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  Issue No 83 Official Organ of LaborNet 09 February 2001  

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Economics

The Other Davos


While the world's business leaders met in Davos, a very different gathering was taking place in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Pat Ranald was there.

"A better world is possible!" These words and the beat of Brazilian drums opened the World Social Forum of 10,000 people from 120 countries in Porto Alegre, Brazil from January 25-30. The Forum was organised by civil society organisations over the last eight months to develop alternative policies to those devised by the transnational corporations meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland at the same time.

The Davos meeting took place behind barricades and civil protest was repressed by riot police, attracting widespread condemnation. In contrast, the World Social Forum was above all an expression of democracy and diversity. The opening ceremony was followed by a peaceful but exuberantly festive march through the city where the numbers swelled to 30,000, culminating in a free open-air concert.

Whereas Davos is sponsored by the corporations, the World Social Forum had a statement of support from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and

was funded by European non -government foundations and by the local and regional governments of Porto Alegre. It took place at the Catholic University was supported by prominent human rights campaigners including Jose Ramos Horta, Maude Barlow, Ariel Dorfman, Sabastio Salgado, Susan George, Vandana Shiva and Walden Bello. A televised debate between Porto Alegre and Davos showed that the corporate agenda now has to acknowledge that there are indeed alternatives.

The themes of the Forum were

· building economic policies that promote human development

· creating international strategies for grassroots organising

· building proposals to democratise international institutions like the WTO, World Bank and IMF

· creating sustainable development proposals to eradicate poverty and hunger and protect the environment

· organising against gender and racial discrimination

· the protection and preservation of indigenous land and culture.

500 elected representatives from around the world attended the Parliamentary forum which included delegations from most Latin American countries France, Switzerland, other European countries, Africa and the Asia Pacific. There were also specific meetings of women, youth and indigenous people.

Porto Alegre was chosen as the venue because it has a twelve- year record of elected local governments led by the Workers' Party (a left- wing labour party) which has developed alternative policies to economic rationalism, or neoliberalism, as it is known in Latin America . Olivio Dutra, the regional governor, opened the conference with a condemnation of economic rationalist policies of privatisation and deregulation which have been imposed on Brazil for many years by the International Monetary Fund and by conservative Federal Governments.

Brazil is the largest and richest country in Latin America, but these policies have ensured it still has the most unequal distribution of land, wealth and income. His regional and local governments have used their relatively limited resources to develop the positive role of the public sector in providing public services and policies to ensure citizenship rights. They have innovative forms of popular participation in government decisions, including participation by hundreds of local communities in the budgetary process.

The results of these policies were visible in the excellent public infrastructure of the city, and the enthusiastic participation of hundreds of young volunteers in the organisation of the conference.

As the convenor of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET), I attended the stream of seminars and workshops on the themes of trade and human rights. Analytical introductions to the themes by global experts were followed by a series of workshops which enabled activists from different countries to swap experiences and co-ordinate strategies.

The workshops on the World Trade Organisation noted that the new round of negotiations were still stalled. The USA, Europe and Japan were still refusing demands from developing countries and civil society for more democratic negotiating processes and reviews of existing agreements. However, negotiations on agriculture and trade in services are proceeding as part of previous agreements.

The Trade in Services negotiations are proceeding behind closed doors in a series of working parties and contain many hidden traps. Currently the Trade in Services Agreement does not include some public services. It also recognises the right of governments to regulate services to meet national policy objectives.

There are now proposals to change the rules on domestic regulation so that governments would have to prove that their laws and regulations are "least trade restrictive" regardless of social or other considerations. This could severely reduce the right of governments to regulate on issues like access, pricing and quality of essential services like water and electricity. There are also proposals which could require governments to make funds for public services like health and education available to private corporations.

The workshops discussed the development of a global campaign to call a moratorium to the trade in services negotiations. This would provide the opportunity for public debate and for us to demand public accountability from our governments. An international sign- on statement which outlines the issues and reaffirms the right of governments to provide public services and to regulate essential services in the public interest will form the basis of the campaign.

Activists from North and South America also analysed the draft text of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) which is the plan to extend the North American Free Trade agreement between Canada the USA and Mexico into Latin America. The draft contains many aspects of the Multinational Agreement on Investment that was defeated by popular opposition in 1998. The draft removes the power of national governments to regulate transnational investment and opens public services to private investment. Activists then shared plans for community education and mobilisation to oppose the draft, and to demand public debate and accountability from their governments before any agreement is signed.

The organisers plan to make the World Social Forum an annual event. Because of the short lead time, it was not widely known in Australia and few of us were there. I was able to attend only because my fare was funded by the UNSW Humanities Faculty Prize for my doctoral thesis. Next year's Forum will have more lead time and deserves more participation from Australian community organisations. Papers from the Forum should be available shortly at www.worldsocialforum.org.

Patricia Ranald is the Principal Policy Officer at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Sydney . Recent publications include The Case for Fair Trade: A Citizen's Guide to the World Trade Organisation, AFTINET, Sydney, and Stopping the Juggernaut, Public Interest versus the MAI, Pluto Press, Sydney


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*    Visit the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network

*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 83 contents

In this issue
Features
*  Interview: Dispatch from Davos
ACTU President Shahran Burrow reports back on the trade union movement’s presence at last week’s meeting of the heavyweights of global capital.
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*  Unions: After the Gold Rush
Recent mass sackings at high-profile e-businesses are beginning to expose the flimsiness of the ‘jobs for all’ predictions made on behalf of the sector.
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*  Economics: The Other Davos
While the world’s business leaders met in Davos, a very different gathering was taking place in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Pat Ranald was there.
*
*  Politics: While We Were Snoozing
As we lay in our banana chair through summer the political world kept turning with a new man in the White House. Here’s what we missed while we were off the air.
*
*  History: Federation Day, 1901
One hundred years after Australia became a nation, Ralph Sawyer relives the original Federation Day through the eyes of Billy Hughes.
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*  International: Burma: The Struggle Continues
As the internatinal community moves to bring Burma to account, APHEDA - Union Aid Abroad is working on the ground.
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*  Review: Inside the Journopolis
In his new book, Rob Johnson brings the infamous Cash for Comment Affair to life.
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*  Satire: Families Demand Longer Work Hours
A new report confirms the long held suspicion that employees who reduce their workload to spend more time with their spouse and children just end up annoying their families even more.
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»  Forum: Organising Youth in a Hostile Workplace
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»  Action as Australia Considers WTO Ties
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Columns
»  The Soapbox
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»  Sport
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»  Trades Hall
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»  Tool Shed
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Letters to the editor
»  Cavalier Attitude to Cricketers
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»  Unions and the WEF: How should unions bridge the divide?
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»  Botsman's Ivory Tower
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»  Volunteering a Modest Proposal
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»  Well Done, Workers Online
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