Socialist Worker

20,000 confront the rich, 70,000 plan a new world

by Alex Callinicos and Mike Gonzalez report from the Porto Alegre. Helen Shooter reports from New York.
Issue No. 1786

The movement against capitalist globalisation is alive, growing and truly global. Some 70,000 people here in Porto Alegre, Brazil's southernmost state, are giving the lie to Clare Short's dismissal of the movement as well meaning white middle class people who have no support in the Third World. The World Social Forum first met in Porto Alegre a year ago. Then, between 15,000 and 20,000 people took part.

The numbers at this second forum are three or four times as big. 15,000 young people from all over Latin America and the rest of the world are staying in the Youth Camp alone. The opening day of the forum proper on Friday last week saw over 3,000 people, mainly Brazilians, listening intently to an hour-long lecture by Noam Chomsky. Chomsky was given a rapturous welcome when he addressed a teach-in last Friday on the theme of 'A world without wars.'

To enthusiastic cheers he told his audience, 'If one looked at the official definition of terrorism, it would be identical to the official definition of US foreign policy.' Chomsky's unremitting but often very lonely fight against US imperialism over the past generation has made him one of the great symbols of the new movement. He acts as both a source of information and analysis, and as a model of political integrity.

In his speech Chomsky was very clear in his recognition of the movement's significance, calling it an 'unprecedented' challenge to the capitalist 'masters of the universe', and 'the most exciting opportunity for the workers' movement and the left to build a real internationalism'. Chomsky argued that the movement was not against globalisation as such: 'We want globalisation in the interests of the world population. They want globalisation to be their particular form of corporate globalisation.' The forum has mainly taken the form of conferences, seminars and over 1,000 workshops.

It started with a demonstration. On Thursday of last week 50,000 people marched through Porto Alegre. Like earlier anti-capitalist mobilisations in Europe and the US, the march was dominated by local organisations. The banners and slogans of the Brazilian Workers Party (PT), the left trade union federation CUT, and the landless labourers' movement the MST were everywhere.

But if most demonstrators came from all over this country, their consciousness was global. Banners connected the fight against neo-liberalism with the struggles in Argentina and Palestine. The official sound truck constantly blared out slogans denouncing imperialism and war. The mood of militancy, determination and celebration recalled the atmosphere at the great demonstration of 300,000 against the G8 summit at Genoa on 21 July last year. The popular rising against neo-liberalism in Argentina has captured the imagination of the movement throughout Latin America, and indeed the world.

It was completely unanticipated when the forum was planned, but Argentina brings into focus many key issues facing the movement. Around 2,000 Argentinians came to Porto Alegre, along with many others from the rest of the Americas-for example 400 from Uruguay, which lies between Brazil and Argentina. But there are also many from far further afield. 1,500 came from Italy, reflecting the enormous radicalisation produced by Genoa.

The speakers' panels reflect the global nature of the forum. Alex Callinicos shared a panel with speakers from Argentina, France, Italy, Pakistan and the Philippines. The mood at the forum is one of both celebration and struggle. Both during the breaks and even while meetings are in session impromptu demonstrations-about Palestine, abortion, the rights of the disabled-compete for space with Brazilian popular bands and dance groups.

Minar, from Focus on the Global South in India, said, 'I am here to basically show that there is an alternative to the globalism which has been done, which has been forced on people today. 'What I expect from all of us is to build good solidarity to counter locally, regionally and globally the effects of capitalism, and to create a people's alternative system of governance and economics.'

'They're Enron, we're Argentinians'

By Helen Shooter

THE 20,000 people who took to New York's streets in a loud, joyous march last Saturday left no doubt that the anti-capitalist movement is back. Young people from across the US protested against the meeting of the World Economic Forum-a private club for business and political leaders-in the city. The protesters knew the significance of their march.

This was New York, the site of the attacks on the World Trade Centre on 11 September. The US media had attacked the march organisers, Another World is Possible, for daring to hold the demonstration. 'New York needs protest like it needs another airplane attack,' declared the New York Times. But the marchers were determined to show their protest against George W Bush's war and against the power of multinationals.

Julia Steinberger, a student from Boston, explained, 'It's more important than ever to protest. There is a tough climate here. The government is trying to get rid of our civil rights since 11 September. 'But I think the World Economic Forum is about a bunch of thieves who are organising the best way for them to plunder even more. People should resist and do it openly.'

Ben Weinkove had come along with ten other students from the local Columbia University to march behind a banner that read 'Stop the war-end terrorism by ending injustice'. 'We decided to come here with the banner to say we're against the war and the media's reaction to it,' he said. Despite the press witch-hunt the marchers did not face any hostility from passers-by. Some waved in support from tower block windows. The marchers even took up the chant 'George Bush is a terrorist' as they reached the final rally.

The giant energy corporation Enron was a key focus for people's anger. Its collapse last November drove thousands out of work and opened up a political scandal linked to President Bush. A group of marchers carried giant images depicting Bush as a Frankenstein's monster of Enron, and his defence secretary, Rumsfeld, with the words '3,000 Afghan deaths' written across his face. Fought The marchers also showed their solidarity with the people of Argentina who have fought back against the impact of the IMF's crippling debt. At the front of the march several giant placards read 'WEF-they are all Enron, we are all Argentinians'.

The New York Times was forced to admit the day after Saturday's demo, 'The mood was festive, with cheerleaders belting out anti-capitalist ditties, and a drum corps banging away on old pots and plastic drums.' 'We've scored a victory today,' said one marcher proudly as she left the demonstration.

The marchers were prevented by a heavy police presence from getting close to the World Economic Forum cosseted in the luxury Waldorf-Astoria hotel. But they had shown that the movement against the rich and powerful could take over the streets of New York. Even before the demo, students and trade unionists had held two mobilisations of thousands of people.

Some 2,000 trade unionists and protesters joined a demonstration against sweatshop labour outside a Gap store in the centre of New York. Jeff Crosby, a member of the IUEWA electrical workers' union, made the link between workers' conditions in the US and around the world:

'We are all victims of the global economy. General Electric, where I work, wants to move to Mexico, where the costs are cheaper. Many workers' jobs will go. Then in Colombia I hear about workers there fighting back against companies and even being killed. The common thread is these multinationals. They threaten workers everywhere. We have to say 'Another world is possible,' just like they are talking about in the conference in Porto Alegre.'

Some 1,500 students attended a two-day conference in Columbia University organised as an alternative to the World Economic Forum. The students eagerly listened to a wide range of speakers. Ricardo, a construction worker from New York, got a standing ovation when he said, 'They tell us history really started on 11 September, but I think it started with the protest in Genoa last year and with the struggle in Argentina. That's because we are showing there is an alternative to neo-liberalism and the corporations' vision of the world.'

'I come from the US. I am here to learn from other people around the world, to see what they are doing to make a real difference, a long lasting change, and not just dealing with individual issues.'
ELIZABETH TAN, Jobs for Justice, speaking in Porto Alegre

'It's not just Enron-it's us too. I see those rich people meeting behind closed doors. I just think some of those bosses should be locked up in jail.'
RUSSELL SHEFFLER, member of the United Steelworkers of America, New York

'Yesterday 40,000 children died of hunger around the world. Today 40,000 children will die of hunger, preventable hunger around the world. Tomorrow 40,000 children around the world will die of hunger. There are no headlines about this.'
ODED GRAJEW, Porto Alegre Organising Committee

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Article information

Sat 9 Feb 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1786
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