French students in militant protest

Genevieve Dupont
February 24, 2009

French students are out of the classroom and back on the street. On Thursday, 29th January, students and teaching staff joined in the national strike that had an estimated 2.5 million French workers marching in the major cities to prove to President Sarkozy that his provocative remark in the summer of 2007- ‘These days, when there’s a strike in France, nobody notices,’ was as wrong as it was rash. In the afternoon of the same day 53 out of France’s 85-odd universities voted to continue their own strike indefinitely. Ten days later they show no signs of backing down, with up to 74 universities now affected and the action due to carry on until at least the 11th. French students are angry, and they’re determined that this year, everyone will notice.

On January 29, students and teaching staff joined in the national strike that had an estimated 2.5 million French workers marching in the major cities. Photo by yupa on Flickr.

There’s nothing new about the universities going on strike. In November and December 2007, students also joined the wave of national strikes, and many universities were blockaded for up to four weeks to stop plans to fund universities privately. In March 2006 many students occupied their campuses as part of national protest against the proposed ‘Contrat Première Embauche’, the ‘First Employment Contract’ that threatened young workers’ rights. ‘We’re used to it,’ says Louis, a third-year music student at Université François Rabelais, Tours. ‘Last year the strikes led to my university being blockaded and disrupted weeks of class. But I’m here today because we have to draw a line somewhere.’

So what makes this year different? The reforms now on the table are named after the Minister for Higher Education, Valérie Pécresse, and they will primarily affect students on France’s prestigious teacher training course, the CAPES [Le Certificat d’Aptitude au Professorat de l’Enseignement du Second degré, the teacher-training programme for secondary-level teachers]

The Pécresse reforms plan to reduce CAPES funding significantly, by shortening the two year programme to one year, stopping the year’s paid work experience, and forcing CAPES students to share lectures with Masters’ students of their discipline in order to reduce teaching time.

French students are angry, and they’re determined that this year, everyone will notice. Photo by yupa on Flickr.

These measures will bring an estimated 900 job losses in the higher education sector, and threaten the status of the researcher/lecturers who remain. Many will have to give closer accounts of the way their research time is spent, and could face increased teaching time of up to a hundred per cent. ‘They’re not just threatening our positions as researchers, but the capacity of the university to give all students an education backed up by up-to-date, fresh research,’ says L.R., Professor of Sociology, Aix en Provence.

The longer-term effects of the Pécresse reforms will be to devalue teachers in secondary education. The CAPES has always made sure that only the number of teachers needed in schools pass the course each year. The reforms will turn this carefully controlled system into a free market, with some teachers worse qualified than others and therefore more vulnerable to attacks on their job status by the state, which will surely be the government’s next move.

Teachers and students have come together with unprecedented solidarity to oppose the Pécresse laws. Since November 6th, one-day walk-outs and demonstrations across the country have shown an unusual level of inter-faculty and inter-university cooperation. Teaching staff in many universities voted through an administrative strike, meaning marks are withheld from students. The movement has been reported widely in both local and national press, but the government has shown no recognition and until now university presidencies have remained equally unhelpful.

On 10 February a massive demonstration was held in Paris in protest against the French government's plans for education. Photo by ptit@l on Flickr.

Now general assemblies in every university have voted to up the ante. Around 50% of university-level classes were cancelled in France last week. And this year the dominant aim is to spread the word. Meetings in Tours’ Université Francois Rabelais, where every faculty except music and medicine is on strike, tend to focus on methods of gaining support and ensuring eventual victory, rather than on just stopping the university from working. Although the main student unions such as UNEF and SUD Etudiant are clearly present, and the campaign has the support of France’s 5 main union confederations, every decision is taken by a general vote by students and staff, usually following, but not necessarily in agreement with, a teaching staff vote.

Last year, even in this traditionally very radical university, the only way to make the strike effective was to block the entrances to university buildings. This year many teachers and students are supporting strike action for the first time, and general assemblies are filling 1000-capacity auditoria to bursting point. Everyone wants to be involved in voting through actions, distributing leaflets or just finding out up-to-date news on the movement’s progress across the country.

Also new this year is the involvement of the Tours Institut Universitaire de Technologie (IUT) in the movement. The IUTs, French technical and vocational universities, not unlike our old polytechnics, face having their entire budget diverted into the ‘real’ universities to allocate as they wish, a move that is certain to leave them out of pocket. Although they rarely strike, they are currently joining many university protests and look likely to schedule strikes for one or two days next week in many cities.

At the beginning of the second-week of strike action the movement is becoming more and more organised. Alternative classes in activism and discussions on how the universities can be improved are taking place in university class-rooms. ‘We’re not just fighting a reform but a whole system,’ explains Clarisse, 19, a first-year psychology student. ‘A huge accumulation of frustration has contributed to a universal rallying of students right across the country. We’re fighting a type of politics that tries to conquer by dividing people, but last week was the beginning of a inter-union movement.’

The power of the strike is already beginning to show its effects. Many university presidencies have now declared their opposition to the Pécresse reforms, despite most not giving their formal support to strikers. Photo by farfahinne on Flickr.

The power of the strike is already beginning to show its effects. Many university presidencies have now declared their opposition to the Pécresse reforms, despite most not giving their formal support to strikers. In Tours the President has consented to a formal day of protest for Tuesday 10th February, when massive crowds are expected to rally in Paris. Surely the government will soon be forced to admit that strikes in France do not go unnoticed- in the past they have brought down governments.

Sarkozy has received at least one message he can’t ignore - the national newspaper Libération reports that on Monday, 2nd February in a private meeting with heads of Paris universities, the president was addressed by Axel Kahn, president of Paris V University and well-known scientist: ‘Mr. President of the Republic, you will not succeed in passing this decree.’ Sarkozy has already proved himself a slow learner when it comes to listening to the French public- meanwhile, university activism is just getting more organised and more powerful.

Tours, February 9, 2009


Chávez Promises Continuation of Project to Create Socialist Democracy in Venezuela

Tamara Pearson
February 16 2009
Tamara Pearson is a member of the Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network.
After it was officially announced that the “yes” vote had won the constitutional amendment with 54.4% of the vote, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez delivered a speech from the balcony of the Miraflores Presidential Palace, his two daughters beside him. He spent most of the speech talking about what problems need to be struggled against and what needs to be done next.

Celebrating, Chavez said, “Truth has won against lies, and the dignity of the people against those who disown the homeland … those who try to return Venezuela to … the Fourth Republic, have failed today and will always fail.”

However, he included the opposition in the victory, saying the day was historical, as for the first time the people were consulted about such an issue. “It’s a victory for Venezuela and they are part of Venezuela.”

Chavez also saw the result as a boost for the socialist project and invited the people to strengthen their effort towards the construction of true socialism.

“This path doesn’t have any other name, this path is called socialism, I want to ratify my commitment to socialism and I want to invite everyone to strengthen the march towards the construction of … socialist democracy.”

The president encouraged supporters to again go on a push with the “3R” campaign of “Revision, Rectification, and Revolutionary Re-launch.”

Chavez announced 2008 to be a year of the 3Rs at the start of last year. He had emphasized the need to review and re-evaluate everything in order to improve general administration and day-to-day governing.

“Government, party and people, I’d like us to re-take, with all our strength, in all areas of the government, that policy of the 3Rs…from this exact moment.”

He said he thought such a policy would enable the government to achieve, in the upcoming “four years that remain, of this constitutional period of the government, the highest amount of efficiency in public management and the push for the National Simon Bolivar Project.”

The National Simon Bolivar Project is the government’s overall plan for the rest of this presidential term, which lasts until early 2013.

He also committed himself and the government to a “battle that needs to be done with more intensity and effort and above all with more results that combat the insecurity in the streets of the people, the barrios, the suburbs, in the cities.”

He highlighted other issues against which the struggle needs to be intensified, “the struggle against corruption and its vile ways, the struggle against insecurity, the struggle against wastefulness, the struggle against bureaucracy and inefficiency.”

“I want us to dedicate ourselves completely in the struggle against all these problems that are so harmful to the health of the people, to the health of the government and to the health of the Republic.”

Chavez said the republic needs truly new institutions, with truly new men and women, and that it was also necessary to strengthen the five branches of the state: the executive branch, the legislative branch, judicial branch, citizen (or prosecutorial) branch, and electoral branch.

He then congratulated the people for their participation in the campaign and said it was “a big effort and a big victory.”

“Unless god stipulates something else, unless the people stipulate something else, this soldier will be a candidate for the presidency of the Republic for 2013-2019,” he said.

Chavez declared his life at the service of the people, saying, “On this road now, from today, we’ll continue … constructing the homeland. On this road I devote myself and I will be consumed in this for the rest of what remains of my life, I swear it, I promise it, in front of the people and in front of my children and grandchildren.”

However, he also suggested that the following week be a “week of love”, that everyone enjoy it with happiness and moderation, as a deserved rest after all the political activity. It will be a week free of political themes, and to make up for the Day of Love (Valentine’s Day) on February 14, which most would have spent in electoral campaign.

Celebrations and messages of congratulations
Chavez announced from the balcony that the first message he had received was from Fidel Castro, revolutionary leader of Cuba, just 10 minutes after the official results were broadcast.

“Dear Hugo, congratulations to you and your people for a victory that for its magnitude is impossible to measure,” Fidel had written.

Later, Evo Morales, president of Bolivia and the government of Spain also congratulated Chavez for the results.

Outside the presidential palace, along Avenue Urdenata, and filling up multiple other roads across Caracas, on hearing the news, people came out into the streets to listen to Chavez and to celebrate.

Likewise, around the country in main and local plazas, people waved red flags, danced, played drums, chanted political slogans and set off fireworks. Spontaneous motorcades of honking cars and motorbikes paraded through the streets.

An Important but Risky Victory for Venezuela and for Socialism

Gregory Wilpert
February 18, 2009
Gregory Wilpert is a German-American sociologist, a former U.S. Fulbright scholar in Venezuela, and editor of www.venezuelanalysis.com, a site that provides regular news and analysis on Venezuelan society and politics. His most recent book is Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The Policies of the Chavez Government (Verso Books, 2007).
The ten percentage point victory (55-45%) that President Chávez and his movement achieved on Sunday, February 15, 2009, in favor of amending Venezuela's constitution so that Chávez may run for president again in 2012, represents a very important victory for the effort to create socialism in this oil producing Latin American nation. However, Chávez and his supporters ought to recognize that this victory comes with a certain degree of risk because it increases the Bolivarian movement's dependency on its charismatic leader. In other words, even though Chávez is the best guarantor for socialism and progressive social change in Venezuela today, his movement's dependency on him was strengthened by the referendum victory, which is an Achilles heel for the movement.

But before we can examine the consequences and meaning of this particular electoral result for Venezuela and for the socialist project, it makes sense to first briefly go over the reasoning behind eliminating term limits in general and in the specific case of Venezuela.

In General: Term Limits - Good or Bad?
Opinions on term limits are as varied as opinions about politics go. Also, this is one of the few issues that does not fall neatly along the left-right political divide. For example, sometimes it is progressives who advocate term limits because of the ridiculous obstacles challengers face against incumbents, particularly in elections for the U.S. Congress and U.S. state legislatures where incumbents enjoy massive fundraising advantages against challengers. In this case, so the argument goes, the lack of term limits for elected representatives entrenches the status quo and makes progressive change extremely difficult. It is well known, for example, that historically 97% of incumbents win their reelection bids in the United States and a vast majority of those running are incumbents.

The most famous term limit, though, is the two-term limit on the U.S. presidency, which was implemented by Republicans in 1951 because they sought to prevent another more than two-term presidency such as Franklin Roosevelt's.

In other words, the arguments in favor of term limits cut both ways. On the one hand it is said that not having term limits makes needed change more difficult because of the power that long-time office holders amass. On the other hand, term limits can also be seen as an obstacle to long-term needed political change because it forces a change of leadership at a time when the leader's project might not be ready for such change (along the lines of, "You don't switch horses in the middle of the race"). Also, some add the argument that it is more democratic to allow citizens decide if they want a long-serving representative to continue to serve, rather than to force them out via an artificially determined time limit.

In the case of Venezuela, Chávez supporters generally argue that since the Bolivarian Revolution represents a long-term project, and since Chávez is the best leader for seeing this project to its conclusion, he ought to be able to hold office for more than two presidential terms. Already when Chávez was first elected in 1998, he argued it would take about 20 years to complete the Bolivarian Revolution, which is why he favored a seven-year term in office for the president (as used to be the case for France), with at least one reelection possibility, when the 1999 constitution was drafted. Constitutional Assembly members, though, convinced Chávez to accept a six-year presidency with one single opportunity for reelection.

Unfortunately, the recent debate about term limits in Venezuela was generally quite distorted. Rather than discussing the pros and cons of allowing people to run for office repeatedly, the opposition tried to make people believe that the amendment proposal was really about whether Chávez should be "president for life" and that holding this constitutional amendment vote somehow violated Venezuela's constitution. [1] Meanwhile, Chávez supporters presented the issue as one that was merely about "expanding citizens' right to choose" whomever they want for an office, without the restriction a two-term limit imposes. Supporters of the proposal practically never addressed the underlying issue that holding office for several terms in a row could lead to the accumulation of power and the unfair and illegal use of one's office to get reelected.

Indeed, unfair advantage is enjoyed on both sides in the Venezuelan conflict. Media owners and the wealthy face few restrictions in campaigning and the government has been known to make use of some of its advantages to compensate (an accusation, though, that the opposition massively exaggerated).

If the opposition had managed to focus on the real issue, supporters of the amendment would have been forced to address this issue and Venezuela would have enjoyed a more serious debate about the pros and cons of term limits. The ultimate result could have included better legislation to protect against using one's office for reelection and better legislation to protect against the advantages that wealth and private media ownership convey when running for office on behalf of the wealthy.

In Specific: Eliminating the Two-Term Limit for Chávez
Leaving aside the more general arguments for and against term limits, why eliminate the two-term limit for President Chávez? The main reason for this is that the Bolivarian project needs Chávez in order to continue and to be carried to its completion. First, he is the only undisputed leader who has so far proven to be able to unite an otherwise notoriously fractious coalition of Venezuela's progressive and radical left forces.

Second, not enough time has passed for the Chávez government to implement its vision of 21st century socialism (also known as Bolivarian Socialism and as Socialist Democracy). While ten years in office might seem like a long time, the Chávez government's program did not get off to a good start because of the vehement and often violent opposition it faced. Also, it was not really until late 2005, once the opposition in Venezuela had been soundly defeated, [2] that Chávez fully embraced socialism and anti-capitalism. So, in effect, the Bolivarian Socialist project has only been pursued in earnest from 2006 to 2008 - a mere full three years until now.

In addition, even though Chávez has a mandate for building 21st century socialism because he won the presidency with 63% of the vote in December 2006 on a platform of establishing 21st century socialism, in December 2007 the project suffered an important setback when Chávez narrowly lost the constitutional reform referendum, which was supposed to provide the constitutional groundwork for the socialist project. To a large extent this defeat was self-inflicted, in that it was a confusing proposal, the campaign was poorly conducted, and many voters felt that too many issues remained unresolved for whose resolution a constitutional reform was not necessary. Nonetheless, Chávez has appealed to the Venezuelan people that he needs more time and a majority of the Venezuelan people has now agreed to give him this time.

What the Victory Means
Given the importance of Chávez for leading the Bolivarian project to its conclusion, the February 15 victory is extremely important for Venezuela and for creating a real progressive alternative to capitalist democracy as usual. As the sociologist Max Weber pointed out about 100 years ago, there are times when charismatic leaders are necessary to break through the ossified social institutions in order to create something new. In other words, according to Weber, charismatic authority is often the only way that old institutions can be transformed. Examples of this type of charismatic leadership would be Lenin, Mao, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Nelson Mandela. This is not to say that Chávez is on a par with these leaders in every respect, but he probably is with respect to his ability to lead and inspire. And such leadership should not be wasted if a people democratically decide that the cost of losing such leadership far outweighs the possible benefit of maintaining term limits.

The recent referendum victory becomes all the more important if we consider that the world is currently in a process of entering its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression 80 years ago. Back then people were desperate for an alternative to capitalism and there is no reason to believe that a similar development will not take place this time around. Viable alternatives to capitalism, whether under the heading of 21st century socialism or some other name, will become more important than ever. For better or worse, Chávez has become one of the few leaders in today's world to forge a path in the direction of this alternative.

However, while this might be true on a global scale, Chávez's electoral success bears some inherent risks for the Bolivarian movement. That is, it is precisely the dependency of the Bolivarian movement on Chávez that is simultaneously its greatest strength and one of its greatest weaknesses. This dependency is a strength in the sense previously mentioned, that Chávez unites what would otherwise be a very fractious movement. But it is also a weakness because such dependency makes the movement somewhat fragile. First, if anything were to happen to Chávez, the movement would probably fall apart into its component parts in no time. Second, given this fragility, questioning the leader is quite difficult because criticism rapidly threatens to undermine the movement's stability and main strength. As a result, debate within the movement tends to be possible as long as it does not question the leader's decisions or opinions. This, in turn, makes movement self-criticism difficult and makes the potential for errors all the greater.

Tasks for the Next Period
One of the first tasks for the Bolivarian movement thus is that it must continue to develop the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) so that the Bolivarian movement becomes less dependent on Chávez and more stable and more open to wide-ranging debate. This means, first of all, developing alternate leaders and strengthening party structures so that the whole party is more movement-driven and less leader-dependent. The recent referendum victory has expanded the time-horizon for this task because without the elimination of the two-term limit this development would have had to happen within the next four years. Expanding this time horizon, though, carries the risk that the task of strengthening the party and decreasing the dependency on Chávez is postponed until Chávez loses a presidential election or a recall referendum or is otherwise removed from fulfilling his office (via assassination, perhaps).

Second, as Chávez himself recognized during his victory speech, his government must take the fight against insecurity and the high crime rate far more seriously. In a recent interview with CNN Chávez said that one of the reasons he has not pursued the reduction of crime with stronger police measures is because he believes that crime is primarily caused by inequality and poverty and that reducing these ought to reduce crime. While it is an established fact that poverty and crime correlate very highly, it is also true that all available statistics indicate that reducing poverty in Venezuela has not meant a reduction of crime. Rather, that crime increased in tandem with the decrease in poverty and inequality. In other words, the government needs to complement poverty reduction with other measures in order to reduce crime. Along with the fight against crime also belongs the general fight against corruption and increasing the state's efficiency and effectiveness.

Third, as some opposition critics have noted, [3] the real test of Chávez's economic policies is yet to come, when the price of oil is declining at a time when he cannot argue that the opposition caused the economic problems (as was the case during the oil industry shutdown 2002/2003). That is, the government will have to find ways to strengthen its efforts to create social justice in a time of fewer (oil revenue derived) resources. This would probably either mean going into debt so as to stave off a recession and/or taxing the country's rich far more heavily.

Finally, the fourth outstanding task for the next period is the deepening of participatory democracy against the resistance of chavismo's mid-level managers: the ministries, mayors, and governors. If popular power, as the system of direct democratic communal councils is often known, is the heart of Bolivarian Socialist democracy, then this will be the true testing ground for the viability of an alternative to capitalist democracy. So far, the communal councils have achieved much, but only in their own localities of 200-400 families. The real challenge, which Chávez has repeatedly announced, but which has yet to happen, is to bring these structures to a higher level, to the municipalities and perhaps even to state and national level. However, as many have observed, this is going to be difficult because few mayors and governors are willing to let go of their power.

If Chávez and his movement manage to tackle these four tasks in the next two to four years, then the future of Bolivarian Socialism will be bright indeed. Even though Chávez won this referendum, the next period is going to be quite short because if these tasks are not tackled successfully before the end of 2010, then Chávez faces the real possibility of losing his two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, or perhaps even his 50% majority, which would be a devastating blow. [4]

If things should go very wrong, such as if the economy were to crash for some reason (this does not seem likely, but cannot be discounted), then Chávez could even face a recall referendum in 2010. Should he weather these hurdles, though, the next real test will be the presidential election in late 2012.

In other words, even though the victory in the constitutional amendment referendum bought Chávez and his movement more time to complete the Bolivarian Socialist revolution, Chávez must deliver significant change in a relatively short amount of time if this project is to succeed in the long term. And even though the referendum has strengthened Chávez's hand in order to make these changes, it has also (paradoxically) potentially weakened the Bolivarian movement.

[1] This argument made very little sense, but was based on the fact that the 2007 constitutional reform referendum already included the proposal to eliminate the two-term limit on the presidency and was voted down and the constitution prohibits voting on the same reform proposal twice in the same legislative period. However, Venezuela's constitution is very clear in distinguishing between a constitutional reform and a constitutional amendment, which is not subject to the same restriction as the reform.

[2] The opposition was defeated militarily with the failure of the coup attempt of 2002, economically in the oil industry shutdown of 2003, and politically with the recall referendum of 2004 and the national assembly elections of 2005

[3] See, "Is Hugo Chavez Ready for the Coming Fall [6]?" by Francisco Toro, Huffington Post, January 29, 2009

[4] While many say that Venezuela is a very presidentialist system, most are not aware that the National Assembly is quite powerful. Not only does it approve of the budget, but it can also initiate impeachment proceedings against most government officials, it appoints the members of the electoral, judicial, and prosecutorial branches of government, and it can block any of the president's legislative initiatives (the only reason Chávez could periodically legislate by decree is because the AN allowed him to do so).


Guadeloupe workers appeal for supports

Guadeloupe, an archipelago 600 kms from the Dominican Republic in the Carribean, has been a colony since 1812. Although integrated into the French in 1946 as the 97th French Department, it has, like all other French possessions, remained economically backward and exploited. According to 2007 figures, unemployment is well over 23 percent and prices for all basic necessities are 30 to 60 percent more expensive than in France.100,000 people live below the poverty line in a population of about 450,000 inhabitants.

A general strike against rising living costs has been in progress on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe since January 20. Forty-seven trade unions, associations and political parties under the umbrella organization LKP—The Committee against Extreme Exploitation (lyiannaj kont pwofitasyion in local dialect)—have brought economic activities to a standstill.

A massive demonstration of 25,000 took place on January 24 in the capital Pointe-à-Pitre. All shops, supermarkets, schools and public services were closed. Road blockades have been maintained.

The demands of the strikers led by the majority trade union, the UGTG (General Union of Guadeloupean Workers), have centred on the price of basic necessities. They call for an immediate reduction of 50 centimes on car fuel, a lowering of prices of transport and water, a rent freeze, an increase of 200 euro ($260) in the minimum wage, permanent contracts for all temporary workers and the right to education and training for youth and workers. One demand calls for priority to be given to Guadeloupeans in key employment posts and an end to racism in employment. The development of local production to satisfy the population’s needs and an end to taxes on fertilizers and cattle feed also figure among the total of 146 demands advanced by the strikers.

The French government responded to the crisis, besides some concessions, is to send state police to the islands. On February 12, 130 police were send and then on February 18, another four units of state police were dispatched.

Last week, the protest spread to another French Caribbean island, Martinique, and now an alliance of unions in the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion is calling for a general strike there on March 5. Up to 10,000 people held a protest in this neighbouring island , and unions had already launched a strike on February 5. Most shops, cafes, banks, schools and government offices have been shut and the strike has hit the key tourism industry. On February 14, a mass demonstration in the capital of Martinique demanded greater economic and political power for the African majority. The French elite who are the descendants of the former plantation owners in Martinique, still control the economic institutions that make up the basis of the domestic and foreign trade.

In French, 13 left-wing parties marched in Paris in February 15 evening, including the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA), the Party of the Left (PG, the French Communist Party (PCF, Workers Struggle (LO) expressing their total support to the strikers in Martinique and Gaudeloupe. According to one of the organizers, 4,000 people marched.The lead banner read "Caribean and France, yes we can" Another banner read "Colonization has ended, Sarkozy, enough of your scorn!"

Under the threat of police terro, the LKP issues an appeal to the international commuinity for solidarity and supports.

Appeal to the International Workers' and Democratic Movements

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

As we wrote in our last international appeal of February 6, 2009: "The bosses and the representatives of the French State are hoping that the general strike will die down, so that they can then begin the repression."

This is visibly the political thinking that prompted the French State to take action, as they did on February 16.

In the face of the obstinate refusal by the French State and the bosses to heed our demands, in the face of their scorn for the people of Guadeloupe, the Liannaj Kont Pwofitation Strike Collective, or LKP, issued a call to the population on the 28th day of the General Strike to reinforce the picket lines across the country. The French State proceeded to repress the movement, seriously injuring one trade union leader, injuring others less seriously, and arresting more than 70 activists, including many trade union leaders of the LKP Strike Collective.

The population, the workers, the youth have said, "Enough is Enough!" They refuse to give up the struggle.

A number of elected officials protested against this State violence, which was also denounced by the LKP.

The workers, the youth, the people of Guadeloupe have strengthened their mobilizations on the ground. Their resolute actions won the freedom of all the jailed activists.

Today, on the 29th day of the general strike [Feb. 17], Guadeloupe is paralyzed by barricades in nearly every commune.

Youth were arrested the night of February 16-17, 2009.

This repression is going to continue, as the French State has just sent in a reinforcement of 1,000 mobile police troops [to bolster the 4,000 troops sent in on Feb. 7 -- translator's note]. The LKP has issued a call to the population to reinforce their mobilizations.

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

In the name of international labor solidarity, in the name of democracy, we call upon you once more to request your support for our just struggle.

The workers and people of Guadeloupe have the right to fight for their legitimate demands!

In solidarity,


Guadeloupe, February 17, 2009


World Social Forum proposes radical plan of action

Stuart Munckton
Green Left
6 February 2009

The ninth World Social Forum ended on February 1 in Belem with its “Assembly of assemblies” adopting “dozens of resolutions and proposals to be the subjects of a programme of mobilisations around the world in 2009”, according to a February 2 Inter-Press Service report.

The 2009 WSF, formed as an international gathering of the global justice movement, held “21 thematic assemblies” that broke “the apparent WSF taboo on taking common political stands under pressure from thousands of civil society groups anxious to seize the opportunity opened by the global economic crisis to progressive change”, according to the IPS.

As a result, global demonstrations have been planned between March 28 and April 4 to demand urgent action on climate change. IPS reported that a “key target of this initiative is the G-20 summit of industrial countries scheduled for Apr. 2 in London”.

The Palestinian Day of Return, on March 30, was also marked as a day for protest against Israeli aggression.

October 12, the anniversary of Spanish colonialism of the Americas has been set as another date for global actions in defence of the rights of indigenous people around the world.

According to the IPS: “Under a light rain on a soaked lawn at Belem’s vast Federal Amazonian Rural University campus, a spokesman of the WSF’s Assembly of Social Movements itemised some of the wider programmatic contents of the mobilization.”

These included: nationalisation of banks; no reduction of workers’ wages; energy and food sovereignty for the poor; ending foreign occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan; sovereignty and autonomy for indigenous peoples; the right to land, decent work, education and health for all; and democratisation of the media.

IPS claimed: “This is the closest the WSF has yet come to becoming a global political force, a dilemma it has faced since its inception in the city of Porto Alegre, in southern Brazil, in January 2001 as a counterpoint to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“Foreign correspondents and local media have underlined the sharp contrast between the vibrant atmosphere in Belem and the somber faces of corporate bosses and Western leaders in Davos, where Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown went so far as to admit the crisis has no precedent nor any reliable forecast.”

A January 30 Venezuelanalysis.com article reported that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez spoke to a meeting of thousands on January 29 as part of the forum, in which he described Latin America’s social movements as “trenches of resistance” against global capitalism that need to go on an offensive towards creating an alternative to capitalism.

Chavez commented on the WSF slogan “Another world is possible” by stating that “another world is necessary, and another world is being born in Latin America and the Caribbean!”

“Just like Latin America and the Caribbean received the biggest dose of neoliberal venom”, Chavez said, “our continent has been the immense territory where social movements have sprouted with the greatest strength and begun to change the world”.

According to Venezuelanlaysis.com, Chavez called for social movements to “step up their popular offensive toward revolutionary changes”.

Speaking at the meeting, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa slammed the First World-controlled institutions of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, stating: “Using the art of deception they will try to confuse us into thinking the victims are the guilty ones.

“They are the ones responsible for the crisis. They are not the ones to give us lessons.”

Declaration of the World Social Forum 2009

Declaration of the Assembly of Social Movements at the World Social Forum
January 27-February 1, 2009
Belem, Brazil.

February 1, 2009 -- We the social movements from all over the world came together on the occasion of the 8th World Social Forum in Belem, Amazonia, where the peoples have been resisting attempts to usurp nature, their lands and their cultures. We are here in Latin America, where over the last decade the social movements and the indigenous movements have joined forces and radically question the capitalist system from their cosmovision. Over the last few years, in Latin America highly radical social struggles have resulted in the overthrow of neoliberal governments and the empowerment of governments that have carried out many positive reforms such as the nationalisation of core sectors of the economy and democratic constitutional reforms.

In this context the social movements in Latin America have responded appropriately, deciding to support the positive measures adopted by these governments while keeping a critical distance. These experiences will be of help in order to strengthen the peoples' staunch resistance against the policies of governments, corporations and banks who shift the burden of the crisis onto the oppressed. We, the social movements of the globe, are currently facing a historic challenge. The international capitalist crisis manifests itself as detrimental to humankind in various ways: it affects food, finance, the economy, climate, energy, population migration and civilisation itself, as there is also a crisis in international order and political structures.

We are facing a global crisis which is a direct consequence of the capitalist system and therefore cannot find a solution within the system. All the measures that have been taken so far to overcome the crisis merely aim at socialising losses so as to ensure the survival of a system based on privatising strategic economic sectors, public services, natural and energy resources and on the commodification of life and the exploitation of labour and of nature as well as on the transfer of resources from the periphery to the centre and from workers to the capitalist class.

The present system is based on exploitation, competition, promotion of individual private interests to the detriment of the collective interest, and the frenzied accumulation of wealth by a handful of rich people. It results in bloody wars, fuels xenophobia, racism and religious fundamentalisms; it intensifies the exploitation of women and the criminalisation of social movements. In the context of the present crisis the rights of peoples are systematically denied. The Israeli government's savage aggression against the Palestinian people is a violation of international law and amounts to a war crime, a crime against humanity and a symbol of the denial of a people's rights that can be observed in other parts of the world. The shameful impunity must be stopped. The social movements reassert their active support of the struggle of the Palestinian people as well as of all actions against oppression by peoples worldwide.

In order to overcome the crisis we have to grapple with the root of the problem and progress as fast as possible towards the construction of a radical alternative that would do away with the capitalist system and patriarchal domination. We must work towards a society that meets social needs and respects nature's rights as well as supporting democratic participation in a context of full political freedom. We must see to it that all international treaties on our indivisible civic, political, economic, social and cultural rights, both individual and collective, are implemented.

In this perspective we must contribute to the largest possible popular mobilisation to enforce a number of urgent measures such as:

  • Nationalising the banking sector without compensation and with full social monitoring
  • Reducing working time without any wage cut
  • Taking measures to ensure food and energy sovereignty
  • Stop wars, withdraw occupation troops and dismantle military foreign bases
  • Acknowledging the peoples' sovereignty and autonomy ensuring their right to self-determination
  • Guaranteeing rights to land, territory, work, education and health for all
  • Democratise access to means of communication and knowledge.
  • The social emancipation process carried by the feminist, environmentalist and socialist movements in the 21st century aims at liberating society from capitalist domination of the means of production, communication and services, achieved by supporting forms of ownership that favour the social interest: small family freehold, public, cooperative, communal and collective property.
Such an alternative will necessarily be feminist since it is impossible to build a society based on social justice and equality of rights when half of humankind is oppressed and exploited.

Lastly, we commit ourselves to enriching the construction of a society based on a life lived in harmony with oneself, others and the world around (el buen vivir) by acknowledging the active participation and contribution of the native peoples.

We, the social movements, are faced with a historic opportunity to develop emancipatory initiatives on a global scale. Only through the social struggle of the masses can populations overcome the crisis. In order to promote this struggle, it is essential to work on consciousness-raising and mobilisation from the grassroots. The challenge for the social movements is to achieve a convergence of global mobilisation. It is also to strengthen our ability to act by supporting the convergence of all movements striving to withstand oppression and exploitation.

We thus commit ourselves to:

Launch a global week of action against capitalism and war from March 28 to April 4, 2009, with: an anti-G20 mobilisation on March 28, a mobilisation against war and crisis on March 30, a day of solidarity with the Palestinian people to promote boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel on March 30, a mobilisation for the 60th anniversary of NATO on April 4, etc.

Increase occasions for mobilisation through the year: March 8, International Women Day; April 17, International Day for Food Sovereignty; May 1, international workers' day; October 12, global mobilisation of struggle for Mother Earth, against colonisation and commodification of life.

Schedule an agenda of acts of resistance against the G8 summit in Sardinia, the climate summit in Copenhagen, the summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, etc.

Through such demands and initiatives we thus respond to the crisis with radical and emancipatory solutions.


Power of the Masses Party formed in Philippines

Peter Boyle
Green Left Weekly / Links - International Journal of Socialist Renewal
February 1, 2009

Peter Boyle is national secretary of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, a left group in Australia. He attended the PLM congress as an international observer.

Interview with Sonny Melencio, chairperson of Partido Lakas ng Masa of the Philippines. Conducted by Peter Boyle for Green Left Weekly and Links International Journal of Socialist Renewalin Manila on February 1, 2009. The full interview is broken up into three parts, in order to follow the requirement of the youTube platform.

Manila – More than a thousand people, including 920 elected delegates, attended the inaugural congress of Partido Lakas ng Masa (literally "Power of the Masses Party") on January 30, 2009. They represented the mass organisations of workers, urban poor, peasants, students, street vendors, jeepney and tricycle drivers, women and senior citizens – a mass base estimated at 300,000 according to PLM leaders. The congress adopted a target of 1 million members in Manila and 2 million in the country as a whole by 2010 (when presidential elections are due).

The slogan "PLM: A new party for our time, a party of change, a party of socialism" set a confident tone for the congress.

Sonny Melencio, who was elected chairperson of the PLM, describes the new party as a "combination mass movement and electoral party" that was inspired by the recent Latin American experiences which have put into power progressive and socialist parties in countries like Venezuela and Bolivia.

"We are trying to build a mass party that can lead an uprising as well as engage in elections.

"The socialist victories in Latin America were not simply victories in the ballot boxes. Those electoral victories were preceded by popular uprisings that mobilised millions of people. During the elections, these uprisings were transformed into giant mobilisations but the mobilisations are also continuing in an ongoing process of building new institutions of popular power."

The PLM congress adopted a "Platform of the Masses", a transitional program aimed at the "dismantling of the rotten capitalist system and its replacement by socialism".

This program consists of key demands around economic and political reforms that the party will campaign for. includes the nationalisation of basic industries and services, such as electricity, oil and water; the provision of basic needs of the masses, such as land, decent housing, education, jobs and health; and the establishment of a genuine government of the masses.

Popular power
"But the political aspect of the program is crucial", Melencio told Green Left Weekly in an extensive interview (see video above of the full interview). "We want to put power into the hands of the masses. This has to happen from below through the transformation of barangay (neighbourhood) councils into barangay assemblies that can institute alternative structures to replace the congress that is dominated by the trapo (traditional politician) elite.

"The masses are tired of a system where successive people's uprisings, such as EDSA I and EDSA II which changed nothing. EDSA III was a failure and led by another trapo, "Erap" [Joseph Estrada], who wanted to return to power.

"We don't want another EDSA where 'people's power' is hijacked by the elite. So we need an uprising that is heading by the masa themselves and crowned by the institution of a government of the masa."

The forces that launched the PLM came out of an experience in a broad collation of the left called Laban ng Masa. This alliance including most of the left except the sections associated by the Communist Party of the Philippines, a significant force that holds on to a sectarian approach to the rest of the left, according to Melencio.

This alliance operated on consensus and, unfortunately, there was no consensus on how to relate to important issues such as the Moro struggle for self-determination, the rebel soldiers movement and the commitment of serious resources to building the alliance at all levels, especially at the grassroots, according to Melencio.

"So we decided to form a party that could do this grassroots organising among the masses, to mobilise them in the streets and in elections too. However, we are still pursuing left regroupment and the PLM has an inclusive approach."

Melencio hopes that some other groups from Laban ng Masa might join the PLM in the next few months.

Well-known leaders leaders of the broader left, including president of the University of the Philippines and Laban ng Masa chairperson Dr Francisco Nemenzo, former Akbayan Congress representative Etta Rosales, current Akbayan Congress representative Risa Hontiveros and Ric Reyes delivered greetings to the PLM congress in person.

Rebel soldiers movement
The major alliance the PLM is building is with the military rebels. Melencio has been visiting the rebel military leaders in detention and discussing the possibility of them joining the PLM. Some have already expressed their willingness to join or support the PLM. The PLM congress received a message of support from imprisoned Brigadier-General Danilo Lim, a widely respected leader of the rebel soldiers movement

"Some of the military rebel groups are in full agreement with the PLM platform. In fact the platform of the PLM is based on a platform put forward by the Young Officers Union for New Government (YOUNG)", said Melencio.

"They asked us to comment on it, during the days of Laban ng Masa, and we developed it into the Platform of the Masses. We have some more things to discuss, including how to explain socialism to the ranks of the soldiers."

Melencio said that some of the rebel soldiers had been studying the Venezuelan revolution and reading about Hugo Chavez and "Socialism for the 21st century". The PLM has been discussing putting forward Brigadier-General Lim as its presidential candidate in 2010.

There were international observers at the PLM inaugural congress from the Japan Confederation of Railway Workers Union, the Sweden's Left Party, the Democratic Socialist Perspective of Australia and the Ceylon Bank Employees Union. Solidarity greetings were presented from these groups and other international parties, including the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM), Papernas from Indonesia and Partido Obrero Revolucionario (POR, Spain), which emailed greetings.


100, 000 Tamils March in London - BBC Ignores Them

Peter Marshall
IndyMedia UK
February 2, 2009

Second time this month, I felt ashamed of the BBC. Ashamed because I grew up believing that our national broadcasting organisation was the best in the world (and in some ways it still is.)

Of course its first glaring failure this month was the kowtowing of its management to Israel when they decided not to broadcast the Gaza appeal. A second blot on the organisation came today. This evening, fresh home from a massive demonstration in London by Tamils I turned on Radio 4 for the six o'clock News and found to my amazement that it hadn't happened. There was not the slightest mention of it. Later I checked the BBC News web page - again nothing.

Probably the largest popular demonstration in the country since the massive anti Iraq war demo in 2003 is news. Between a third and a half of the UK's Tamil population on the streets in Westminster is news. And certainly the genocide that is taking place in Sri Lanka, with government troops shelling areas packed with civilian refugees is news. But apparently not for the BBC.

The Sri Lankan Army appears to feel that at last it has the Tamil Tigers on the run and is determined to try and finish them off, whatever the cost in civilian deaths and injuries, bombing and shelling areas where they think the Tigers are hiding and where they know hundreds of thousands of civilians have taken refuge. Those civilians that manage to escape these areas are put into camps where the world's press and humanitarian organisations are refused access - and about which we can only presume the worst.

Video :- Sri Lanka's genoicide

But I was only reporting from Westminster, and the massive demonstration there, united in its strength of feeling and dedicated and intense in its demand for an independent Tamil homeland, Tamil Eelam, in the Tamil area of Sri Lanka. Although the chanting was loud and feelings were rightly running high against the atrocities, with street theatre acting out the attacks of the Sri Lankan army on the people and children and adults dressed in bandages and blood (or rather red dye) stained clothing, there seemed little danger of public disorder.

Many of the police were in fireproof clothing, and stood clutching fire extinguishers with the pins removed. They were not fearing a burning of flags or some incendiary attack on Parliament, but were ready in case some individual attempted to burn themselves to death as a protest. Fortunately they did not need to rush into action.

It was a very slow march up past Parliament, with people stopping at intervals to sit down on the road, to the considerable annoyance of the police, who at times made some pretty ineffectual attempts to speed the march up. But there were so many demonstrators they were powerless; even though the demonstrators generally law-abiding they were determined to have their day and take their time.

Among those marching was at least one Sri Lankan MP, M K Shivaji Lingam of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), who has stated that "it will be impossible to crush or destroy the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) militarily" and that "Hindu culture (in Sri Lanka) is at stak,e" threatened by the attacks by government forces that have taken over and damaged many Hindu shrines. In December he visited India and obtained the support of several Hindu groups for the Tamil cause.

The majority of Tamils in Sri Lanka are Hindu, while nearly all the Sinhalese are Buddhist, though there are also many Christians in both areas (including over 15% of Tamils.) There are also Tamil-speaking Muslims in Sri Lanka, but they regard themselves as a separate group.

Although there are over 50 million Tamils in India and only 3.1 million in Sri Lanka, most of the the UK's 200,000 or so (estimates range from 150-300,000) come from Sri Lanka as a result of the discrimination and persecution their community has suffered there at least since the 1960s. Most of them live in London, particularly in East Ham, Walthamstow, Brent, Merton and Croydon. Among the Tamils in the UK are around 2,500 NHS doctors.

When I arrived around 12.40, the streets from Vauxhall station to the assembly point by the Tate Gallery were already crowded with people and I had a job to push my way through to the front of the march - although fortunately everyone was very polite and helpful (including the stewards and police - this was a march it was a delight to photograph.) It was a march that never really started, but from a little before 2pm slowly edged its way forward in small steps, and by a little after 3pm the front of the march was in Parliament Square.

I left around an hour later, with marchers still streaming past the Houses of Parliament, with the end of the march still coming up Millbank, and Horseferry Road just reopening to traffic. Bringing up the rear was the decorated bus or 'tiara' built in Karachi for Dalawar Chaudhry who owns a restaurant in Southall, which as well as its normal extensive decoration had posters calling for an end to the ethnic cleansing and highlighting the killing of politicians and human rights activists in Sri Lanka.