Socialist Worker

‘War and trade are still key issues for the movement’

As the World Social Forum opens in Porto Alegre, Alex Callinicos from Britain, Nicola Bullard from Focus on the Global South in Thailand and Javier Carles from Uruguay ask what we have gained and what we still have to win

Issue No. 1935

IN THE past year, the movement against war and corporate globalisation has continued to grow, especially at the national level, where movements are directly defending workers’ and farmers’ livelihoods by reclaiming land and campaigning against privatisation and trade liberalisation. In many parts of the world, from Bolivia to Thailand, social movements have successfully pressed their governments to reconsider or change economic policies.

Public opinion has similarly forced many countries that backed the US at the onset of the war on Iraq to withdraw their troops—most dramatically in Spain, but also in smaller countries such as Honduras and the Philippines. Most recently Ukraine and the Netherlands have announced that they, too, will bring home their troops. In the same year, however, George Bush was re-elected with an increased majority and a clear mandate. The war in Iraq continued in spite of the gathering resistance and mounting death toll. And the World Trade Organisation rekindled a new agreement for trade negotiations from the ashes of Cancun.

War and trade are still key issues for the international movement. Tragically, it has taken the devastation of the Indian Ocean tsunami to bring debt back to the centre of our campaigns.

But the main strategic debate at the World Social Forum (WSF) will centre on how the movement should re-group and re-organise in the current context.

How do we challenge Bush? What is the perspective of the movement in the US? Should we be focusing on just one or two international campaigns or targets? And if so, which ones? How do we maintain space for all struggles and all sectors, yet at the same time coordinate our efforts to make concrete gains and open up democratic space at every level?

In this sense, the agenda is not so different from other social forums. However this year the process promises to be as important as the content. For the first time, the entire WSF programme is “self-organised” by participants, reflecting a conscious effort to build a space and process which is horizontal and open, and which encourages cross-fertilisation across political, cultural and language barriers.

In addition, the physical organisation of this year’s WSF will be different. All the events are in a continuous space, stretching along the lake shore and including the youth camp. The design and implementation attempts to incorporate ecological, sustainable approaches. For example, the Brazilian landless movement, the MST (in collaboration with the Brazilian army) is constructing the tents where many events will be held, and most of the materials, equipment and food are locally supplied.

The programme itself has been arranged in 11 “terrains” with organisations choosing which terrain to place their event in. The WSF committee has encouraged those organising similar activities to join forces, in an attempt to create cooperation and new synergies. How this works remains to be seen.

In addition, the growing number of “strategy” sessions in the WSF programme is a sign of maturity. Increasingly the WSF is becoming an “active” space created by us all, for developing strategies, building campaigns, making and sharing proposals, and finding ways of working together on common projects and agendas long after the WSF is over.

The fifth WSF is an experiment in building a living political, economic and social community based on the principles that are the foundation of the WSF and of the international movement against war and corporate globalisation—solidarity, ecological sustainability, pluralism, openness, diversity and non-violence.

This year we will see whether the principles that unite us can be put into practice for five days on the shores of the Guaiba Lake.

Nicola Bullard is based in Bangkok, Thailand. She works for Focus on the Global South. Go to www.focusweb.org for more information.


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