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Solidarity and struggle around the world

July 6, 2001 | Pages 8 and 9

THE CHEERLEADERS for the free market love to look down their noses at the protesters who demonstrate against corporate globalization.

"This antiglobalization movement is largely the well-intentioned but ill-informed being led around by the ill-intentioned and well-informed (protectionist unions and anarchists)," New York Times hack Thomas Friedman warned darkly earlier this year.

But arrogant rhetoric can't hide the growing resistance to a world ruled by corporations in the interest of profit. Around the globe, the ranks of this resistance are filled with people who have little or nothing--and who are increasingly bitter about a system that leaves them with even less, year by year.

At last month's Socialist Summer School 2001 conference in Chicago, the leaders of struggles across the globe--from Bolivia and Brazil to South Africa and Zimbabwe, from Palestine to Mexico, from Greece to the heart of the beast, the U.S.--came together for an extraordinary panel discussion on the fight ahead.

Here, Socialist Worker prints brief excerpts from the presentations at that meeting.

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OSCAR OLIVERA is executive director of the Cochabamba Federation of Factory Workers in Bolivia and a leader of the successful fight to overturn the privatization of the country's water system.

I'M HERE to tell you the story about a people who have risen up and shown that it's possible to beat the transnationals. And I want to tell you that another world is possible to make from below.

Fifteen years ago, in Bolivia, they began what they call the structural adjustment program--which began with privatizations. Like many other countries in the world, they've stolen the railroads, the mines, the factories, the telephone system, the electrical system.

There was a serious scarcity of water, and as a pretext for solving this problem, they decided to steal our water.

The government--under pressure from the World Bank and Bechtel, a transnational corporation based in San Francisco--signed an agreement. Under this law, for 40 years, all the water, all the rivers, all the lakes passed into the possession of this transnational conglomerate.

Even peasants couldn't build a dike or a dam to accumulate water, because the accumulated water was the possession of this corporation.

The contract basically said that there would be an increase of 335 percent in the water fees that people had to pay.

The president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, pays $17 a month for his drinking water in his neighborhood in Washington, D.C. But in Cochabamba, a teacher who makes $90 a month has to pay $20 or $25 a month for water.

There were three great mobilizations in January, February and April in the year 2000. We occupied the streets and city squares in towns and cities around the country. We were able to mobilize 500,000 people around the country and 100,000 in the capital to say, "Down with the contract."

The rocks and the stones of the people were able to beat the tear gas and bullets shot by the criminals dressed like police. Solidarity and unity were able to overcome the fear that people had felt up until then, and on the 10th of April, we beat Bechtel.

Not only have we de-privatized our water system and reclaimed our rivers and lakes and water system, we have reclaimed our dignity and our own voice. We also reclaimed the ability to decide for ourselves our own affairs, and for us, that's true democracy.

I've come here to spread the word about the fight of the people of Cochabamba against privatization of water, and to say that this can be an example of bravery and hope to everyone.

This victory--this collective effort of men and women--was a victory for all, not only for Bolivians but for everyone who's imagined and dreamed of a world that's different from the one designed by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization.

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FABIO BOSCO is a representative of the Central Unica dos Trabalhadores, the main union federation in Brazil.

I WANT to talk about international solidarity.

In Brazil, a group of unionists in the United Workers Center began to discuss the necessity of rebuilding international connections of workers. And so we launched the idea of an international solidarity network--not for bureaucrats to meet on one day and then do business unionism the next day, but a network to bring together those involved in the struggle for wages, for jobs, against privatization and, of course, against the IMF and the World Bank.

We organized a series of activities. One, for example, was a campaign against U.S. intervention in Colombia. In another, we worked in solidarity with metalworkers in South Africa at Volkswagen--who went on strike at first against the undemocratic practices of the leadership of their union and then began to fight against the company and against the government of South Africa, that didn't guarantee their right to struggle.

We could see that through the collaboration of people fighting all over the world, it will be possible to make the words of the Internationale true: "The international working class shall free the human race." And I'm sure that the links that we establish now will continue until we manage to win and establish socialism all over the world.

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ROBERTO BARRETO is a member of Organización Socialista Interanaciónal, the ISO's sister organization in Puerto Rico.

GOOD EVENING from Puerto Rico, the colony of the United States in the Caribbean.

Puerto Ricans are demanding the immediate cessation of all military practices in the island of Vieques.

The will of Puerto Ricans is simply ignored by the U.S. government, which finds it convenient to use the island for military practice and scientific experimentation of all kinds. Sixty years of exposure to noise and chemicals have produced a disproportionately high rate of cancer, heart and kidney and ecological problems for the Vieques population.

For two years now, Puerto Ricans have organized to resist the continued use of Vieques as a bombing range. They have moved from peaceful civil disobedience to not-so-peaceful civil disobedience.

In April, the level of militancy went to a new level, and the Navy could hardly practice. Demonstrators were shot with beanbags and rubber bullets and showered with great quantities of pepper gas. The arrested demonstrators were tortured and brutalized.

Lawyers for the demonstrators recently released a video, filmed by the Navy itself, that showed the four-hour process in which a demonstrator was tortured. All the abuses that the Navy has been denying are shown on those videos.

Puerto Rican public opinion is solidly on the side of the Vieques struggle. That's why the illegitimate president George W. Bush admitted, "They don't want us there."

And Bush announced that the Navy will cease practices on Vieques by 2003.

This is a sign of the weakness of the U.S. government and represents the beginning of a victory. But Bush's decision comes too late, offers too little and gives no guarantees.

Bush can order an immediate cancellation of military practices. However, he's allowing the Navy to continue practicing.

In Congress, there's opposition to ending the military practices on Vieques. According to Rep. Bob Stamm of Arizona, "Once you give in to these kinds of activities that the Puerto Ricans are doing, you're inviting trouble."

And he's right. If Vieques wins, its example will raise the confidence of the people in Okinawa, in Korea and in many, many places.

It has already started to raise the confidence of the people of Puerto Rico. The experience that people have fighting for Vieques will give them the confidence to fight against the other problems that affect their lives.

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SOUAD DUJANI is Middle East Program Coordinator for Grassroots International in Boston.

I BRING you the voice of the Palestinian people, who are struggling for freedom and justice and equality in their own homeland.

It's not a struggle that started last year with the Palestinian intifada, it's not a struggle that started eight years ago with the Oslo peace process, it's not a struggle that started 34 years ago with the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It's a struggle that goes back to the very formation of the state of Israel on the homeland of the Palestinian people.

The Palestinian people today are not just struggling for political sovereignty or peace or justice. They are struggling against this monolith that doesn't even acknowledge them as human beings. And they need all our support.

I think it's important that we express our anger at the long deception--at the one-sidedness of the government and the media when it comes to this conflict. I think it's important that we all stand up against the silencing of truth on this issue.

So join me in a struggle for justice in Palestine. Thank you!

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MAURICIO HIGINIO is an independent unionist who was fired for organizing in the maquiladora factories of Tijuana, Mexico.

IT'S A pleasure to be with you here in Chicago, which is the birthplace of the international workers' movement.

For over 35 years, the maquiladora industry has been implanted in the northern region of Mexico along the border. They have an industry where they pay very low wages, where working conditions are unsafe and where even the most basic workers' rights are denied.

The wage of a worker in the maquila zone in the northern region of Mexico is about $1.20 an hour. And it's worth pointing out that the wages in the northern part of Mexico are some of the highest in the country.

Many of us have said enough to this situation. The consequence is that many of us have been fired from our jobs.

We've gone to all kinds of authorities to try to get justice, and what we've realized is that we the workers have the power to challenge these powerful economic interests.

I think they want to take Tijuana as a model to create a continent-wide free-trade area. Imagine if all of Latin America had the problems we have.

Let's suppose they go ahead with this plan. Do you remember the first of January 1994? Is there going to be another Chiapas?

I want to tell you that the workers of the maquiladora industry--and in my case, an ex-worker--we want to tell you that this struggle is going to move forward.

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TAFADZWA CHOTO is a member of the International Socialist Organization of Zimbabwe and editor of the group's newspaper Socialist Worker.

THE SITUATION in Zimbabwe has reached a boiling point.

The Zimbabwean government has increased the price of fuel by 70 percent. What does it mean to workers? Already, 76 percent of the total population in Zimbabwe is living in poverty. And before the increase in transportation costs, thousands of workers were walking to work--up to distances of 10 miles.

The increase in fuel prices will mean an increase in poverty. But it also means that the time has come for workers to say enough is enough.

Besides the issue of fuel, workers are preparing to demonstrate outside parliament, together with students fighting for the right to an education and those fighting for a new constitution.

To cover these struggles, we need your support here. Most importantly, we're asking for your support in participating in the struggles that are taking place here. We're asking you to shut down Washington in September when the IMF and World Bank meet.

We'll say no to the IMF and the World Bank and the WTO, because our world is not for sale.

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ANTONIS DAVENELLOS is a member of the International Workers Left in Greece.

AT THE beginning of April, the government in Greece presented its plan for the so-called reform of the social welfare system. It reduced pensions by 50 percent, increased the retirement age, opened the way for private insurance companies, abolished regulations for hazardous professions and more.

This is the reality that workers are faced with coming from a social democratic government--a government that workers voted into power. But the new element in the situation is that, this time in Greece, the social democrats got the answer they deserved.

On April 26, a general strike in Greece paralyzed the country. The government, terrified by this response, recalled its measures.

But it was too late. The unions, even though they're controlled by social democrats, under pressure from the rank and file, called for another general strike for May 17, this time demanding that the government guarantee the financial stability of the social welfare system by taxing big capital. The strike was a 100 percent success.

And this isn't the situation only in Greece. In France, a wave of strikes has forced the government and the bosses to give up very important victories to workers.

And in Italy, even after [right-wing Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi's victory in the recent election, the mood among workers is the same: fight back. The Italian left estimates that more than 150,000 activists from Italy will demonstrate against the G-8 summit meeting in Genoa in July.

The new international protests against neoliberal globalization are a sign of the coming escalation of social struggles. But we've said from the beginning that this was just the tip of the iceberg.

Christophe Aguiton, a leading member of the French organization ATTAC, speaking at one of our public meetings in Athens, estimated that the protesters who took part in all international demonstrations against globalization last year were fewer than the striking workers out in protest on a single day in Greece or France.

This assessment, of course, isn't meant to diminish the importance of the international protests, but to emphasize the fact that the working class is entering the field.

We need concrete tactics for the further development of struggles. And second, we have to decisively enter the fight for the direction of the movement--the fight for political ideas.

But ideas are as strong as the organizations that support and promote them. In these new circumstances, the building of revolutionary organization is more necessary than ever before.

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AHMED SHAWKI is editor of International Socialist Review.

WHAT WE see tonight is part of the answer to the declaration 11 or 12 years ago that the free market was the future. But this meeting--and the demonstrations and strikes and protests that the speakers here represent--have shown clearly that the market isn't the way.

It's not the future. In fact, it should be the past.

Daniel Singer, a revolutionary who passed away last year, wrote a brilliant book, whose title sums up what this panel is about--the next millennium, theirs or ours?

In it, he wrote: "We are at the moment, to borrow Whitman's words, when society 'is for a while between things ended and things begun,' not because of some symbolic date on the calendar marking the turn of the millennium but because the old order is a-dying, insofar as it can no longer provide answers corresponding to the social needs of our point of development, though it clings to power because there is no class, no social force ready to push it off the historical stage."

We were promised that the American way--privatization, neoliberalization, deregulation, union-busting, lower wages--was going to lift every boat and bring prosperity. That's the American way--which has been internationally packaged and resold for a profit by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

And we're here to say that we know what the American way is all about.

In the 1960s, the United States was part of a great process of international radicalization. Ideologically, it began with simple ideas and simple aims: I am tired. I am sick and tired. I am sick and tired of taking it, and I will not take it anymore.

Ideas like that connected to a radicalization and propelled a generation into fighting this system. Most began with the same motivations that motivate everyone here--decency, justice, an end to racism, an end to sexism, an end to exploitation and degradation.

And they quickly came to the realization that, even to win small reforms, struggle was necessary. As Frederick Douglass said: "Without struggle, there is no progress."

But we have a generation of people who now understand that without struggle, there is retrogression. If you do not fight them, they will not leave you alone--they will take and take and take. They will take until they're stopped from taking.

We have a special role to play here in the United States. The ruling class of the United States has appointed itself guardian of the world. That means that they preside over the rest of the world, but their rule is affected by every rebellion in the world.

Our freedom and our future depend on the rest of the world's working class. But so, too, do they depend on us being able to strike a blow here against the American way.

And that is the project that we have dedicated ourselves to.

The American working class movement has one of the richest and proudest traditions of fighting, of combat, of solidarity, of selflessness and of courage. We also have a ruling class that has a similar and diametrically opposed history--of barbarity, of violence and of repression.

And we haven't recovered from its last assault. But it's time that we did.

And if this meeting does anything at all, it should encourage you to play a part in the reconstruction of that movement and in the building of a revolutionary working-class party. It's needed here, it's needed internationally, and we have a small contribution to make.

But today's small contribution can turn--to use the language of the day--into an enormous dividend for the future.

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