World Social Forum is thinking about a new consensus

The neoliberal globalization hit a wall. The World Economic Forum in Davos does not know what to do. Would the World Social Forum be able to point the right direction? The youngest edition seemed as furious and indecisive as the previous ones. Nonetheless, there was more consensus than ever.
8809 registered organizations, over 2000 workshops and 100,000 participants. The ninth World Social Forum (WSF), situated in the Brazilian city of Belém, looked like its predecessors, as versatile, dynamic, endless and at times chaotic. Greet Vandendriessche, the press representative of the Belgian confederation of Christian unions ACV: “Sometimes it was hard to find your way. The Forum was also very Portuguese.
Finding translations was not always easy: in small workshops there was no translation available and in big sessions people were speaking so loud that you could not understand the interpreter.” Thomas Miessen from the International department of the ACV noticed most of all the massive presence of the young Brazilian syndicalists. “That was enormous. Impressive. We do not have that anymore, such a power. It gives hope for the future. They did bring other themes than the large international networks: education, culture, theatre, spirituality. It was very ‘Amazonian’.”
Many observers concluded that the foreign participation was less than at previous forums and blamed it to the crisis which caused the trip to be too expensive for some people. The Belgian socialist union ABVV tried to go against this by inviting nine syndicalists from the South (especially Africa). Eddy Van Lancker, national secretary from the ABVV: “I had the impression that Africa and Europe were less represented but Latin America was massively present. You could, so to speak, feel the Bolivarian wind from the left South-American continent. Anyway, I thought the presence of so many organizations once more very heart-warming.”

Meeting point

Eddy Van Lancker does not have the impression that the forum succeeded in formulating an answer to the crisis. “Crisis was certainly the key word. Political, economic, financial, ecological … but there was not really a unanimous reaction due to the heterogeneity of the organizations.” Thomas Miessen also did not see the creation of a common action programme. “The forum is first of all a place for dialogue, not of decisions. The situation in the various regions is so different that it is hard to come to one point of view.”
The WSF charter states explicitly that the forum is ‘an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate, exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to the neoliberalism and to the domination of the world by capital’. Furthermore, ‘no-one will be authorised to speak on behalf of any of the Forum editions’. The so-called International Board of WSF coordinates some things but is ‘no authority in a power structure’ and … ‘does not in any way claim to represent the worldwide civil society’. That board consists of many hundreds of organizations from almost all the countries and tries to respect geographical and sectorial balances.
From the beginning the Forum took up a modest position because the thousands of participants are very devoted to democracy and diversity. That makes it difficult to come to decisions for common actions. The WSF does not even have an institution to make such decisions. Nonetheless, the WSF seemed more action-minded than in the previous editions. This was concluded by WSF’s International Board when they arranged all the declarations and calls. “Never before was there such a big consensus in the analysis of the situation and in the propositions for action. It is a big step forward”, states the Belgian Professor Emeritus François Houtart, who has been residing in the Board for years. Francine Mestrum, who resides for the International Federation for Human Rights in the Board, supports her fellow countryman. Mestrum: “We do not pursuit consensus and continue fostering diversity. But this Forum choose a clear political path, not only with the visits of five Heads of State, but also with the approval of a long list of common action agendas. The most active were the human rights movements, the unions, the feminist movements and the environmental organizations. Most of all they were pursuiting convergences and they succeeded partially for the first time. For a moment it was said that the WSF was going to declare 2009 the global action year, but that did not work out. The Brazilians are scared to death to present anything as the decision of ‘the WSF’.”


Arnaud Zacharie, secretary general of the French speaking 11.11.11, describes how they worked towards a consensus concerning the financial crisis: “It was the first time that the organizers brought the participants of the workshops dealing with the same theme together in thematic assemblies on the last day of the Forum, and those thematic assemblies in an assembly of the assemblies. Furthermore, a lot of NGOs came to Belém wanting to formulate concrete demands. The crisis does no longer allow WSF just to be a debate forum. Therefore there was already contact between the different thematic assemblies during the event to look for similar interests. By the last but one day we already had a text supported by four assemblies. As a result we could put a list with concrete demands and an action agenda up for approval by an important part of the participants. Not by the WSF itself, because that is not possible. Now we are going to try the get the approval of a lot more organizations.”
The text Zacharie is talking about, calls for a rather radical reform of the financial system ( Striking is the call to manifest for this ‘new model’ worldwide as of March 28, in the run-up to the G20 summit of rich and upcoming countries in London beginning of April.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has not signed the text, a number of its members did. But the ITUC will certainly mobilize for the G20 summit. “We were already planning to do something around the G20 summit and the debates in Belém only intensified that plan”, confirms Mathieu Debroux of the ITUC. It illustrates how the WSF can stimulate processes without steering them.

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