The World Social Forum (WSF) brought thousands of activists to Montreal in early August. The event started in Porto Allegre, Brazil in 2001 and attracted veterans from across the globe who were fighting, each in their own way, against the neo liberal agenda. They exchanged ideas and developed strategies hoping to make the world a better place for the vast majority who are struggling for a decent life, and in many instances their very right to existence.
After discussion the Steelworker Toronto Area Council made the decision to have fifty members participate. A bus left on a Monday morning. On the way a video was run outlining the mercury poisoning that took place at Grassy Narrows showing the terrible consequences to the lives of the indigenous people who lived there. Governments at every level have done nothing to deal with the issue. The paper industry was responsible and has ignored it for decades. An indigenous member of the union made a presentation on the issue and got his fellow workers geared up for discussions on a whole range of issues that were to take place at the WSF and the need for solidarity with others who are also struggling.
Workers have a tremendous power if they use the collective strength that is theirs. In recent times the attacks have been heavy and there have been many loses. In many instances workers have not had the confidence to fight back. Connecting with struggles internationally can help us gain a broader perspective and realize that if we can help to strengthen an individual fight back it can potentially win. A win in one area can provide the inspiration to fight in another. The World Social Forum had over a thousand workshops where individual activists spoke about their campaigns. Their courage and resolve was inspiring.
On the first day a march of thousands took place. There was chanting and drumming and cries of “So, So, So, Solidarité”. Local Montrealers joined with others from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean showing the broad diversity of the international movement for change. There were banners for the Fight for $15, from unions, from indigenous communities, cab drivers fighting against Uber, climate justice and so many more. It was a very powerful beginning.
As the workshops took place, there were translation French, English, Spanish, and Portugese though due to the number not in every one. Discussion and debates were lively. There were many young people, particularly from Quebec, but the number of veterans was also noticeable.The lessons of solidarity were not lost. The Steelworkers were asked to support a blockade of the street in front of a federal building in a march against the Energy East pipeline.
We waited around a corner and when the marchers, mainly Francophone, came by we joined them with our flags and banners and tried the best we could to chant in French. It was a very warm welcome and the climate justice demonstrators were elated that a diverse group of anglophone Toronto Steelworkers suddenly had their backs. The street was shut down by a simulated pipeline and the action was a great success.
This very much embodied the spirit of the World Social Forum and the Steelworkers joined like minded activist from around the globe in the fight for a better world for all. We have all returned home stronger and more committed than ever to continue the struggle.