[WSF-Discuss] Fw: Advancing Global Solidarity in Tunis and Beyond

jasper teunissen jasperteunissen at hotmail.com
Fri Apr 10 07:09:54 CDT 2015


Weekend Edition April 10-12, 2015
Scenes From the World Social Forum

  Advancing Global Solidarity in Tunis and Beyond


/The World Social Forum continues to be the pivotal global venue for 
left and progressive forces to advance struggles and create 
internationalist alliances to make another world possible. //Benny 
Kuruvilla and Susana Barria *[1]* 
report from the 2015 Tunis WSF on the challenges of the unfinished 
revolution in Tunisia, solidarity with Palestine and Greece and how the 
new innovative space of convergence assemblies provided concrete plans 
for activists to work together beyond the WSF./


The world has changed since 2001, but many of the challenges that led to 
the founding of the World Social Forum (WSF) in the southern Brazilian 
city of Porto Alegre remain. In the initial years of the 21^st century, 
people’s movements were arguably on the offensive what with the massive 
global mobilisations against the war on Iraq; the defeat, by social 
movements in Latin America, of the US led Free Trade Area of the 
Americas (FTAA); the dramatic collapse of the World Trade Organisation’s 
(WTO) Doha Round at the 2003 Cancun Ministerial and left resurgence in 
Latin America. In 2015, the world is a far more complex place with a 
still unravelling 2008 financial crisis in the North and South that has 
left millions jobless in its wake and a looming climate catastrophe that 
two decades of inter-governmental negotiations have failed to address. 
On the trade and investment front, mega regional treaties pushed by the 
USA such as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) 
and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have raised the stakes for the 
control of global trade, relegating the WTO to an afterthought. In the 
Maghreb, the euphoria and promise of the Arab Spring have tempered with 
the rise of extreme religious forces and return of status quo-ist 
elements to power in countries such as Egypt. Arguably on all these 
fronts, progressive forces are fighting defensive battles – in defending 
the right to decent work, defending the commons, defending democratic 
spaces and defending social services.

*The UGTT and**Tunisia’s unfinished revolution*

Tunisia, which provided the spark for the Arab Spring, hosted its second 
WSF from 24-28 March in its capital Tunis. 4 years after a young fruit 
seller Mohammed Bouazizi’s self immolation led to a popular overthrow of 
the Ben Ali regime, the Tunisian revolution remains unfinished. This is 
despite a relatively successful democratic transition, which initially 
saw the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party win elections in October 2011. 
The Ennahda regime, despite its call for civil liberties maintained the 
economic status quo that saw rising unemployment and skyrocketing food 
and fuel prices. It was out voted in October 2014 by the secular front 
Nidaa Tounes currently led by President Beji Caid Essebsi and Prime 
Minister Habib Essid.

wsf1 <http://www.counterpunch.org/wp-content/dropzone/2015/04/wsf1.jpg> 
/The UGTT office on Rue de Grece. /

‘The outlook for the new ‘technocratic’ Government is also bleak as 
there is as yet no sign of a break with neo-liberal economic policies’ 
says Mounir a senior trade unionist with the teachers federation 
affiliated with the Tunisian General Labour Union (known by its French 
acronym UGTT). We meet Mounir at the busy UGTT office after traversing 
through the crowded bylanes off Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the main 
thoroughfare in Tunis. Many UGTT functionaries are actively involved in 
the Tunis WSF. The UGTT has played a key role in Tunisia’s politics 
since its founding in 1946 and more so in the period before the 
revolution when it catalysed the coming together of groups opposed to 
the dictatorship and neo-liberal policies. As opposition parties were 
prohibited during the Ben Ali regime, the UGTT provided a platform to 
articulate the struggles of workers, the unemployed, professionals and 
the precariat. UGTT’s various offices across the country were actively 
involved in the revolt against Ben Ali and Mounir led many protests and 
suffered a broken arm after a brutal attack by the police during the 
upheaval in January 2011.

The UGTT continues to be a refuge for struggles. After our meeting, 
Mounir took us to one of the halls in its sprawling office on Rue de 
Grece which was converted into a venue for an indefinite hunger strike 
since March 16. Twenty four young women and men were protesting against 
being denied jobs by the post revolution governments despite having the 
requisite academic credentials. They were earlier banned by the Ben Ali 
Government from holding government jobs due to their affiliation with 
the militant Tunisian General Union of Students (UGET in French). A 
pamphlet given to us by one of the UGTT lawyers fighting their case 
reads ‘the fight against social inequality is the great collective 
purpose that a nation should fulfil’.

wsf2 <http://www.counterpunch.org/wp-content/dropzone/2015/04/wsf2.jpg>

/Leader of the Popular Front Hamma Hammami at a seminar during the Tunis 

The UGTT was nominated for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize 
narrowly losing out to the eventual winners. Rooted in this progressive 
trade union movement, a new coalition of left parties and independents 
formed the Popular Front, which emerged as the fourth largest political 
force in the 2014 elections. In a clear departure from other mainstream 
parties, the Popular Front led by the communist leader Hamma Hammami 
promises not only to deepen democracy but also a departure from 
neo-liberal economic policies.

*The 2015 Tunis Forum*

The Tunis Forum, hosted at the state run El Mannar University, began 
with a march in the rain to the Bardo museum (the site of a horrific 
attack a week prior to the WSF) under the slogan of ‘Peoples of the 
World United for Freedom, Equality, Social Justice and Peace: In 
Solidarity with Tunisian People and all Victims of Terrorism against all 
Forms of Oppressions’. This formulation was important in asserting WSF’s 
tradition to speak truth to power. Immediately after the Bardo attack, 
there was a proposal to hold the march under the slogan, ‘Peoples of the 
world united against terrorism’. However, groups responded by arguing 
that the discourses, policies and practices of the ‘war on terror’ have 
contributed to perpetuate capitalist and imperialist power. It was 
essential for the WSF to challenge dominant narratives and provide an 
alternative perspective that asserts solidarity, while challenging 
oppression and violence.

wsf3 <http://www.counterpunch.org/wp-content/dropzone/2015/04/wsf3.jpg>

/The opening WSF march reaches the Bardo Museum./

Tunisia has unfortunately seen an increment in terrorist attacks and, 
according to estimates 
is the largest source of recruits to the Islamic State (IS). Some 30,000 
dinars were found in the house of one of the Bardo attackers. Mounir 
asserted the importance of creating decent jobs to curb the attraction 
of unemployed youth to radical religious forces, telling us that amount 
was more than fifty times a teacher’s salary in Tunis. Tunisia’s rate of 
unemployment is at its highest since the 2011 revolution with a huge 
percentage being educated youth. Skilled but jobless young Tunisians are 
fast becoming cannon fodder for radical forces that have the money to 
offer youth dreaming of a better life, if not for themselves, for their 
families, explained Mounir.

But the Tunis Forum was not deterred by the Bardo attack. More than 1200 
groups from 120 countries registered 1074 workshops with numbers of 
activists attending from countries such as France actually increasing 
after a call for solidarity following the 18 March incident. The most 
striking feature of this forum was its strong Arab and Mediterranean 
character with significant participation from not only Algeria, Morocco, 
Palestine and Egypt but also from Greece, France, Italy and Spain. For 
many, expectations were high as the 2013 Tunis Forum was reportedly the 
most vibrant and youthful WSF held in recent years. This was not 
surprising as the last edition was held barely two years after the 
revolution, and a few weeks after street protests pushed the Ennahda 
Government out of power accusing it of complicity in the February 2013 
assassination of Chokri Belaïd of the Popular Front.

*Space for regional solidarity and convergence*

This edition might not have had the high numbers and energy of 2013, but 
it remained a highly stimulating space for solidarity, exchange and 
convergence of ideas and struggles. Palestine was one of the key motifs 
at Tunis and the closing march had thousands marching to the Palestinian 
Embassy, concluding with a resounding rendition of Fida’i. There were 
many workshops directly related to Palestine and it also figured in many 
thematic workshops, such as on social protection systems, health at work 
and corporate violation of human rights.

The World Parliamentary Forum, comprised of progressive legislators from 
the South and North, met for a whole day on March 26 and issued a motion 
<http://alainet.org/en/articulo/168650> that focussed on issues ranging 
from debt, corporate impunity, migration and peace. Later Hamma Hammami, 
leader of the Popular Front hosted a meeting in downtown Tunis for 
members of political parties that were at the WSF. In attendance were 
parliamentarians and activists from left wing parties such as Tunisia’s 
Progressive Peoples Party, (that had recently left the Popular Front), 
Socialist Workers Party of Algeria, Green Party of Ivory Coast, Quebec 
Solidaire, the German Die Linke, the French Parti de Gauche, the Belgian 
Red-Green Alliance VEGA and the Communist Party Bruxelles. In his 
opening remarks, Hammami was quite blunt in laying out the tasks ahead – 
emphasising that the global left had lost the habit of working together 
even as its enemies were coordinating their attacks on the economic, 
social and cultural rights of the working classes. Activists recognised 
that while struggles are concrete and local, the challenge is to 
formulate common positions to create joint international struggles on 
issues such as migration, debt and austerity. A young activist at the 
meeting argued that ‘the Left needs to go back to basics – do politics 
that is concrete and grounded and take the line from the youth in 
Tunisia who have become increasingly politicised after the revolution’.

wsf4 <http://www.counterpunch.org/wp-content/dropzone/2015/04/wsf4.jpg> 
/Members of the World Parliamentary Forum during the WSF March./

For some years, groups have realised that the WSF needs to adapt to the 
needs of social struggles in a rapidly changing global environment. In 
the 2013 Forum and previous editions, similar networks and groups ended 
up with a duplication of workshops and conferences, which created silos 
with networks mainly talking to themselves. The idea of promoting 
‘convergence’ spaces between groups and thematic joint actions was quite 
successful at the 2015 Forum.

For instance, this process allowed more than 20 organisations working in 
the area of health and social protection to club their events into 10 
joint activities (6 Workshops, 2 Conferences, 1 Theatre Play and 1 
Convergence Assembly). This collaboration helped several organisations 
and networks working on similar issues to understand each other’s 
positions, debate and share perspectives. Working together towards the 
joint activities also allowed them to initiate work links and trust 
which are fundamental for carrying initiatives beyond the Forum itself. 
Key issues that emerged included the need to counter policies aimed at 
creating new avenues for profit making in the health sector, such as 
Public-Private-Partnerships or private insurance based health system 
models promoted under the proposal of Universal Health Coverage. Social 
determinants of health also held centre stage, and it was noted by 
European labour activists that while this discussion is very advanced in 
the South, people in the North are only now coming to grasp its 
centrality in the new context created by the financial crisis and 
austerity measures. The joint declaration 
from this convergence reads ‘Our discussions show that the crisis in 
health and social protection is in fact the consequence of the global 
neoliberal politics. [...] Inspired by our experiences, we believe that 
the time is now for collective action!’

<http://www.counterpunch.org/wp-content/dropzone/2015/04/wsf5.jpg>/ Groups 
advertise one of the many Convergence Assemblies./

The Greece convergence assembly on 28 March, held just before the 
closing march expressed its solidarity with the Greek people fighting 
against austerity and for another Europe. The assembly resolved to scale 
up solidarity for Greece with a call to international delegations to 
participate in the May Day demonstrations in Athens. Further, a Peoples 
Summit will be held during the June 2015 European Union (EU) – Community 
of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit which will be an 
important moment for exchanges between Latin America and European 
movements as well as from other regions. On the inaugural day of the 
Tunis Forum, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had written a letter of 
to the Tunis Forum. With the Syriza Government on a collision course 
with neo-liberal governments and European institutions, Tsipras knows it 
cannot be a national battle of the Greeks alone as a progressive future 
for the people of Europe is interlinked with the future of the Greek people.

*What next for the World Social Forum?*

During the Greece Solidarity convergence, there were several calls for 
the next WSF to be hosted by Athens. A common refrain was that ‘In 
Greece we are doing politics week by week, if not day by day. It is 
impossible us to take a commitment that will project us two years in the 
future’. Given the formidable logistics around hosting a WSF, the Greeks 
were also clear that a global event of this size would be more of a 
burden at a moment when there is tremendous political pressure and 
activists are ramping up to counter the European troika (European 
Central Bank, European Commission and the International Monetary Fund).

The International Council (IC) of the WSF met after the Forum at the 
UGTT office to assess the Tunis event and decide on future plans. After 
the meeting it was announced that the next WSF will take place in 
Montreal, Quebec in August 2016. The announcement wasn’t without 
controversy since the IC had earlier agreed that the WSF would be a 
biennial event. Further, Canada has a rightwing Government which will 
impact local organisational capacity and the participation of activist 
groups from both the North and South given high costs and visa difficulties.

Nevertheless, this will be the first ever WSF hosted by the global south 
of a northern country and that is exciting by itself. A collective of 
more than 140 groups representing labour, indigenous, feminist and 
environmental groups have worked tirelessly for the past two years to 
bring the forum to Quebec. The opportunity for the global south in the 
north to participate more actively in the WSF process is invaluable. In 
addition, the new ways of organising and activism emerging from the 
vibrant movements of the marginalised in North America could be a shot 
in the arm for re-vitalising and re-inventing the WSF. This is critical 
as the World Social Forum is the only act of its kind – a global 
platform for the left and progressive forces to share struggle notes, 
strategise and build another world that is not just possible, but more 
necessary than ever.

wsf6 <http://www.counterpunch.org/wp-content/dropzone/2015/04/wsf6.jpg>

/Palestinian activists at the WSF closing march./

/*Benny Kuruvilla* is the policy chief of the South Solidarity 
Initiative, based in New Delhi, India./

/*Susana Barria* works at the Global Secretariat of the Peoples Health 
Movement, based in New Delhi, India./

*Notes. *

Are researchers with the South Solidarity Initiative at ActionAid India 
and Peoples Health Movement (PHM), respectively. They can be contacted 
at benny.kuruvilla at actionaid.org <mailto:benny.kuruvilla at actionaid.org> 
and sus.barria at gmail.com <mailto:sus.barria at gmail.com>. The views 
expressed here are the authors personal views, and do not necessarily 
represent the views of their organisations.

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