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The international debate and the alter-globalist movement’s approach

Sunday 26 April 2009, by Julien Lusson and Gustave Massiah

The London G20 summit was as disappointing as expected. Several declarations were of course of interest insofar as they seem opposite to the policy principles of past years. Let us take note of them and not hesitate to remind the G20 about the promises on regulation. An initial question puts a damper on our optimism: can we really trust the leaders of the G20 to establish new regulation and to accept the consequences? For the moment, it doesn’t seem so. The dominant impression is that, without an agreement on stimulation plans, the leaders hope—or let us believe—that the crisis will calm down in 2010 and that they can see then whether they will have to go further into the idea of substantial regulation of the global economy.

The second question concerns the economic policies for the coming months and what they let us see of the dominant orientations of the G20. Tax havens have been pointed out and designated. But the lists given to the OECD are not very convincing. Above all, only tax evasion is called into question, and nothing is put forward regarding the black holes of the global economy. The multinationals, banks and mafias will be able to continue to call the tune according to the interests of their hidden stockholders only. No real concern appeared regarding income redistribution. The stimulation plan is in the form of massive loans, but these are for banks and companies, which nonetheless continue to lay off everyone while richly paying their executive managers. The super-rich have been asked to be discreet, which already seems unbearable to them. The poor have been asked to wait without making too much noise. Global trade and growth have been reasserted. The IMF and World Bank have been congratulated, endowed and promoted. There has been no calling into question of their statutes or their voting rights, pretentiously called "governance". There’s no question of criticising the imposed economic policies, which have been proclaimed with pride and are still marked with the seal of neo-liberalism.

And yet, change is absolutely necessary. It will inevitably come from the deepening of the crisis, which—at the price of suffering by the most vulnerable—will demonstrate that the crisis is not a bad dream that the powerful can get rid of without risk of losing their powers and privileges. It will above all come from local and national resistance movements that respond to unbearable situations and that become aware of the duplicity of the political leaders who have succeeded in keeping their positions despite their responsibilities for the crisis.

The international debate on strategic directions

The tendency of the current situation is that of openness. Compared to the Bush era, Obama’s victory provides prospects that are not confined to defence of neo-liberalism and to neo-conservative excesses. Nothing is sure for all that, as the new policy of the United States will not rid itself of strict defence of its interests and hegemony without difficult changes.

The debate on the strategic issues is structured around three axes, leaving out the G20, which is above all concerned by tactical and wait-and-see considerations.

The first axis focuses on the most open bodies of the United Nations. The first of these is the United Nations General Assembly, or the "G192", as its president Miguel d’Escotto calls it. It has entrusted the Commission of Experts presided by Joseph Stiglitz with the job of preparing proposals that must be discussed at the Assembly’s annual session in September 2009. This session will be prepared by a United Nations conference on 1–3 June 2009 (UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development). The recommendations of the Stiglitz Commission can be backed up by two reports from the United Nations system organisations: that of the ILO, which is proposing a global plan for employment, and that of UNCTAD, which is proposing reform of world trade and development policies.

These three documents provide for a global economy reform plan that could act as reference for United Nations debates. The "Recommendations by the Commission of Experts of the President of the General Assembly on reforms of the international monetary and financial system" (19 March 2009)
The ILO’s recommendations, included in its report "Global Employment Trends" (January 2009)

UNCTAD’s recommendations "The global economic crisis and development - Systemic Failures and Multilateral Remedies “ (19 mars 2009) .

This approach, often considered as the "Green New Deal", advocates public regulation inspired by the spirit of Bretton Woods and that takes up some of the Keynesian paradigms adapted to an open economy rather than to national regulation and to the realisation that there are ecological limits.
The UNCTAD report proposes a conception of world trade that refuses social, ecological, fiscal and monetary dumping. The ILO report highlights the fight against unemployment, which it foresees will explode. It advocates extending insurance and compensation systems for the unemployed, the promotion of decent work to fight against precariousness and public investments in infrastructures and housing as well as in green jobs (see its report "Green Jobs: Towards decent work in a sustainable, low-carbon world", (September 2008) , support to SMEs and the development of social dialogue at all levels.
The Stiglitz report also reflects a heightened awareness of the need to have regulations and reorientations for a global system that is increasingly uncontrolled. In particular, it conforms to ritual declarations praising world trade and the fight against protectionism. But there is also openness regarding additional global funds (the special drawing rights) organised around the major and regional currencies, the new development paradigms, reform of international institutions and real reduction of tax and legal havens.

The second axis is that of the international trade-union movement, which has a central role in social and citizen mobilisations against the harmful effects of the crisis. The recommendations are taken up in the "Global Unions London Declaration - Statement to the London G20 Summit" (26 March 2009) , which rounds out in-depth reflection started up in the last several months by the TUAC on financial regulation (see in particular "Re-regulation in the Aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis - TUAC Position Paper" (November 2008) .

The trade-union movement includes its short and medium-term demands within a perspective of sustainable development, to which it pays great care. Their goal is to work not only to curb the crisis as fast as possible, but also to organise a fairer and sustainable world economy for future generations. It advocates a plan for coordinated international stimulation and sustainable growth that ties in with certain specified proposals of the ILO plan and that links together the very-short term and medium term: massive investments for employment in the development of infrastructures that stimulate growth in demand and medium-term productivity, as well as for support for low incomes; active labour market policies; development of social security nets; investment in "green economy" aiming for growth along with low-carbon emissions; development of access to resources and reinforcement of political room for manoeuvre that allows emerging and developing economies to pursue counter-cyclical strategies (here it’s a matter of a change of political paradigm).
While it insists on involvement by the trade-union movement in public decision-making, it does not sufficiently take into account the questions as they are put forward by the social and citizen movement, especially regarding peasant agriculture, the various dimensions of poverty, the deepening of inequalities and discriminations, informal employment, social and solidarity economy and above all the question of migrations.

The third axis of the international debate is taken up by social and citizen movements, associations, trade unions and networks. At the World Social Forum, more than 300 of these signed the proposals that can be found in the Belem Declaration of 1 February 2009 "For a new economic and social model. Let’s put finance in its place!" , a declaration on which several ATTAC organisations around the world worked on in more depth in the "Background document to the Belem Declaration. For a new economic and social model. Let’s put finance in its place!" (26 March 2009) .

These proposals outline alternatives that must be put forward starting now. They concern the predominant role to grant to the United Nations regarding regulation of the international system, socialisation of the banking system, strict control of capital movements, evolution of forms of ownership and the need to link incomes to work. They agree with the Stiglitz Commission and the trade-union position concerning the creation of regional currency reserves. But they also outline a perspective for radical democratisation of the economy. But, for all that, they remain non-committal on the forms of citizen and civil involvement in the regulation and on the radical implications of taking into account ecological constraints. They continue in the current discussions that, based on the work of the British Sustainable Development Commission, explore a radically alternative approach, that of "prosperity without growth" (Sustainable Development Commission UK, "Prosperity without growth? The transition to a sustainable economy" (30 March 2009)

The strategy of the alter-globalist movement

Two of the discussion axes—the international trade-union movement and the Belem Declaration on the crisis—are references for the alter-globalist movement.

The world trade-union movement is conscious of the transformations needed; it is also concerned about negotiating short-term proposals with regards to the immediate situation of salaried employees, as well as aware of the need to link the two dimensions. Several movements share this approach, especially the peasant organisations and the solidarity associations, in particular those involved in the Global Call Against Poverty.

The alter-globalist movement is aware of the importance of the immediate measures to take with regards to the economic and ecological disaster. It’s very careful to take into account the other dimensions of a crisis defined as a world crisis of capitalist globalisation and as a civilizational crisis. For much of this movement, the issue is to become involved in researching and implementing alternative orientations that go beyond the dominant system.

The alter-globalist movement is also very attentive to the debate in the United Nations. The Stiglitz Commission brings together reformers for whom new global regulation is a necessary condition and, as many of them think, enough to get out of the crisis. They are confronted with the haughtiness of the neo-liberals who are still at the helm and who are not ready to give up their place. They may thus be led to radicalise their proposals and will need to look for alliances. As for the alter-globalists, they are aware that global public regulation is required and that the ecological dimension is a major challenge. Even if these reforms don’t seem adequate to them compared to what’s at stake, they cannot remain indifferent to the opportunities opened up in the short term.

In September, the United Nations General Assembly must discuss proposals on the financial, economic and ecological crisis. This session can be the occasion to enrich the international debate on the strategic directions to respond to the world crisis of capitalist globalisation and to popularise the approaches and proposals of the various components of the alter-globalist movement.

Some are sceptical about the United Nations and think that nothing can be expected from it for as long as its radical reform has not been carried out to a successful conclusion. Yet, the G20, which poorly disguises the G7 that controls it, has never taken a decision along the lines of equality or social justice. On the other hand, the United Nations world conferences have enabled progress to be made in quite a number of debates, such as in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, on environment and development, and in Vienna in 1994, which allowed the additional protocol on economic, social and cultural rights to be adopted. The lever of change capable of influencing the United Nations is made up of social and citizen resistance, mobilisation of trade-union movements and associations on a global scale and the positions taken by local authorities. Support by some progressive governments that are passing on these positions and the echo among many governments of poor countries that have been marginalized by the directorates and humiliated by the G8 are likely to tip the scales at the United Nations and give greater voice to progressive positions. These positions could influence those who have taken on a contested directorate role but who have real powers and great responsibilities. They could lead to progress in international law, to radical reform of international institutions, and to a new system of global regulation that has now become an absolutely necessity.

Through its various components, the alter-globalist movement can take into account the different horizons of the global crisis of capitalist globalisation and specify how its responses will be structured.

The basis of these responses is formed by social, popular and citizen resistance to the dominant policies of response to the crisis: the explosion of unemployment and precariousness, the spread of poverty, the deepening of inequalities and discriminations, the criminalization of movements and resistances, the restriction of freedoms through law-and-order and repressive responses, destabilisation and the recourse to conflicts and wars.
In the short term, intervention in the international debate should give priority to the United Nations system with regards to proposals for public regulation of the global economy. It should be based on proposals submitted to the General Assembly by a reformer axis that expresses itself based on the Stiglitz Commission and the ILO and UNCTAD reports.

In the short and medium-term, support for and discussion of the recommendations of the international trade-union movement would make it possible to influence the proposals of the reformer axis in order to anticipate the offensives of the still active and often dominant neo-liberal and neo-conservative forces.

Promoting the building of alternatives to the current system starting now would prepare the longer term, based on the social practices of innovation and resistance as well as the popularisation of the proposals highlighted by the World Social Forum.

Julien Lusson and Gustave Massiah are members of IPAM (Paris) and Alternatives International