The Guardian February 7, 2001


Two world forums Different people, different policies

As 3,000 members of the so-called global elite gathered for five days in 
the Swiss Alpine resort of Davos to make deals and attempt to put a "human 
face" on capitalist globalisation, a completely different grouping of 3,000 
people was meeting in the World Social Forum in Brazil to hammer out 
alternative policies.

The Swiss were ready for the now familiar scenes of anti-globalisation 
protesters who consistently fail to appreciate or accept the widening gap 
between the rich and the poor and the destruction of the environment.

The Swiss army which must be feeling really left out of the various world 
wars because of their country's neutrality was at last ready to take on an 
enemy  mostly young civilian protesters.

The pictures coming from Davos remind one of Nazi concentration camps. 
Razor wire surrounded the world's "elite", water canons and tear gas were 
on hand for those protesters who braved a snow storm to express their 
democratic right to have a say in what's going on in the world.

The only difference with the Nazi concentration camps is that the "inmates" 
were all well-dressed in suits and ties and looked well-fed and pleased 
with the world.

Funded by more than 1,000 of the world's largest corporations, the CEO's, 
political leaders and academics participating this year are acutely aware 
that millions no longer accept their policies and are fighting back against 
unemployment, poverty, the loss of rights  even the right to live.

The fact that one of the topics on the agenda was: "Addressing the 
Globalisation Backlash" indicates that the corporate chiefs and their tame 
politicians are on the defensive.

They could have started with a simple question  why has globalisation 
failed to deliver goods and services to the world's poor?

Despite the last two decades of rapidly expanding international trade, 
there has been a sharp slowdown in economic growth. From 1960-80, the 
average country had real income growth, per person, of 83 percent. In the 
last two decades (1980-2000) this growth was only two percent. The policies 
of the "free" market have directly contributed to this.

In previous decades, national governments exercised more control over their 
economic policies. This enabled them, in many cases, to pursue economic 
development strategies that increased the productivity of their own labour 
force by way of investment in industry, education, or necessary 
infrastructure such as power and electricity.

Over time, this increasing productivity laid the basis for higher living 
standards for the entire population.

It is not just the poor who have lost in this economic drive of the 
corporations to turn the world into one big piece of private property. It 
is the vast majority of people, including those of the United States, where 
the median wage (adjusted for inflation) is about the same today as it was 
27 years ago.

Most of the poorer countries have been hit much harder. In Africa, real 
income per person has fallen by 15 percent over the last two decades (1980-
2000), after increasing by 34 percent in the previous 20 years. Latin 
America saw its growth slow from a 75 percent gain in the first period to 
only seven percent in the second.

The most rapidly growing economies of the last half-century  countries 
like South Korea and China  used extensive state planning and investments 
in the public sector.

They did not allow their economies to be simply open to foreign 
corporations as demanded by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank 
and the World Trade Organisation.

The loss of national economic sovereignty is presented by those at Davos as 
an inevitable result of the global economy and an inevitable historic 
process.

These arguments are advanced for the purpose of forcing countries to open 
up to the transnational corporations of the big industrialised countries.

The fact is that more than 80 percent of the world's goods and services are 
produced for national, local markets. In the United States the figure is 87 
percent and the US Government is not restrained by global markets in 
deciding its major economic policies.

The policies of the alternative World Social Forum are entirely different.

"Globalisation is a new phase of the imperialist expansion of capital, a 
fig leaf to hide imperialism itself", said the director of the Third World 
Forum, Egyptian economist Samir Amin who is a proponent of global 
socialism.

"To say that there is no alternative to globalism is false", he said to the 
applause of the 3,000 people attending the conference.

Representatives from grassroots organisations, labour unions and political 
parties joined international economists and sociologists for a five-day 
discussion on various topics including the foreign debts of developing 
countries, child workers, feminism, racism, GM foods and, above all, the 
negative effects of globalisation.

Speakers and participants at the Forum were dressed in jeans and wore 
symbolic red scarves. There was no razor wire surrounding the conference 
site.

The Forum participants called for the direct involvement of citizens in 
both national-level economic decision-making through local referendums and 
international accords through the participation of local representatives.

Failing that, former Algerian president Ahmed Ben Bella called on 
participants to take up arms and reclaim democracy by force.

"We are here to reclaim democracy, but if the way is blocked, as in 
Colombia, Palestine or Algeria, then taking up arms is a sacred right", he 
said.

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