challenge for the social movements is to achieve a convergence of global mobilisation. It is also to strengthen our ability to act by supporting the convergence of all movements striving to withstand oppression and exploitation.

We thus commit ourselves to:

  • Launch a Global Week of Action against Capitalism and War from March 28 to April 4, 2009 with: anti-G20 mobilisation on March 28, mobilisation against war and crisis on March 30, a Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People to promote boycott, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel on March 30, mobilisation for the 60th Anniversary of NATO on April 4, etc.
  • Increase occasions for mobilisation through the year: March 8, International Women Day; April 17, International Day for Food Sovereignty; May 1, International Workers’ Day; October 12, Global Mobilisation of Struggle for Mother Earth, against colonisation and commodification of life.
  • Schedule an agenda of acts of resistance against the G8 Summit in Sardinia, the Climate Summit in Copenhagen, the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, etc.

Through such demands and initiatives we thus respond to the crisis with radical and emancipatory solutions.

infos article

Appendix 2: Developing the Labor and Globalization Network
Statement from Belem, Brazil
World Social Forum, 2009


"Neoliberal globalization is the most vicious attack against labor in living memory": so began the appeal we issued in Nairobi, at the first assembly of the Labor and Globalization Network.  The current crisis will only underline that appeal.

Labor is weak and has been in retreat almost everywhere for more than 20 years. The once powerful labor organizations and institutions that were created in the 20th century face challenges as never before. The current global economic crisis means that labor movements that have so far managed to escape the worst ravages of neoliberalism will be swept up in the current downward spiral engulfing global economy. It is no secret that there is not clear way out.

Fragmentation and precarity are increasingly the condition of labor throughout the world. And worker movements have not yet figured out how to cross borders and create a new global perspective and new global strategies.  Old notions of organization have already been exploded as women and anti-colonial, anti-racist and anti-discrimination organizations and movements have demanded that their voices be heard and their interests addressed. This has increased the diversity inside the world's labor movements. Margins have become centers (and vice versa); new forms of labor have emerged in the information economy; and the informal sector has grown rapidly even in the rich and OECD countries of the West and Asia.  

Globalization links and recombines literally thousands of forms of labor, both new and old. But, while they are linked de facto in the global economy, they scarcely meet or even communicate each the other.  

In these conditions, is there a common language and discourse that global labor can speak? Is there another politics of labor? And what can a labor strategy be, in a world, where the planet is threatened by environmental crises; where an enormous part of the population is in extreme poverty; and where corporate led globalization is driving us to a global disaster?

Against this backdrop, the Labor and Globalization Network initiative emerged from the Nairobi World Social Forum in 2007. At the Belem World Social Forum in 2009 the initiative was refined and developed. The guiding idea is to create an inclusive space for worker organizations and their allies from around the world to confront critical issues of common concern. The L&G Network is specifically committed to reach out to organizations and individuals representing all of the many forms of labor in the world in both the formal and informal economy.

The Labor and Globalization Network was also created with the aim of strengthening the voice of labor inside the World Social Forum process. As well as it is our goal to reinforce the use by labor of the WSF and other forms of organization that have emerged in the global movement and to contribute to the debate about the development of the WSF itself and of the global movement from a labor perspective.


Prior to the Belem WSF, a working group of the Labor and Globalization Network was formed to shape a discussion on ways to provide more structure to the network to make it more useful for network participants. The working group proposed six basic functions to those assembled at Belem and these were accepted by consensus:

  • To maintain a flow of useful information on common issues to network participants.

  • To help create and shape a global discourse on critical issues of mutual concern.

  • To link and reinforce the cooperation between worker organizations and their allies across the divides of geography, language, structure, program, and constituency.

  • To renew and enlarge the political conception of labor, including not only productive but also reproductive work; not only formal, but also informal work; not only dependent but also autonomous work.

  • To demand that labor rights be respected everywhere and that violations be exposed and addressed through global solidarity by labor and its allies.

  • To confront the question of the meaning of production: what to produce, how, for whom.


The following principles were also agreed to:

  • The L&G Network is an instrument and not an organic actor;

  • The L&G Network will actively reach out to organizations and individuals representing all forms of labor, throughout the world;

  • The L&G Network will forge links with other social movements fighting for economic justice and for an alternative model of development;

  • The L&G Network will serve as a nexus for the communication and exchange of information and cooperation directly among members;

  • The L&G Network will become an open and plural space where different analysis and opinions are treated equally and respectfully.

Next Steps

The following steps were taken by the members of the Labor and Globalization Network present in Belem.

  • A temporary facilitation group was formed [members are listed below] at Belem to move the work of the Network forward. Two representatives will represent each area, but the group is open to others that would like to participate. The facilitation group will create a more distributed responsibility and will seek ways to maintain a dynamism in the network between the Forums, to increase internal communication, debate and initiative, access resources, organize conferences, stimulate face to face contact, and develop new ideas. It will report regularly to the Network.

  • The creation of a committee was proposed to recommend ways to create an interactive user friendly communication infrastructure utilizing available technologies. Membership is open to those who would like to join.

  • The L&G Network will address—but will not be limited to—the following immediate themes:

  • The current economic crisis, the climate crisis, their convergence, and ways to share strategies and tactics to confront these crises which are of immediate concern to worker movements everywhere. Particular benchmarks for addressing these crises are the upcoming G-20 economic talks in London in March, and the global climate talks taking place in Copenhagen in December, 2009.

  • The L&G Network is committed to developing ways to build global labor solidarity through frank discussion of mutual interests, particularly between labor movements in the North and labor movements in the emerging economies of the world. The L&G Network is also particularly committed to building solidarity with workers and their organizations in all forms of work in the formal and informal economy.

The temporary facilitation group is formed by: Gautam Mody (NTUI – India) and Lee Changgeun (KCTU – Korea); Africa: Pat Horn (StreetNet – South Africa)*; Kjeld Jakobsen (CUT/Observatorio Social – Brazil)*; Marco Berlinguer (Lavoro in movimento – CGIL / Transform – Italy)*; Tim Costello (Global Labor Strategies – USA) and Carlos Jimenez/Sarita Gupta (Jobs with Justice – USA). Bruno Ciccaglione (SDL Intercategoriale – Italy) and Alessandra Mecozzi (FIOM-CGIL – Italy) are going to facilitate the connection between L&G and the cross-networks spaces on crisis created at Belèm and in Europe.

* N.B. Pat Horn and Kjeld Jakobsen can propose a second facilitator for Africa and Latin America; for Europe, the participation is going to be better defined at the next meeting of the network L&G in Europe.

Appendix 3: 'Trade Unionism: Long Past the Peak'(Carlsson 2009)

The panel on the proposed Global Labour Charter here at the World Social Forum on January 29 demonstrated in stark terms the historic dead-end of trade unionism. The Charter was cautiously embraced by some, dismissed by others, but in any case, has yet to be written by a broad effort (Peter Waterman, who invited me to participate via the New Delhi group CACIM, has a draft with some things you’d expect, like a 6-hour day, 48-week year, Global Labour Rights including right to strike and engage in solidarity actions, a Global Basic Income Grant, a campaign for the defense and extension of Commons and common ownership, and what I liked best, a Global Campaign for Useful Work to deal with useful production, socially-responsible consumption, and environmental sustainability—I’d probably write this a lot more assertively, but at least he had it in there; there were another half dozen points included too.)

To be sure, the participants were radical and well-intentioned, but their ideological commitment to their function (negotiators for “labor power” under/within capitalism) blinds them to an epochal opportunity to seize the initiative. If there was ever a time to break with logic of capital, to go on the offensive and to begin a global process of reinventing life itself, this is it! Especially what work we do: workers movements should be leading a redesign of our lives on relocalized and ecological principles of cooperation, generalized abundance, and enjoyable work.

Instead, nearly every speaker yesterday (most of whom were union officials, a preponderant number from metal worker unions for some reason) spoke in clichés about the need to connect as trade unionists with social movements, to organize migrant labor, to bring ignored groups of workers like sex workers into unions, and so on. The South African speaker, the head of the S.A. Communist Party (I think), spoke with a note of bitterness about the lack of solidarity from northern country unions towards southern country unions, especially with regard to neoliberal “free trade” negotiations (e.g. WTO; he noted that many northern trade delegations do not include trade unionists, which the South Africans consider a basic necessity for a coherent negotiation). (He was backed up at length by one of his comrades in the back of the room, who continued the critique of northern unions’ lack of solidarity.) In light of the unfolding global Depression it seemed strangely “yesterday’s news” and in any case, extremely narrow. As global climate change and ecological collapse quicken their pace, quibbling over sectoral and regional biases of various unions seems to miss the point entirely.

There were also speakers from Nepal, Colombia (head of Nat’l. Organization of Indigenous), Belgium, India, South Korea, Norway, Nigeria, and Italy, with about 40+ in attendance from England, Japan, France, Brazil, and some others I didn’t get. So quite a broad representation, which itself was interesting, but the tone of the discussion was terribly disappointing. I admit I chimed in to say that the work we are all doing, globally, is making the mess, and that if we don’t get out front on the reinvention of work, and continue to abdicate to Capital, we can only lose. Some cheered me, I think mostly Italians (hah!) but the conversation didn’t really change direction as I (perhaps arrogantly) thought it might… alas. (I probably wasn’t as compelling as I wanted to be.)

The Int’l Metalworkers Union South Asia representative was one of the more thoughtful contributors, noting that the geography of production has changed, serving to decentralize and informalize work places across the world. He contrasted the growing irrelevance of unions (he didn’t actually characterize them as irrelevant, but his comments indicated an awareness of their diminishing role) with “new” marginal sectors that have used the internet and new communications technologies AND skills to make themselves heard. As he noted, all of society is having the ground disappear beneath their feet, and all existing institutions, to remain relevant, will have to forge new alliances, especially with less formal groups. He also intelligently noted that the old male-dominated trade unionism has not come to grips with the fact that globalization has feminized workplaces everywhere, and that women migrant workers are probably the largest category of unorganized workers.

Later, from the audience, another guy from India who Peter Waterman told me represented a Left Union organization that had emerged in recent years, gave a lengthy speech dismissing any notion that trade unions were anything less than crucial institutions as powerful and relevant today as ever, maybe more so. He insisted that everything involving resistance and struggle against capitalism in India for the last 100 years depended first and foremost on trade unions! I was a bit flabbergasted that anyone could make such a claim, since there are countless examples in history of unions being impediments to social struggles, and their ongoing role in disciplining workers to the needs of capital is hardly invisible.

The leader of the Hyundai branch of the South Korean metalworkers union repudiated the tone of nationalism that permeated a lot of comments, but had been holding back the discussion even among these folks going back to 2005. He lamented the slow progress they’d made on efforts to unify their efforts, noting that Capitalism was moving at a much faster speed.

Indeed, the ponderous conversation that went on in the sweltering heat of a classroom in the Prédio Central on the UFRA campus (outside in a nearby tent some kind of New Age/religious ceremony was going on, occasionally emitting loud chanting over which we struggled to be heard), confirmed a sense of missed opportunity. A big broom and a “dustbin of history” seemed to be closing in on the gathering as it concluded… I don’t doubt that many of these individuals will make important contributions to real social struggles in the future, but the framework of their discussion, and their apparently years-long effort to advance the conversation, demonstrated a deeper impotence than anyone there would care to admit. For myself, the urgency of merging conversations about work (labor) and ecology grows stronger, while my patience for blathering bureaucrats and tired old formulas is more or less exhausted.

Appendix 4: Dialogue on Globalization

January 27th – February 1st, 2009

8th World Social Forum in Belém

The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung at the 8th World Social Forum in Belém January 27th – February 1st, 2009

Globalization has to be shaped in social and democratic ways.” It is in this spirit that the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) will be participatingin the 8th World Social Forum in Belém, Brazil 2009 and is organizing and supporting a set of seminars and workshops in cooperation with various partner organizations. FES activities in Belém provide a platform for dialogue between representatives from trade unions, NGOs, and other organizations and members of civil society taking part in the WSF in order to transform the world into a more peaceful, socially just and democratic place.

Overview of activities

Seminar (English/Portuguese/German)

29 January 2009 UFRA – Prédio Central – Block B, Room B 003 – Time: 8.30 –11.30 h

Trade Union Networks in Multinational Companies

Multinational companies are considered as powerful actors in the globalization process. The global strategies have substantial effects on existing labour relations. In recent years company-referred trade union networks became an important instrument of global trade union strategies. Based on concrete examples the seminar aims at exchanging experiences with trade union networks in different economic sectors, identifying progress and problems and discussing strategies for the further strengthening of international trade unions cooperation. José Drummond, CUT, Fábio Lins, CNQ/CUT; Michael Wolters, IG BCE; Maria Ferreira, CNM/CUT; Jungsun Phee, ICEM; Lothar Wentzel, IG METALL. Partners: CUT, CNM, CNQ, Observatório Social, IG Metall,  IGBCE, DGB Educational Institute

Seminar (Portuguese)

29 January 2009, UFPA Profi ssional – Kp Pavilion – Room Kp 08 – Time: 8.30–11.30 h

Core labour standards and trade union strategies in Pará

The seminar focuses on labour conditions and social relations in six companies in the Federal State of Pará: Belem Rio (transport); Schincariol (beverages), Mico’s (food), Oyamota, Cosipar und Usina Vale (Steel/Metal). Based on a study on core labour and environmental standards, started in 2008, the seminar gives an overview of the the situation in the companies discusses trade union strategies to approach the problems. Partners: Observatório Social, Solidarity Center, DIEESE

Seminar (English/Portuguese)

29 January 2009, UFPA – Tenda do Mundo do Trabalho – Time: 9.00 h–12.00 h

Energy, sovereignty and decent work – perspectives for sustainable development

The focus of the seminar lies on topics which will be taken up in the coming months by the campaign for a new social and sustainable development model in Brazil, e.g. energy sovereignty, energy integration in Latin America and the decent work agenda.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Sociologist, Portugal;Ildo Sauer, IEE-USP; Renato Maluf, CONSEA; Márcio Pochmann, IPEA; Laís Abramo, ILO Brasil. Partners: CUT, ISP, CNQ, CNM, FNU, FUP

Seminar (English/Portuguese/German)

29 January 2009, UFRA – Prédio Central – Block B, Room B 003 – Time: 12.00–15.00 h

International Framework Agreements – a tool for regulating Multinational Companies?

Since the mid-1990s, the global trade union movement has been developing a new tool to strengthen labour rights within Multinational Companies – the International Framework Agreements (IFAs). In difference to unilateral “Codes of Conduct” and other voluntary corporate social responsibility initiatives, IFAs are negotiated and signed by two sides: the respective Multinational Company and a Global Union Federation. All existing IFAs (there are more than 60) make reference to the Core Labour Standards of the ILO and establish mechanisms to address grievances and to organize the monitoring of the agreement. Therefore, IFAs have the potential to improve working conditions and can be used by trade unions as an organizing tool. Jorge Almeida, IMF; Kemal Ozkan, ICEM; Michael Wolters, IGBCE. Partners: (BWI); International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers‘ Unions (ICEM); International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF)

Seminar (English/Portuguese)

29 January 2009, UFRA – Prédio Central – Block B, Room B 003 – Time: 15.30–18.30 h

The Decent Work agenda: new options for action for trade unions

A decade ago, the ILO started to develop the Decent Work Agenda asking the member states to concentrate on four strategic objectives: rights at work; employment; social protection; and social dialogue. The global trade union movement has adopted the concept of Decent Work as a tool to promote policies, which improve the working conditions of its members. But as Guy Ryder, General Secretary of ITUC, said: “If decent work is to make the transition from a broad aim that most will agree on to an objective that guides policy making and that can actually be achieved, every national trade union, every national progressive party, every parliament and every government must put it on their agenda and make it a priority.” Lais Abramo, ILO Brazil; Claire Courteille, ITUC; João Antônio Felício, CUT; Bheki Ntshalinthsali, Congress of South African Trade Unions COSATU; Bismo Sanyoto, World Solidarity Movement WSM. Partners: International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC); Central Ùnica dos Trabalhadores (CUT); Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)

Seminar + Panel Discussion (Portuguese)

30 January 2009, UFRA – Prédio Central – Block B, Room B 003 – Time: 8.30–11.30 h

Democratize democracy! Women in the Political Reform Process

The seminar aims at bringing together different organizations and social movements who support women as political players and the necessity of a political reform to enhance the democratic processes in Brazil. It continues a political process, started by the partner organizations in 2007. In this context, the principal questions are how to democratize the structures of representation, how to deepen civic participation, control the three powers and establish a critical approach of the media. The current system excludes the majority of the Brazilians of its process, with women being even much more directly affected. Partners: Articulação de Mulheres Brasileiras, Fundação Perseu Abramo, Secretaria Nacional de Mulheres da CONTAG, Secretaria Nacional de Mulheres do PT, Secretaria Nacional sobre a Mulher Trabalhadora-CUT

Seminar + Panel Discussion (Spanish)

30 January 2009, UFRA – Pavilion Ciências Florestais – Room CF 003 – Time: 8.30–11.30 h

Regional Integration in Latin America: Perspectives, Strategies and Agendas

In the context of the current fi nancial and economic crisis regional integration is considered more than ever as a progressive alternative to neo-liberal globalization. Yet, to which extent do the existent integration projects in Latin America (UNASUR, ALBA, MERCOSUR, CAN, SICA etc.) contribute to an integration that goes beyond a mere customs union; that is an integration in economic, political, social and cultural terms? Do they represent an appropriate mechanism to enhance the in fluence of the South in global policy-making? These questions will be subject of the panel discussion of Latin American trade unionists and decision makers. Fernando Lugo,  President of the Republic of Paraguay, tbc; Victor Báez, TUCA; Hugo Yasky, CTA Argentina; Juan José Gorriti, CCSA; Alejandro Zavala, Mercocuidades. Partners: Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA) Panel Discussion (English/Portuguese)

30 January 2009, UFRA – Prédio Central – Block B, Room B 003 – Time: 12.00–15.00 h

Bretton Woods II? How to reshape the International Financial System?

What started as a US-based credit crunch has rapidly turned into the most far-reaching international financial crisis since 1929. While emergency packages of national governments and unconditional financial rescue support provided by the IMF might be able to mitigate the immediate impact of the crises, the apparent necessity of more sustainable solutions led to intensified debate about the regulation of global fi nancial activities. Thus, the collapse of the so called shareholder or fi nancial capitalism opens up a historic window of opportunity to revise the architecture of the global fi nancial system and introduce more effective regulatory measures.

Molly McCoy, ITUC, Washington; Adhemar Mineiro, DIEESE, Brazil; Oscar Ugarteche, Institute for Economic Research, UNAM, Mexico; N.N., New School, New York, tbc

Seminar + Panel Discussion (English/Portuguese)

30 January 2009, UFRA – Prédio Central – Block B, Room B 003 – Time: 15.30–18.30 h

Social Watch Report 2008: Rights are the Answer! Civil Society Responses to the World Financial Crisis

Political declarations or action plans hardly prove whether governments and parliaments really respect, protect and fulfi l human rights. What has to be examined is their substantive actions. With our workshop, we would like to highlight how governments promote or violate human rights through their economic, fi nance and fi scal policies and to share experiences with partner organizations from Asia, Africa and Latin America based on the Social Watch Report 2008 which will be pre sented at the workshop. Roberto Bissio, Social Watch Uruguay; Kinda Mohamadieh, Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND); Klaus Schilder, terre des hommes/ Social Watch Germany; Edward Oyugi, SODNET, Kenia; Jason Nardi, Social Watch, Italy. Parceiros: Social Watch, Global Policy Forum, terre des hommes

Seminar + Panel Discussion (English/Portuguese)

31 January 2009, UFRA – Prédio Central – Block B, Room B 003 – Time: 8.30–11.30 h

After the Doha Conference: How to move the Financing for Development Agenda forward?

Civil Society Perspectives and Strategies

The UN Follow-up Conference on Financing for Development was held in Doha, Qatar, from 29 November to 2 December 2008. Its agenda entailed a broad range of topics, including the mobilisation of domestic resources, offi cial development assistance, private investment, trade and public debt, as well as the coherence and consistency of the international fi nance and trade systems. In our international seminar, we will analyse the fi nal outcome document and discuss implications for civil society strategies. Roberto Bissio, Social Watch Uruguay; John Christensen, Tax Justice Network; Gigi Francisco, Development Alternatives with Womenfor a New era DAWN, Philippines; Jens Martens, Global Policy Forum, Germany; Viriato Tamele, Economic Justice  coalition, Mozambique. Partners: Social Watch, Global Policy Forum, terre des homes

Seminar + Panel Discussion (English/Portuguese)

31 January 2009, UFRA – Prédio Central – Block B, Room B 003 – Time: 12.00–15.00 h

It’s Sink or Adapt: Financing for Climate Change Adaptation

Even if effi cient steps to reduce emissions would be taken today, a minimum rise in average global temperatures of 2°C seemsinevitable, leading to effects such as rising sea levels, an increase of natural disasters, desertifi cation, and, as a likely consequence, increased confl ict over scarce natural resources, food and water in many parts of the world. Most developing countries lack financial means and livelihood alternatives to effectively adapt to these changes. The workshop discusses new policy options and innovative financing mechanisms to raise money for adaptation. Kjeld Jakobsen, Brazil Chapter of the Helsinki Process, Brazil; Lesley Masters, IGD South Africa; Djimingué Nanasta, Environment Development Action ENDA, Senegal; Dr. Sascha Raabe, MoP, SPD Parliamentary Group, Germany.












Title as it appears on the program


Inscribed by






Prédio Central - Bloco B

B 001

Labor: New Struggles, New Alliances. Towards a Charter of Labor?

crisis global; crisis de la globalizacion

Labor and Globalization Network






UFPA Profissional


Fp 08

Labor in the Global Crisis: Threats, Challenges, Strategies

Effects of the financial crisis on the jobs and work conditions

Labor and Globalization Network

Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro





UFPA Basico


E 1

Assembly of the Labor and Globalization Network

Meeting of the labour and globalization network

Labor and Globalization Network

Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro

Labor and Globalization Network is also co-promoter of the:

  • CROSS-NETWORKS MEETING ON CRISIS (date and place yet to be confirmed)

  • FINAL ASSEMBLY ON LABOR (to be held on the 1st of January morning, place yet to be confirmed)


1  My compañera, Gina Vargas, who is on the WSF International Council (IC), assured me in Belem that it was a long- standing formulation which I had not seen because I don't read official WSF documents seriously. ‘A touch, a touch, I do confess!’. But the WSF has been rather better known for its opposition to neo-liberalism than to capitalism. And ‘domination by capital’ is open to a Keynesian corollary in which this domination can be offset by the state, or another in which it can be countervailed by an increased role (not qualified) of civil society (customarily undefined). Both such tendencies, separately or combined, could be found in the presentations of Susan George and Walden Bello (both fellows of the Transnational Institute, Amsterdam), when I returned to the Netherlands, March 2009 (

2 In case anyone should take my nostalgia too literally, I should make clear that this is said tongue in cheek. This distinguishes my attitude to the Communist-controlled Festivals (in four of which I took part) from that of my friend Tord Bjork (2009), who disparages Belem, comparing attendance there to that of the state-controlled Youth Festivals. Tord also seems to think that these Communist-front events contributed significantly to anti-imperialist struggles. Maybe to the flow of Soviet-inspired anti-imperialist rhetoric, but it has long seemed to me that the World Youth and Student Festivals combined naivety with machiavelianism, the repeated cries of 'Peace and Friendship' – from 1949 till today - applying only to those endorsing or tolerating the Soviet worldview and accepting Communist control of the events. For evidence I refer to a video I picked up in...Belem (and lost in Lima)!. This predictable, repetitive, propaganda exercise is done, appropriately, in 1950s Cold War style. It airbrushes out nearly all the Communist leaders who played such a role – on banners or in person – at the Festivals. I caught the word 'Communist' just once on this pedestrian video.

3 Lula, along with other ‘left’ presidents in Latin America, was present at the Forum, whilst not formally invited by the WSF. Such presidential appearances have become customary at the Latin American Forums, just as customarily taking place outside the programme and outside at least the main forum sites. The rights and wrongs of such presidential presences has been much disputed over the years. I do not think the Forum should be in the business of giving a platform to Presidents, states or regimes. Any more than it should to – say – ‘socially-responsible’ national corporations or multinationals. I find it a weakness of the WSF that these statesmen have a place at (if not in) the WSF whilst the EZLN (Zapatistas) of Mexico has never had such – presumably because of their brief initial resort to arms.

4 'In conclusion', said Evers of the relationship between the FES and its Latin-American partners, 'it is a game of “who uses whom”, which both sides are consciously playing. Perhaps the basic rule of the game can be summed up as follows: Give me opportunities to think I am using you and I will give you opportunities to think that you are using me'. The FES and its partners may have changed over the years, but recognition of 'instrumental internationalism' is still required in relation to such highly unequal 'partnerships' internationally.

5 Here the Drummond (2008) paper is revealing in so far as it reproduces a 19-20th century European social-democratic notion that the expansion of union organisation and of increased bargaining possibilities will make it hypothetically possible for multinational workers (the most advanced sector of the class, he argues) to pass from class compromise to revolution. It seems somewhat counter-intuitive and counter-factual (in the historical sense). No evidence is provided for this hypothesis, nor does Drummond really make use of the network theory of Manuel Castells, to whom he does refer. Castells argument would rather suggest a generalisation of radical-democratic networking amongst workers in all sectors of employment and then beyond the unions, and even wage-earners more generally.

6 Costello and Smith (2009) consider this document to consist in part of ‘the usual anti-capitalist boilerplate’. Actually, amongst declarations from the WSF, this one is quite unusual. Particularly in its definition of an alternative in terms of a synthesis of the listed ideologies and movements.

7 I am in some confusion about any finality here. The final action of L&G appears to have actually been the document referred to above and reproduced in Appendix 2. A detailed descriptive and chronological account of the L&G events would be welcome.

8 This same document, or possibly a revised version, was later published, with an impressive list of institutional and individual signatures, Reading it now, I think I would qualify it as Left Neo-Keynesian. It does seem to me that it is insufficient, right now, to talk of ‘a new paradigm’, including ‘decent work’, rather than a post-capitalist order. But as a German friend emailed me just before Belem, ‘The Right is reading Marx; the Left is preaching Keynes’.

9 The note appended clearly invites correction, a more detailed account, and a response from those criticised. Apart from my doubt that the South African referred to was more than, possibly, a member of the SACP, I would like to say two things about the 'guy from India': firstly this was Gautam Mody, a leader of the New Trade Union Initiative; secondly, Gautam hit a quite different note in a feminist-organised Cross-Movement Dialogue at the Forum, in which he explained, in sometimes self-critical detail, the efforts the NTUI had been making, even in the face of male union leader resistance, to organise or ally with young women wage-workers and with sex-workers.

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