Day 4

Greetings, all! The World Social Forum has been a huge success,although there is verylittle media coverage here or in the North Americanpress. So here’s my latestinformation bulletin:

A large part of the Canadian/Quebec delegation met inthe morning of day four, hostedby the Toronto Social Forum. More than 80 peopleshowed up, and it was avery enthusiastic gathering. As we did introductions,people mentionedthings that had impressed them at the WSF.

Thelargest single group wasabout 10 CEGEP students from Rimouski, Quebec,organized by two professors andanother student. The young people were thrilled withthe opportunity toexchange experiences with people from so manydifferent cultures and tosee the effects of corporate-led globalization on acountry with so muchpoverty such as India.

In all, there were more than20 organizationsrepresented at the meeting. There were Canadians fromcoast to coast,with people from B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario,Quebec, Prince EdwardIsland and Newfoundland. That’s only those whoattended our meeting!

Themeeting was held in both French and English, and wasan opportunity tofind out what plans groups from different regions havein terms ofsocial forums and report-back meetings on the MumbaiWSF 2004. There’sa lot happening. Stay tuned to the Toronto Social Forum website forcoast-to-coast details.

Lunch time seemed like a good time to check out moreof the culturalexhibits and the stalls where hundreds oforganizations were talking withpeople about their work. I learned about bicycleculture in India, whichis very much the people’s means of transport. However, I have noticedthat in Mumbai, you do not see any women on bicycles. I asked the fellowin the bicycle power stand about that and he told methat in other partsof the country, more women use bicycles, and girls aswell as boys get toschool by bike. When pressed, he explained that womenare often harassedwhile riding.

We finished off the afternoon with a taxi tour ofMumbai’s downtown highlights, including the monumentalGateway to India, Marine Drive and its long, windingseawall, and the British architecture of the gigantictrain station. There is so much traffic and povertyit is hard to appreciate the beauty of the city. Anyway I am not sure I am impressed by the colonialpast. I’ve seen plenty of British buildings in mytime,and I would rather see the city Mumbai is tryingto become.

That night there was a lively party at our hotelhosted by Grassroots Global Justice. There was ayoung woman from Mauritius talking to an Indian tradeunionist, and U.S. delegates wearing the “Judge Not”rainbow triangles of the Indian sexual minority rightsmovement. More than 200 people crammed into therooftop patio and many stories were swapped.

Day 5

Over and out!

Day five was the last day ofseminars and workshops. Wegot an auto-rickshaw from our hotel and headed to thesite,hoping to catch a workshop on water privatizationbeing co-hosted by threeorganizations, including the Polaris Institute(Canadian), Public Citizen(U.S.) and an Indian group working on water issues. Theworkshop wasactually a lot of fun, because I got to role-play acorrupt citycouncillor from New Delhi who had voted forprivatizing the water systemand selling it to the French-owned water giant, Suez. The workshop wasbilled as a tribunal: the people of Delhi vs. Suez.

In the end, thepeople had much better reasons why the waterdistribution should neverhave been contracted out in the first place.

The second workshop of the day was held by the NewTrade Union Initiative(NTUI), on the topic of women and unions. Severalinternational tradeunionists presented experiences of implementingspecial union programs toencourage the participation of women, including MariaRhie from theKorean Women’s Trade Union, Beatriz Lujan from theFAT in Mexico (anindependent trade union movement), Betty Cook fromWomen Against PitClosures in England,Karen Cobb of CAW — and me. Itranslated for Beatriz, whospeaks Spanish, but all the presentations were alsotranslated fromEnglish into both Hindi and Tamil.

Most of the womenand men in theaudience were Dalit or Adivasi people. Dalits used tobe calleduntouchables in more unkind times, and Adivasis means“first people.” They are the aboriginal people who have historicallymade their lives inthe forest regions. The NTUI is working hard to builda democratic labourorganization with these groups of workers. A coupleof times I got sodistracted looking at their incredibly beautiful saristhat I forgot totranslate for Beatriz.

Lunch times are always interesting. Mostly the foodis served in“disposable” plates made out of several layers ofpressed leaves. Theplates are not very rigid and you really have tobalance to keep the curryoff your lap. You try to manoeuvre into some shadyspot while madlytrying to keep your plate level, and when you get yourbum onto the seat,you look to see who is next to you on the low plankbench, and inevitablystrike up a conversation.

One day it was two co-workers from the LifeInsurance Company ofIndia explaining why government workers are attendingthe WSF on officialbusiness and are against privatization. Obviously,privatizing thisservice would affect their own jobs as well as thebenefits they provideto families who have lost a breadwinner. Incidentally, the average payouton a mature partial life policy is about six monthssalary, or $600.

For lunch on the last day, I tried a Paneer Chilla, a kind of crepestuffed with driedcheese and vegetables and heated on a grill. Quitefilling. I topped offwith an Indian popsicle made on site called khulfi. Mine was saffronflavoured. My whole lunch cost $1.00.

After lunch I went with my partner Barry to check outan art exhibit wehad been searching for ever since we met the artist ina cab, on our firstnight in Mumbai. The exhibit is called Local Beach, Global Garbage .

Fabiano Prado spent a lotof time walking up and down his local beach in Bahia,Brazil, picking upand examining the garbage. He has taken some greatphotos and hisorganization, Lighthouse, also helped with an analysisof how the world’sgarbage comes to wash up in Brazil. Not surprisingly,the country thataccounts for the largest number of items is the U.S.,and most of thegarbage has been dumped at sea by European ships.

The last workshop of the day and the WSF, for us, washosted by the Canadian Labour Congress and the CUTlabour central ofBrazil. It was a chance to revisit last year’smeeting on the same topic,namely, how are trade unions doing in the area oflinking with socialmovement organizations? There were five speakersinvited from fivecontinents (Brazil, Canada, South Korea, India andItaly). Unfortunately, the South African brothers who werescheduled to speak gotsick and couldn’t make it.

Not even the unions gavethemselves a passingmark, although there have been some victoriesinvolving linking struggles,such as the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun, and themobilization in Miami aroundtrade talks. Our meeting was a bit hard to follow. Everyone was prettytired, and there was a huge drumming and music paraderight outside the(cloth) walls of our workshop area.

Paul Puritt ofthe CLC noted that theCanadian trade union delegation is one-third the sizeof last year inPorto Alegre. Does this mean Canadian unions arelosing interest in theWorld Social Forum and international efforts to unseatcorporate-ledglobalization? I hope not. There are certainlypositive signs thatunions around the world are seeing that their besthope for the future isthrough alliances with community partners.

As we walked down the broad avenue in the dark, forthe last time, we felt a bit sad that it was already over. Allthat remained wastheclosing demonstration and cultural event. This smalluniverse of activists is teeming with hope and energy,and you can be suresome of that energy will make it back across the worldwith the delegatesreturning to their homes.