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'People’s forum' brings optimism ahead of G20

Protesters and NGOs marching in Nice on Tuesday ahead of the G20 summit in Cannes say growing anti-capitalist protest movements are a great cause for hope.


As leaders of the G20 nations prepare to meet on Thursday in Cannes, an alternative “people’s forum” is taking place over three days in nearby Nice, buoyed by the momentum of a growing global anti-capitalist movement.

According to representatives of NGOs Oxfam and ActionAid, the “Occupy” movements, as well as protests in Spain and Israel, have taken issues relating to market regulation from fringe protest movements and brought them into a broader public debate. They are optimistic about the fact that politicians may finally be forced to act.

In Nice, organisers are expecting some 8,000 people to attend the event, run by a collective of some 40 NGOs, charities, trade unions and protest movements.

Their key demands are a call for regulation of the global financial system, an end to tax havens and the imposition of a “Robin Hood” tax on financial transactions.

‘An exciting time’

In 1999, images of anarchists rioting in the streets of Seattle during a meeting of the World Trade Organisation were seen around the world.

At the time, few people were able to empathise with the demonstrators or even understand their motivations, explained Soren Ambrose, development finance co-ordinator for ActionAid.

ActionAid, a global anti-poverty NGO, is calling for an end to tax havens and for the allocation of resources to end food crises around the world, something Ambrose said “could be done at the wave of a hand.”

Due to a strong increase in public awareness, politicians “who have all talked a good game but have made no substantive effort” now have no choice but to take notice, he believes.

“Because of the scale of the financial crisis, ordinary people are being affected. There are many more unemployed people, and people who have lost their homes,” Ambrose said. “It is a different scene now, it is much more political.”

This year has seen growing social discontent in the West, from the Spanish “Indignant” movement to the angry demonstrations and strikes in Greece as well as the ongoing “Occupy” protests in New York and in London. In September, half a million Israelis took part in the country’s largest-ever demonstration against the soaring cost of living.

“This is an exciting time. There is an awakening in public opinion and this is precisely what we would have hoped for a decade ago,” Ambrose said with optimism.

‘A very different beast’

Another sea change for the anti-capitalist protest movement was the creation of the G20, which replaced the G8 in 2008 as the world’s main economic council of wealthy nations. The G20 nations comprise 80% of the world’s trade and two thirds of the global population.

“It’s a very different beast from the G8,” said Mark Freid, head of public policy at Oxfam Canada. “Because of its broader scope, the G20 has a more frank recognition of the problems affecting the world such as poverty and food shortages.”

Oxfam is calling for a financial transaction tax, a move that is supported by French president Nicolas Sarkozy but is far from having received universal support. The organisation also wants the G20 to agree on a carbon levy for international shipping to collect funds to help countries suffering from the effects of climate change.

Freid said that the “Occupy movement” and other public protests had “added momentum” to the calls of NGOs like Oxfam and ActionAid.

“It is now seen as common sense that financial markets need to be regulated and that the trouble we are in now is a consequence of greed,” he said. “This could be a pivotal moment.”

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