Session reports: U.S. Social Forum, Atlanta, June 26-July 1,2007

Note-taker: Chris Chase-Dunn, v. July 3, 2007


Session T1.41 “Education against empire”

Global Studies Association (GSA), Civic Center, Mezz Left, 10:30 am-12:30 Thursday, June 28

Four panelists, all men. Lauren Langman  a sociologist with the GSA and the Loyola University of Chicago, was organizer and presider. The panelists were Lauren, Mel Rothenberg, also of GSA, Larry Everest of the Revolutionary Communist Party <www,> <>. I was invited to join the panel. The audience was about 25 people.

A women suggested that we reorganize the chairs to a less noisy corner of the space and we did. The purpose of the panel was explain the insights that academics associated with the Global Studies Association have to contribute to activists at the USSF. Larry Everest pushed the idea of impeaching Bush – the “World Can’t Wait” campaign. Lauren talked about globalization and neoliberalism. I talked about world history, core/periphery relations, resistance and world revolutions, transnational social movements and the world revolution of 20xx. Also about U.S. hegemony and the struggle to democratize global governance. Audience participation was active. A young black woman from Oakland talked about capitalism and imperialism. She is with the Socialist Workers Party.


Session T2-97 “Breaking the barriers to Unionization”

6/29 1pm-2:30 St. Lukes Church, St. Lukes Room.

Event Sponsor: United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE).

About 50 in audience. The room was full.

Two panels: the UE facilitators were Carol Landier and Bob Kingsley.

The meeting started with two singers leading the whole audience in a song about peace and justice in Spanish and English.

First panel was a report from two Mexican independent trade unionists on the difficulties of organizing independent (non-PRI, non-company) unions in Mexico. Benedicto _______ from Mexico City represented the Frente _____ (Authentic Workers Party) and UNT (National Union of Workers).  He spoke about the legal and bureaucratic obstacles that make organizing a new union or local faces in Mexico. Arturo Silva from Juarez told of the struggles of public sector workers in the Mexican state of Chihuahua to organize.

There is no legal means for public sector workers to organize in Mexico.  Arturo is the president of the Federation of Public Sector Workers in Chihuahua. Benedicto and Arturo spoke in Spanish and their words were translated into English.


Bob Kingsley then spoke and presented a power point with pictures. He said that the purpose of obstacles to unionization is to protect the interests of corporations. He showed a chart that indicated the declining unionization rate of American workers since 1992 when the series started. Bob also showed a chart depicting the trend in CEO incomes relative to the minimum wage. That ratio went from 51 in 1965 to 800 in 2006.

The second panel was made up of eight people, 3 women and five men. These were local union leaders of struggles to unionize workplaces in the U.S. and they told their stories. Company take-aways spurred workers to organize. Some won and some lost. Lara Bonilla worked at a welding shop with mostly immigrant employees. They won. The campaign for techies (installers) at DirecTV is still in process.

The North Carolina public employees in clued Raleigh City Sanitation. Angaza Sababu spoke about the importance of a union with a vision who would hang in there in a long tough battle.


The UE DC guy, Chris Townsend, spoke about the effort to pass a labor law reform in congress.


Bob Kingsley said that UE tries to be the left wing of the U.S. labor movement.

This meeting was very inspiring. If I were a young person I would work with UE. They are doing a great job fighting for worker rights at the local and legislative levels and they are making strong alliances with independent labor organizations in Mexico.



F1.02 “Collaboration with wiki processes on the internet”

AboutUs, Inc. Westin Rm 1407. Friday June 29, 10:30 am-12:30. Mark Dilley, About was the presenter. A woman videotaped the meeting and also gave a short talk about her use of wiki.  There were about 18 people in the audience.

 This session was about how to use wiki software as a way of forming group consensus and promoting collaboration. Wiki is a program that allows multiple users to edit a document from remote locations.

Mark is a former labor organizer from Michigan who moved to Portland to do wiki organizing full-time.  He gave some background about wiki and then we did one on the walls of the meeting room. Helen Royce, a sociologist, is involved in peace stuff so we did a wiki on “World Vote for Peace.” Mark put that up on the wall and then asked people to put relevant words up. We did this for a while. Some put up phrases, like “No War, No Warming!”. These were discussed. Some words were turned into subtopics and placed on a different wall. I took fotos of this.

Mark compared wiki with email, forums (list-servs) and web blogs. Wiki is best for many to many collaboration. You need to learn how to do it and this takes some effort. The key is to use the “recent changes” and the version histories to see how the document is evolving and what has happened lately. There is also some syntax to be learned. [[ double brackets indicate a link, or something that should become a link to a separate page. The name of each page is important.

Mark favors “open-edit” wikis, but companies and other groups restrict the access to particular participants. Mark also prefers that participants provide their real identities, but anonymous participation is also sometimes allowed. Mark also favors a very horizontal approach to the process, no wiki master, but rather what he called “soft security.” With soft security if someone comes in and does something bad, like scratching the whole document, it is easy for other to fix the mistake. They can easily go back to an earlier version and restore it.  Disagreements can be worked out by having a discussion amongst the contenders and everyone can see the arguments that are put forth on the wiki. There are edit wars, analogous to flame wars, but Mark sees these as a source of valuable energy that can improve the product. He says that protestors can usually be incorporated to become enthusiastic participants by giving them a section or a page.

A young man from Global Justice in DC told of his organizations campaign in the AIDS movement to expose the practices of Abbott Pharmaceuticals, a large transnational corporation. They have had to shelter their wiki. AbbottGreed, from Abbott employees who try to wreck it.  Mark calls this “locked down.” Mark’s approach assumes a degree of common purpose among participants.

The guy from DC also compared wiki with something called “google docs” which is somewhat similar but does not have the ability to see recent changes and version history.


I told about being at the World Social Forum in Nairobi and attending the discussions of the Bamako Appeal, a manifesto-type document produced by Samir Amin and a group of 15 intellectuals at a hotel in Bamako in 2006. The problem of process and legitimacy was repeatedly raised and it occurred to me that the way to write a manifesto or charter that allows participation from people all over the world is a wiki-festo.


Marks says it is cool to “camel case” phrases by jamming words together and using upper and lower case to make unique, google searchable targets.

Mark says there is a wiki index that tries to list all existing internet wikis. You can see there are a lot of moribund ones. The key is to find people who will contribute energy.

Marks says there are about 200 different wiki softwares. The most popular is Wikimedia that is used with the wiki encyclopedia, but it was developed for encyclopedia entries. Another one is Oddmuse from Switzerland. Mark says it takes a pretty good tekkie to set up a wiki on a server. He recommends using a “wiki farm” that will do this for you for free.  Wiki farms are:; One, called Dreamhost is going belly up. Ideally you want to use one that will allow you to download your content so it can be used on a different host. To find more, search wiki farms on google.

Marks says these are free like kittens, not free like beer.

He asks all the audience to go to to sign up for a group who attended this meeting. There was no signup sheet. He also mentioned something called but I did not get what that was.


F2.26 “Visioning toward democratic global governance”  Coalition for a World Parliament and global democracy. Friday, June 29, 1-3 pm Days Inn, Dogwood Room.

Organizers and presiders: Dick Burkhart and Mona Lee.  Audience from 8-10. everybody white,  two women: Mona and Megan, a young woman from Portland.. Audience included James V. Riker, a Political Scientist from the University of Maryland, College Park.  who has written on global governance and global democracy. 

Mona and Dick are old world federalists and Unitarians who bicycle around the world pimping for deep democracy. They are very influence by the work of Richard Falk. The were also selling copies of George Monbiot’s _Manifesto for a New Global Order_. They favor the earth community way.  Mona discussed three possible paths to global democracy, specifically an elected global parliament:

NGOs could just create global parliament directly, or

The UN General Assembly using Article 22 of the UN charter could create a parliament that is advisory to the General Assembly., or

The way advocated by Richard Falk: a coalition of small countries could create a parliament by treaty.

I mentioned the concern expressed by Monbiot that a peoples parliament that consisted of national delegates would just reproduce the interstate system and delegates would mainly represent “national” interests and it would be hard for them to focus on global problems. Monbiot suggests legislative regions that cut across national boundaries.

David Lionel  discussed the project to create a UN Parliamentary Assembly <>.

James Riker mentioned the global e-parliament, which is an internet structure of parliamentarians, mainly from European countries. Also mentioned was a group called parliamentarians for global action. Barney Frank is a participant.

The discussion also mentioned the proposal by Joseph Schwartzberg to reform the UN Security Council by  having international regions represented rather than national states. So North America would include the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Megan from Portland pointed out that a lot of people would be afraid of a global state and would oppose it. I argued that a global state has been in formation for 200 years and the question is who is going to control it. Dick and Mona were saying that people they had met in India were much more supportive of the idea of global democracy than people in the U.S. I told them of our survey findings that people from the global south, especially the peripheral countries, are more likely to be suspicious of global institutions in general. I also suggested that the way to bring them on board to have them participate and lead in the struggle for global democracy.  I also mentioned the wiki session  I attended on Thursday.  Another participant suggested that progressive corporations and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED-U.S.) might be interested in supporting a global peoples parliament project. I said that the NED is really the CIA.  This led to a discussion of Freedom House. 

S1.82 “Building revolutionary movements in 3d interactive environments” Second Life Liberation Front, Saturday, June 30, 10:30-12:30 Westin Rm 1405.

The organizer did not show up but the audience went ahead and had its own meeting. Florence is a librarian from Atlanta who is a fox in Second Life (sl).  Jared was from New Orleans. Mark is an Indy media guy from New York. Jared is a black man from New Orleans. James is also black. Alex is a tekkie young guy who new a lot about sl and other metaverse things. Richard Greeman has created a “wikitopia” internet site and he sold me a copy of his book for $8.00. Mark took the signup sheet. Alex says that there is an open source competitor to sl called opencroquet, but it is not quite as sophisticated as sl because it is a non-profit and does not have a squad of paid programmer-developers.  Alex also is afraid of doing really revolutionary stuff on sl because Linden Labs, the owners of sl is basically a capitalist firm that is in it for the money.  I said that I want to have access to a metaverse (3d virtual world) in order to facilitate interaction and decision-making among groups of people all over the world who do not have enough money and time to do intercontinental travel.  I mentioned a global peoples parliament. I also pointed out that it is very hard to be yourself on sl because it is set up as a fantasy world.  You have to take the persona of an atavar that is not you. You are forced to choose a last name from a list so you cannot use your own name. and  it is very hard to make you av look like the real you.

Others were more enthralled by the liberatory aspects of the virtual world for allowing people to create a space that is very different from the real world. Alex said that Marx was all pumped about the factory system because it created a space for workers to self-organize, and that is what the internet also does.  There was discussion of the event on sl in which LePen’s French National Front campaign headquarters was destroyed by the sl liberation front throwing exploding pigs. It was also mentioned that Linden Lab is increasing making open source codes available for those who want to make their own metaverses. It was opined that eventually the multiple metaverses running on multiple servers would be accessible to one another and so a distributed parallel global metaverse would  come into existence.  A novel called _synthetic worlds_ by Castro Nova was also mentioned. And it was also mentioned that sl has a feature called babbler that translates text into several languages.

A social site for progressives  (like myspace) is called Zaatz.


Saturday, June 30 Plenary, 8 pm, Civic Center, “Workers’s rights in the global economy

Moderator:: Sarita Gupta, Director of Jobs for Justice.  6 speakers, 2 of whome were women, one black, one asian. Two of the men spoke Spanish.

The audience had about 300 people. It was too dark in the auditorium to see the audience very well.

The moderator asked the panelists to address several good questions, such as the relationship between the U.S. labor movement and the global labor movement.

Lucas Benitez of the Coaltion of Immolakee Workers in Florida told of the struggle of farmworkers who are not included under the National Labor Relations Act. The mainly immigrant farm workers have had success by targeting large retailers such as Taco Bell, who have been forced by threat of  consumer boycott to sign agreements that require their suppliers of tomatoes to abide by labor agreements with farm worker unions. The “fair food” campaign is now targeting Burger King and plans to do Kentucky Fried Chicken. This has been a successful strategy.

Laphonza Butler of SEIU told the story of her mother, a security guard earning minimum wage who also has two other jobs. Laphonza discussed the current SEIU campaign to organize security workers, especially hotel and building guards, across the U.S. they will build on the success of the Justice for Janitors campaign.


Francisco Pacheco  is with the National Day Labor Organizing Network. Francisco is himself an immigrant from El Salvador where he was involved in the revolution. He said that the NDLON is affiliating with the AFL-CIO, but he criticize “the older brothers” in the union movement who have failed to educate the white rank and file about relations with immigrants. He also mentioned the nefarious activities of the AFL-CIO in Central American in earlier decades where they supported company unions.

Ai-Jen Poo is a woman from L.A. is with the Domestic Workers United. She spoke about solidarity with workers in the Third World, building worker power globally and building toward a global general strike of unionized and non-unionized workers.

Stewart Acuff is a former general labor council director from Atlanta, member of Jobs with Justice, and now with the AFL-CIO. He spoke about how neoliberalism has been a class war in which corporations have attacked the worker class and that the answer is to fight back. He spoke about the labor reform legislation in congress for protecting and extending the right to organize unions. He said the AFL-CIO was committed to overcoming its past errors and deficiencies and he said that Jobs for Justice is the most important labor-community organization in the U.S.


It was my impression from what I saw that the AFL-CIO and the UE are competing with one another to be the most progressive, global, social movement, diverse unionists in the U.S. and SEIU is focusing more on specific campaigns such as the security workers project.  I would like to know if other observers found evidence for or against these generalizations.