Labour@WSF 2007 Updated: 31/12/06

Labour@WorldSocialForum, Nairobi, January 18-25, 2007

Between Decent Work and the Emancipation of Labour

Peter Waterman

Introduction: The Becoming Visible of Labour

This note is meant to be both a resource for and a reflection on labour at the World Social Forum (WSF), to take place in Nairobi a couple of weeks from now. It has been written in haste and may be therefore somewhat icoherent, but I wanted to get it out today, before the end of 2006.

My qualifications for writing this piece are simply a continuing interest in the relationship between labour (as human activity, as social category, as social movement, as institutionalised), on the one hand, and the WSF and global justice and solidarity movement, on the other. Part of this interest is reflected in the Resources below.

Given the comparative scarcity of other resources on labour and this particular WSF, these notes are bound to be speculative. And, given my commitment to ‘the emancipation of labour internationalism’ (Waterman 2004b, 2006), it is bound to be utopian. But, then, speculation is surely more stimulating than silence. And utopia means both ‘nowhere existing’ and ‘good place’. Confronted by a realism that accepts the dominant appearance of things, and a pragmatism that confines itself to the limits of such appearances, it is surely necessary for labour activists to have one foot in utopia.

My feeling is that at the Nairobi WSF labour is beginning to gain the same profile as women. Bearing in mind the initial (self-?) marginalisation of labour (Waterman 2002), this would be an achievement. Possibly such a profile will not be reached. But, in this case, Nairobi should at least provide an opportunity for both the traditional unions, alternative labour movements and pro-labour groups, to strategise, preferably together, for the kind of recognition that – thanks to feminist mobilization – women have already achieved.

It goes without saying that the projects listed below are only a fraction of the labour or labour-related ones at the forum. Others can be found at http://www.wsf2007.org/ (external link), or www.wsfprocess.net/. (external link) Note that, on www.wsfprocess.net/ (external link), the index page has over 130 registrations against labour, but separately lists immigrants, class struggle, children’s rights, farmers/peasants, precarity and unemployment, public services, slum-dwellers, workers, trafficking, etc. The same goes for other lists on the index page. Moreover, the value of the WSFProcess site is limited, at least so far, by its slow operation. Just as this note was being proof-read, however, there appeared the first detailed list of registered activities by day http://wsf2007.org/program. (external link) This not only gives an overview of the WSF daily programme, but provides page by page spreadsheets (Microsoft Excel), thus potentially allowing groups to find each other.

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