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International Solidarity —
World Social Forum
Considers Alternatives
To Corporate Agenda


UE and Jobs with Justice representatives in Brazil

UE and Jobs with Justice representatives: from left, Carl Rosen (with cap), Fred Azcarate of JWJ, Jonathan Kissam and JwJ staff.

For six days in February, the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil and its more than 50,000 diverse participants imagined "another world is possible." UE was represented at the World Social Forum by Genl. Vice Pres. Carl Rosen, District Two Sec.-Treas. Jonathan Kissam and Intl. Labor Affairs Dir. Robin Alexander. (They made the trip with funds raised especially for that purpose.) The following is their report.

We attended the second World Social Forum as part of a delegation of approximately fifty people. With us were representatives of Jobs with Justice and community-based organizations from throughout the United States. In this article we will attempt to give you a sense of what happened, share some of what we learned, and explain why we think it was important.

The World Social Forum coincided with the World Economic Forum, which normally occurs in Davos, Switzerland, but was relocated at the last moment to New York. The World Economic Forum is a meeting of bankers, billionaires, and their friends in government and industry who paid a whopping $25,000 to attend.

As the corporate elite hobnobbed and schemed at the World Economic Forum, amidst protests and heavy security, a very different meeting took place in the city of Porto Alegre under the slogan "Another World is Possible." The second annual World Social Forum brought together more than 50,000 representatives from all sectors of civil society — trade unions, community organizations, women’s groups, indigenous peoples, students, environmentalists — to discuss and debate proposals for how to fight corporate globalization and build another, better world.

The statistics give a sense of the scale: 51,300 participants from 4,909 organizations in 131 countries. Of these, 22,000 were women and 11,600 young people. There were 2,400 journalists from 48 countries, 1,000 volunteers every day, and 2,500 children. Of the 15,230 registered delegates (those present on behalf of organizations) 2,670 were trade unionists. Improving upon an insignificant presence last year at the first World Social Forum, the United States had the sixth largest delegation — 406 delegates — following Brazil, Italy, Argentina, France, and Uruguay.


Forum events were scattered throughout Porto Alegre. An approximately inch-thick newspaper in English and Portuguese laid out each day’s schedule. Meetings of three sizes (conferences, seminars and workshops) were organized around four themes: the production of wealth and social reproduction, access to wealth and sustainability, civil society and the public arena, political power and ethics in the new society.

A variety of other events completed the schedule. An initial peace march led tens of thousands of participants through the streets of Porto Alegre to an open-air stadium where the opening ceremony took place. In addition to dancing, speeches, and more, the opening included a live video link-up with protestors in New York. Later in the week, another large march loudly denounced the FTAA. Smaller marches and rallies took place on a variety of subjects, ranging from a defense of midwives to protests against the attack on the CUT’s office. We especially appreciated the "radical cheerleaders," young women from Canada who denounced war and corporate globalization with great energy and wit.

For several days a "Debt Tribunal" took testimony about the problems associated with the IMF and World Bank and the impact of debt on speakers’ countries and lives.


Part of what made the World Social Forum so remarkable was that it took place in Porto Alegre, a coastal city of 1.2 million people, very far to the south, and fairly close to Argentina. The Workers’ Party (PT) has governed Porto Alegre for the last 12 years. The party’s candidates have won by large majorities. The city has seen falling crime rates, improved health and education, and a noticeably more equal distribution of income than other Brazilian cities. They have cleaned up corruption and waste, and instituted a participatory budget process that is a model of democratic process. The Workers’ Party also holds the governorship of the state, Rio Grande do Sul. It was wonderful to be in a place where it felt like the government was working for the people rather than against them.

We also gained some understanding of the million-strong landless workers’ movement, displaced rural workers who carry out direct-action land reform by seizing unused land held by wealthy landowners and establishing cooperative farms. The Movement of the Landless is the largest and most successful land reform movement in the world, having settled 300,000 families on millions of acres of land. In one cooperative Jonathan visited, 100 families farmed 5,400 acres together and shared the proceeds. Nobody gets rich, but no one goes hungry — as do millions of other Brazilians who remain landless and unemployed.

Some of the best things were unanticipated. By speaking to one’s neighbor in a food line or a workshop there was the possibility of fascinating conversations with people from around the world. Another unexpected delight was the friendliness of the strangers.


This is not to say that everything was perfect. For example, many of the labor sessions we attended were quite dry, and there was a serious lack of representation by women on the panels. However, in one of the more interesting panels, a representative of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) challenged the labor movement to criticize itself and honestly discuss differences with other groups, with the goal of working together. She pointed to the criticism the CAW received from members following the April 2001 protests against the FTAA in Quebec. Young people turned to climb the hill and tear down police fences, while union members continued along the planned route. "What difference would it have made if we had all turned to climb that hill?" she demanded.

Another weakness was the poor attendance of U.S. trade unions. The AFL-CIO participated, and some members of activist locals came through Jobs with Justice. However, we saw no indication that the affiliates had exerted any effort to send representatives. We believe that the UE representatives were the only U.S. labor delegates officially representing their union.

During the Forum two issues were of overwhelming importance. The first was the role of the international financial institutions and the problem of crushing external debt. There was a lot of discussion of the recent economic collapse of Argentina. On the news we watched the middle class protesting the freezing of bank assets and the unemployed demanding jobs. This underscored the point that the main issue for workers in the Global South is the debt their countries owe the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the way those institutions manipulate the debt to enforce the rules of corporate globalization.

There was also much discussion of neoliberal economics and structural adjustment policies. Although these terms are foreign to many Americans, we see the same policies all over the world: downsizing, privatization schemes, and a budget-cutting frenzy. We learned of the intimate connection between these policies and free trade, where the IMF and World bank force the countries of the Global South to base their economies on exports, turning them into low-wage havens for transnational capital. Clearly, it’s in the direct interest of U.S. workers to support the struggles against the IMF, World Bank and for debt relief.


Being in Brazil also brought home the importance of internationalism and international solidarity in a more concrete way due to a disturbing event — an attack by 10 uniformed men on the offices of the CUT, Brazil’s largest and most progressive trade union federation. Armed with machine guns and other weapons, the intruders stole thirty computers, a safe and numerous documents from the building which houses the CUT’s national headquarters, the Sao Paulo office as well as offices of many other federations affiliated with the CUT.

The attack is the latest in a series of crimes affecting the CUT, including the murder of dozens of CUT trade unionists. Although six of the computers were recovered and some arrests occurred, the CUT does not view this as a simple case of robbery; the break-in has "the characteristics of an act which has been planned and directed. It is hardly a coincidence that this has occurred during the World Social Forum, of which the CUT is one of the organizing bodies." The CUT also notes that the robbery occurred hours after approval of a national strike to protest anti-labor legislation.

This attack has implications that go way beyond the CUT or even Brazil. Our time in Porto Alegre gave us some sense of what it would mean if the PT were successful in winning. But if you think that this only affects the people of Brazil, think about the implications for our hemisphere if the PT wins the presidency of Brazil and the role that Brazil will play in determining whether the FTAA is approved! In our globalized world, what happens in Brazil will affect all of us.

What we took from Porto Alegre was renewed hope. It is a hope inspired by all of the young people who were there; by the friendliness, helpfulness, and enthusiasm; by the respect for difference; that we were part of a larger delegation which represented the best of the labor and community movements in the United States and that we were all part of a much larger, global movement in which everyone was working for a better world. In short, that another world is possible!

UE News - 03/02

Home -> UE News -> 2002 Archives -> Article

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