From Oct. 10 to 13 the “Asian-European People’s Forum” will hold it’s conference in Milan. The general debates will concentrate on
Socially Just Trade and Investment;
Universal Social Protection – Guaranteed decent jobs, access to Essential Services and Social Security;
Food Sovereignty and Sustainable Land and Natural Resource Management;
Climate Change, Sustainable Energy Production and Zero Waste; and
Peace and Security
In a preparatory seminar mid August in Yangon activists from South-East Asia decided on a general Social Protection Charter. The Social Protection Charter is seen as part of Social Commons.
With Tina Ebro (Manila) and Sandeep Chachra (New Dehli) we felt the gathering in Milan in October could be the right moment for a debate on the Common Good of Humanity – as we started in our conferences in 2011 and 2012 in Rome, organised by Rosa-Luxemburg-Foundation, followed by debates at the José-Marti-Conference in Havanna and the World Social Forum in Tunisia and many others.
Meanwhile new initiatives – as the European Citizens Initiative on Water – arose. And still struggles for common goods are developing under the threat of the structural economic, financial, ecological and social crisis. In 2011 François Houtart wrote:
“The defence of the ‘common goods’ is, these days, an important priority for many social movements. The phrase includes both the indispensable elements for life, such as water and seeds, as well as the ‘public services’ that are today being dismantled by neoliberal policies, both in the South and in the North. The struggle consists of opposition to the wave of privatizations that are affecting many public utilities and networks, from railways, electricity, water, transport, telephones, woods, rivers and land to health and education.”1
To conceptualize the debates on common goods he suggests a more general approach: “…involving the very foundations of the collective life of humanity on this planet: our relationship with nature, the production of life’s necessities, collective organization (politics) and the interpretation, evaluation and expression of reality (culture). It is not a matter of heritage, as in the case of ‘common goods’, but rather of a state (of well-being, of buen vivir), that results from the way parameters combine to govern the life of human beings men and women, on this earth. It is also to be distinguished from ‘common good’ – as opposed to ‘individual good’ – as it is defined in the construction of a State, in other words the res publica, even if the concept of ‘universal common goods’ was introduced by the UNDP in its 1999 Report. In fact the concept of the ‘Common Good of Humanity’ includes the production and reproduction of life on the scale of all humanity: in sum it is a question of life and its capacity to reproduce itself.”2 Within the debates on this method of conceptualization a document for a general Charter on Common Goods already is developed by colleagues from the Universities of Salamanca and Quito.
The conceptualization outlined by François Houtart is opening a more theoretical view on Common Goods and gives the strategic opportunity to develop a shared understanding of struggles in different fields. This seems meaningful under different aspects:
The struggles to defend Common Goods very often are locally/regionally centred. It is of strategic importance to develop a shared understanding, respecting the differences and similarities – to learn from each other and to practice solidarity.
Very often the different dimensions of Common Goods seem to be separated, b.e. the natural Common Goods – as Water and access to seed –or Social Common Goods as Social Protection rights, access to knowledge (IT b.e.). But in practice we see them overlapping: the access to clear water may make the difference between misery and poverty for the people concerned and the social dimension of water is widely documented. The access to seed and ground for small farmers is basic not only for the delivery of food for the concerned population but rural farming all over the world is the most effective contribution against climate change. These are only two examples. Looking to Social Commons we have to be aware of historical struggles and of future challenges, of the regime of industrialisation as well as of economic human rights.
Very often initiatives start to solve a practical problem – and develop other fields of activities, as the example Action Aid India is publishing on the struggles of the Fisher Community in Visakhapatnam shows: starting with the defence of their fishing grounds, building self-confidence and community, fighting for legal respect, initiating education, empowering women to speak out.3
No doubt, we don’t want to mix up things and create a “Potage” where differences are no more visible and the specific character of change is abstract. The conceptualization of Common Good is a kind of umbrella to share knowledge and to learn.
But it is more than a useful method: it may be developed as answer to the everyday globally noticeable fact that financialised capitalism not only by speculative activities but also by trying to transform all natural and human resources and capacities in commodities is destroying it’s own basis of values. And thus the search for values contrasting the dominant regime is the obvious thing.
At the debate in Milan the following activists/researchers will contribute with statements:
Sandeep Chachra, India
Ana Maria Nemenzo. Philippines
Tommaso Fattori, Italy
Birgit Daiber, Italy/Belgium
Please send an e-mail to Birgit Daiber ([email protected]) if you want
to participate with a statement in the debate.
For the Commons-Network and the South-South-Network
2011, p. 7
3 Sea Our Life, Coast Our Right – Learnings from Visakhapatnam’s Fisher Community by Pamela Philopose, Action Aid India, 2013