Members of the Centre d'appui aux Philippines - Centre for Philippine Concerns (CAP-CPC) in Montreal have just returned from a whirlwind trip to Hong Kong. As part of a large Canadian delegation, we attended the founding assembly of the International Migrant Alliance (IMA) June 15-16, 2008 followed by the Third International Assembly (TIA) of the International League of People's Struggle (ILPS) June 18-20. Both events were held at the ocean-side Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong and brought together hundreds of delegates from around the globe. It was a very rainy but stimulating and exciting week, shared with many friends.
CAP-CPC members worked hard over many months to help organize a 10-person delegation from Montréal to attend the IMA -- part of the 17-member Canadian group. Delegates raised their own money for the expensive plane tickets but very reasonable registration fees, only $150 US for the two-day conference, including room and board at the YMCA. Everyone agreed that the money and the hours in the plane to Hong Kong were well worth it to join one hundred and sixty seven delegates representing 118 organizations from 25 countries who participated in this founding assembly. Hundreds of migrants working in Hong Kong, including many from the Indonesian and Filipino communities, also attended the event as observers on the opening Sunday, the only day off work for many.
The Montreal delegation to the IMA was made up of myself, Malcolm Guy, and Sarwat Viqar from the CAP-CPC, Jennifer Chew and Sadeqa Siddiqui of the South Asian Women's Community Centre (SAWCC), Josephine Calugay from the Philippine Women's organization of Québec (PINAY), Adrienne Gibson of the Comité d'appui aux travailleurs et travailleuses agricoles (CATTA) , Tess Tesalona from the Centre des travailleuses et travailleurs immigrants - Immigrant Workers' Centre (CTI-IWC), Marie Boti for Women of Diverse Origins for March 8 (WDO) and Rita Acosta of the Mouvement contre le viol et l'inceste (MCVI). CAP-CPC member, Aziz Choudry, now living and teaching in Montreal, represented GATT Watchdog. Also attending from Canada were representatives from Migrante Ontario, Philippines-Canada Solidarity for Human Rights, Vancouver Bus Riders Association and Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada (Vancouver) and Pilipinong Migrante sa Canada (Ottawa).
Mostafa Henaway from the CTI-IWC and Ricardo Astudillo from the Bolivarien Society of Québec took part in preparations but were not able to attend at the last minute.
The Montreal delegation were housed in a four-bedroom chalet at the YMCA with some U.S. and Filipino friends, soon purchasing a kettle so we could prepare desperately needed coffee and tea to start the day. The next three days were very intense, including many discussions and caucuses, while participating in a truly historic event to found the first-ever global alliance of grassroots associations, organizations, unions, networks and alliances of migrant workers, immigrants, refugees and displaced peoples.
The conference opened with an emotional opening film (available on-line – http://ima-2008.blogspot.com) followed by a remarkable keynote speech by Dr. Irene Fernandez from Tenaganita (Women’s Force) in Malaysia. Fernandez, who has faced imprisonment and harassment at the hands of Malaysian authorities because of her work to defend migrants, explained the global context of migration and how it has changed and been shaped by developments of the global capitalist system, leading to increased forced migration, especially of women.
She also took note of the apparent debate over the right to migrate versus the right of people to oppose displacement. She said that such was a false debate imposed by people with a superficial understanding of what it means to be a migrant. “Free movement and the right not to be displaced are two essential elements to the assertion of collective and individual self-determination,” Fernandez explained.
Dr. Fernandez congratulated all the delegates of the IMA as she also called for revolutionary changes “to break these chains of global exploitation and oppression.” Her address was followed over the next two days by information-packed panels and workshops.
Aziz Choudry took part in the panel on Wages, Job Security, Remittances and GATS Mode-4 and Sarwat Viqar in the panel on the War on Terror, Immigration and Refugees and the Criminalization of Undocumented Migrants, focusing particularly on the impact of Security Certificates in Canada.
The Montreal delegation's presentation on solidarity night, where everyone is expected to participate, made up in enthusiasm and political sharpness for a lack of preparation as well as acting talent. But how good some of the other countries were! The presentation from Japan, for example, depicting the lives of Filipina bar hostesses, revealed in a few hilarious skits the serious reality of women migrants in that country.
Sol Pajadura of Migrante-Ontario was chosen by our regional caucus to be the Canadian representative on the International Coordinating Body (ICB), the leading 17-member body of the IMA. Tess Tesalona of Immigrant Workers Center was elected member-at-large for the ICB and was then chosen Treasurer of the ICB's executive committee. Congratulations to both, they have a lot of work to do and will need our help.
A twenty-seven year old migrant worker from Indonesia, Eni Lestari of the Asian Migrant’s Coordinating Body (AMCB), was elected chairperson of the executive committee. She summed up the founding of the IMA: “For a long time, others spoke on our behalf. Now we speak for ourselves.”
International League of Peoples Struggle
After a one-day conference on Women and War organized by the Asia Pacific Research Network we headed into the Third International Assembly (TIA) of the ILPS, a global network uniting anti-imperialist peoples and mass organizations founded in 2001.
Most of our delegation from Montreal, as well as delegates from Vancouver and Toronto, stayed for the TIA. Sarwat, Rita, Marie, Malcolm, Tess T, Josephine and Aziz from Montreal were joined by Joey Calugay, representing the Immigrant Workers Centre (CTI-IWC). Two hundred sixty-five (265) participants representing 165 peoples’ organizations from 30 countries attended the assembly. Conference registration costs along with room and board at the same YMCA (the food was better this time around) came to US $250.
Highlights of the first day included the opening chorale singing of the ILPS hymn written by a talented friend, Danny Fabela. The refrain goes: Let us break the chain of oppression, Defeat the wars of aggression, With every stride, with every fight, We shall change the world, With every stride, with every fight, We shall change the world. Poet Varavara Rao was not permitted by the Indian authorities to attend the conference, so his keynote speech was read by GN Saibaba, deputy General Secretary of the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF) of India. ILPS chairperson Jose Maria Sison presented his report via the internet to the appreciative audience. Joma would actively participate thanks to the internet in TIA events over the next three days.
The afternoon session included speeches by ILPS Deputy Chairperson Manilis Arkolakis, Wahu Kaara from Kenya on African People's Resistance to Imperialist Globalization, and a speech written by Rep. Crispin "Ka Bel" Beltran was read by Elmer C. Labog, chairperson of the militant KMU labour organization in the Philippines. The much beloved and respected Beltran, founding chairperson of the ILPS who passed away suddenly on May 20, 2008, was remembered with a tribute speech from ILPS Chairperson Jose Maria Sison and the showing of the film “Ka Bel”. We all felt very close to Ka Bel, especially since he recently visited us in Montreal as part of a cross-Canada tour of Philippine Parliamentarians.
A special forum on China was held the first evening. At the same time Marie and Malcolm organized an evening of film screenings featuring anti-imperialist films from Canada, Burma, Philippines and elsewhere. The event entitled "Using Video for People's Struggles" was well appreciated by participants and continued on the evening of June 19.
Day Two focussed on workshop sessions around the 18 concerns of the ILPS. Montreal delegates participated in the workshops on culture, women, migrants, workers, indigenous struggles, health, teachers and national liberation. The evening featured a special forum on Displacement.
The main activities on Day 3 included reports from the workshops. Our report from the cultural workshop (ILPS Concern No. 14) was roundly applauded since it was delivered in song, musical instruments and collective voices.
The afternoon session focussed on the elections for the leading body of the ILPS, the International Coordinating Committee (ICC). Aziz Choudry and Malcolm Guy from Montreal were elected to the ICC (made up of 27 regular members and 8 alternate members). Malcolm was subsequently elected as Auditor on the International Coordinating Group, which will coordinate activities of the ILPS between meetings of the ICC.
The Assembly ended with a Solidarity night where Canadian delegates dedicated our presentation to Canadian internationalist Norman Bethune, who gave his life in the struggle to liberate the people of China.
Such a short report on the ILPS TIA cannot do justice to the richness of the presentations, discussions and exchanges that occurred during these three days. How often do hundreds of dedicated anti-imperialist activists from around the world meet together for three days to discuss tactics and strategy and plan campaigns?
We were very impressed with the organization of both conferences but one aspect that Montreal delegates felt could be improved was the use of more than only English as the official working language, and encouraging people to speak in their mother tongue. This could serve to draw in more delegates from Latin America, for example. Kudos to the Turkish, Chinese, and Japanese interpreters for serving their delegations so well. There is a clear consensus about the need for more delegates from Central and South America as well as Africa in both IMA and ILPS, and we began discussions on how we could help that process here in Canada.
For those lucky enough to stay on after the TIA, activists from Hong Kong invited us on Sunday, June 21 to a day-long exposure in the central squares of downtown Hong Kong. Since Sunday is the only day off for many of the domestic helpers and other migrants, thousands gather in the squares, streets and parks in the centre of town to eat together, sing karaoke, cut hair, perform manicures and exchange stories. We were offered a delicious picnic lunch by women migrants in Chator Gardens.
We then participated in a forum on the impact of mining companies in the Philippines (including Canadian companies like TVI and Olympus) and ended the day with a fund-raising karaoke party at the Philippine Independent Church, where Marie, Malcolm, Sarwat and Tess performed Fernando, explaining the revolutionary background of this song popularized by ABBA. Everyone was soon up off their seats and dancing and swaying to our enthusiastic, if off-key, rendition. It was a wonderful way to end the week in the company of many of the migrant workers we had met earlier during the founding of the IMA.
Montréal, July 6, 2008