Journal des Alternatives

2007 World Social Forum

Stronger alliance of unions with social movements

Marie-Hélène Bonin, 2 February 2007

As the World Social Forum ended on a 14 km march in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, Canadian union delegates prepared to return home invigorated by a new spirit of global solidarity between trade unions and other organizations active within labour and other social movements. Despite some hicups that had to be expected in an environment as difficult as Africa, this WSF is seen as a major step forward in struggles against poverty and the impacts of globalization.

Here at home, Canadian unions have long been actively involved in community struggles and, in return, they benefit from the support of other social activists from around the country. But as union delegates witnessed, this is not always the case in other parts of the world. For
a first time at the global level, the WSF featured a great range of activities organized by trade unions and other workers-friendly organizations. Under the « Decent Work Campaign » banner, or independently, these worker events throughout the week have very successfully strengthened relationships between trade unions and other civil society organizations around the world, lending hope to the crafting of a global common agenda.

Several hundreds of trade unionists, informal economy workers and other labour activists attended the WSF, resulting in workers’ voices, perspectives, issues and rights gaining tremendous attention amongst other social movements. The idea of a « Global Labour Charter Movement »
was discussed at the WSF. The independent daily paper of the WSF published prominent articles on the « warming of relations between the unions and NGOs » and the campaign launched by international unions. Informal economy workers demonstrated in the streets of Nairobi and were hosted at the City Hall, after the police tried to chase them away.
Labour educators and researchers shared their experience and findings. Labour activists have also committed to setting up a new and broad network involving « women and men, native and migrants, trade-unionists and movements’ activists, working in every area, in the formal and
informal work ».

The idea of a World Workers Forum to be taking place within and during the next WSF is also under discussion, possibly along the model used by health activists to hold the II World Social Forum on Health at the WSF in Nairobi this year. This year was the first time ever that the 168
million members of trade unions, represented by ITUC (ICFTU merged with WCL in November 2006), organized a comprehensive program of activities at the WSF, together with Solidar, Social Alert International and other
NGOs, in an attempt to combine their efforts. The WSF was used as a unique platform to launch the Decent Work Campaign, a global initiative that can only succeed with the active support of unions and other organizations in regions such as Africa.

Union activists from Canada, Brazil, Europe, Africa and Asia stated their commitment to this campaign as well as to the creation of a broad network of unions and labour-friendly social movements. Both initiatives, they said, are needed to address the new global challenges
faced by working people.

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