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From Unity to Emancipation?

erstellt von Peter Waterman zuletzt verändert: 29.10.2008 14:24
Labour at the World Forum of Alternatives Conference, Caracas, October 13-18, 2008


Peter Waterman1



As a researcher/activist on labour and internationalism, I have been both engaging with and writing on the increasing articulation of labour with/in the global justice and solidarity movement. Autumn 2008 there were at least three international events dealing with this relationship. One was the European Social Forum in Malmo, Sweden, the second was an international union conference, Union Alliances with Social Movements: What's in It for Us?, in Oslo, Norway (Appendix A). The third was an international conference co-sponsored by the World Forum of Alternatives (WFA) with the Venezuelan state-supported International Encounter of Intellectuals and Artists in Defence of Humanity (Defence of Humanity), Transitions Toward Socialism: Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Aspects, Caracas, Venezuela. I attended the first (Waterman 2008a) and had to choose between the second two, deciding for Caracas.

On the face of it, this was a paradoxical option since I have been publicly critical of the WFA and its leading figure, Samir Amin (Sen and Kumar 2007, Waterman 2008b), as well as of state-promoted socialisms (insurrectionary or incrementalist, North and South, East and West). Having once burned my fingers on Stalin, I am not enchanted by personalistic leaders, however revolutionary, anti-imperialist, intellectually brilliant or outrageous they might happen to be. So why did I prefer the conference of intellectuals organised by Samir Amin and François Houtart, and hosted by President Hugo Chávez?

After all, the occurrence of the rather more Social-Democratic Oslo event was gratifying for someone who, for two decades, has been arguing for the inter/national unions to be closely articulated with the new global solidarity movements. And the initiator of the small Oslo event, the Norwegian unionist and social activist, Asbjørn Wahl, might have been pissed at my favouring the large Caracas one – where my absence would have made a very small hole in the water.

I was certainly intrigued by the interest Samir Amin had privately expressed in my Global Labour Charter (Waterman 2008c). It is, moreover, true that despite my general criticism of both the content and form of the WFA's various charters or appeals, I did and do still think that the brief labour chapter in the WFA's Bamako Appeal, drafted by the Swedish Ingemar Lindberg, is the most innovative one available (Appendix B). And I had been invited by the organisers to act as discussant within the Labour workshop. Only lastly did I consider it intriguing to explore what basis a 19th and 20th century socialism (supplemented by the 21st century socialist project of Hugo Chávez) might provide for launching an autonomous 21st century labour movement and internationalism, free of past inadequacies, not to speak of misdemeanours and crimes (Social Democratic and National-Populist as well as Communist).

With minimal pomp and circumstance we 130 or so intellectuals (mostly Southern) gathered at what was once the five-star Hilton Hotel in the middle of Caracas (it might have dropped a star or two but it was nonetheless a luxurious and well-equipped venue). Others will describe and evaluate the conference as a whole, as also the meeting with Hugo Chávez, and any impressions they gained of Venezuela itself. There is certainly much more to the Venezuelan experience than might be suggested by this extract from a pro-Chávez newspaper:

The Venezuelan Revolution depends on Comandante Chavez. This affirmation…is

indisputable: If we could even imagine for a moment this Revolution without Chavez, we would quickly realise that he is indispensable...Anything that attacks the leadership of Chavez, attacks the Revolution. To be with Chavez means to be with everything he decides! (Aponte 2008. My translation - PW).

But I have to leave such matters to those better qualified to talk about the host country and its leader, some of which can be found in the references and resources below.

But even if I concentrate on the labour question at the conference this still requires placing it in context of its other parts. The agenda covered:

    1. Unity of labour

    2. The Agrarian question

    3. Democracy, equality, fundamental rights, gender

    4. Cultural pluralism, religion, ethics, ethnicity, communication, language, mass media

    5. World Economic Order

    6. World International Order

    7. Regionalisation and integration

    8. Economic, social and political transition

Here I note: 1) that only one social movement is directly addressed, that of labour; 2) that over half of humankind, women, have no room of their own; 3) that the following three questions are about inter-state relations, in policy terms; 4) that the 'transition' is implicitly to Venezuelan socialism (surely only one possible model?). Even if, however, organisers and participants were agreed on the desirability/inevitability of some kind of socialism, the question still remains of why this requires consideration of only one social movement.

I note, in addition to the marginalisation of women, the absence of certain other movements or even 'questions': Ecology, Peace, Indigineity, Sexuality and Internationalism (except, marginally, the internationalism of labour!), And, for a conference inspired by Marxist political-economy, there is, surely a gaping hole (or Wall of Berlin?) where computerisation/informatisation should be. Without the creation of cyberspace, industrial and financial globalisation - and contemporary imperial surveillance, military and cultural hegemony - is inconceivable. And so, indeed, would be the present power and flexibility - and the future potential - of counter-hegemonic movements, particularly the global ones. Indeed, this conference and the WFA themselves - as well as any spin-off from, or feedback to such - are barely conceivable without this new space of networking and struggle. Traditional anti-imperialism and even anti-capitalism, may have no need for this hypothesis. But cyberspace is surely a crucial arena, operating according to a networking logic, essential for global social emancipation in the 21st century (Castells 1996-1997).

I later had the strong feeling that, if the agenda was over-specified, the procedure was under-planned. The verbal advice, from either the platform or across the breakfast table, was to both theorise and strategise. Unless, however, one had experience with or access to previous WFA declarations or the relevant writings of Samir Amin (e.g. Amin 2008), this was a licence to shoot at anything within sight and range. And, furthermore, there was no shape or limit suggested for the length or time of the eventual workshop report-backs. As a result, some were relatively short and crisp, others were long, vague and even boring. But I am here leapfrogging over the workshops.


The labour workshop

I should be less picky about the address to social movements. These did creep into other topics and labour, at least, was here not a question but a movement. And, I must say, it also had 20-25 rather varied and well-qualified participants, including one or two from China (current Olympic champion in industrial, urban and rural labour protest!). We were, perhaps, missing only Venezuela itself, even if a North-American specialist, Michael Lebowitz (see Lebowitz 2008), made thought-provoking contributions. But, given the complex and changing situation within the labour movement in Venezuela (search, perhaps they were either uninvited or too preoccupied to attend.

The organisers had sub-divided our two-day working group into three sub-groups: 1) The working class and the world of work; 2) South-South solidarity, union internationalism and social movements; and 3) New forms of labour organisation in a society in transition (here to rather than from socialism). Whatever the initiators' intentions, the group decided to remain in plenary session and then, in practice, to adapt the sub-topics, so that the latter two dealt with labour internationalisms on all axes, and with new forms of labour self-organisation more generally (although evidently in the light of socialism). The group coordinator, South African labour specialist and former unionist, Devan Pillay, spoke from the conclusions to a new book itself introduced by Samir Amin (Bieler, Lindberg and Pillay 2008). As discussant I added a plea for a global labour charter that would be inspired by a current womens' one, and would surpass the limitations of the hegemonic international unions' 'Decent Work' campaign (Waterman 2008c).

The following discussion was both rich and chaotic. I thought it would have been much more fruitful and, indeed, capable of summary, if we had had the labour chapter of the Bamako Appeal on the table to either amend, reject or replace. I was cheered, actually, by the number of experiences and arguments coming from labour organisations, networks or movements that seemed to be recognising both the increasing diversity of 'work-for-capital' and of worker interests, protests and demands going ‘beyond the factory gates and the walls of the union office’ (Haworth and Ramsay 1984). At the same time, I began to get the impression that two traditions were being represented in the overwhelmingly friendly exchange. One was the historical Marxist/socialist/unionist one, the other more inspired by the new social movements and emancipatory theories. Given that, in practice, both tendencies referred to Marx and socialism, I later conceived this as a difference between a classical ‘Marxist Political-Economic’ and a ‘Marxist Alienation’ approach to labour (for me the first suggests a reductionist approach to human emancipation, the second a holistic one).

A draft statement was produced by Devan, myself and Meena Menon (a long-term Marxist- political and labour-movement activist from Western India). Presented to a conference plenary, this was then subject to further discussion in the labour group. The 'historical/political-economic/whatever' group felt unrepresented in the draft and was encouraged to formulate its additions or alternatives. This they did, but then handed in a redraft in which I could barely identify the fine changes they had made! Perhaps this suggests that any such differences as there might have been amongst us did not amount to those between parties or factions but crossed the divide I had in my mind.


The labour declaration

The labour chapter is attached as Appendix D. I find it a somewhat impressionistic rather than a theoretical, analytical or prescriptive statement – even if such elements are present. But the impression it gives, I think, is of a new world of labour, new language for talking about this, and new forms of self-organisation and action being taken. It is, for me, significant that the title has changed from 'Unity of Workers' to 'Toward the Emancipation of Labour'. This may be because the first is the limited ideal that brought unions to merge in the little-known International Trade Union Confederation in 2006. It is also because 'emancipation' is both an old and new social movement slogan that provokes questions about how, what and why (for example: why we need unity, what kind of unity and how we should unify). I consider the references to cases here so telegraphic as to be possibly misleading. The one to China hardly explains why there has been so much labour protest there. And that to Venezuela brushes over tensions and conflicts between worker types and leaderships that were, if briefly, mentioned in the workshop. However, I am happy to find reference to social movement unionism, and to possible global labour charters. I was, indeed, sure that one or more on migrant workers already existed (and later found this recent one, In any case, the report was a result of group work and survived differences of opinion. So I am quite willing to be associated with it. Indeed, I think it may be more thought-provoking than such labour declarations as have previously out of the World Social Forum process (for which check

The final question here must be: what will happen to this text? The Final Declaration of the conference made no reference to either the text or the group. But the organisers had at the beginning declared an intention to either publish all the proceedings or to have them further developed by individuals or groups over the coming months. I do not recall the precise proposal. But, in either case, this means that one is dependent on the goodwill of these organisers (Samir, François and...?). Unless this occurs transparently, for example via online discussion, I will not myself find it a satisfactory procedure. But even if this does occur, I will not find it adequate if our brief labour chapter, warts and all, is buried in a document that is generally oriented toward policy questions – however vital.


The conference declaration

The Final Declaration of the conference was submitted to a plenary session on the last full conference day, where it was subject to lively discussion. I was dissatisfied by its absence of reference to the social movements that, presumably, will have to achieve the socialist transformations it aims at. I therefore proposed an amendment in some such terms as the following (I do not have a copy of what I handed in):

This conference recognises that the only guarantee for a 21st century socialism is the fullest development of radical-democratic social movements and a radical-democratic civil society. This means recognition of and support to the full range of social movements, such as those for national self-development, of women, of workers, of indigenous peoples and sexual minorities, and the constant development of their terrain of birth and development, that of civil society.

Little of this can be found in the conference’s final declaration (in Spanish,, except in a final clause which says:

13. …socialism is the only alternative to solve the set of economic, social, political, cultural, ecological and civilisational problems of humanity. Its construction will be the result of the coming together and mobilisation of workers, peasants, the indigenous, women, social and environmental movements and other groups which defy injustice to realise the hopes of the peoples for another possible world.

For the rest it is a denunciation of imperialism and capitalism, and praise for a 21st century socialism exemplified by Venezuela, and of which other examples are apparently to be found in Asia (a Maoist-led Nepal) and Africa (no cases, fortunately, offered). Regrettably, the conference organisers seemed unable to adopt a posture of engaged but critical support for Venezuela (compare, for example, Edgardo Lander,, Wilpert 2006, Lebowitz 2008).


Final reflections

I have to agree with a conference friend, himself an experienced movement coordinator, who angrily denounced this one as 'old left' in both form and content. It was organised top-down by a small and self-appointed group of individuals, lacking any accountability or transparency, dependent financially and therefore morally on one state. It was intellectually dominated by one man, Samir Amin (whose fundamental beliefs seem to have not changed in the 40 years that I have been following them). I mentioned above the invisibility of computerisation/informatics/cyberspace in his and our reflections. But Samir seems to have hardly noted, or simply dismissed, the new wave of emancipatory thinking and forms of activity that have accompanied capitalist globalisation and informatisation. Passing conference references to the World Social Forum were dismissive, despite Samir being still, I believe, a member of its International Council. Finally there is the matter of what will happen with all the effort the 135 often experienced and sometimes brilliant participants have put into this effort. I am wondering whether they would, in any other context, have left their work to be processed by two, or even 25, veteran male leftists – however brilliant and cosmopolitan they might happen to be.

I tend to agree with my conference friend, except in his anger. I knew what I was buying. Or, rather - since my costs were paid by the World Forum of Alternatives, Defence of Humanity and President Chávez – I knew what I was being paid for.

However, I have been frequently subsidised, directly or indirectly, for my participation in WSF and related events, such funding carrying its own moral burdens. Moreover, I do think that the WFA has been influenced (if not reborn) as a result of that 'open space' exemplified by the WSF. And I in any case appreciate the invitation from people I have been openly critical of. Finally, I guess, I do not consider the World Social Forum the only global space or platform for the development of emancipatory thought and action in today's world. It, too, has its limitations, in no small part due to a certain 'openspaceism' which encourages, if it does not promote, the idea that Dialogue is All - rather than simply necessary to a new movement of global social emancipation. Left labour initiatives within the WSF seem to me so far constrained by their concern to avoid offence to the hegemonic union inter/nationals, even where the latter are deeply, if not totally, self-subordinated to partnership with corporations and states that are destroying not simply worker conditions and union rights but the social and natural conditions for existence on this planet (but see the newest WSF labour initiative Appendix C).

As our labour group in Caracas continued to meet, formally and informally, I began to think that we should see the conference as a possible launching pad rather than an imprisoning container. My own 'minimum' and 'maximum' projects at present are for an open, autonomous, transparent and relevant international labour web space (minimum) and for a Global Labour charter (maximum) – indeed for any such charter that might surpass the notion that capital and state can make work 'decent'. Models for such are provided by the Women’s Global Charter for Humanity (2005) and the Casino Crash Declaration (2008). The first model is of interest for the dialogue that preceded its formulation. The latter is of interest for being immediately published, on the web, for approval and discussion (99 responses in the first week).

This short note, with its extended resources and appendices, is intended to advance this admittedly ambitious effort.

Critical feedback would be welcome.


Resource List

Amin, Samir. (2006), ‘Towards the Fifth International?’

Amin, Samir. 2006. ‘What Maoism Has Contributed’.

Amin, Samir. (2007), ‘The World Social Forum and Popular Struggles: Is the World Social Forum of use for popular struggles? Are the social forum formulas adequate to that effect?

Amin, Samir. 2008. ‘Transiciones y alternativas en debate’ (Transitions and Alternatives Under Discussion), America Latina in Movimiento, No. 436. 32 pages.

Aponte, Antonio. ‘Magnicidio Politicó’ (Assasination of a Political Leader), Diario Vea, October 16, p. 9.

Bieler, Andreas, Ingemar Lindberg and Devan Pillay (eds). 2008. Labour and the Challenges of Globalisation: What Prospects for Transnational Solidarity?. London: Pluto.

Casino Crash. 2008. ‘The Global Economic Crisis: An Historic Opportunity for Transformation’, (Beijing, October 15).

Castells, Manuel. 1996-7. ‘ The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture’, Cambridge, MA; Oxford, UK: Blackwell. 3 Vols.

Haworth, Nigel and Harvie Ramsay. 1984. ‘Grasping the Nettle: Problems in the Theory of International Labour Solidarity’ in Peter Waterman (ed) For A New Labour Internationalism, The Hague. ILERI.

Lander, Greg. 2006. ‘The Meaning of 21st Century Socialism for Venezuela’,, 11 July,

Lebowitz, Michael. ‘The Spectre of Socialism for the 21st Century’, #comment-1594.

Red de Intelectuales y Artistas en Defensa de Humanidad. option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1.

Sen, Jai and Mahuresh Kumar (with Patrick Bond and Peter Waterman) (eds). 2007. A Political Programme for the World Social Forum? Democracy, Substance and Debate in the Bamako Appeal and the Global Justice Movements. New Delhi and Durban: CACIM and Centre for Civil Society.

Waterman, Peter. 2005. ‘From “Decent Work” to “The Liberation of Time from Work”: Reflections on Work, Emancipation, Utopia and the Global Justice and Solidarity Movement’,

Waterman, Peter. 2008a. ‘Labour@ESF Malmo, September 2008: Work and/or Life?’. http://www.choike. org/documentos/labour-esf2008.pdf

Waterman, Peter. 2008b. 'The Fifth International: A 19th Century Answer to a 21st Century Problem’ (Unpublished Draft)

Waterman, Peter. 2008c. ‘Needed: A Global Labour Charter Movement’. projekte/waterman/gc.

WFA (World Forum for Alternatives). 1997. ‘World Forum for Alternatives Manifesto’,


Appendix A


Conference on ‘Union Alliances with Social Movements: What's in It for Us’?

Transport workers to home in on social movements

[Announcement on the website of the International Transport Workers Federation, 17 September 2008]

Road transport workers will be looking at ways of building alliances with social movements at a special conference in Norway next month.

The conference, organised by the ITF-affiliated Norwegian union Fagforbundet in cooperation with the ITF, is to be held in Oslo from 16-17 October. It will give workers the chance to examine new ways of facing the challenges that have emerged over the past 30 years, which include form alliances with other movements. The event will also focus on the possibility of unions taking on a broader perspective in their everyday activities.

Speakers at the conference include: Professor Ronaldo Munck, Dublin City University, who will discuss globalisation, labour and trade unions and Mac Urata, ITF Inland Transport Section Secretary, who will focus on the ITF and global action campaigns. Meanwhile Mike Waghorne, former Assistant General Secretary, PSI and Asbjørn Wahl, Adviser, Fagforbundet, and Alexandra Strickner, Attac Austria, will look at trade unions and social movements.

ITF Inland Transport Section Secretary Mac Urata commented: “Affiliates endorsed a proposal to review trade unions’ global action-oriented campaigns and the wider social movement. This conference is part of that process. The mix of speakers from both trade unions and social movements will hopefully provide participants with new ideas for working with organisations with similar aims. These alliances could help tackle the issues facing workers as a result of globalisation more effectively.”

[Report on the website of the International Transportworkers Federation, October 20, 2008]

Unionists, NGO members and academics met in Oslo on 17 and 18 October 2008 to discuss the cooperations that trade unions and the wider social movement can develop. The meeting, co-hosted by the ITF and the Norwegian affiliate, Fagforbundet (the Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees), stressed informalisation of employment and internationalisation of production as two key features that trade unions face today. It also highlighted that trade union membership is declining in many countries and the unions' traditional relationship with the political parties is changing. However, some unions are fighting back against neo-liberal attacks and several examples were reported. These included the campaign for welfare state in Norway; strategic campaigning in the US Teamsters union; awareness raising of members and support to the Baltic unions network by the Swedish Transport Workers' Union, to name a few. The participants agreed that unions and the social movement can work together if they can share their information, accept their differences but ensure that their capacities are fully used. It resolved to hold thematic meetings for example, on climate change in transport, as well as to encourage the ITF to discuss the question of collaboration with the social movement regularly in their meetings. Mac Urata and Asbjørn Wahl co-chaired the meeting. (Email report by Claire Clarke).


Appendix B

6. To Build a Workers’ United Front

[Labour Chapter of the Bamako Appeal 2005]

Two of the principal weapons in the hands of workers are the right to vote and the right to form trade unions. Up to now democracy and trade unions were built mainly within the national states. Now, however, neo-liberal globalisation has challenged the workers the world over, and globalised capitalism cannot be confronted at the national level alone. Today, the task is twofold: to strengthen organising on a national level and simultaneously globalise democracy and reorganise a worldwide working class.

Mass unemployment and the increasing proportion of informal work arrangements are other imperative reasons to reconsider the existing organisations of the laboring classes. A world strategy for labor must consider not only the situation of workers who work under stable contracts. Employment out of the formal sectors now involves an increasing portion of workers, even in the industrialised countries. In the majority of the countries of the South, the workers of the informal sector – temporary labor, informal labor, the self-employed, the unemployed, street salespeople, those who sell their own services — together form the majority of the laboring classes. These groups of informal workers are growing in the majority of the countries of the South because of high unemployment and a two-sided process: on the one hand, the decreasing availability of guaranteed employment and increased informal employment, and on the other hand, the continuous migration from the rural areas to the towns. The most important task will be for workers outside the formal sector to organise themselves and for the traditional trade unions to open up in order to carry out common actions.

The traditional trade unions have had problems responding to this challenge. Not all the organisations of the workers - except in the formal sectors - will necessarily be trade unions or similar organisations and the traditional trade unions will also have to change. New perspectives for organising together, based on horizontal bonds and mutual respect, must develop between the traditional trade unions and the new social movements. For this purpose, the following proposals are submitted for consideration:

  1. An opening of the trade unions towards collaboration with the other social movements without trying to subordinate them to the traditional trade-union structure or a specific political party.
  2. The constitution of effectively transnational trade-union structures in order to confront transnational employers. These trade-union structures should have a capacity to negotiate and at the same time have a mandate to organise common actions beyond national borders. For this purpose, an important step would be to organise strong trade-union structures within transnational corporations. These corporations have a complex network of production and are often very sensitive to any rupture in the chains of production and distribution, that is, they are vulnerable. Some successes in the struggles against the transnational corporations could have a real impact on the world balance of power between capital and labor.
  3. Technological development and structural change are necessary to improve living conditions and eradicate poverty, but the relocations of production are not carried out today in the interest of the workers; instead, they are exclusively profit-driven. It is necessary to promote a gradual improvement of the wages and working conditions, to expand local production along with local demand and a system of negotiation to carry out relocation in other ways than simply following the logic of profit and free trade. These relocations could fit under transnational negotiation in order to prevent workers of the various countries from being forced to enter in competition with each other in a relentless battle.
  4. To consider the rights of migrant worker as a basic concern for the trade unions by ensuring that solidarity among workers is not dependent on their national origin. Indeed, segregation and discrimination on ethnic or other bases are threats to working-class solidarity.
  5. To take care so that the future transnational organisation of the laboring class is not conceived as a unique, hierarchical and pyramidal structure, but as a variety of various types of organisations, with a network-like structure with many horizontal bonds.
  6. To promote a labor front in reorganised structures that also include workers outside the formal sector throughout the world, capable of Ttaking effective coordinated actions to confront globalised capitalism.

Only such a renewed movement of workers, worldwide, inclusive and acting together with other social movements will be able to transform the present world and to create a world order founded on solidarity rather than on competition.


Appendix C

----- Original Message -----

From: Marco Berlinguer

To: Labour&GlobalizationESF ; Labour&GlobalizationWSF

Cc: Lavoro in Movimento mailing list

Sent: Monday, October 27, 2008 10:18 AM

Subject: [ESF Labour & Globalization] Labor and Globalization Network Toward the WSF





This is a proposed work plan for the Labor and Globalization (L&G) Network for the next World Social Forum (WSF). It is the result of the discussion we had in the European Social Forum (ESF) L&G meeting and of a collective contribution by a working group composed of Pat Horn (StreetNet, South Africa) , Kjeld Jakobsen (Observatorio Social/CUT, Brazil), Tim Costello (Global Labor Strategies, USA), Alexandra Strickner (ATTAC – OWINFS, Austria), Bruno Ciccaglione (SDL, Italia) and Marco Berlinguer (Transform! – Lavoro in Movimento/CGIL, Italia).


A)  The network will promote directly and independently two activities to help build the identity of the network and to make progress in establishing a concrete agenda for the future of the network.

B)   The network will focus its main effort into putting the current economic crisis—and political interventions to address it—at the centre of the WSF in cooperation with all the other organizations and networks wish to participate.

C)   The network will encourage and serve as facilitator for communication and cooperation on initiatives on other key themes in the WSF.



A. The two proposed activities

1)    The L&G Network will create a meeting space for the convergence of representatives of the different of types of labor in the global economy, in both in the formal and the informal sector. The space is aimed to investigate the "commons"—and the differences--across the different forms of labor.

Method: A synthetic text will be written in the next weeks. It will then be widely circulated as draft discussion paper among diverse groups representing, or allied with, workers employed in different forms of employment. Comments, additions, and new ideas will be collected and a revised draft will be written and circulated before the WSF in Belem.  Following the discussions at WSF the text will be revised again in a process that will continue with the goal of collectively writing a charter, manifesto, or declaration on labor in the era of globalization.

The contact person and coordinator of this activity is Pat Horn - StreetNet – email:

2)    Create an assembly of the L&G Network itself aimed at discussing a basic plan and organization for the work of the network after the WSF: its articulation, enlargement, objectives, web tools, and agenda.

Method: A written proposal will be circulated before the WSF in order to collect comments, suggestions and contributions which can be discussed by each individual organization. The aim is to arrive at the WSF assembly with the possibility and capacity to make decisions.

The contact person and coordinator of this activity is Kjeld Jakobsen - Observatorio Social – email:

B. The focus on the current economic crisis 

The L&G Network will propose a plan of convergence about the global financial and economical crisis, to many other organizations and networks in global movements interested in creating at the WSF a common space of analysis, discussion and, where possible, of intervention.

Method: the circulation of written analyses and proposals on the crisis will be encouraged before the WSF. The L&G Network will propose to jointly set up at the WSF an activity lasting all the three days, to progressively deepen – as far as possible – a common understanding of the crisis and of a plan of intervention to address it.

The contact person and coordinator for this activity is Marco Berlinguer – Transform!/Lavoro in Movimento - email:

C.  Other initiatives

The L&G Network and its e-lists will serve to facilitate the communication and cooperation of initiatives in the WSF. Key themes already raised and proposed are: Migrants, Ecological Modes of Production, and International Trade.


The CGIL will register the network and its two planned activities.

All the organizations interested in participating in the activities proposed by the network are asked to contact the coordinators (Pat, Kjeld, Marco) to participate in the process of inscriptions and merging.

Kjeld Jakobsen will oversee the process of merging and finalization of the activities promoted by the networks.


We need to make the maximum effort to fund the trips of some people and organizations from the Global South. All the organizations that can help are invited to establish a contact with Pat Horn (


We would like to expand the network along with the process of preparation of the next WSF. If you would like to include new members on the e-lists of L&G, send details to Marco. (


Remember that the inscriptions of organizations and proposals of activities at the WSF are already opened and will close on the 7th of November



Appendix D

Summary of discussion in the Caracas Labour Group 2008:

Towards the Global Emancipation of Labour

The group consisted of about 25 members and decided to stay together and discuss all three questions in plenary

The three questions set by the organisers were as follows:

  • The increasingly 'informalisation' of labour
  • The challenge of global labour solidarity
  • New forms of labour self-organisation

The group touched on the current crisis of capitalist globalisation. That this is bound to hit labour; there will be job losses and greater insecurity of jobs. The serious capitalist economic crisis, whose first expression was in the financial area, will eventually move into the productive area and aggravate the class struggle on a worldwide scale. Big capital plans to make workers around the world pay the costs of this crisis, and to transfer the costs as much as possible from the industrialised countries to those countries on the periphery. The capitalist offensive to impose an authoritarian restructuring of its domination hits the working class in a period when the organisational and ideological level of the workers is low, except in certain nations where advances have been made, for example, in Bolivia and Venezuela.

However the changes in the modes of labour have been happening over a much longer period. In most countries the number of what is called informal labour, far outnumber the formal sector. The main struggles are against retrenchment and job losses. Unemployment, informalisation, casualisation, migration- these are the issues that face labour today. In the last few decades there have been many profound changes in the internal structure of the working class, brought about through the neoliberal offensive, the development of the productive forces and the institutional changes that imposed labor flexibility. Today's working class is composed of industrial workers and public service workers who still have secure jobs and labor rights, together with a massive number of workers in insecure jobs, mainly young people, women, and immigrant workers with and without work papers and "underground" workers (the latter suffer what are near slave worker conditions).

These changes have also meant that there needs to be a re-conceptualisation of work and working class.

The group discussed the need (or not) to redefine the meaning of ‘work’ and 'worker’ . Work is more than just that of the traditional industrial or clerical workplace, and the definition of worker has to be more comprehensive. This includes not only workers in the formal sector, but also labour in the informal sector, for example the case of street traders, poor peasants, call-centre workers, care-givers, etc. These are also the sections which have not been widely unionised. Are they part of the working class or not? Are food- producers part of the working class? This is an important question – the one of definition - which has strategic implications. There was broad consensus that the concept of working class has to be expanded. That the wage relationship is not the only factor that defines the working class. But there were many questions still to be debated at length.

There was a debate on whether ownership of the means of production can be considered as criteria for defining a set of people as being part of the class. The street hawker, the tailor who owns a sewing machine- can he/she be considered to be part of the proletariat? Some felt that the classic definition of the proletariat was important in a strategic way. Others felt that a wider definition was needed.

The question of self-perception is also interesting. It was noted that often even sections of the working class no longer see themselves as part of the class, and instead identify themselves as middle class or merely part of a particular trade or profession. Street vendors even though they are often out of work workers, see themselves as small businesspeople. Call-centre employees do not still see themselves as workers.

There was an exchange of experiences in the different countries: China, India, Philipines, South Africa, various parts of Europe and Africa. Everywhere we see increasing heterogeneity and fragmentation of labour.

But the working class survives, and struggles continue, often using new forms of organisation and struggle. In Germany workers fought against neo-liberal reforms which affect all the people not only workers. In Brussels the trade unions are still organised and strong even if the leadership is not always socialist. In China if there are no huge protests against growing unemployment, and forced migration, it is only because the villages provide family and community support. This is the case in many third world countries. In Brazil and India we see new and effective forms of workers struggle and organisation. In the US immigrant workers have been at the forefront of working class struggles, and have revived the May Day tradition in the USA.

There are important problems in maintaining the independence of the working class to the extent that governments claim they are defenders of the popular interests. The government's goal is to turn the labor movement into a factor to assure social peace when confronted with proposals that threaten the interests of the working class and the people. In their structure and function, many labor confederations have stopped representing the interests of the new working class in all its heterogenity, and now consist of non-representative top-down structures.


In this crisis scenario there must be an amplification and intensification of labor struggle that take the most diverse forms and in this way advance toward a struggle for socialism that will be capable in the 21st century of offering an alternative contrary to the destructive logic of the capitalist system. On the road toward the ideological and organisational reconstruction of the working class, a central aspect is the development of a movement based on workers' democracy - with the direct participation of the workers in taking fundamental decisions. This will raise the level of class consciousness, class unity and capacity for struggle.

We noted that new struggles and forms of organisation evolved; going beyond the organisation of traditional unions to deal with the new forms of labour, and to unify the struggles of the different sections of the working class. This does not however mean that the trade unions are obsolete or even ineffective. In many parts of Europe major sections of the working class are still organised in trade unions and even where the leadership is not socialist, the potential and power of these organisations are still significant and we must not fall into the neo-liberal trap of discounting their importance. The working class should integrate its distinct form of organisation, starting from the traditional kind of workers' unions, to include movements of unemployed, precarious and immigrant and clandestine workers, into united actions of the working class in its broadest definition, in particular in defense of the working class sectors with the least protection.

A union movement should have the capacity of coordinating with other social sectors in concrete struggle that concern each of these sectors, including the movement against war. In the struggle for democracy - using its broadest political, economic and social meaning - the working class must try to coordinate with other social sectors, without losing its class identity or independence.

There was a discussion on what can be called the hierarchy of class consciousness. Some felt that the struggles of the indigenous people, and small and marginal farmers for land and natural resources have been the most revolutionary struggles in recent history and terming them as petty-bourgeois somehow seems to relegate them to second place; it does not help in order to fully understand and analyse the huge potential and impact of these struggles, e.g. in Bolivia.


New forms of organisation can be seen in the struggles of the unemployed, informal, migrants etc. Existing trade unions, too, are forced to adopt new methods to organise or relate to these sectors. Often however these movements are outside of the formal trade union framework, and they are more like social movements, community organisations or NGOs. These struggles include those around unemployment, privatisation, public transport, environmental justice, housing, local economic activities, cooperatives, etc. There is a new kind of social movement unionism that goes beyond the workplace that seems to have become effective in conditions where workers are thrown out of work, or where they forge a wider unity in the community. Also where workers organise themselves as citizens to deal with more than the problems of the workplace. The struggles against unemployment provide a rich source of information and inspiration, e.g. the piquetero movement in Argentina, the marches in Europe, and struggles in various part of the world.

There were different views on the centrality of struggle of the working class. For some in the struggle for the destruction/replacement of capitalism, the new working class, now heterogenous and fragmented, has a central role, because it creates all weath, and builds links of solidarity, collective organisation, and because it is conscious of its potential for radically transforming society. It must find a way to coordinate with other popular sectors and social movements, respecting their diversity, but searching for forms of united struggle against capitalism. The conditions of gender, ethnic group, age, nationality also have a class character that makes the construction of unity through struggle possible. For others any centrality is out of the question.

The struggles around the reduction of hours of work at the workplace are important in the current scenario. Not only because of the crisis and the need for workers to respond to it in the more advanced capitalist countries but because it can also help to humanise the life of the worker. This is also a project in Venezuela. Here less hours at the workplace does not mean less hours of work- it merely means different kinds of work: education, care-giving, etc, which are also work which has social value.


The working-class movement needs to know about and be inspired by the new developments in various parts of the world, e.g. Venezuela, Bolivia, where there have been experiences inspired by ideas and practices of a post-capitalist or socialist project. In Venezuela workers are being organised in communal councils, which provide for representation of informal workers who may not be organised in traditional unions. These councils have been linked to those in occupied factories. Also there are discussions around the shortening of the hours of work in the workplace but spending the rest of the hours in community work, skills and education, care-giving, etc


Increasing importance of global solidarity: This becomes ever more crucial under capitalist globalisation. This does not mean that it is easy. Its forms too are disputed.

There have been experiences of successful global strike actions coordinated over more than one country.


Where workers see themselves and are organised as human-beings and citizens the possibilities of solidarity are considerably enhanced. Common campaigns include those around peace and security, global warming, democracy, privatisation, trade, global financial architecture, global social wage, etc.


The working class should work in a united way nationally and internationally to prevent the capitalists from passing the costs of the crisis onto the workers' backs. To do this we propose the following concrete demands:

  • Moratorium on the external debt to finance the budgets aimed at providing the basic necessities of the population and the subsidies for access to products of primary necessity.
  • Moratorium on payment of mortgages and rents and suspension of evictions with the goal of guaranteeing the right to housing.
  • Price controls and other means to avoid letting inflation reduce the buying power of workers retired people.
  • Control of changing and circulation of capital to avoid letting the industrialised countries seize the wealth of the countries in the periphery. 

There are many different understandings about the meaning of solidarity. There can be tension between class solidarity and anti-imperialist solidarity. Thus, there was a debate on whether solidarity actions may be inopportune because they reinforce the game and the agenda of imperialism, or from another perspective anti-worker and anti-people regimes are excused on the basis that they are anti-imperialist. In any case we have to be aware that imperialist forces may well be conspiring against these regimes. These issues need to be further discussed more extensively.

There is a need to unify working-class struggles and to have more coordination and exchanges between the different countries. It's important to note that the churches have sometimes had more success in uniting workers than the left has had. The current institutions like the ILO are failing to do this. There was criticism of the Decent Work campaign initiated by the ILO - the feeling being that it tries to restore a past utopia of labour-capital relations that neo-liberal globalisation has put into profound question. There were suggestions about necessity of a global charter for migrant workers or even a Global Charter for Workers more generally.

There is a need to link working-class issues with those of ecology, and other issues to make the struggles more universal, effective and relevant.

The issue of migration was seen as one of the most critical issues facing workers today, in every part of the globe. This includes not only cross-border but also internal displacement. There is a need for a methodology and a machinery to deal with this issue.

1 Appreciation must be expressed for rapid feedback from Patrick Bond, Rosalba Icaza, Gina Vargas and John Catalinotto. They cannot, of course, be held responsible for any use I have made of their contributions.

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