Tales of an activist in Hong Kong n°6
The third day of the summit has two very different sides depending on where you look at it from:
In the streets, women have been the main protagonists. Both in Victoria Park, where conferences and debates were held, and also in the demonstration afterwards, which was led by the women who are here from around the world. And these have not been the only debates. There has also been discussion on alternatives to Bretton Woods and the WTO or free trade projects in Latin America. Today has also shown how much public opinion is warming daily towards mobilisation: delegations from church organisations and immigrant organisations have offered food and water to the delegations who have come to mobilise against the WTO, and people in the streets came and offered water to the participants in a men’s march (which closed the march the women had started). This was a march with a difference: every two steps the marchers knelt down and bowed their heads to show their humility to Mother Nature. This was a symbolic act that was the brainchild of the Korean delegation. Before this event, the Filipino fishermen who mobilised at the doors of the summit managed, following much negotiation to gain agreement that a delegation will deliver their demands and accusations to their country’s official delegation.
As we write, a large Korean delegation is still in front of the summit building with demands blaring from a sound system. The latest news from the summit is that agriculture negotiations have failed definitively, services negotiations are struggling to move forward, and the negotiations on tariff reductions are the only ones that are working.
Although such information must be treated with caution (there are still three days to go, and the USA and EU have a huge capacity for manoeuvring and bringing pressure to bear), it is good news. We hope it will not be the last. Above and beyond all this, we are now at the midpoint of the mobilisation movement and already looking to the post-Hong Kong period, and the following are a few of the main points to ponder from the emotion of what we are currently living through:
Firstly, this mobilisation is not just made up of activists, but comes from a wide range of social sectors. Those most represented are peasants, immigrants, fishermen and trade unionists from south-east Asia, including Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia… the impoverished countries. This confirms what we saw in Cancun (a broad spectrum of social activism), but it also serves to remind us how much we’re lagging behind in Europe when it comes to protesting against such a flagship institution in the application of neoliberal policy.
“Real changes don’t come about through lobbying, but through social mobilisation.” This comment came up in a meeting, and it’s true. True for two reasons: firstly because the space available to alternative delegations during summits is getting smaller and smaller, and secondly because it would be a mistake to believe that the mobilisation activities could be replaced by pressure brought to bear on official delegations. What gives “inside” work its true value is the disruption of the consensus that governments could otherwise reach with the “civil society” which they allow into the summits, and the fact that this discrediting helps mobilisation in the streets.
Thirdly, given the increasing importance of the WTO in implanting neoliberal policies (particularly through its General Council, which is to assume a more decisive role), social movements must place the WTO’s “development agenda” at the forefront of our attention. This is an agenda that affects all areas of our lives, and jeopardises the fundamental rights we have won over the last century and a half. It’s worth remembering that in summits like this one we would be in a very different situation if the developed countries had established a broad social opposition movement.
We should be aware that, faced with the international governance as set up by international capitalism, social movements (with the exception La Via Campesina’s positive experience) lag far behind in setting up networks of relationships, sharing objectives and jointly organising mobilisation. Addressing this problem will mean foregrounding serious discussion about our future challenges, defining a programme for our combat (with possible alternatives to neoliberal projects) deciding upon which methods to adopt, and setting up a mobilisation timetable to move forward in practice.
And finally, there is a need to rethink the dialectic between the Social Forums and the movements organised against the summits, and what role both of these should play. At present, the effort expended on attending the Forums and that expended on resisting the summits cancel each other out massively. This may be to do with the fact that the Forums have one important element in their favour, which is that everybody is aware of a meeting of like-minded people, or of people working on the same issues, which does not always come through so clearly at the anti-summits. The summits are also not preceded by such a long and laborious organisation and co-ordination process as the Social Forums. This cancelling out of effort results failure to achieve the necessary mobilisation, and without mobilisation, without striking at the heart of the system, there will never be any worthwhile social change.
These are a few of the issues which are gaining strength and which will surely make up part of the Assembly we will be holding on 17th to discuss “Strategies and Actions against the WTO after Hong Kong.”