||Issue No. 124||15 February 2002|
Chickens Come Home
Unions: Winning the Heartland
Interview: Swan's Song
Corporate: Lessons from Enron
Politics: What We Did Last Summer
History: Solidarity in Song
International: A Tale of Two Cities
Poetry: Nobody Told Me
Review: Labor and the Rings
Satire: Rafter Named Bermudan Of The Year For Tax Purposes
The Locker Room
Week in Review
'International Labour's Year in Review' - A Re-View
Collins Gets Cryptic
A Tale of Two Cities
By Terry Bell *
A tale of two cities, heavy with irony and laden with symbolism, was played out over the summer. One of its more interesting features was the attendance of two prominent South Africans.
Their presence at the respective venues summarises quite well the main ideological and policy debates in the globalising world of today. President Thabo Mbeki attended the World Economic Forum (WEF) in New York; while Cosatu president, Willie Madisha, was at the World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
New York is, of course, the brash capital of rampant capitalism; Porto Alegre the centre of the rapidly growing movement against "corporate-driven globalisation".
The WEF was founded privately in Davos, Switzerland as a discussion and lobbying forum for the world's top industrialists and financiers. On an annual basis, they wine, dine and woo the leaders of governments around the world.
The WSF was set up two years ago in direct response to the WEF. It draws together a much larger, more diverse and often fractious group of delegates than the WEF and is committed to the idea of an "alternative" to the present world economic order. Although made up of a variety of ideological strains, the WSF tends to be united in condemning the WEF as an "elitist, rich old boys' club". This "Davos club" is seen as arrogant and authoritarian, even dangerous to the future security of the bulk of the world's population.
But for all the often fiery rhetoric, this thrust from Brazil is not so much revolutionary as reformist; a case of Maynard Keynes versus Milton Friedman; of interventionism versus the anarchy of the market.
At Porto Alegre, the names and ideas of Mao, Trotsky, Lenin and Marx may hover on the fringes, but the centre stage will be held by the likes of Noam Chomsky, an incisive analyst and radical reformer. His opposite number in New York will be seen in the likes of the currency speculating billionaire philanthropist, George Soros.
The two highest profile South African representatives to stride these two stages were Mbeki and Madisha. Mbeki was in New York talking investment and the extolling the virtues of South Africa's liberal macro-economic regime. Madisha was in Porto Alegre, extolling the possibility of "another world" and building links with the large and historically militant trade union federation, CUT.
This was particularly easy to do in Porto Alegre, capital of the province of Rio Grande do Sul, since both are governed by the CUT-supported Workers' Party (PT). But there was some apparent common ground between the two gatherings.
Both tended to agree that increasing poverty and the social and political ramifications of this, amount to the biggest problem facing the world today. Both also tended to agree that the world has a surplus of almost every basic necessity. The parting of the ways comes with the ideas for how to deal with this situation.
This is our own macro-economic battle on an international plane; GEAR (growth employment and redistribution) versus the social equity orientation supported by the trade unions.
The arguments about the need for still greater growth and higher productivity in order to encourage a greater trickle down of wealth should once again emanate from the corridors of the WEF. From the WSF should come freshly packaged versions of the need to redistribute existing wealth in order to encourage equitable growth.
At a fundamental level, these points of departure are impossible to reconcile. So for all the recent murmurings of toenadering between government and Cosatu nothing much appears to have changed. Despite the unions being under the whip of recession and economic restructuring, their battle continues, only becoming more clearly international.
Even the South-South "trade butterfly" touted by the department of trade and industry is now in the process of having a mirror trade union structure created. This "butterfly" concept advanced the notion of increased trade and investment between South Africa ‹ the "body" extending northwards into Africa ‹Asia and South America. Brazil would be key to the "wing" in the west, India and South Korea to the east.
Madisha's talks with CUT were part of a process begun recently, which should see Cosatu working much more closely with the Brazilian unions and with the presently embattled and highly militant unions of South Korea. A "solidarity butterfly" seems in the making. Perhaps it will be another metaphorical butterfly that stings like a bee.
Terry Bell is a Cape Town-based freelance writer, columnist and editor, banned and in exile from South Africa for 27 years. A trade unionist, socialist and former political detainee, has written the syndicated "Inside Labour" column since 1996.
An early editor of Anti-Apartheid News in Britain, keynote speaker at the inaugural conference of the NZ Anti-Apartheid Movement, NZ Peace Squadron activist, founder-principal of the primary division of the Somafco school for SA exiles in Tanzania, and co-ordinator of the international "Friends of Moses Mayekiso" campaign.
Author of the recently published "Unfinished Business - South Africa, apartheid & truth" written in collaboration with leading SA human rights lawyer and former Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigations unit head, Dumisa Ntsebeza.
John Pilger has said of this book: "...a brilliant, important book that should be read by everybody interested in the truth behind the 'truth and reconciliation' hype of the new South Africa...reveals the cover-ups and charades that allowed the shock troops of apartheid to get away with a crime against humanity."
Unfinished Business may be ordered through this e-mail address - [email protected] wn.apc.org - by fax (below) or from P. O. Box 373, Muizenberg 7950, South Africa.
Payment may be via transmission to: T. Bell, Nedbank, Salt River, Cape Town; account number 2021 325385 (please fax/e-mail details of such payments) or by crossed cheque to T. Bell.
PS: we are using any income from the book to finance Understanding Our Past, an attempt to uncover as much hidden apartheid history as we can.
-Tel: +27 +21 +788 9699
Fax: +27 +21 +788 9711-
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