The Other Davos: Globalization of Resistances and Struggles by Francois Houtart and Francois Polet
Published by Christava Sahitya Samithi (CSS), Thiruvalla, Kerela, India, November 2000. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Chapter 2: The Other Davos in Action
So as to better grasp the contents of this meeting, to know the participants and understand the significance of the meeting, we invite you to take a closer look at the exchange of ideas which took place during the several days of the meeting. The meeting was only made possible through the work of Charles André Udry and his team, and took place at various levels presented below through the discussions and debates, all of which shaped the content of this meeting of the social, intellectual and citizen forces against the Global leader of the international Economic Forum of Davos. The first four sections contain extracts from contributions and debates which were held in Zurich, January 28-29, 1999, whilst the last section summarises the declarations and responses made to journalists during the press conference at Davos itself, January 30. These are transcriptions of video recordings made by Frank Millo and Victor Cohen-Hadria, during the meetings in the two Swiss cities.
1. The individuals present
François Houtart (session chairman): “We have here the representatives of the four organisations which have created the “Other Davos” initiative: Susan George with the committee against the MAI, Doug Hellinger of Saprin, Samir Amin of the World Forum of Alternatives and Christophe Aguiton of ATTAC. They are here and available to respond to your questions. I think that we are operating in a sufficiently relaxed environment to be able to work in a ‘serious’ and organised yet friendly and very informal way. We can now present ourselves to you.
Susan George: “François did some very nice introduction. I am Susanne George, I am a writer and I am here as one of the people representing the coordination against the MAI and its clones. The friends, here, from the same coordination, are Jean-Claude Amara, Julien Lusson, Agnès Bertrand and François Chesnais. We immediately felt the need to join this organization. I am personally president of the “Observatoire de la mondialisation” which is one of the members of a coalition against the MAI which now has over 70 members in France and we were also very active in the international coordination against the MAI and we won an initial victory but we have to keep going because the MAI is now springing up again.
Douglas Hellinger: “I am Doug Hellinger, working with a group; called the Developing Gap, in Washington. The Developing Gap is promoting the collaboration with partners in the South”
Christophe Aguiton: “My name is Christophe Aguiton, I am French, a trade unionist, but I am currently particularly active in movements against unemployment in France, with ‘Agir Contre le Chômage’ and, at the European level, with the network of European Walks against Unemployment, Employment Instability and Exclusion. And it is with this that that I am a member of ATTAC, like a number of other participants who will introduce themselves shortly. It is a new association, originally French, which was recently created by the newspapers (Le Monde Diplomatique - Alternatives Economiques), trade unions and social associations and by NGOs and which have the support of the militants. I would like to say that in France, as in numerous other countries, this association enjoys very close links with other associations present here, in particular the collective against the MAI. What has happened in France has also been experienced in other countries. There is work which has been accomplished together, and for us this is a sure sign of what is about to happen at the international level. We hope that this will be a first step towards the co-ordination of these networks at the international level...”
Ahmed Ben Bella: “My name is Ahmed Ben Bella. I am here because I have been in contact with the organisers of this meeting for a long time. Among other things, I am president of the Arab Congress which brings together the Arab parties. I work a great deal on Arab problems but also in a more general way with the world system and North-South relations and I think that my experience enables me to deal with these North-South problems much more effectively. The North-South dialogue is dead and buried. It is at the level of NGOs located in the north and south that contact must be established and the problems of the world system examined. I am one of those who think it was necessary to have an anti-Davos. I virtually live in Switzerland. Every year we take part in this great celebration of capitalism. Every year we have a visit from 2,500 bankers and other economic decision-markers who come to serenade us about the virtues of capitalism. I believed that an anti-Davos was necessary... Now we are on the point of doing it. I am happy to be among you.
Mario Luis Lill: “My name is Mario Luis Lill and I represent the Brazil’s Movement for the Landless Peasants (MST). I am very happy to be here because this meeting takes place at a very opportune moment and also because it is necessary to question the prevailing model of globalisation which is extremely destructive for the smallest and the weakest in our society and particularly for the small farmers. As a representative of MST, I hope that we will be able to develop some lines of action, to find the means to put an end to this process of destruction engendered by the globalisation phenomenon..”
Vincent Espagne: “1 am from the French ‘Droits Devant’ (Rights First) association, member of the co-ordination group against the clones of the MAI. I work with the ‘Observatoire de la Mondialisaton’ (Globalisation Observatory), namely Susan George and Agnès Bertrand, the secretariat of this coordination. We are also here to express the thoughts and the voices of those without rights, that is to say those without papers, without resources, without homes, the numbers of which are increasing in number. We are delighted to meet today women from the Maghreb, the land-less from Brazil..”
Samir Amin: “My name is Samir Amin. I represent a number of different organisations. On the one hand I represent the World Forum for Alternatives, which has, since its inception, wanted to see the inception of an anti-Davos. Behind the World Forum for Alternatives there is also the Forum of the Third World, a much older organisation, which has never believed that globalisation or imperialism was anything new and which has always been active in the battle against imperialism. This is the reason why we think that the debate on globalisation should not only be a debate on economic neo-colonialism but also on the different political aspects of globalisation. And I am very happy that Sid Ahmed has raised some of the problems of hegemonism and of the military arrogance of the United States in particular, as one of the fundamental elements of the constellation which represents the current globalisation”.
Ousséni Ouedraogo: My name is Ousséni Ouedraogo. It is a name which is not familiar to most of the people here. But I am perhaps the easiest to identify. I come from Burkina Faso, at the heart of West Africa and I represent here a peasant-farmer organisation created in 1996 to build a capability for representation and negotiation, to defend the interests of the farmers faced with certain trends, certain programs, certain policies over which they have no control. Our organisation thinks that the farmer is not a production machine. The farmer is a citizen, a development partner. And agriculture is not only an economic function but also has an ecological and a social role to play. And in this perspective, we work a lot on the conditions of production. We think about the legislative frameworks and about financial questions. We must inform the producers about the programmes and the policies decided upon high up in the administration and help them deal with this information. And we are also called upon to carry their viewpoints on the environment to other partners (...) and to defend these points of view. Thus, when this forum was mentioned, we said to ourselves that it has the same perspective, even if we are working at the micro level, we are delighted to be here to share our experience and discover at the same time other climatic conditions [Switzerland in winter]. Thank you...
Riccardo Petrella: “At this moment, I am still an adviser to the Commission of the European Union. I am a professor at Catholic University of Louvain and I am also engaged in militant activities including with the Amis du Monde Diplomatique (Friends of Le Monde Diplomatique monthly), as an organiser of the Forum of the Small Villages of the World and the ‘Groupe de Lisbonne’...”
François Houtart: “I am the Director of the Centre Tricontinental (Tricontinental Centre) at Louvain-la-Neuve, a centre of documentation and study on Asia, Africa and Latin America, which publishes the revue:‘Alternatives Sud’. My discipline is sociology and religion and in this capacity I taught at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium. My work and teaching have often taken me out of Europe, to the United States, to Latin America, to Asia and to Africa. I have been heavily involved with the solidarity movements with the struggles of the South and I have worked in collaboration with numerous social movements.
All the other participants introduced themselves next and the session chairman concluded:
François Houtart: “I have counted that we have 19 different nationalities here, from various continents. Oceania is unfortunately not present in body but is certainly here in spirit. This shows that we truly represent a very great diversity. The overview that we have given, has allowed us to summarise the different approaches and the different places of which we are speaking. And it is this which, for me, is the fundamental richness of this group. We are talking about different places, but these places are actually complementary. This diversity is also the guarantee of the success of the work we will accomplish over these three days and the mutual lessons which we will draw from all this. Clearly we are not aiming all to arrive at a unanimous agreement on a certain number of positions, but to establish the convergence which could result in the long term.
2. The dynamism of the positions
-Victor Cohen-Hadria: “How do you explain this convergence today from all these very different people with their very varied experiences?”
Ahmed Ben Bella: “All these people, despite their differences, are affected by the fact that the world system, as it currently operates, does not work. So we all find ourselves on the same wavelength. As a citizen of a Third World country, I think that the development of the Third World is like a shipwreck. We say this with recent developments in Asia in mind. People say to us: act like the tigers, but we are aware that we cannot do so. Firstly, there are the physical limits of the planet. If we consumed so much energy what will become of this planet? And then, these so-called tigers, are now going downhill. And yet, all this affects 85% of the population of the South which will become 90% within twenty years, according to United Nations figures.
Given this perspective, something must be done. We have to change the economic system. There are also the wars, the embargoes which continue and the United Nations which is falling apart. We see countries bombarding each other instead of creating common objectives. These are all problems of development, of the future which concern us. Our planet is a little village and even now it is not in a very good state. Unemployment is increasing. The lot of the South today is poverty. There are also migratory flows. This is a matter of inter-connecting vessels. The Third World is a vast shantytown and in front of it is a grassy plain. At any moment, we will see an invasion of the plain! Because these people have no hope, particularly young people, since the Third World is young. People realise that the problems are the same for the North and the South. People try to contain the invasion. But they won’t succeed. The army has already been placed on the Swiss border. You cannot stop someone who is hungry and believes he can help himself”
Victor Cohen-Hadria: “Do you believe that it is possible for there to be common objectives between those who are in the very restricted zone of well-being and good health, and those who are in the shanty towns of the Third World?”
Ahmed Ben Bella: “The proof is that we are here. I believe that we haven’t yet found each other (and yet I have known certain of our friends here since 1983). Yes, I believe there is a conjunction, a common approach to try and move certain things. I do not think that we have found the definitive responses. It is by approaching the problem on the long term that we will succeed. But I have no hesitation in saying that we have reached the limits of the liberal system. It has had its moment. It cannot manage the world economy... and in the South, things are going from bad to worse. U.N. figures show that hunger kills 35 million people each year. Debt is increasing. Countries can no longer pay even the interest on this debt. Tropical illnesses affect one and a half million people whilst scientific research does nothing since research is dependent on money expectation. The pharmaceutical company Roche does not do research on malaria: they are insolvent. And then there is the game in the stock exchanges of the financial markets, global speculation, more than 2,000 billion dollars is exchanged every day and scarcely 5% represents the real economy. In other words, it is a vast casino. The small casinos have rules and laws whilst for this one there are none, thanks to the internet. We hear about Brazil falling, perhaps it will be China next... Today there are alternatives and the hunger which kills 35 million people is not fatal.
The UNDP report appears on the 15th of each September. The last one revealed, among other figures, that 400 billionaires from multinationals, possess half of the wealth of the world. The wealth of only 85 of these billionaires exceeds the output of China: one billion two hundred million inhabitants. The report says that if these billionaires were taxed 4%, it would eliminate all poverty and health problems in the entire world. It is not that the earth cannot feed all the world. It is the management of the available resources, which is catastrophic. Increasingly now it is money which creates the system. In addition, there are no more customs officials, no more policemen and the internet is beyond all control. It is true, we have reached our limits. The Third World is in the process of growing according to the principle that misery creates more population. There is a French proverb which says that the bed of misery is prolific. I am a member of the Third World and I have participated for a long time in conferences on this topic.
The Third World has recuperated a flag, a hymn, but absolutely everything is controlled by the North even down to the simple but essential things. For example, when the North sells to us, it is they who fix the price. When it is us who is selling, it is they who fix the price. For corn, it’s Chicago, for copper, it’s London, for coffee.... etc. And the price of raw materials has fallen dramatically recently. It is this chasm which is opening up in front of us. And so at Davos, these people, these 2,000 bankers and leaders of the world economy, come to celebrate each year the ‘Great Mass’ of capitalism. As for us, we want to organise our own little mass. We have to change things, as for example the rules of the United Nations. I am a man of the Third World and I see that the embargoes, such as that imposed on Libya, or during the Iraq war, are all decided in the North! Libya was attacked by bombers, and after that you dare talk of terrorism? Three countries create a no-fly zone in Iraq, without the slightest consultation with the United Nations (the United States, France and the UK)”.
-Jean-Pierre Papart: “I would like to add a few things to this since I lived in Nicaragua during the 1980s. The International Tribunal in The Hague condemned the guerrilla policy conducted by the United States through the trickery of the CIA. The latter were condemned to pay 11 billion 200 million dollars in damages ,for the acts of terrorism they committed but they never paid up. Thus we see that the world’s policeman makes use of the United Nations whilst it does not respect the verdict of the United Nations when it affects itself”.
-Victor Cohen-Hadria: “They don’t even pay their subscription...”
Jean-Pierre Papart: “That is a secondary point. It is not just them. But they were convicted, they did not respect the judgements of the International Tribunal in the Hague, particularly concerning the use of anti-personnel mines... I would like to say one thing. One day, I was the first to be called to a school where a child had stepped on a mine (there are mines in Nicaragua in several regions, even anti-personnel mines carrying the picture of Mickey Mouse). That is the CIA’s gift to the Nicaraguan people, under the pretext of fighting communism...
3. The social movements: witnesses from various continents
Ousseni Quedragogo of the Federation of co-operative farmers of Burkina Faso. “Burkina Faso is known in West Africa as the country which has a long tradition of peasant-farmer organisation and structure. Effectively, there are 22,000 peasant-farmer organisations at the village level which, since 1967, try to propel economic development from their culture by opposing imported production models. This dynamism has progressively engendered the creation of unions at higher levels. This process continued and then, in 1990, there was a big political and economic change. There was the devaluation of the CFA franc, the structural adjustment programme with the disengagement of the State, the process of decentralisation. All this engendered new challenges for the farmer organisations: challenges which really exceeded their individual capacities.
There was a willingness, a necessity to join forces, to strengthen collective and individual capabilities and efficiently face this challenge. At the same time, an international association launched a study on the peasant-farmer movement of Burkina Faso, and other three West African countries. This study examined the strength of the associative movement, its weaknesses, its challenges and its changes in the new context. To carry out this study, some peasant-farmer organisations participated in a consultative group. The result was very pertinent for these farmers. The consultative group thought it necessary to share it widely with other farmer organisations and so 5 organisations took the initiative to share the results of this study and managed to mobilise commitment and technical support.
During a meeting in 1994 on the results of the study, the people were informed about the PAS; i.e. the structural adjustment programmes proposed by the IMF in the agricultural sector. At the end, they said: let us create a body which will keep us regularly informed on national policies which affect us. That is how the idea for the creation of a structure was born. There are those who disagreed with the decision saying that we did not have a mandate from our base. They suggested that we organise a committee to study the question further. What would be the functions of this structure: these are not known? Which form of organisation should it take: we don’t know?
So we set up a committee which worked for two years, over a wide geographical area, in the various areas of production and who visited other experiments in Africa so as to make proposals as to the proper functioning of the structure and the organisational problems we might encounter. The results formed the basis of the founding assembly of the Federation which I represent here. This was in October, 1996, two years after the beginning.
The Federation thus created has a role of representation,of defending farmer interests in negotiations. It tries to influence the policies, the legal conditions and the production environment To this end we try to give lots of information: The power of information! The organisations at the base are regularly informed of policies and the Federation tries to translate their aspirations, their visions to the national level. Like that, we try to influence certain policies and programmes, which are conceived at a national level. And it is true, there is currently a programme funded by the European Union to support the professionalisation of agriculture. Thanks to the interventions of our Federation, we have been able to change a little the approach and the management structure of this programme. We also have a training role in the economic area and on technical aspects.
Currently our Federation intervenes a great deal in economic matters. In all sectors we try to encourage the producers to calculate the cost of production. How much does it cost the farmers of Burkina to produce yams? How much costs the production of such a cereal? That enables them to make strategic decisions, to have a choice. Either I work in this sector, or I change sector. I continue to market here my product or I change my trading partner. This work, in 1997, led rice producers to ‘block’ their rice, to refuse to deliver it to the national collection company which was buying a kilo of rice at a price lower than the cost of production at 112 francs CFA. Thus they were selling at a loss. This also encouraged the producers of cotton to stop their delivery of cotton, to negotiate better conditions.
This campaign also led the producers of green beans to negotiate new prices and other working conditions with their partners. This did not succeed and there were some farmers who refused to produce green beans for export to France. Burkina will not produce many green beans this year. This is all because there are some farmers who refuse to work at a loss. They say that they would prefer to produce potatoes or tomatoes etc... these are the sort of battles at our level. It is true that even this is not without its risks.
At the beginning when we started building the Federation, in the framework of the current policy, the State’s hand was forced by the financial backers who said: “there needs to be civilian representation and approval of the programmes if you want us to fund them.” In this way they used the peasant-farmer organisations as alibis. We invite you to join us, we will put you on the steering committee, we will present you to the newspapers, we will get you on television, and you will have understood nothing. After a day of meetings, they give you a 120 page document which you have to read and upon which you are supposed to take a position. It is impossible.
We have tried to transform this political involvement by seriously preparing our meetings. We began to express an alternative points of view. The State began to reject us, of course and outside co-operation too, since they wanted to validate their approaches, test them, and have them accepted without question, but they saw that, in fact, we were not willing to play that game. We didn’t want to be used like opposition parties. We defend interests. If the State defends the interests of the farmers, we agree with the State. If the State works against our interests, we won’t oppose the State, but were are prepared to negotiate.
I will give you an example. There was a meeting to discuss a programme. Just before this, a co-operation agency contacted us: we are aware that you are the strongest peasant-farmer organisation and we want to meet you. It was even a Sunday. We arranged for the board to meet them. We met. They opened their briefcases to say: ‘ look, the meeting tomorrow is about this, that and that. We discussed this with your minister and this is his position, but we think it is not the right one. This is the direction that you should take.’ So we said: ‘ no! That will not work. Tomorrow we will see. If the minister takes a position which does not meet the expectations of the farmers, we will oppose. But straight away, they replied : ‘ no? Ah! Gentlemen, we have come here to help you.’ ‘ We said no, but let us wait.’ They then closed their briefcases and said we thought you would be more open for discussions. It is a pity.’ ... We cannot be used to persuade our States to accept decisions from outside. It is exactly these sorts of practices which we see being used to weaken our States in the face of these financial organisations.
I would say that this is not without its risks, because there are measures from time to time against the movement, preventing its activity etc. In my country there is a proverb which says that if the snake gets bigger and older, it is because it is hiding. We are aware of our current weaknesses. It is a new structure, we need to strengthen it. We are aware of our fragility and know what we can negotiate at the moment and what we cannot. We are now trying to make alliances at sub-regional level in Africa and at the international level. It is as a result of this that we have become part of a peasant-farmer platform bringing together ten West African countries. We have also recently had contacts with the European peasant-farmer co-ordination programme. This is thanks to ‘Entraide et Fraternité in Belgium.
And in coming here, I also hope to make contacts. I hope that an information framework will emerge so that we can regularly have information on what is happening at the macro level and which is translated into operational programmes at our level and, of course, so that we can inform other people, analysts and decision-makers, on what is happening at a local level and which could feed their thinking.
That, quickly presented, is what I wanted to say about our Federation. I thank you. ..”
Mario Luis Lill of Brazil’s ‘Movement of the Landless’: “The MST is a movement for those without land, the small peasant-farmers of Brazil who are struggling principally for ownership of land. Brazil is still a country of ‘latifundia’ or large properties. No government has really succeeded in bringing about real agrarian reform and, for the moment, since the neo-liberal period, the situation of the landless peasant-farmers has become increasingly serious because the large properties are beginning to find a certain legitimacy once more.
This year, the MST movement will be 15 years old and it was born out of concrete actions, struggles for occupation of the land of the large properties, the ‘latifundia’. At the beginning, this emerged essentially in the south of Brazil. Following its consolidation in the south, it spread to the rest of the country and, today, it is present in 23 states in Brazil out of the 25. Our principal form of struggle is the occupation of the ‘latifundia’ but also other forms such as, notably, walks. In 1997, one of the largest walks brought together 100,000 people, peasant-farmers without land, in the Brazilian capital.
The MST is both a trade union and a political and popular movement. It is a popular movement because it works without affiliation which means that anyone at all can become a member of MST. It is a trade union movement because it tries to intervene at the national level on governmental policies. The MST is not only a movement which is looking to procure land for peasant-farmers who don’t have any, it is also essentially a family movement, i.e. a movement arising out of the efforts of men, women and children who are seeking to promote an integrated development of the individual. From the moment land is occupied, we try to promote the movement through rural co-operatives and we try also to develop alternative technologies. These forms of production and alternative technologies are not large energy consumers. Through these alternatives, MST tries to promote a form of production which is ecological.
This new form of alternative production is not really established across all the movement. There is still a certain amount of internal dissent on its application and so it is really something which is just at its early stages. One of the other areas of activity of MST is also peasant-farmer education, i.e. literacy and schooling, since I should point out that the level of illiteracy in the Brazilian countryside stands at 40-50%. We have established schools in the different camps and we currently have some 1,500 schools and 70,000 pupils. MST also has agreements with the universities, so that courses at university level be given to peasants and to the members of MST who want it. MST also tries to care for health. We have set up health units, and we have health workers, nurses and doctors and pharmacies have also been established as well as an agreement with a Brazilian institution which produces medicines.
Robert Crémieux of the association of French unemployed: “Firstly I would like to say that since the beginning of winter, numerous homeless have died in the streets in France and this is a situation we have known for several years. I say that because I don’t feel myself here as a representative of a rich country - France is considered as one - but on the contrary as the spokesman of the misery which exists and which was, until a certain period, absolutely hidden. I am also here as spokesman of a movement of unemployed and not from an NGO or a charity organisation, but a movement which is fighting for rights.
Finally, I would like to state that I speak here as representative of three unemployment associations, AC, APES, MNCP, which have developed a unified approach since a certain number of years, which from my point of view is one of the reasons for the relative successes we have recorded. I speak of what we call the Movement of the Unemployed in France. We need to say something about the movements for the unemployed in France. Our associations were born at the beginning of the 1980s at a time when mass unemployment had become a continuous and large feature of social life. One of the characteristics was that these associations were created - and that is perhaps one of the originalities of France - independently of the trade union movement. The three associations have developed for some time now a course of unified action with the fourth unemployment organisation in France which is the Committee of the Unemployed- CGT, subsidiary of the leading French trade union, the CGT.
This autonomy which is a characteristic of the movement, does not mean that we are totally independent from the rest of the social movement. Our unitary practices, beyond the unemployment movements, extend to the trade union movement and to other movements. It is true that our development in France would not have been possible if we hadn’t been part of a group and if we hadn’t been supported by the trade unions and other minority groups like the trade union of teachers, the FSU, the SUD trade union, the Confédération Paysanne which has been at our side since the beginning. This is also the originality of the French movement. Also, since recently, we have been able to count on the support of the CGT.
Beyond the trade union movement, the social movement is also what we call it in France a growing movement which is often based on more specific demands of the type such as fighting for ‘right to housing’ or supporting the demands of those without official papers. These are struggles, which are supported by movements such as DAL, Droits Devant or the Comité des Sans-Logis. Our movement is unitary and one of its other main characteristics is that it has become very quickly European or international.
Since the 1980s the MNCP has been a member of a network which is called “Urban Network of the Unemployed”. This is certainly not a movement for struggle but has been very valuable in building a network at the European level. Since 1996, the associations of the unemployed have been at the origin, in France and in Europe, of what are called the European Marches Against Unemployment, which at the world level have shown the presence of a movement of the European unemployed. In 1997, the European March Against Unemployment ended with a demonstration of 50,000 people in Amsterdam. This was the first social demonstration representing all of Europe and served to be the departure point for a movement, which has subsequently found resonance in several European countries. The movement, organised in the winter of 1997-1998 into what was called the ‘movement of the unemployed’, started in France but later had links in Germany, Belgium and Italy, and has established its legitimacy and its organisation in part in the network of European marches about unemployment.
Just why are we here today? There is a logic : in bringing our action to the European level, it is because we think that unemployment is not a strictly national question, that it has its origins in European economic policy and that it is situation at a global level. If the effects of unemployment, such as poverty are a global reality it is not an inevitability. Political leaders are meeting, at this moment, at the International Economic Forum in Davos and I am sorry to note that this Forum also brings together, somewhat haphazardly, some leaders which support a policy we could see as alternative to the policies of unemployment and misery which are currently developing in the world. Our unemployment associations and movements are participants in the network of struggle against the MAI treaty. As the MNCP we are founding members of the ATTAC network and we will also be present and participating in the World March of Women for the year 2000, which is in preparation. At the European level, this World March of Women will be present in Cologne, May 29th since, on the occasion of the European summit, the network of European marches will organise a demonstration of the same type held in Amsterdam.
Regarding the alternatives, I believe that we are here to discuss them. I think that this is a beginning since we cannot come here with a programme. On the contrary, I believe that in the same wait that we have seen a delay in the social movement with regard to the construction of Europe, the liberal construction of Europe, the social movement is way behind schedule regarding globalisation. We have left the field open for too long. And today, it is the point of departure both for resistance and for building an alternative. But how are we going to set about building it? I think that we have to start with our experience at the European level. We certainly need to start with looking towards a convergence of goals. We also have to find common demands. This is all possible, despite our differences. We have found that at European level we have and we can quite easily find a common language. Finally, I think that we must first have a dialogue and find the common points for finding an alternative.”
Sanggoo Kang from PICIS (Policy and Information Center for International Solidarity), Korea : “We work for helping and supporting KCTU and other trade union organisations to make international solidarity. So I will explain that our problem is the liberal adjustment in Korea. KCTU were expected to be here, but as there is some election in March, they were very busy and didn’t spare time to think. Beside there is just one person who is in charge of international solidarity. But I know you are very interested in Korean workers’ last year’s trouble. Various disputes in KCTU are planned for this year. Let’s explain the situation. From 1996, in Korea, the government (amongst which 3 members especially) has tried to institutionalize a dramatic neo-liberal programme with privatisation and deregulation in the financial market. They tried to pass some legislation in the national assembly but as you know Korean workers struggled against the bill and it was finally postponed to year 2000. After that decision in 1997 and the departure of one of its members, some detail promoting restoration of this liberal policy. Therefore they still insist that foreign capitalistic investments in Korea was only for economic survival. This is what they always claimed. So eventually they came up with a reform, with liberal laws based on lay-off and dismissal system was agreed in the first commission of the assembly. Even KCTU and FKTU (Federation of Korean Trade Unions), this one being in favour of the government. There was an agreement and there was massive dismissal in the Korean Industry. Unions fought fiercely against the lay-off last year, the strike went on for three months and the workers were violently repressed by the police. 17000 of them broke into Mando Machinery factories and arrested many of them. The main issues last year were the lay off and the security. Korean workers earn their living with only one wage and no social safety net. So they have the urgent need or right for a basic level.
Many workers and people estimated that the struggles of the companies and union organization was not successful. We think the minimum effect of these was giving a running of capitalism. But they couldn’t carry out the dismissal and redundancy, that is the minimum effect and the other result is to build the foundation of continuous protest against the depth of unemployment and security need, which raised during the last period.
Concerning the second part of the legislation and the privatisation, the government had announced a plan of public enterprises privatisations and management renovation twice, in July and October. The first plans includes 11 enterprises and 21 affiliated companies, which represent 30% of the total public enterprises but 70% in term of employees and total amount of sales. The key national basic industries such as Poahan, Iron and Steel Corporation, Korean gaz corporation, Korean construction, Korean telecoms... are all included in the plan. Workers have a difficulty to fight against the plan because they have experienced corruption by illicit collusion between the government and capital from military dictatorship. So, people usually think public enterprises were in a bad state and the only way to change this situation was to privatise them. This is the government ideology and many people believe this.That is why it is so difficult for the workers to fight against it.
The third law was deregularisation on financial market. Shortly, the government opened the market, among others markets like stocks and bonds. So, many foreign investors came to make some profit. This idea was to obey the IMF system, so many people think that the opening of market is very important. Against this administration neo-liberal structural adjustments, many Korean workers have been fighting including the unions, but there are so many problems.
The decision to go on a general strike was postponed, and then decided again, this process has lasted from last year to now because the parliament always persuade very effectively. KCTU insists we’ve got to dialog to solve the problem, as they won against the government. This year they took the decision to complete structural adjustment in Korea, including the Big Deal. Big deal is a kind of this, Sanson Waters had got to give their motors department to Deo and Deo have to give their electronic department to Sanson but in this process, workers are completely excluded and struggling fiercely against this trend with the help of KCTU. First, they are now just working at obtaining security and stability and second they feel they have got to organise and unify workers to battle against unemployment. The aim is to politicize and strengthen solidarity with other political social groups or activists abroad. So they are planning some meetings in solidarity with others, and certain groups are getting together to protest against free investments agreements and transmission capital during the first half of this year.
François Houtart: “After having listened to these statements, there are two things that strike me. The first is that the North-South divide is certainly real in its forms but artificial in its logic. In fact, it is indeed dealing with a world system. The second point which I think it is important to note, is that right now there is a convergence of objectives among very diverse movements, and that there are impressive interactions.”
4. State of struggle and the evolution of capitalism
Christophe Aguiton: “I would like to make some proposals in the name of ATTAC, and in the knowledge that they are already being discussed in other collectives. We can make a double observation. Firstly, we can observe the embryonic but real beginnings of a co-ordination of struggles and of movements on a continental level and on an international level. For the Europeans, we have seen just now, when talking about European Marches, but also at the level of worker struggles such as those at Renault Vilvorde, with trade union demonstrations, like those organised by the European Trade Union Confederation.
On an American level, regular conferences take place every time the heads of state sit down to liberalise the market, from Alaska to Tierre del Fuego. Processes of the same type are taking place in Asia and, we should also note that international co-ordination is being established and is beginning to gain ground. The collective action against the MAI is the latest illustration of this with a first victory, even if only short-lived. But it is symbolic and important for us.
The second point is that there is evidence of a link, even if it is not mechanical, between this beginning of co-ordinated struggles and movements, and the economic and political evolution of the world in recent years. Medium-term changes, like the general opening of the market, be it the market for goods or services, in particular financial services etc, or even the labour market, all of these are accelerating the transformation of the system and the transformation of capitalism and they are having significant social consequences in all regions of the world.
In the South, of course, among the peasant-farmers, the battle against living patent and the genetic genie, is one of the most advanced signs. There has been change in the East with the collapse of whole countries such as Russia today. But there is also a negative evolution in the developed countries themselves, with a double phenomenon. This can be seen in the end of labour contracts or at the very least, a general weakening of the once stable and fixed labour contract - which was the norm in the richest countries - and the general rise in uncertainty and unemployment and, for those still working, a deterioration in working conditions around what is called flexibility.
These are probably the social roots which are at the base of these co-ordinated movements from which stem the willingness of different social movements to take their own affairs in hand and start action at a local level and also at a wider level, continental or international. And yet, to these medium-term evolutions, can be added - and I think that this is reflected in the tenure of this meeting today - short-term evolutions. The start of the crisis a year ago has had direct effects. ATTAC, for example, only exists because a certain number of people and ‘Le Monde Diplomatique’ which was the initiator, said that, in the face of the economic, political and financial crisis, it was essential to take things in hand.
So, we see a major financial and economic crisis beginning with deflation in a certain number of countries such as Japan, which had major effects on countries such as South Korea and Brazil, and also on developed countries where all the countries of the North and South are starting to move into recession. Faced with this double observation, we would like to float an idea and make a proposal. Is it not time to start co-ordinating our resistance and struggles on an international level and to unite in the face of the social effects, above all those resulting from the crisis. This is what we want to discuss today. We think that this Other Davos is the first sign. But we would like to render this first stage of co-ordination more concrete and more stable. For us, the social aspect is a determining element, more so than that, which would emerge from the political redefinition of the world. Of course we are aware that this aspect is decisive and that, without the American victory in the Gulf War in 1991, the world would not be what it is, since they used their military victory to impose a redefinition of the world market at the agricultural level and on the level of the so-called the information society.
Yes, we know that politics is behind all this. But the movements, which have been built up on an international level are looking at social questions and we believe that it is important to use this as a starting point. Now, this gives us the power to say straight away what we think is impossible to do and that which we do not wish to do. We do not want to launch into an ideologically determined political “international”, which would turn us into a minority. This is not the proposal at hand nor the objective of large associations, which ATTAC today represents, and which we are trying to build at the national and international level. But we do believe that is useless and a mistake to try to compete with, and replace that which already exists.
There are NGOs that do useful work and there are international structures which are already effective, even we may debate their direction and their actions. This is the case, for example, in the agricultural sphere of “Via Campesina”, or at the level of international trade unionism, whatever the various criticisms that can be made about this or that structure. There are structures which would benefit from change, improvement or revitalisation, but we are not about to compete with them or replace them. What we are proposing is co-ordination which would permit two things. One, for use to understand each and every one of them, to understand what has happened in each of our countries, why particular struggles have developed, what are the factors behind their success or setbacks and to learn from their experience. Secondly, we want to try to act together and we think that it is through joint action that we can really stabilise the type of long-term network co-ordination, which we are looking for. And we would like to propose action in four areas which appear to us to be key and in which it seems possible to act.
The first area: all areas which look at international treaties.
Clearly this includes the MAI as far as its second foreseeable phase is concerned, but also PET, WTO and everything which will be tomorrow’s regional or international treaties and whose consequences could be a deterioration in the living and working conditions of the population of the world.
Second area: Third World debt, a topic which has been the theme of activity for some decades but which is becoming very topical today with campaigns being launched by others apart from us. I am thinking here of Jubilee 2000 which was launched by the Christian Churches, in an area many of us would find a little too limited, since they propose debt cancellation only for the poorest countries and not for countries such as Brazil or other economically important countries. That is an area where action appears essential.
Third area: all areas emerging from the activities of the international institutions and, top of the list, the plans of the IMF, the consequences of which we have seen in South Korea, Brazil and in numerous other countries and where it seems to us vital that international support could help the struggle in these countries.
The Fourth area is more the field of ATTAC: all areas of financial deregulation with an aim to tax free-flowing capital or to plan taxes of this type but also to attack pension funds as they become more widespread, or tax havens which play an important role in the world economy. And of course, all this would be with the general aim that all these measures of coercion linked to financial deregulation would help recuperate funds which could go to the victims of the system, the countries of the South and those ‘without’ or the unemployed in the rich countries.
We could perhaps add a fifth area which could only be a general definition, at this stage, but which gives an idea, not only of the future but also of what we are trying to support. It is the idea of defending all social and democratic progress. It is a sufficiently general theme, I think, to allow consensus without being over-specific. But it relates to an idea which is close to our hearts and that is that to succeed in our network co-ordination and in the four action areas we are proposing, we need to call upon the social forces.
Evidently, the work of lobbying and convincing people is important. Of course, many NGOs do very good work and this work must be defended and extended. But our strength will come from the trade unions of the farmers, the unions of the wage earners, the movements for the unemployed, the homeless, those without official papers, who are fighting on every continent. And that will be the key in our view for what we can implement together. And right now I highlight this problem because there is a first difficulty we have to overcome. Here we represent two realities, that of the NGOs and their associations, but also that of the social forces. We all know that in northern Europe and in the United States, the trade unions are rarely present in the associations of this type and that this is one of the things that we believe should change, one of the challenges we face. We have to bring together all of the social forces including in those countries where the national traditions mean that it is mainly the associations and NGOs which are active more than the trade unions which tend to be stuck on a professional level rather than in a wider capacity.
My conclusion: what practically should be done? We think that we must announce the launch of this co-ordination movement tomorrow at the press conference. We should use this public event as the day of the birth of this movement -and this is the sense of the text that must be developed - since it is the day for the public launch at the Davos press conference.
And afterwards, we have to have more meetings. Initially we could base this on what already exists. There are initiatives already underway, which, I think, would accept to work with us. I have in mind the “Tribunal Permanent des Peuples’ (Standing Tribunal of the People) which will judge the multinationals, starting with Elf, or other initiatives. I am thinking of the counter-G7 which will organised at Cologne in June of this year. Thus we could plan our work around existing initiatives.
Samir Amin: “The wish, expressed by Christophe, that our objective should be to help co-ordinate social struggles at the world level, is evidently an extremely ambitious and long-term objective. But it is never too late to start and it would not be a bad thing to start today. Only I do not expect that today or tomorrow we will make much progress in this direction. The problem is more complex than we think. Since the phase we have entered is not only a phase of growing social struggle, or even the struggle of classes in many countries of the world, but already a phase of increasing conflict between ruling classes i.e. between states. And as a result, intervening in these conflicts and supporting social struggles and possibly co-ordinating them, has a political dimension.
This is why I think that we should forcefully introduce this political dimension tomorrow at Davos. The people meeting in Davos and the journalists present, are people who represent the powers which are in conflict. And it is faced with these growing conflicts that there is a certain disarray in the opposing camp and a certain number of concessions that are already planned. It is on this basis that I think it useful to bring to your attention, to the discussion and to the editorial committee, a document whose content I would like to see taken into consideration:
‘The global system that we are fighting is not only a neoliberal economic system aiming at subordinating all social interests to the unilateral rule of capital. It has also a political dimension. The politics of the liberal economy aims at maintaining the maximal control of the triad over the rest of the world. To be efficient, this control must be based on reinforcing the US political and military hegemony. It must also maintain the eventual conflicts of interest amongst countries of the triad within the frame of normal mercantile disputes not questioning their fundamental agreements. That political overall strategy therefore aims at destroying any attempt for any society out of the triad to develop a competitive potential whether economically competitive, politically, militarily or ideologically independent. It does not allow any development other than that one which is fully or maximally controlled by the triad. This focus on politics may throw a light on major recent events such as. One: the attempt of the US and other triad powers to take advantage of the financial crisis of Korea, to dismantle its productive system and submit it. Two: the strategy developed towards the ex USSR and Russia which systematically aims at destroying the industrial capacities and eventually after having succeeded the USSR, dismantled also Russia. Three : the concessions which the G7 is considering now in order to maintain its overall control over the global financial system threatened by the withdrawing of eastern, southern and south east Asian countries from financial globalisation and the possibilities for other countries such as Russia, some countries of Latin America, Africa and western Asia to move in that direction. While such announced concessions such as the regulation of financial transfers should be considered as a defeat of the project of global dominant capital.’
Susan George: “The Committee against the clones of the MAI, has undeniably enjoyed initial first success. The MAI, at the OECD, is dead and this is the fruit of coordinated work, not only in France but also internationally. We held at our meeting at the Cartoucherie of Vincennes at the end of October 1998 and 23 nationalities were represented. There are movements, which have been formed in an astonishingly short time, since our action only began in February of last year. And I believe that this success has brought two things: on the one hand, it opened a breach in the neo-liberal consensus. This caused, I quote: ‘a moment of panic’ for a certain number of people as they realised that they could no longer make treaties in secret and then have them approved by parliament. On the other hand, that has shown us the field of possibilities involving the social movements.
So the priorities for us during this period where there will naturally be a reaction (there has already been one from the neo-liberals) is to fight the clones of MAI which are already springing up. Firstly, at the WTO, i.e. the transfer of negotiations on investment to the WTO, in the Millennium Round, which currently has no legitimacy - this is the dream of Sir Leon Brittan - and constitute it through the agreement known as the Transatlantic Economic Partnership. For us, this is a priority since if these two elements are to be implemented it will be before the end of the year. Everything is already planned by the opposition and we think that if these things are implemented, all types of struggle will be in difficulty. They will secure a certain number of framework laws which will make our struggles very difficult. What we expect from this meeting is firstly work-sharing. It is increasingly difficult to be up-to-date on dossiers of extreme technical complexity. The analyses need to be expressed in the language of the people. We must not be locked up in or by our ideology. We need to link research to social movements.
We believe greatly in this dimension, the sharing of work, research, analysis, social movements, with a constant dialectic movement between the two and we need instruments for what we call the ‘pedagogy of the possible’, since many things have become possible, but need instruments to enable them to be implemented. We have begun with a document, ASPIR, which combines analysis with a certain number of propositions. An internet website has enabled us to monitor interest in this. On the other hand, we believe greatly in our relationship with the movement of those “without” , “those without official papers”, “the homeless”, “those without rights”. This movement provides the strength for what we have done, to show that an international treaty, while appearing abstract and difficult, is in reality in direct contact with the people who are really suffering. We are extremely behind in this area but we can quickly catch up.
We have developed the habit of working together. The threat is world-wide and so the response must also be world-wide. And, we expect that this meeting will be able to build a consensus just as the men of Davos are doing on the other side in the neo-liberal domain. We hope to be able to sustain the struggles of the various groups and beyond that to show reciprocal support. When we introduce ourselves, for example, as the movement against the clones of the MAI, we want to be able to represent the Brazilians, the Koreans and so forth, in the coalitions. There, too, is a division of work. We don’t expect that every one invest time on all the dossiers. We are supporting the June 1999 meeting in Paris as a French co-ordination. This meeting is an instrument of consensus, mutual support and meeting for future action, never forgetting that it is possible. We have already recorded a major victory and we can build upon this.
Dario Lopreno from the organisation of Swiss churches for the reception of migrants: “One remark which may seem marginal but which seems to me important, is that we should be prudent, even if I fully support what Christophe Aguiton just said. Personally, I frankly doubt very much that the MAI agreement fell due to popular opposition. I think that the MAI agreement fell, partially and marginally (even if it was dramatic thus was important) due to popular opposition but more importantly because the governments, the dominant classes and the multinationals are not yet ready to move to such an advanced ‘meta-national’ level. That is the reason for the setback. We should not be contemplating our navels and patting ourselves on the back by exaggerating our strength....
The other problem I think (and this is not the result of the manic depressive side of my profession as someone who works in “Asile” (refuge), an organisation dealing with migrants) is that we must add to the central preoccupations of our thinking the question of refugees and asylum. This is becoming a crucial issue in Europe. When two thousand Kurds disembark in Italy we have the impression that there are millions of people landing everywhere at the same time, but this is nothing compared to the problem of asylum and refugees in the Third World. Europe only receives a tiny percentage of the refugees in the world. There is a very delicate question which places us face to face with the ambiguity of the situation.., the Iraqi refugee who arrives in Switzerland is equally loathed by the population, by the mass of Swiss people as the representative of the Iraqi government.
And a final thing, I think that it is important to come to an agreement on the five points proposed by Christophe Aguiton. But I am not sure that on the fifth point, the defence of all social and democratic advances, we will all easily agree. I think that we could easily find divisions and disagreement. There are people who defend certain systems which are as ambiguous as those they attack and I think that this issue should also be at the centre of our debates. The question of the ‘synthesis’ for me is as it was expressed by Riccardo Petrella, on the ‘common good’. It constitutes the encompassing thinking on these five points. The intervention, which I believe showed this most perfectly, was the presentation of the MST representative, who really showed to what extent the issue of the common good was behind all he presented. It was admirable and I propose that the text tomorrow reflects this aspect, which I think is a priority.
Riccardo Petrella: “I think that this meeting is important since little by little we are seeing, each in his own context and in his daily action, that we can create stories which are different from those of the dominant system. It seems to me that our strength can be further reinforced through other meetings of the same type which will follow. The dominant system has two extraordinary strengths. The first is the mastery of language, the mastery of analytical discourse, which tells us what is happening and also normative discourse, which tells us what to do. Let us take an example: the world is convinced that we are living in the knowledge society. We are told that we live in knowledge economy, that we live in the information society. We are told that we are in the digital economy. And the majority of people, us included, have accepted that. And we use the same language. We are trapped and dominated by their mastery of the story.
The second force, is the mastery of the ownership of means. Little by little, thanks to the system of intellectual property rights, they are in the process of taking everything. They have taken possession of the seed, they have taken the land. Now Microsoft will take the inheritance of the photos of the world. And little by little, they are taking our genes, human genetics, vegetal genetics, animal genetics. So intellectual property rights are the extreme form of acquiring power over all the means and all the resources of the earth that global capitalism has achieved. We must fight against these things. And I expect to be able to help in this area over the coming months, so that we can achieve together this “consensus building” (Susan George) around the story.
Of course, our story should be in the plural, not in the singular like that of the dominant power. And it should be built around three topics. The first is that of common goods and services. Have we, the opponents of capitalism, said something about this? What do the peasants of Brazil and the bureaucrats like me from the European Community have in common,? Can we provide common services to each other? Can we talk of common wealth? Can we justly claim that the historic function of the twenty to thirty years to come, and of the action of the global struggle, is to create common wealth, and common basic goods and services, in terms of water and of food. This is the first topic. Do we have here a different story from that of the dominant people, on this topic, concerning goods and services and wealth? In this framework we should be thinking seriously about the notion of property. What is property today in the contemporary world?
The second main topic is that of political representation. We, too, are in the process of simply accepting that parliaments are dying and losing their power. And yet, in our western societies, perhaps not in other societies, political representation goes through parliaments. Many of us and our opponents laugh when people talk of a world parliament. We do not believe in it. Is it good not to believe in it? Aren’t we playing the game of the dominant power if we accept that political, economic and social representation should be difficult to implement at the world level? Are we not accomplices of the dominant system when we think that there is no way to organise democracy with state systems, such as democratic, direct representation etc.
The third topic concerns science and technology. All the forces of the left have left the discourse on science and technology to the dominant powers. There is no real autonomous conception by world opposition groups in the area of science and technology. All analysis dealing with politics, science and technology today, is from the same mould, that of the dominant powers. We, the opposition, speak only of diversity in terms of using science and technology differently. But in terms of economy, sociology, anthropology of knowledge, of science and of technology, we do not have a different discourse from the dominant powers. So, we have three main areas on which can work with the diversity which is our characteristic. And of course we must start on this fundamental approach, by defending all social, democratic advances in the world. This is a fantastic ability. It is our common capital of the history of humanity and we must support it.”
François Houtart: ‘It is always a pleasure to listen to you Riccardo, even if Italian timing is not the same as the Swiss timing”.?
Riccardo Petrella: “There is a Rwandan proverb which says:
“God gave the watch to the Swiss and the time to the Africans. Let us just say that I am a Swiss-African!”
François Chesnais: “I believe that it is important to understand what is behind this process which leads us to “the consistency of interest”, for the workers, for the peasants, for the unemployed and for the intellectual workers. We have to take account of the fact that they are increasingly faced with the same problems, in the framework of the globalisation movement which has links in every country. On top of global dualisation is the internal dualisation for each nation to be added. And it is most prominent in the capitalist countries themselves. It is that which drives us to converge more and more.
On the topic of democracy and its current re-conquest, I am on the side of those who are prepared to say that the start of democracy is the invasion of those places where decisions are woven. I think that the rehabilitation of democracy will come through the most elementary expression of this desire by those at the bottom who invade such places; and all of this converges to find affirmation faced with the places where decisions are taken. But next, it is not enough to say that we are facing a system of inequality. We are facing a system which, in the name of increasingly concentrated private property is in the process of expropriating, not only the property of other people, but also those things which are more basic and vital and it is doing it in the name of private property.
We have arrived at a time of the social and political history of humanity, where this property which served to fight the old regime, has now transformed itself into something which we should challenge politically and theoretically, conceptually. We can no longer be equivocal about questioning the private ownership of the means of production, ideas etc., because this private ownership subjects us, in its name, to aggression every day. It is from here, at a fundamental philosophical level, that we must regain mastery of a normative discourse for those who find themselves at the bottom of the pile.”
François Houtart: “What we can conclude from this discussion is the fact that there are diverse values and sensibilities when we face the problems we are dealing with, and seek their solution.
Each person reacts in function of his or her own experience. Such diverse sensibilities are not exclusive and this is a richness. It will clearly be impossible to integrate everything that has been said in the press conference tomorrow, and so we should be realistic and draw up an agenda of concrete proposals. We have a schedule of proposals which relate to the medium-term and we have to complete these with the information we gather.
Concerning the discussion we have had, I think that this could be summarised in four main points. Firstly, the contents of the work: a series of suggestions have been made and I will just give a few examples, not in any particular order. We spoke of the global dimension of the social organisation of society, of the political not only the economic dimension of the problem of the problem of refugees throughout the world, the process of democratisation, the problem of private property, of taxation, of the problem of unemployment, of the state, of oil and its significance for the Gulf War, of the question of the right to live and of nuclear apartheid etc. All that should be put in a certain order, to present it in a logical manner.
The second point is a question of methodology. The problem is indeed to develop a pedagogy which will allow us to move from an analysis at the micro level to that of the macro level to be able to understand the problem of economic globalisation and its social effects.
The third element of our discussion dealt with the type of collaboration between the different social movements, NGOs, etc and the different types of alliance which could be established for action.
The fourth question arises from mobilisation and particularly the five points which Christophe Aguiton outlined, regarding international treaties, debt, international institutions, regulations, defence and the conquest of democracy.
These are the different points discussed during this session. Evidently we have been able to bring in a large number of ideas and proposals, because each of us has been involved, often for a long time, in the action process. We should find a way to draw certain conclusions for tomorrow and we should also draw up a longer term agenda. As Robert Crémiaux said, we have to be very clear, simple, modest, but incisive in the way we speak. The second aspect, the longer term agenda needs to be worked out afterwards. The best thing now is to read the paper prepared by the committee and to see if it represents what we want to say tomorrow and that which could serve as a basis for longer term joint action. This is also in line with what Riccardo Petrella said regarding actions which could be envisaged together. I propose that a member of the document’s editorial committee reads this so we can discuss it.”
5. Press Conference at Davos
The press conference took place on Saturday January 28 in a hotel in Davos, close to the Congress Room where the International Economic Forum was being held. It is useful to indicate two things. Firstly that we are not reproducing here the whole of the press conference but the moments we judge to be the most significant. Secondly, the press conference was enlarged through the presence of a giant screen linked to the internet thus permitting thousands of interested people to experience the event live.
François Houtart: “I would like to remind you that the diversity of people participating in this press conference is very great, and that the unity of the group rests on the struggle against the world capitalist system and against the new strategies being discussed by the men present today at Davos. These strategies are manifold: firstly the acceptance of a new regulation of financial capital so that the whole system does not collapse. Secondly, the search for a new social contract where Jean-Jacques Rousseau will be dug out of his grave to help them find new inspiration, and finally, the use of the voluntary NGO organisations, the Church and religious people, to battle against poverty. The Davos discourse carefully avoids saying that poverty is aggravated by the system itself”
Question from a journalist: “Have you tried to participate in the Forum and if not, why not? Secondly, do you believe in a form of dialogue or will it be inevitably antagonistic?
Bernard Cassen “No, we have absolutely not asked to be invited to the Forum. Doubtless we would have been had we so wished. We do not wish to play bit parts of it, as do, unfortunately, many invitees who are there to bring a bit of spirit to a demonstration which aims at something else, to provide a consensus of the elite on globalisation whether they be financiers, politicians or industrialists, and on the best way to change things so as not to change anything. We have no desire to be involved in this game. But we nevertheless wanted to be present in this town in a symbolic way to hold the discussions we have had.
On the second question, of course, there are always different forms of dialogue possible, but they always take place in a certain power relationship. Our project is a civil project, a citizen’s project. It is to ensure that the ideas we propose and which are shared by tens of millions of people across the world (we don’t know exactly how many) progress in such a way that decision-makers take them into account and that a new power relationship takes its place. If we simply have a modest dialogue with the men of Davos - by analogy with the men of Dublin - I believe that we will be received courteously but that has strictly no interest for us.
Question from a journalist: “Regarding the criticism that you formulate about the discussions there, do you have the impression that there has been a change of spirit or tone over these past two years and particularly this past year? Do you think that this is anything other than a lowering of a façade or is it due to the crisis which has taken place? What is your analysis of the situation?”
Samir Amin: “ There has been a change of tone, and it is not only a lowering of the façade. It is a fact that there is a crisis, but it is not important that the protagonists of the Davos Forum did not foresee it, whilst others did see it coming. They are confronted with new threats to their point of view. So they have opted for a word, which was previously banned by them: regulation. But there is regulation and regulation. What they are proposing, and they will not go further than this, is regulation as carried out by themselves. That is to say, by the transnationals themselves. Perhaps this would be some organisations and institutions, which are the instruments of transnational policies, such as the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank.
But what is totally excluded and what the participants at the Davos International Economic Forum have not introduced into their new language, is social regulation. That is to say, regulation which is the result of negotiation between the active forces of the different nations, which would involve the trade unions, elected representatives and popular organisations on the one hand, and the bosses and capital on the other. This would lead to an historic compromise involving the state (not only as is often presented in caricature style as a gang of technocrats and stupid autocratic bureaucrats) but as an effective instrument to implement a transparent and democratic social contract. That is a form of regulation which is totally excluded in the perspective of the Davos Forum.
The only form of regulation that the latter envisages is that operated by the economic powers, in the place of deregulation, which was also a form of clandestine regulation by them, but under other conditions. In this sense, there is something other than a change of tone. There is a new challenge. But the proposals the participants of the Davos Forum are making will be insufficient. Let me give you an example. A year or two from now they could adopt a type of Tobin tax. But how do they propose to manage it? By themselves, through a consortium of large investors, by institutional formulae that they will invent? Whatever they deride, it will certainly not be to manage it through, for example, a democratic organisation of the international system.”
Question from François Laborde, France 2: “1 have two questions to put to you: Concerning globalisation and globality. Don’t you make any distinction between the approaches and analyses which might be made by countries or politicians who have spoken here at the Davos Forum? Do you have the feeling that the analysis is the same, whether it is viewed by the Americans or the Germans for example. And finally, regarding the economic perspectives, we have the impression that there is much pessimism at Davos. Some speak of deflation and recession. Do you have the same type of analysis? If so in which sector and in which country?
Bernard Cassen: “To reply to the question of divergences of view. It is true that there are divergences, but they are situated within a large area of convergence. The three great “fundamental” liberties of capital which are total freedom of capital movement, the freedom to invest which the MAI cast aside for a short time, and the freedom of free trade, on these main principles - which are the great principles which are destroying our planet - there is total agreement. And this agreement was recalled in the declaration of the social democratic ministers of finance in December, as represented by Mr. Dominique Strass Khann for France and by Mr. Oscar Lafontaine for Germany. They all restated their attachment to these principles. Whilst there could be divergences, it is this framework which we are fighting against.”
Question from a journalist: “You, the Other Davos, you are confronted with an identical problem, it is the increasingly phenomenal power of technology and information. What do you propose for regulating these technologies?
Susan George: “I believe that there are fully positive aspects for us. I would like to take the example of the Multilateral Accord on Investment. It is scarcely a year since that was proposed and nevertheless, thanks to computer technology and to contacts which we can establish rapidly across the internet, there are coalitions in over twenty countries which worked together, which have undertaken actions together, on the same day, each one in their country, and which were united around texts worked out jointly over the internet. Without the development of these techniques which are not entirely negative, we would not have achieved the result of killing off the MAI at the OECD. I was very proud when I read in the Financial Times that we are being called the internet guerrillas. And they said ‘who are these people anyway?’ And when they speak of ‘those people’, they were in fact talking about many people, of very diverse origins and backgrounds but who had one thing in common. And that is that they saw that MAI was going to kill democracy if it was passed, and so each one got mobilised in his or her home country. Thus, there are extremely positive aspects in the new technologies for movements such as ours that we want to develop, including for the Other Davos.”
Question from a journalist: “You were speaking of alternatives just now, but are there not some convergences with the official Davos. I have come from a debate where Romano Prodi said: “Basically, Europe is very old now and has nothing to offer its young people, it has no grand challenge to propose “. Is this not something you could discuss? The president of Nestlé said; “what is important for me is education, it is essential to learn throughout one’s life”, even if he added in parallel to this that the euro will help his enterprises relocate more easily.”
François Houtart: “I believe that it is easy to respond to this type of proposition. A series of directions and some of the measures proposed, could appear identical for defenders of the system as such and for its critics. There is a similar vocabulary, but a fundamentally different philosophy. We are thus facing a semantic problem; we are talking about the use of a vocabulary and even about the adoption of propositions of a cultural or social type by the financial powers which end up by using the same terms and even the same analyses as those on the left, whilst having a point of departure and above all a destination point which are radically opposed.”
Question from a journalist: “I agree, but if you allow me I would like to go back to the question from my colleague. If you are using after all the same technologies, you can also use some of the same concepts and effectively take radically different points of view, while the conceptual instrument remains the same?
François Houtart: “I don’t believe so. I think rather that it is the content of the proposition that is different, whilst it appears similar.”
Bernard Cassen; “I think that the Davos leaders have a great capacity for creating terminology, for creating words and for twisting words. They take words in their every day usage and make them say something else. I would like to quote the president of Nestlé. He made some inflammatory statements against the “guerrilla workers” of which Susan George spoke, by denying them all democratic legitimacy. But what democratic legitimacy does the president of Nestlé have? He is here at the World Economic Forum as an important person, but he is also a member of the European Round Table of Industrialists and the International Chamber of Commerce. He is what we call in France a “cumulard” (a job accumulator). But when he says he is interested in education, I say, be cautious. Since you should know that the European Round Table of Industrialists supports the privatisation of educational institutions in Europe. It is extremely dangerous when the president of Nestlé is interested in this sector.
As for the proposal from Mr. Prodi, I cannot but go along with it. Once again, is there really a project for Europe? Is the independence of the European Central Bank a project for Europe? Is the ‘Grand’ Market a great project for Europe? Will you mobilise the young people, will people man the barricades to defend the Central Bank? To defend a strong euro? We are indeed waiting for a project. We are among those who will contribute to it.”
Riccardo Petrella: “I would like to reply quickly to the question of education. There is a difference here. Education today in the industrial environment and in the political and cultural environments consists of how to ensure that the human resources (since both you and I are now reduced to being human resources rather than human beings) can be trained on a continuing basis, throughout our lives, to be recycled at the right moment, to be a profitable human resource? That is the role given to training. This is not our objective. In fact, be careful yourself that you don’t become a human resource. Because once you become a human resource, and you are no longer profitable, people will ask you why you have the right to exist.”
A journalist: “Why do you think I am here today?”