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(en) Brazilian Unionists Speak out against World Social Forum in (WSF) in Porto Alegre & Civil Society

From Thiago Oppermann <topp8564@mail.usyd.edu.au>
Date Thu, 31 Jan 2002 10:23:15 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

This translation recently appeared in the New York indymedia.  The story is
quite something, because the main union involved is the CUT, which is one of
the eight Brazilian bodies organising the WSF.

But although this is a very good story, there is no indication of anything
like  this in the CUT website itself. What I did find there is a
reafirmation that the CUT will , in fact, be participating in the WSF. This
is in response to a story published in the Jornal do Brasil last Sunday,
which asserted the contrary. Not sure where this fits in.


We, the undersigned unionists ... will not participate in the panels,
workshops and official sessions of the World Social Forum. We will not be
there because we are convinced that the defense of the organizations that
workers have created to fight against capitalist exploitation is
contradictory with the politics of "civil society" -- which dissolve the
borders of social class.

Open Letter to the Trade Unionists and Activists Participating in the
World Social Forum 2002 in Porto Alegre, Brazil:

Is it possible to put a human face on globalization and war?

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We, the undersigned Brazilian trade unionists, want to open a dialogue
with you. We are living through a terrible situation the world over. The
U.S. government, under the cover of the United Nations, is using the
heinous terrorist attacks of September 11 to intensify a political agenda
of "full-scale, protracted war" -- as Bush himself has stated. It is a war
that started with the bombing of Afghanistan and is far from over.

In neighboring Argentina, the people -- after years of governments that
had submitted to the dictates of the IMF and applied the politics of
privatization, destruction of workers' rights, and bleeding the nation to
pay back the foreign debt -- took to the streets and threw out the
"center-left" government of Fernando De la Rua. They made it clear they
wanted an end to policies that had plunged millions of Argentineans into
misery and hunger -- all in the name of "modernization," the "exigencies
of globalization," the "criteria" of the Mercosul regional "free trade"
pact, and the preparation of the country for the FTAA!

In this new situation, the "powers that dominate the world" -- that is,
the multinationals; the financial speculators; the international financial
institutions such as the WTO, World Bank and IMF; and all the governments
in their service -- have declared an economic and political war against
the workers, against their organizations, and against the peoples. Their
aim is to use the tragic events of September 11th to roll back all the
rights and conquests wrested through bitter struggle by working and
oppressed peoples. Their aim is to destroy any and all barriers to their
plunder of natural resources and their unbridled quest for profit and

The struggles of resistance against these scorched-earth policies cry out
for the unity of working people the world over -- from North to South and
from East to West. It requires the united struggle of oppressed and
exploited peoples to stop this offensive of war and destruction, which is
leading the world to the brink of barbarism. Only through such united
struggle in defense of the rights and gains of working people will it be
possible to chart a way forward for the future of humanity.

For our part, we are certain that this quest for unity in action to defend
and advance the rights of working people is what has prompted thousands of
unionists and activists from across the globe to participate in the second
World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

But does the reality of the WSF correspond to this expectation? Does the
WSF offer a way forward for this struggle? We want to raise some questions
here about the WSF and invite you, our bothers and sisters, to draw your
own conclusions.

The Trap of Civil Society

The WSF has presented itself, since its inception, as a forum for "civil
society." The very concept of "civil society," which is so popular of
late, erases the borders between social classes that exist in society.
How, for example, is it possible to include in the same category of "civil
society" both the exploited and the exploiters, the bosses and workers,
the oppressors and oppressed -- not to mention the churches, NGOs, and
government and UN representatives?

The organizing committee of the WSF in Brazil includes organizations such
as the Brazilian Association of Employers for the Citizens (CIVES) and the
Brazilian Association of NGOs (ABONG). They are joined in the committee by
other entities, which, to be sure, are connected to the struggles of the
exploited and oppressed -- such as the CUT [Unified Workers Federation]
and the MST [Movement of Landless Peasants]. Is this organizing committee
itself not an expression of the politics of "civil society" -- that is, of
the attempt to group together in the same camp interests that are in fact
contradictory and diametrically opposed?

Let's take the example of the campaign in defense of workers' rights
contained in the Brazilian Labor Code which we in the Brazilian trade
union movement are now carrying out. The CUT has issued a call to prepare
a General Strike in March 2002 to prevent the approval of PL 4583 by
Minister Dornelles. It is clear that the CUT is determined to carry forth
with this strike call should the situation require it.

What do the so-called "progressive bosses" think of these workers' rights?
What do the NGOs -- which both practice and promote "volunteerism" and
other forms of precarious and unregulated labor -- think about these
workers' rights? Don't all the jobs "created" by the NGOs, in fact,
replace jobs in the public enterprises and services, in line with the
policies implemented by [Brazilian President] Fernando Henrique Cardoso at
the behest of the IMF?

The politics of "civil society" are today officially the politics of the
World Bank. What is the content of these politics? Judge for yourself. The
World Bank's World Development Report 2000/2001 puts it this way:

"It is appropriate for financial institutions to use their means ... to
develop an open and regular dialogue with the organizations of civil
society, in particular those that represent the poor. ... Social
fragmentation can be mitigated by bringing groups together in formal and
informal forums and channelling their energies into political processes
instead of open conflict."

Could it be a coincidence that among the funding sources of the WSF one
can find the Ford Foundation -- or that the World Bank's website promotes
the Porto Alegre Forum?

What is the role of NGOs?

Hundreds, if not thousands, of NGOs will be participating in the World
Economic Forum of Davos (to be held this year in New York) as well as in
the WSF in Porto Alegre. What is the role that those who control the
commanding heights of the global economy attribute to the NGOs?

In the official Word Bank document titled "The World Bank and Civil
Society" (September 2000), one can read the following: "[M]ore than 70% of
the projects supported by the World Bank that were approved in 1999
involved non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society in some

There is a popular proverb that states, "He who pays the piper calls the
tune." The World Bank, as we know, is part of the holy trinity of
capitalist globalization, alongside the IMF and the WTO. Could it be that
these institutions are "neutral" and that they do not express the
interests of global capitalism? Let us look at this one concrete example:
The International Commission of the WSF met in Dacar, the capital of
Senegal, on Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 2001. ENDA-3rd World, which is an NGO that has
been actively building the WSF across Africa, hosted and organized this
WSF planning meeting. What are the politics of ENDA?

According to its own documents, ENDA believes that "to prohibit child
labor is to deprive children, as well as their families, of an important
means of subsistence." ENDA affirms that "it is necessary to take into
account the socio-economic reality and, therefore, to fight for the rights
of child laborers."

This stance by ENDA is in open contradiction to the positions of the CUT
and the international labor movement -- all of which call for the
abolition of child labor and mandatory education through age 15 of all
children. The place for children is in school! But not only does ENDA
advocate child labor, it is participating directly in the privatization of
the public water system, constructing wells and cisterns and charging the
users a fee for providing the water. (source: "ENDA: Water and Urban

What about the Tobin Tax and ATTAC?

In the name of James Tobin, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics and
fervent advocate of corporate "free trade," an Association for the
Taxation of Financial Transactions and for Assistance to Citizens (ATTAC)
was created -- first in France (1998) and then on an international scale.
Among its goals is the establishment of a Tobin Tax, which would create a
tax of between 0.05 percent and 0.1 percent on international financial
transactions. The money collected would serve to create an "international
fund" to help "development and the struggle against poverty."

As is widely known, ATTAC is today one of the main founders and organizers
of the WSF of Porto Alegre. The Tobin Tax, for its part, has won the
support of people as "prominent" as the multi-billionaire and speculator
George Soros, Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and others.

Now, if a tax existed to finance an international "fund" to aid the poor,
one would think that the greater the financial speculation, the better --
because such a "fund" would have more resources. This rationale is not

Be that as it may, along with the Tobin Tax, ATTAC today is dedicated to
other ventures as well. It proposes to "change the world" under the slogan
"another world is possible" through "better control over globalization."
But is it possible to change the world without questioning the fundamental
relations of production -- without challenging the private ownership of
the major means of production? Is another world possible with a minimal
Tobin Tax helping to "control globalization"?

Bernard Cassen, president of ATTAC-France and director of Le Monde
Diplomatique, a newspaper controlled by the enterprise group of the daily
Le Monde, declared at the founding congress of ATTAC-Germany (Oct, 19-21,
2001) that, "President Bush has taken steps in the direction of ATTAC's
proposals since September 11, 2001. It is clear that we still have a long
ways to go. But it is necessary to note that ... Mr. Bush is now against
tax shelters. We register this fact. Bush has come closer to our positions
concerning the role of the state, investing US$120 billion in the economy.
... He has embraced our position on the cancellation of the debt, though
he is doing this for his own reasons. The U.S., for example, has just
cancelled Pakistan's debt, which proves that it is possible to cancel the

Bush has just launched one of the largest-scale offensives against working
people ever, including the massive bombing of Afghanistan -- and yet,
according to the president of ATTAC-France, Bush is moving closer to the
positions of ATTAC. This is very interesting.

"A world without war is possible"

Under this title, a special session of the World Social Forum will be
devoted to a "world without war." According to the proposal from the
organizers, this session "seeks to bring social and/or institutional
representatives of the regions where wars are taking place together with
Nobel Peace Prize recipients in a joint effort to reflect on the nature of
wars and to identify the possibilities of elaborating peace plans." The
following "regions" will be discussed: Palestine, Kashmir, the Basque
Country, Colombia and Chiapas. Curiously, the bombing of Afghanistan will
not be part of the agenda. How is it possible for the "all-out and
protracted" war launched by Bush -- today in Afghanistan and tomorrow
possibly in Iraq or Somalia -- not to be part of the discussion under this

Palestine -- which currently faces a dramatic situation, with the State of
Israel attacking on all fronts in open war -- will be discussed, with the
objective of "elaborating a peace plan." But what is origin of the current
situation in Palestine? It is the Oslo Accords, sponsored by the United
States (under Clinton) and then legitimized by the UN as a "peace plan."
These accords created a pseudo-Palestinian "state" (the Palestinian
Authority, whose headquarters are now being bombed), which was but an
conglomeration of miniscule so-called Palestinian territories surrounded
by the State of Israel.

Speaking of "Nobel Peace Prizes," it was the Oslo Accords that garnered
that prize for Yasir Arafat and for the Israeli chief of state at that
time: Shimon Peres. As a matter of fact, the Secretary General of the UN,
Kofi Annan, has also been graced with the Nobel Peace Prize, perhaps in
recognition for the role that the UN played in perpetrating the genocide
in Rwanda -- or was it for the embargo that the UN has imposed on Iraq, or
better yet for the cover provided by the UN to the NATO bombers in

"Participatory democracy" and the "participatory budget"

The World Bank has just created an international department charged with
overseeing the implementation of "participatory democracy" in 26
countries. It has also translated, published and distributed the book "The
Participatory Budget: The Experience of Porto Alegre," written by Tarso
Genro [former mayor of Porto Alegre] and Ubirata de Souza. Is this simply
disinterested propaganda of the World Bank? Or, on the contrary, do the
"participatory democracy and "participatory budget" processes not, in
fact, embody the above-cited strategy of "channeling energies" to avoid
"open conflict"?

All the documents which came out of the first WSF of Porto Alegre discuss
the "model" experiences of "participatory democracy" that have existed in
the capital of Rio Grande do Sul. The Second WSF continues on the same
line. Among the list of WSF workshops there is one titled "World
Participatory Budget" (nothing more nor less!), organized by the Governor
of Rio Grande do Sul "in participation with the citizens' movements."

But how does the "participatory budget" function in reality? In the
unsuspecting voice of its coordinator in the city of Sao Paulo, it is
meant to be a "filter for popular demands"!

Only one small portion of the municipal budgets -- in the case of Porto
Alegre the sum amounts to 17% -- is earmarked for discussion and
allocation by the assemblies of representatives of popular organizations
(the council of the "participatory budget"). These assemblies define how
the priorities should be set for the disbursement of these limited funds.
(The bulk of municipal budget monies are untouchable, as they have been
earmarked to pay back the foreign debt and other expenses.) As resources
are limited, there is constant in-fighting among activist groups over how
the priorities should be set. The "participatory budget" councilors are
forced to choose which they prefer: the creation of a school or a health
clinic, pavement of the roads, or childcare centers, etc. This is how the
responsibility for NOT meeting the demands of the population is shifted
... onto the backs of the participants in the "participatory budget"

Now, who participates in the "participatory budgets"? The answer is "civil
society." In the case of a "participatory budget" assembly in the
municipality of Camacua, a businessperson sent "his" representatives as
delegates and won close to 70% of the votes to prioritize the pavement of
a road -- to the detriment of all the other demands!

Is this, as its supporters claim, "an innovative form of democracy"? Or,
on the contrary, isn't it a trap that seeks to co-opt the popular
movements and associations into the implementation of the city
government's austerity plans, thereby making them responsible for the
"choices" that inevitably do untold harm to the other popular movements
and associations?

And what conception of society lies behind this "participatory budget"? It
is that of a society without conflicts, without contradictions, based on
"consensus among equals." But is this not the inverse of democracy, which
demands the recognition that contradictory interests exist in society, as
well as the recognition of the right of the exploited and oppressed to
independent organization in the face of the state and the exploiters?

What would be, for example, the participation of a union of public service
workers in the "participatory budget"? There are no lack of voices that
say that unions "should learn to function in labor-management cooperation
committees" and therefore should enter in such "participatory" forums. It
is reasonable to expect that the union delegate would seek improvements in
wages and conditions as a priority. But the association of homeowners may
want light in their neighborhood. Instead of directing their demands for
public power and mobilizing to achieve them through collective action,
they will be played against each other in the assemblies of the
"participatory budget." Many of you have participated in such assemblies.
Is what we are saying not the complete truth?

Brothers and sisters:

We, the undersigned unionists, will participate in the Trade Union and
Popular Assembly which the CUT has called in Porto Alegre on February 1st
to discuss and prepare the General Strike next March. But we will not
participate in the panels, workshops and official sessions of the World
Social Forum.

We will not be there because we are convinced that the defense of the
organizations that workers have created to fight against capitalist
exploitation is contradictory with the politics of "civil society" --
which dissolve the borders of social class. It is contradictory, moreover,
with the politics of "giving a human face to globalization" -- which, as
we know, is not a phenomenon of nature, but rather the product of global
capitalism. "Globalization" by definition necessitates the destruction of
our workplaces, our jobs and our rights. Capitalist globalization has
destroyed nations, democracy, and the sovereignty of the poor. It cannot
be "humanized."

We, who affirm the need to defend the trade unions as instruments of
working class struggle, deny any legitimacy or authority to the NGOs to
speak in the name of the exploited and oppressed. We do not claim to be
the sole possessors of the truth. We simply want to put forward our point
of view -- which is part of the democratic process. We respectfully submit
these views for the consideration of all our brothers and sisters in

You can count on us as fighters in the struggle against war and
exploitation; in defense of social and labor rights, against deregulation;
in defense of trade union independence and democracy! You can count on us
in the struggle against the FTAA, and for the withdrawal of Brazil from
the negotiations to implement it! You can count on us in the struggle
against privatization and in defense of public services! You can count on
us in the preparation of the General Strike to stop the destruction of our
labor rights and to impose a defeat on the governments of FHC -IMF!

Militant greetings,

January 2, 2002

Signatories, unions & titles:

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