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More from the World Social Forum, Mumbai

January 2004

I haven’t been able to do much of a personal reflection on what it’s been like to be at the WSF and in Mumbai, because I have so much to process before being able to coherently reflect on the whole experience. I will say, that it feels really good; being out of the U.S.; in Mumbai and in a place where my mind is being stretched and I am constantly being challenged. One of the exciting things has been catching up with GRI partners and meeting people that are organizing around different issues in similar ways (migrant, women’s and worker’s rights for instance) and see them connect and dialogue with eachother and place themselves within larger movements.

I went to a session yesterday on the undocumented and documented migrant worker’s movement. A Malay organizer and advocate talked about the different ways migrant workers (from Vietnam, India, Phillipines etc…) become undocumented or underemployed and exploited in Malaysia: Workers are given contracts in their home countries that promise them work with certain companies that are “friendly with” the Malaysian police and government…the fine print reads that they are only legal if the remain working with that same company. So those companies with the help of the police can and do threaten workers who want to organize, get better pay, or fight exploitation with deportation. If those workers quit their jobs they automatically lose their legal status and are vulnerable to accepting exploitative labor. Other workers pay fees to receive contracts from companies, get to Malaysia and find that the company doesn’t exist and end up undocumented searching for the most “undesirable” jobs. The same story happens in other places. One of the things the panelists argued is that the bulk of grassroots organizing needs to happen in and focus on the worker’s home country not the host country unless it involves fully integrating those workers into the “host” societies; that worker’s wanting to leave need to be educated and mobilized to be able to make more empowered decisions and that the employment crises and working conditions in their home countries need to be addressed and improved first.

A few hours later, I sat down to interview with Jurema Werneck after a Women of Color against Violence session I went to organized by the U.S. based group Incite! Jurema is a young Brazilian activist and Coordinator of criola a black women’s organization fighting physical and structural violence against black women and their communities in Rio and across Brazil. ‘Criola’ is a derogatory word used to describe black women that they are reclaiming to raise awareness about state and police violence against black communities in favelas. “90% of poor people in Brazil are black…. and more of our people are being killed by police in favelas than in Afghanistan. Sometimes we don’t even have time to bury the bodies people are being killed at such rates.” In reponse to my question What do you think should the role of U.S. Ngos should be in relation to the work you are doing she said: “The conservative Ngos should have no role what so ever. They were involved in a government campaign in the 70’s that forced black women to get sterilized in return for food stamps. It was large U.S. Ngos that were involved in that campaign. Progressive and left groups on the other hand, need to continue fighting their own struggle at home to change the U.S. and the U.S. climate so that things like that cannot happen.”

While walking around the premises with Joana (a woman I met from Angola) we ran into several marches that were more like militant drumming processions: the Korean trade union march and the march against Coca Cola with people chanting we want water not Coca Cola and Coca Cola out!!! and people chanting for Dalit rights. (There is generally a really strong Dalit presence at the forum particularly in the public spaces)…

Out of the corner of my eye I caught someone carrying a Palestinian flag and ended up following him to the session on Arab trade union movements which was just ending when we finally arrived. It was very exciting to link up with Hasan Barghouthi and his colleagues from the Democracy and Worker’s Rights Center in Ramallah, Palestine though, which gave me an opportunity to spend the rest of the day with Arab trade union activists, relaxing, driving through Bombay, eating overpriced Italian food and trying to find cigars….

In the midst of all this, I sat down with Wajih El-Ayassa (Coordinator of the DWRC education and training unit) for a good 30 minutes or so and will leave you with some of his thoughts on why Israel continues to use Palestinian instead of other foreign workers as a cheap source of unskilled labor: Palestinians are cheap unskilled labor for Israel and they don’t stay in Israel they go back to the West Bank and Gaza threatened every day with the uncertainty of not being able to go back to work because of curfews or checkpoints. Other foreign workers stay and Israel has to at least make an attempt to integrate them into the society and award them certain basic rights. Palestinian workers also only spend their money in the West Bank and Gaza where the markets are swamped with Israeli goods and the prices are as high as in Israel. So their hard earned low wages essentially go back into the Israeli economy whereas many foreign workers save some of their money and send it to their families in their home countries. These are some of the reasons why Israel still relies on Palestinians workers as a cheap source of labor.

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