THE WORLD SOCIAL FORUM 2007 AND MIGRANT WORKERS RIGHTSNairobi, Kenya, January 20-25, 2007
Report by Sergio Reyes, for the World Social Forum Boston Organizing Committee and the Boston May Day Coalition (2/14/07)
The seventh edition of the World Social Forum took place for the first time in an African country. Naturally, the organizers' intention was to attract a larger African presence in the Forum. While the official figures of participants by country has not yet been released, it is possible that African participation was indded larger than in previous versions of the Forum. The total number of participants was estimated by Forum officials to be 60,000 (lately the estimation is 40,000). It is important to point out though that original expectations went from 150,000 down to 100,000, and they were further lowered by reality.
Those who study the dynamics of the Forum will soon reveal to us the trends, the demographics, the statistics that will allow for a more scientific evaluation of attendance. In terms of participation and contents, the experiential feeling of the Forum was one marked by the clear presence of many large non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as the Catholic charity and social service CARITAS, with representatives from Europe, to Latin America, to Africa. Likewise, there were plenty of other non-catholic christian NGOs working in Africa.
Because of the distance and lack of resources, this year the Latin American presence was minor. The presence of United States delegates, while hard to avoid, also seemed to have been smaller than in previous years. The Boston Delegation was no exception to this rule. While in 2006 nearly 50 activists from Massachusetts converged in Caracas (albeit mostly to observe and experience the Bolivarian revolution headed by Chavez), this year only 4 delegates made it to Nairobi. Out of the 4 members, 3 concentrated almost exclusively in promoting a proposal for Transnational Unity in the Struggle for Migrant Workers Rights in the World. The other delegate concentrated on the Forum process and the continued deliberations about the Bamako Appeal, an international program to change the pervasive neo-liberal order in the world.
Therefore, this report will concentrate on the international organizational work we developed at the Forum for migrant workers rights.
PARTICIPANTS FROM THE UNITED STATES
Two U.S. organizations took center stage in organizing a series of activities in conjunction with the Italian ARCI (Associazione Ricreativa Cultural Italiana). These were the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) (www.nnirr.org) from Oakland, California and the Southwest Workers' Union (www.swunion.org) (also representing the Border Social Forum), based in San Antonio, Texas. These two groups were represented by Colin Rajah and Genero Lopez, respectively. In spite of our previous contact with ARCI, headed in the Forum by Filippo Miraglia, we were unable to make contact with them in order to be included formally in their workshops. Interestingly, the same cast of presenters appeared in the different workshops presented by these organizations, and the format used was more of a lecture/testimony and didn't allow for audience participation. It almost seemed as if our delegation and our proposal were deliberately ignored even though it was really the only written proposal circulated openly during the workshops and in 4 different languages. We had to introduce it twice formally before we were able to get a few minutes to present it verbally.
Our delegation was an exception among the different non-profits and NGOs that participated in the migrant workers rights workshops. Among the different NGOs working on migrant workers was a French speaking block. One important activity was called by FORIM (Forum des Organisations de Solidarite Internationale Issues de Migrations) (www.forim.net) based in Paris, France. This activity was a seminar entitled "Migration and Development". Again these were presentations by experts in different areas of migration emphasizing the concept of the contributions migrant workers do in the development of both sending and receiving economies. The speakers also voiced concerns about what they called eco-refugees. As in other seminars/workshops/presentations, there was here also heavy emphasis on the details of victimization and oppression of migrant workers but no proposals for global solutions.
We also had the opportunity to meet a representative from the "Black Alliance for Just Immigration", with base in Berkeley, California. With all the talk among certain local groups of "black-brown unity", this is a concrete practical initiative. We should attempt to connect with this organization and promote their work as an example to follow.
THE REST OF THE WORLD
Another NGO represented in presentations and with a good amount of staff in site was the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) (www.imadr.org), based in Tokyo, Japan. Their emphasis was what they define as "exploitative migration", in particular the trafficking of women for domestic and sexual exploitation from Africa and Asia. The chair of the activity and vice-president of IMADR, a former vice-rector of the U.N. University in Japan, Mr. Kinhide MUshakoji, outlined the problem squarely "as a result of neoliberal globalization" and expressed his desire to unite social movements in Africa and Asia fighting against exploitative migration. They assert that "this struggle should not be left to feminists and human right activists alone". His introduction was followed by presentations from women from Nigeria, Nepal, India and Sri-Lanka. During a short period for audience participation we explained our broader proposal for transnational unity that resounded sympathetically with the chair who said that we must recover that slogan of the past that spoke of "workers of the world unite" and transform it into, "migrant workers of the world unite." Later on, during the assembly, Mr. Mushakoji expressed his support for our proposal.
Yet another large NGO was the "Migrant Forum in Asia", based in Quezon City, Philippines, with affiliate organizations in South, Southeast and East Asia (www.mfasia.org). While I fail to identify them in workshops during the Forum, their literature indicate that they place heavy emphasis in promoting the UN Convention on Migrant Workers Rights and the list of their affiliates is impressive.
THE ITALIAN, FRENCH AND SPANISH
While the Italian ARCI played an important role in facilitating many presentations, it was hard to follow what their specific policies and proposals to solve the problem of migrant workers are. The one activity that could have been fundamental to advancing solutions to the issue of migrant workers was entitled "Immigration as tool to bring about change in both countries of origin and destination". This activity was useful to understand the position of the Italian CGIL, the French CGT and the Spanish Workers Organization. While they seem to have a sympathetic view of migrant workers, the emphasis is on working in the "sending" countries, preparing potential migrant workers for an "organized" immigration into their own countries. The night fell upon us without electricity in the room and while we circulated our Italian, Spanish and French printed copies of the proposal, we didn't have a chance to speak to the audience.
Informally, we were able to relate to a group of Spanish activists who worked in the defense of migrant workers rights from different organizations. Through them we connected with the head organizer of the Human Rights Association of Andalucia (www.apdha.org) who distributed an impressive report entitled "Derechos Humanos 2006 en la Frontera Sur" (HUman Rights 2006 in the Southern Border (of Spain)). This document clearly explains the concept of "externalization of the borders" applied by Spain, whereas it basically contracts with Morocco for border patrol and deportation services. Ironically, this might be the path that Mexico could play in force as an extended border of the U.S. toward the south, stopping migrations coming from Central America.
OUR OWN ACTIVITY
Unlike many of the workshops organized by the groups I have introduced above, our presentation counted with about 10 participants, besides us, in spite of our previous distribution of our proposal in related workshops. Later on we learned that we were in the wrong place and not where we were assigned to be. This could have accounted for the reduced attendance, or maybe not. However, those who attended had the opportunity to fully participate and to express their ideas. We had participants from Mali, Spain, Burma and Canada. Again we distributed our proposal and made a short introductory presentation of the same and then requested all to address the items in the proposal. Many spoke to the difficulties of implementing such proposal in their countries, in particular in Spain. All supported the ideas proposed and participants from the Mali Social Forum had specific ideas about implementing some of the items in the proposal. In particular they recommended media and education campaigns to explain the concept such as cultural events, cartoons and community media. The activist from Burma was very hopeful that the AFL-CIO, presented in our document as a supporting U.S. union, would be interested in promoting migrant rights. This was so because there are unions in Thailand, where burmese migrant workers work that are affiliated to the AFL-CIO. This activist also explained how difficult it is to organize migrant workers that have lived for so many years under a military dictatorship.
THE ASSEMBLY FOR MIGRANT WORKERS RIGHTS
By the fifth day of the Forum, on Wednesday January 24, at the initiative of ARCI as the main convener (our delegation signed in early as endorsers), most of the organizations and activists that had been working in different workshops on the matter of migrant workers rights converged with the intention of producing a document with common objectives and proposals to "raise public opinion and institution awareness and reach our aims." We hanged our banner "Transnational unity in the struggle for migrant workers rights. No worker is illegal" in a prominent place to the left of the podium. We also formally introduced our proposal here. The mood in the room was chaotic and very few people really listened to the proposals presented, which was aggravated by the issue of translations and the rushing of the agenda. The agreement in the end was that the proposals would be formally processed in writing and circulated among the participants via email for ratification, which as of this writing (2/11) still doesn't happen.
1. Many contacts were made and there are possibilities for joint work.
1. We neglected attempts to communicate with the Central Organization of Labor in Kenya, which promoted "Decent work for a decent life."