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Feeling lost and needing to obtain a pass, we asked an organiser for advice. His terse reply was: “It’s on the net. Haven”t you looked?” He obviously thought every delegate had a computer, regardless of their financial position. After much discussion, we were allocated a police escort to take us where we needed to be. This was the first obvious similarity with our experiences in the miners” strike.
Then, two members of India’s Jute Workers Union lent us their passes so we could go inside and get legitimate ones. But realising we couldn”t get in at the nearest entrance, our new friends said they would block it until we were admitted. Shouting “open the gate!”, we were once again transported back to the miners” strike, when the cry would have been “close the gate!” And once again we were singing protest songs and facing a line of police. Would our former experiences of arrest in England be replicated here in Mumbai? Fortunately, common sense prevailed, the gate was opened and we could participate in the WSF after all.
Everywhere we went people were handing out leaflets. We were overwhelmed and amazed by the multiplicity of movements represented. Coming from a small village, the WSF site seemed like a huge city all on its own. Eventually, we did manage to find the area where our workshops would be held.
We opened our presentation with a rendering of our song “We are Women, We are Strong”. We then spoke about our experiences during the miners” strike and fielded questions from the workshop participants. The issue of call centres was raised, so we decided to attend a workshop on new technology. The best laid plans of mice and men! Mumbai taxi drivers normally weave and speed through the mass of heavy traffic. But on this occasion our driver didn”t want to know. We sat at the lights through three changes. We kept willing the driver on, but he just shook his head. Other drivers were sounding their horns, but he wouldn”t be budged. So much for the workshop. Then, as we rushed back through the crowds, we spotted our friend former Unison general secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe among the WSF delegates.
Our visit was certainly enhanced by meeting some Irish delegates, one of whom we had met before as part of an Irish miners” support group. We were also invited to a social evening by the activist-research network the Transnational Institute (TNI), at which we gave another rendition of our song. The Bengali delegates responded in kind. The TNI meeting allowed us to compare our struggles and experiences with others. The story was always the same: exploitation of the majority by the minority. Whatever the culture, the same words were expressed: “Your struggle is our struggle.”
We came away from the WSF refreshed and determined. As working-class women, we must look to ways of achieving fairness and equality for all. We are not academics and often find ourselves lost in academic debate, but we have a wealth of experience that can be shared and built on internationally. We need a bottom-up movement: a reversal of the trickle-down effect.
In specific policy terms, we need to fight privatisation. Unfortunately, we must fight a Labour government pursuing Tory policies. The Labour Party serves different masters now. It’s the puppet of Bush, taking us to war in Iraq, encouraging global conglomerates at the expense of the workers, denying working-class students a university education, handing out gongs to union leaders for encouraging their members to accept the policies of a hostile government. The list of New Labour’s crimes is endless, but the WSF has given us new hope, an education in itself, an experience we can pass on to others, a new awareness of the world as it exists today.
We cannot conclude this report without expressing our sadness at the poverty we witnessed in Mumbai. Sitting in the many workshops and listening to the debates about another world being possible, we were struck by the abundance of words and the scarcity of action. If the WSF is to become a meaningful forum then it must be clearer about how that global transformation can happen.Anne Scargill and Betty Cook are joint treasurers for Women Against Pit Closures, which is planning activities throughout the year to mark the 20th anniversary of the miners’ strike.