To the World Social Forum and beyond

19 August 2016

The absence of over 70 percent of international delegates, denied temporary visa by the Canadian government, overshadowed the World Social Forum. Despite this saddening fact TNI's team managed to host and participate in a broad and diverse range of discussions, workshops and activities, for instance in the convergence  space of  “People and Planet before Profit. Moving away from Free Trade and Extractivism to Dismantle Corporate Power”. 

First nation spokesperson gives interview at Place Pasteur, Montreal.
First nation spokesperson gives interview at Place Pasteur, Montreal. / Photo credit Lavinia Steinfort
TNI helped to bring together many groups and movements during the 15th World Social Forum (WSF) in Montreal. Groups and movements who share a vision of people’s sovereignty, energy democracy and progressive public services, and who struggle against corporate power, free trade and extractivism came together to exchange ideas. The event was sadly marred by the Canadian government's refusal to issue visas to a massive number of delegates, robbing proceedings of significant perspectives, particularly from the Global South. TNI worked at a wide range of events including workshops on Energy Democracy and Remunicipalisation in Public Services, and the Global Campaign to Reclaim People's Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity.

The start of the 2016 World Social Forum - a platform that originated in the 2001 counter-hegemonic globalisation movements meeting in Porto Alegre - was overshadowed by the absence of at least 70 percent of the delegates, who had been denied temporary visas. The government cited reasons such as insufficient financial resources and doubts as to whether applicants intended to leave Canada after the WSF. TNI joined protests and supported the demands of dozens of organisations to remedy the situation.

Among the rejected applicants was Aminata Traoré, former minister of tourism and culture in Mali and candidate to succeed Ban Ki-moon as Secretary General of the United Nations. The Canadian government excluded partners and friends of TNI and many other groups and organisations, many of whom have been adversely affected by the activities of transnational corporations (TNCs). Their valuable contributions were sorely missed.

Most TNI activities at WSF centred on the convergence space “People and Planet before Profit. Moving away from Free Trade and Extractivism to Dismantle Corporate Power”, which was endorsed by more than 100 global, regional and national networks and organisations. As part of the World Social Forum the space provided an opportunity for groups and movements that work against extractivism and for social justice, against Free Trade and Investment Agreements and for progressive public alternatives, against unmitigated corporate power and for climate justice. The groups meeting in the convergence space built momentum and strengthened coordination among front-line, direct, non-violent and anti-systemic actions. The space brought thousands of participants together for over one hundred activities.

The Global Campaign workshop was attended by more than 100 participants. The “People and Planet before Profit” space and the “Dismantle Corporate Power” workshops provided open and energetic space where the struggles of several members of the Campaign were shared: the Movement of People Affected by Dams - La Via Campesina (MAB-Brazil), the Union of People Affected by Chevron Texaco (UDAPT), Attac Argentina-CADTM, Stop the Wall, Focus on the Global South, Ecologistas en Acción, Polaris Institute, CETIM, Attac Spain, Corporate Accountability International, and others. Participants also heard updates about the Southern Africa Permanent Peoples Tribunal on Transnational Corporations.

TNI’s Mónica Vargas shared updates from the Global Campaign's calendar; the current work of the working groups (Peoples Centre on TNC impunity, Privatisation of Democracy, Communication) and the upcoming Week of Mobilisation on 24-29th October 2016 in Geneva. The mobilisation will be at the occasion of the Second Session of the Open Ended Inter-Governmental Working Group (OEIGWG) at the Human Rights Council, mandated to establish a Binding Treaty on Transnational Corporations. 

Brid Brennan updated on the Global Campaign analysis on the architecture of corporate impunity and the proposals raising from its members such as the International Peoples Treaty.

The Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity, with CADTM general secretary and members of the Union of People Affected by Chevron Texaco, a member of CETIM and a member of CCFD that belongs to the
Members of The Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity, CADTM , Union of People Affected by Chevron Texaco, CETIM and CCFD that belongs to the the Treaty Alliance all working together at WSF / Photo credit Monica Vargas

TNI’s two other workshops focused on the need to bring control of essential services, like water and energy, back into public hands and democratize them. First was the Remunicipalisation in Public Services workshop, where TNI’s Lavinia Steinfort presented the institute’s current research on remunicipalisation cases in public services. In the previous year, TNI had already listed 235 cases of water being returned to municipal and sometimes regional or national control. TNI is currently gathering new and unknown remunicipalisation cases to get a better understanding of how cities and communities successfully reclaim public services. Researchers will especially delve into those cases that raise the standard of progressive public-ownership and management.

Montreal, the home of this year’s WSF, is also home to a remunicipalisation case. Graham Cox, researcher at the Canadian Public Services Union (CUPE), presented the findings of the report “Bringing services in-house”, and showed just how corrupt and collusive private sector participation often turns out to be. The remunicipalisation of side-walk construction and repair in Montreal underscores this. Construction contracts were awarded at highly inflated prices, leading many boroughs to bring the side-walk services back in-house. This reportedly lead to cost savings and improved effectiveness.

The Energy Democracy workshop also included examples of cases where cities and communities took back control, this time zooming in on energy services. The workshop hosted the premiere of the energy democracy video; Five interviews coupled with brief animated shorts explain the call for energy democracy. It gave rise to a critical remark by Sean Sweeney, coordinator of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, that one should not fethisize the local. Although communities are key to democratising the energy system, energy democracy is not limited to the local level. This argument is supported by the new municipal energy company of Bristol and the progressive national energy companies of Uruguay and Costa Rica.

Energy is “the lifeblood of the global economy”, says Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now. There's a dire need to democratise the economy and energy – a necessity for both households and industries – is its cornerstone, there is potential for radical transformation. As TNCs and governments are currently pushing for a very gloomy global trade agenda, the struggle to democratise the economy should go in hand with stopping each and every “free trade” deal. The Rosa Luxembourg Foundation's Tadzio Müller took it even further, saying that in order to continue any frontline struggle, it is key that we all make stopping CETA and TTIP a priority. If we don't, these trade agreements will undermine nearly every fight for social and environmental justice.