Tunis plans for Paris - Day 2 of a World Social Forum Diary

27 March 2015

The sheer number of sessions at the World Social Forum can seem quite overwhelming. The programme is divided into six different streams of discussion: citizenship; environmental justice; social justice; equality and rights; the economy and alternatives; migration. In any one timeslot there are over a hundred sessions covering diverse topics such from co-operatives and the solidarity economy, to water as a human right, to freedom of expression in North Africa.

Add in the the difficulty of actually finding the session you want to take part in and the  communication issues across different languages (despite the valiant efforts of many volunteer interpreters) and it can take quite a while to get the hang of being here. But take a step back from the practical issues and the scale and diversity is really inspiring.

The hundreds of sessions are each being run by multiple organisations from different countries, ranging from trade unions and peasant organisations with millions of members between them to campaigning groups with few or even no staff.

For an organisation like Global Justice Now, there several reasons for being here. First of all, there is no other space in which we can meet and build relationships with such a wide range of people who can help make our campaigns more effective. For instance, as part of our new campaign against the British government pushing electricity privatisation in Nigeria, we have started working with an organisation in the country called Social Action. Until now that was happening just over email, but yesterday I met its coordinator to talk about future plans.

We’re also here to show our solidarity with other struggles, whether we’re working on them directly or not. The sense of common cause, and of many people defending ideals you also hold in many countries around the world is certainly motivating for me just as it is for others I’ve spoken to here.

And of course, we’re also taking part in some actual planning and organising. For instance, this year’s WSF takes place eight months before the meeting in Paris of the UN conference on climate change which is being talked up by some as the next big opportunity for the world to agree an effective treaty on climate change. That assessment rather ignores the utter failure of previous UN conferences to agree any such thing, not least thanks to massive corporate lobbying by the fossil fuel industry.

In France a broad coalition has come together to mobilise massive and diverse protests in Paris during the two weeks of the UN conference. It includes environmental campaign groups, trade unions and social movements. Despite their differences, there is a relatively high level of agreement that the mobilisation can’t simply be aimed at encouraging world leaders to make the right decision given the likelihood that they won’t. Instead they aim to communicate to the world at large that the things cannot continue this way and highlight alternatives to the current fossil fuel economy which are already being built.

The World Social Forum has been an opportunity to internationalise the mobilisation. We took part in workshops on how to organise this demand for climate justice which will be taken back to the French coalition. For Global Justice Now, which will be taking activists to Paris in December to take part, it was really useful to feed into the current plans, which include a counter-conference, a movement space in central Paris with daily assemblies and a mass demonstration at the end of the two weeks.

Climate change is not simply an ‘environmental’ issue, but a question of justice for millions of people all over the world who stand to lose their livelihoods or even their lives for the sake of a rich minority for whom doing nothing is in their interests. Action on climate change is not just a question of ‘political will’ but of power, which can only be overcome through mass mobilisation to force a shift to more collectivist ways of running the world. The message we’re taking away from the organising meeting here in Tunis is that the Paris mobilisation is an important step in building this opposition, and I hope campaign groups and trade unions in the UK will get involved.

This diary first appeared in the Morning Star newspaper.

Photo courtesy of Jaron Browne/Grassroots Global Justice Alliance.



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