For a Brighter World

World Social Forum meet at Porto Alegre

More than 5,000 people – parliamentarians, trade unionists, leaders from agricultural labourers’ and peasants’ organisations, green movements and other new social movements and NGOs and noted intellectuals – from all over the world gathered at the World Social Forum held in the Brazilian town of Porto Alegre from 25-30 January, 2001. About 30,000 people attended the “March for Life” organised in connection with this international meet. Porto Alegre, which hosted the meet, is ruled by the PT, the Brazilian Workers’ Party, a major left-wing political party of the country. The meet was conceived as a counter to the World Economic Forum which holds its annual meeting at Davos in Switzerland at about the same time every year. Bernard Cassen, the director of Le Monde Diplomatique and president of ATTAC (Action for the Taxation of Financial Transactions in Favour of Citizens) in France, the Brazilian Association of Non-Government Organisations (ABONG), ATTAC Brazil, the Brazilian Commission for Justice and Peace

(CBJP), CIVES, the United Trade Union Central (CUT), the Brazilian Institute of Socio-Economic Analysis (IBASE), the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST), French CP parliamentarian, Francis Wurtz, Euro MP Alain Krivine and. Walden Bello from Focus on the Global South were among the prominent initiators of the meet. The idea was to take stock of the growing anti-globalisation movement, discuss its future strategy and propose alternatives to neo-liberal globalisation.

A “Red” Government in the
South of Brazil

For ten years, the Brazilian Workers Party (PT) has run city hall in Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul state (on the border with Uruguay) and one of the main cities in the country. The PT is quite an original party, founded in 1980 by unionists, leftist Christians, and Marxist militants. The previous mayor, Raul Pont, a former director of the teachers’’union, belongs to PT’s most radical current, the Socialist Democracy tendency, which bases itself on the Fourth International, a Trotskyist group. >p>The PT’s “reds” (the colour of the party’s flag) have won city hall three times because their management of municipal affairs is radically different from that of the various bourgeois politicians: no corruption, no nepotism, a priority for the needs of poor and working-class neighbourhoods and, above all, an inspiring experiment with direct democracy called the participatory budget.

Some tens of thousands of people participate in the participatory budget assemblies. Since the assemblies are open to the whole population, the system enjoys great legitimacy and popularity. The participatory budget is, without doubt, one of the main reasons for the PT’s electoral victories in the Porto Alegre municipal races and, more recently, the elections for the Rio Grande do Sul state government. Rio Grande do Sul is one of the main bases of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), now Brazil’s most important social movement. A few months ago, PT candidate Olivio Dutra won the gubernatorial elections. Olivio Dutra is a former bankworkers' union director and a well-known figure on the PT’s left. The elected vice-governor, Miguel Rossetto, belongs, like the mayo of the state capital, to the Socialist Democracy tendency.

(Michael Lowy in Monthly Review, Vol 52, Nov.2000)

Dick Nichols, a leader of the Democratic Socialist Party of Australia (DSP), who travelled to India after attending the World Social Forum meet, told Liberation that the Porto Alegre meet was a major step forward in the anti-globalisation movement. The rich diversity in the global anti-capitalist movement found its fullest expression in the meet, according to Pierre Beaudet, from Alternatives of Canada, a participant in the meet, who subsequently attended the People’s Conference against Globalisation in Delhi. According to Comrade Dick Nichols, there were broadly two currents among the forces that participated in the meet. The radical “anti-capitalist” current stood for abolition of the WTO, World Bank and IMF, cancellation of Third World debt, and adhered to radical positions on issues that predate the anti-globalisation movement like land reforms and environmental protection. The “realists” stood for reforming these institutions and articulated a neo-Keynesian framework at regional and global level. But there was more or less a consensus that it was time to focus on developing positive alternatives to neoliberal globalisation.

There were 16 plenary meetings and hundreds of simultaneous workshops during the meet. The discussions revolved around four main themes: the production of wealth and social reproduction; access to wealth and sustainability; strengthening civil society and the public arena; and democracy and citizen’s power. The meet was publicised as a gathering of organisations of “civil society” and no political party was officially invited to participate as a party. Nevertheless, there were several well-known representatives from political parties, including parliamentarians, from different countries, mostly belonging to both the rightwing and leftwing of the social

democratic parties. There were also several leaders from revolutionary socialist parties.

The mood among the participants was one of militant anti-imperialism. Walden Bello’s call for an all-out campaign against a new WTO round found lots of support. The organisers of the meet also participated in a debate through teleconferencing with George Soros and others from the World Economic Forum, which was telecast live. The participation from Latin America was very comprehensive even though it was very thin from Asia and Africa. The notable exception was the Zapatistas who were busy in organising their own march in Mexico at about the same time. There were powerful expressions of solidarity with the embattled Cuba fighting against US imperialism. Participants also evinced keen interest in attending talks given by noted Marxist intellectuals and there was a brisk sale of Marxist literature, especially among young people.

There was a debate among the participants as to whether the meet should issue any declaration or not. The “realists” were against it. In the absence of any formal declaration emanating from the meet, the leftwing participants met separately and issued a Call to mobilisation drafted by seven organisations -- the MST, the CUT, CGIL Piedmont, ATTAC, the World March of Women, Focus on the Global South and Jubilee 2000. The idea of the call was to produce a very basic statement of position on the main issues of neoliberal globalisation, and to list the upcoming occasions for mobilisation. The call (See box) was subsequently endorsed by many organisations.

There was a move by the Mexican government to deport the noted French peasant leader José Bové for participating in the destruction of genetically modified crops in Monsanto’s experimental farm at Não-Me-Toque, near Porto Alegre organised by the MST, the orgnisation of rural poor in Brazil. Angry protests by the participants made the government beat a retreat.

Thanks to the all-out help from the local government led by PT, the massive organisational efforts that could go into making this meet a remarkable success, became possible. The organisers have also announced that they would host a similar meet next year too. Such huge meetings naturally have their shortcomings and limitations in terms of in-depth discussions, collective decision-making and even in terms of really representative participation of anti-globalisation forces. But they more than simply mirror the ongoing movement and serve as fruitful occasions to express solidarity, to sustain the movement and to give it a further push. They are also quite useful in sharing information and experiences and to forge linkages.


Porto Alegre Call for Mobilisation

Social forces from around the world have gathered here at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. Unions and NGOs, movements and organizations, intellectuals and artists, together we are building a great alliance to create a new society, different from the dominant logic wherein the free-market and money are considered the only measure of worth. Davos represents the concentration of wealth, the globalization of poverty and the destruction of our earth. Porto Alegre represents the hope that a new world is possible, where human beings and nature are the center of our concern.

We are part of a movement which has grown since Seattle. We challenge the elite and their undemocratic processes, symbolised by the World Economic Forum in Davos. We came to share our experiences, build our solidarity, and demonstrate our total rejection of the neoliberal policies of globalisation.

We are women and men, farmers, workers, unemployed, professionals, students, blacks and indigenous peoples, coming from the South and from the North, committed to struggle for peoples’ rights, freedom, security, employment and education. We are fighting against the hegemony of finance, the destruction of our cultures, the monopolization of knowledge, mass media, and communication, the degradation of nature, and the destruction of the quality of life by multinational corporations and anti-democratic policies. Participative democratic experiences -- like that of Porto Alegre -- show us that a concrete alternative is possible. We reaffirm the supremacy of human, ecological and social rights over the demands of finance and investors.

At the same time that we strengthen our movements, we resist the global elite and work for equity, social justice, democracy and security for everyone, without distinction. Our methodology and alternatives stand in stark contrast to the destructive policies of neo-liberalism.

Globalisation reinforces a sexist and patriarchal system. It increases the feminisation of poverty and exacerbates all forms of violence against women. Equality between women and men is central to our struggle. Without this, another world will never be possible.

Neoliberal globalization increases racism, continuing the veritable genocide of centuries of slavery and colonialism which destroyed the bases of black African civilizations. We call on all movements to be in solidarity with African peoples in the continent and outside, in defense of their rights to land, citizenship, freedom, peace, and equality, through the reparation of historical and social debts. Slave trade and slavery are crimes against humanity.

We express our special recognition and solidarity with indigenous peoples in their historic struggle against genocide and ethnocide and in defense of their rights, natural resources, culture, autonomy, land, and territory.

Neoliberal globalisation destroys the environment, health and people’s living environment. Air, water, land and peoples have become commodities. Life and health must be recognized as fundamental rights which must not be subordinated to economic policies.

The external debt of the countries of the South has been repaid several times over. Illegitimate, unjust and fraudulent, it functions as an instrument of domination, depriving people of their fundamental human rights with the sole aim of increasing international usury. We demand its unconditional cancellation and the reparation of historical, social, and ecological debts, as immediate steps toward a definitive resolution of the crisis this Debt provokes.

Financial markets extract resources and wealth from communities and nations, and subject national economies to the whims of speculators. We call for the closure of tax havens and the introduction of taxes on financial transactions.

Privatisation is a mechanism for transferring public wealth and natural resources to the private sector. We oppose all forms of privatisation of natural resources and public services. We call for the protection of access to resources and public goods necessary for a decent life.

Multinational corporations organise global production with massive unemployment, low wages and unqualified labour and by refusing to recognise the fundamental worker’s rights as defined by the ILO. We demand the genuine recognition of the right to organise and negotiate for unions, and new rights for workers to face the globalisation strategy. While goods and money are free to cross borders, the restrictions on the movement of people exacerbate exploitation and repression. We demand an end to such restrictions.

We call for a trading system which guarantees full employment, food security, fair terms of trade and local prosperity. Free trade is anything but free. Global trade rules ensure the accelerated accummulation of wealth and power by multinational corporations and the further marginalisation and impoverishment of small farmers, workers and local enterprises. We demand that governments respect their obligations to the international human rights instruments and multilateral environmental agreements. We call on people everywhere to support the mobilizations against the creation of the Free Trade Area in the Americas, an initiative which means the recolonization of Latin America and the destruction of fundamental social, economic, cultural and environmental human rights.

The IMF, the World Bank and regional banks, the WTO, NATO and other military alliances are some of the multilateral agents of neoliberal globalisation. We call for an end to their interference in national policy. These institutions have no legitimacy in the eyes of the people and we will continue to protest against their measures.

Neoliberal globalization has led to the concentration of land ownership and favored corporate agricultural systems which are environmentally and socially destructive. It is based on export oriented growth backed by large-scale infrastructure development, such as dams, which displaces people from their land and destroys their livelihoods. Their loss must be restored. We call for a democratic agrarian reform. Land, water and seeds must be in the hands of the peasants. We promote sustainable agricultural processes. Seeds and genetic stocks are the heritage of humanity. We demand that the use of transgenics and the patenting of life be abolished.

Militarism and corporate globalisation reinforce each other to undermine democracy and peace. We totally refuse war as a way to solve conflicts and we oppose the arms race and the arms trade. We call for an end to the repression and criminalisation of social protest. We condemn foreign military intervention in the internal affairs of our countries. We demand the lifting of embargoes and sanctions used as instruments of aggression, and express our solidarity with those who suffer their consequences. We reject US military intervention in Latin America through the Plan Colombia.

We call for a strenghtening of alliances, and the implementation of common actions, on these principal concerns. We will continue to mobilize on them until the next Forum. We recognize that we are now in a better position to undertake the struggle for a different world, a world without misery, hunger, discrimination and violence, with quality of life, equity, respect and peace.

We commit ourselves to support all the struggles of our common agenda to mobilise opposition to neoliberalism. Among our priorities for the coming months, we will mobilize globally against the:

· World Economic Forum, Cancun, Mexico, 26 and 27 February

· Free Trade Area of the Americas, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 6-7 April and Quebec City, Canada, 17-22 April

· Asian Development Bank, Honolulu, May

· G8 Summit, Genova, Italy, 15-22 July

· IMF and World Bank Annual Meeting, Washington DC, USA, 28 September - 4 October

· World Trade Organisation, 5-9 November (Qatar)

On April 17, we will support the international day of struggle against the importation of cheap agricultural products which create economic and social dumping, and the feminist mobilization against globalization in Genova. We support the call for a world day of action against debt, to take place this year on July 20 and the mobilization for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (Durban, South Africa -- 31 August-7 September 2001).

The proposals formulated are part of the alternatives being elaborated by social movements around the world. They are based on the principle that human beings and life are not commodities, and in the commitment to the welfare and human rights of all.

Our involvement in the World Social Forum has enriched understanding of each of our struggles and we have been strengthened. We call on all peoples around the world to join in this struggle to build a better future. The World Social Forum of Porto Alegre is a way to achieve peoples’ sovereignty and a just world.


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