Confronting Global Capital: The Challenges of Global Democracy
In today’s global economy, companies, such as Wal-Mart, are increasingly scouring the globe for the cheapest sources of labor and production sites, pursuing profits at any cost. In doing so, they have created a race to the bottom for workers in terms of wages and benefits and put increased pressure on local and national governments to roll back labor and environmental standards. Corporations have also organized themselves internationally to promote business interests and neoliberal policies through transnational organizations, such as the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, multilateral trade agreements, and international conferences such as the World Economic Forum.
To counter the global power of capital, a global democracy movement has emerged, demanding greater public control over the global economy. The “Battle of Seattle,” in which labor, environmental, and human rights activists converged on Seattle, Washington to disrupt the meeting of the heads of the World Trade Organization in 1999 was the “coming out party” of this movement in the global north. Yet, movements challenging the practices of multinational corporations and international lending agencies had been growing for decades in many underdeveloped nations. In 2001, activists in this movement convened the first World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, drawing about 10,000 participants from around the world, to exchange ideas and protest the injustices of the world economy. Since then, the World Social Forum has met each year and drawn increasingly large crowds. The last meeting, in Mumbai, India, drew an estimated 100,000 people.
While many activists hail the World Social Forum for promoting international dialogue about the world economy, participants are currently divided about its aims, the politics of representation within it, and its organizational structure. Critics charge that the World Social Forum is exclusionary, continues to cater to business and political elites’ interests, fails to offer a truly radical alternative to global capitalism, and fails to provide an international democratic decision-making body that is capable of countering the international decision-making bodies of global capital. While some activists, especially women activists and those from the global south, have fought to make the World Social Forum more inclusive, others have organized counter-World Social Forum events, such as Mumbai Resistance.
How can grassroots activists from around the world best meet, exchange ideas, make decisions, and organize to counter the power of global capital? Our proposed workshop seeks to bring together an interdisciplinary group of faculty and graduate students at UC-Riverside to think critically about these questions through a series of meetings that highlight the work of activists and scholars who have addressed these issues. We plan to meet at least once a month to discuss a paper and/or guest lecture from one of the speakers listed below or common readings on this theme, such as selections from William Fisher’s and Thomas Ponniah’s edited volume, Another World is Possible: Popular Alternatives to Globalization at the World Social Forum. In addition to our core group, our target audiences include students in our classes, members of UCR’s chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops, members of UCR’s Women in Coalition, researchers affiliated with the Institute for World Systems Research, sociology graduate students specializing in Political Economy and Global Social Change, and labor and human rights activists in the Riverside area. Many of these groups have list serves that we will use to publicize our events.