MUMBAI, India -
The path of economic globalization must be
changed in order to avoid undermining social security. Otherwise it will
continue to exacerbate poverty, and therefore violence, warned World Social
Forum panelists here Monday, including Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in
"The essence of economic globalization is that it should bring job security.
If there were such a commitment, developing countries could have opened
markets by explicitly tying market access to job opportunities," said the
U.S. expert who served as the World Bank's chief economist from 1997 to
Economic instability and social insecurity will lead to a rise in violence
in the world because it is impossible to separate economic issues from
social and political issues, he said.
Nobel prize winning American economist Joseph Stiglitz attends a conference at the World Social Forum (WSF) in Bombay January 19, 2004. Stiglitz said one cannot separate economic issues from the broader social and political conflicts. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe
The loudest applause went to Stiglitz at Monday's conference,
"Globalization, economic and social security", which drew more than 1,000 of
the reportedly more than 150,000 people participating in the Mumbai WSF.
To protect the workers' social benefits, "economic policy cannot be
delegated to the technocrats of international financial institutions," but
instead should be at the center of democratic debate in each country, he
Stiglitz, professor at Columbia University in New York, condemned the
insistent pressure that the International Monetary Fund exerts on countries
of the developing South to reform their social security systems, reforms he
says ends up eroding the few protections that millions of workers might
Winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Economics and famed for his harsh
criticisms of how the international finance institutions handled the 1997
Asian crisis, he also proposed that the World Trade Organization (WTO)
should include on its agenda plans to strengthen social security and to
The fourth World Social Forum, underway in the former industrial center of
Goregoun, in Mumbai, since Friday, has drawn activists from around the world
to take part in workshops, seminars and conferences on a wide range of
social issues. The six-day event wraps up on Wednesday.
Groups of activists -- the vast majority are from Asia -- arrive at the WSF
venue daily for the conferences and panel discussions. Many are dressed in
their colorful national attire, others are dancing to the sound of drums
and shouting slogans against neoliberal globalization, against multilateral
financial institutions, and especially against the U.S. government.
Participating in the same panel as Stiglitz, Antonio Tujan, a Filipino
economist and journalist, said that the current process of economic
globalization has two major harmful impacts on social security: the
flexibilization of labor and the debilitation of trade unions.
Tujan, of the IBON Foundation, a non-governmental Filipino think tank, said
the adoption of flexible labor policies as a means to attract investment
"institutionalizes unemployment" and weakens the labor movement.
In the Philippines, an employee can only join a union after working for a
company six months. As a result, many firms hire workers only to fire them
before they reach the six-month mark, he said.
Monday's conference also included the testimonies of workers, like that of
Mexican unionist Bendicto Martínez, who enumerated the negative effects on
Mexico's social security system caused by the North American Free Trade
Agreement, NAFTA, which also comprises Canada and the United States.
"Between 1994 (the year NAFTA took effect) and 1995, thousands of small and
medium businesses shut their doors, businesses that employ nearly 60 percent
of the Mexican labor force," said Martínez, member of a Mexican
In the past 15 years of economic and trade liberalization in Mexico, he
said, the pace of work in industry has accelerated drastically, while wages
have been reduced and obstacles have been erected to prevent union
"The unions were several impacted, because faced with the closing of the
sources of jobs, they lost many of the benefits they had enjoyed before,"
"The Mexican government signed all of the WTO agreements, but none are
heeded, and there is more and more repression against unions," he said.
Laura Tavares, an expert from the University of Rio de Janeiro, said that
the major questions affecting the population, such as social security
issues, are taken over by the ones wielding power, and there is little
participation by the people.
Tavares said the Brazilian government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, of the
leftist Workers Party, is working to change that dynamic, and has made some
"Though it remains a very difficult task," she said.end on those who have, spreading the word.
That is just one way to take back the power that corporations have usurped.
© Copyright 2004 IPS - Inter Press Service