Opening address of the WFSW’s President Prof. Jean-Paul Lainé

 at the

86th Executive Council Meeting, in Minsk, Belarus

September 16, 2016



The international situation

The situation in the world of science

The responsibilities and activity of the WFSW

The tasks of this 86th Executive Council session

Dear colleagues,

I. Introduction

First of all, I would like to thank the Academy of Sciences of Belarus, which honored us by hosting this 86th Executive Council meeting as well as our other activities of the week: first of all the public symposium held yesterday devoted to “Climate Change: the Role of Alternative Energies”, then the meetings of the working groups and sessions of the International Secretariat. I would also like to greet the Academy of Sciences of Russia, which also helped us to guarantee good working conditions this week.

I would like to thank the trade unions of the staff of the Academies of Sciences of Belarus and Russia, which concretely organized these meetings in close cooperation with our International Secretariat and the operational Bureau of the Federation. I would like to mention specially Andreï Ivanets and Vyacheslav Vdovine.

I would also like to thank and express our satisfaction with the presence of the majority of the members of the Executive Council. Whereas our affiliated organizations have their own agenda, this is a strong positive signal that these organization send us, as they are represented here for almost a full week. Some of these organizations are even represented by several delegates. Lastly, I would like to welcome the presence of the representatives of guest organizations, including the French Confederation CGT and the SNTEV of Spain, a candidate to affiliation.

II. The international situation

                                     II.1. The dominant characteristics

As I open our annual meeting I can only remind you of the characteristics of the situation as I have described them for several sessions, since Algiers in particular as well as during our General Assembly in Moscow. I will quote:

  1. the development of the recourse to war at the expense of diplomacy and negotiation;
  2. the political, economic and social crisis developing in Europe and North America, which is not without consequences all over the world;
  3. the development of “withdrawal into oneself”, intolerance and irrationalism; the role of means of information and communication;
  4. the environmental crisis, the exhaustion of resources, climate disruptions, the energy question.

II. 2. To understand in order to fight more effectively and find solutions

These symptoms of a global crisis are interconnected, and are the consequences of the recent history of humanity, the history of the prevalence of European societies through technological and then industrial superiority. I will quote from my presentation in Barcelona: They are first of all the product of a colonial and neocolonial history; the ambition of European powers since the end of the Middle Ages, whereas China isolated itself, the Arab-Muslim world declined under Ottoman domination, the powers of the pre-Columbian societies quickly collapsed, to take hold of the natural and human resources of the entire world for the needs of capitalist accumulation.

The 19th century witnessed the apogee of that ambition: in Berlin in 1885 those powers divided and drew up the political map of Africa, and at the same time each power established trading posts in India or China. This division was soon to become conflictual: capitalisms marked the 20th century by two world wars with unprecedented destructions. The different powers led the colonized peoples into these wars, and then “forgetting” to treat them as fully fledged citizens.

The 20th century also witnessed an unprecedented effort towards emancipation by the peoples with a social and nationalist dimension: these are the great social conquests in what are called the “developed” countries, and the end of the colonial empires. This progress, moreover, was linked to the existence of the Soviet Union, the international role of which was a factor of balance and peace. The Soviet Union, however, gradually ceased to meet the needs of the populations making up this Union.

In this 20th century the United States and her allies sought to decide the destiny of peoples, claiming to offer their democracy, let us rather say their conception of democracy, but above all the United States continued to take hold of energy resources and raw materials. The United States intervened militarily with or without the mandate of the United Nations, directly or through subordinate regional powers.

This quick historical digression is not intended to be an official position of the WFSW. It is, moreover, simplified and partial, and is only an example of an explanatory approach. The most odious massacres, the thousands of drownings in the Mediterranean, the suicide bombings are not inevitable, they are not due to some sort of physical phenomenon or the perfidy of a few individuals, and therefore cannot be solved only by repressive attitudes and security measures. It is only a global, historical, geopolitical analysis that can shed light on the causes and enable us to see the possible resolution of these problems, and we must keep in mind that it is a political struggle that will lead to a solution.

These quotations from my presentation of last year can be summarized as follows: understand so as to fight more effectively and to find solutions. This idea explains my indignation when I hear statements by the Prime Minister of France during the debates following the terrorist attacks that took place this past winter. This gentleman declared that “to explain is already a small step to find excuses”. What a betrayal of reason in the country of Voltaire and Diderot! Let me quote parts of my editorial in our newsletter n°8: we must absolutely defend rational thought, critical thought in our role as citizens as we do in our professional activity. Emotion is normal and legitimate in the face of horror, but let us make sure that we are not guided by emotion in our choices. Let us cultivate reflection rather than mere reflex. This call to reason, to the search for causes was at the heart of our declaration – which you have in your folder – after the series of terrorist attacks in October and November. Most of our societies suffer from the absence of prospects, from inequalities, injustices whereas the only aim of the political game is to keep or conquer power.

These two aims feed one another. In order to keep or conquer power, politicians who do not have the intention or courage to tackle the real causes of crises must fight all rational thought, must subjugate the main information and communication media, must flatter elementary and centuries-old reflexes and instincts: xenophobia, racism, religious fundamentalism, nationalism, and even clannism!

The challenges that all humankind must face, the environmental challenge, the demographic challenge, social, economic and political challenges, on the contrary demand awareness, courage, and cooperation both on the individual and collective level: national, regional, and worldwide. International regulations are necessary. We make proposals to strengthen the power of the United Nations and to broaden its responsibilities. In our newsletter n°8 we presented these proposals elaborated by our “Disarmament, Peace and Cooperation” working group. These proposals were then discussed and adopted by our Executive Council.

Our work has not ended. At the environmental level, for example, even if the COPs, the Conferences of Parties, are a good thing (we hope that in Marrakesh, soon, at the COP-22, the participants will take concrete steps and truly commit themselves to the wonderful intentions displayed at the Paris conference, the COP-21 last December). A statutory responsibility on the part of the United Nations for these aims would be necessary, including all the aspects of the problems, even the financial one as well as justice in access to energy, for example.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those who contributed to the success of the symposium that we held here yesterday.

II.3. The democratic challenge

I have just spoken of the challenges that humanity must face. I see one challenge that combines all the others. Taking this challenge seriously is a decisive necessity: it is the democratic challenge. This democracy has nothing in common with the word that we find in expressions like “Western democracies”, “democratic parties”. I do not want to speak of representative democracy, and it is not only a matter of rights and freedoms. By democracy I mean everything that appeals to what I mentioned a few seconds ago: awareness, lucidity, courage, and cooperation both on the individual and collective levels. 

I add tolerance, respect, and empathy. Why? The present challenges that call into question the very survival of our species require all these qualities. Human emancipation can no longer be a distant ideal, but it is a condition of our own survival. Human activity is no longer infinitely small in view of our living conditions on our spaceship “Earth”. Human activity has even become intrusive in our bodies and brains. Scientific and technological progress is such that man can no longer behave like a child, irresponsibly.

When I say this I naturally address above all scientific workers and their organizations, including our own. Every scientist must be a citizen, and as a citizen must weigh upon policies for science. Each scientist must have a status allowing him to pursue his profession properly, and to behave as a free man. Here we touch upon two campaigns to which we contributed: “sciences and democracy” for almost 10 years, and “no to job insecurity” since this year.

To conclude this chapter I would like to come back to earth, by which I mean return to imperfect and painful reality. I would like to stress the human impact of the negative characteristics of this 21st century. Wars, misery and famines, suffering inflicted for political, ethnic, or religious reasons, climate disruptions – you have understood, I want to talk to you about the refugees. 

Tens of millions of human beings face insane conditions to “save themselves”, and many of them meet indifference, or worse – contempt and hate. Here we are not talking about our own obvious scope of action, but this suffering and this selfishness cannot leave us indifferent. A working group has planned to discuss this question this afternoon, and then we will hold our plenary assembly. This assembly should formalize a process to adopt positions, declarations and communiqués when the subject is not within the realm of “sciences, knowledge, education, and ethics”.

                            III. The situation in the field of science

III.1. Science in the sense of all types of knowledge

For more than 50 years the activity of research – in whatever field – has witnessed development unprecedented in the history of humanity. Scientific literature has “exploded”, new sciences have emerged, more and more regions and countries of the world now participate in this fantastic adventure. Our knowledge has globally progressed and in certain fields has revolutionized our conceptions, new paradigms have appeared.

The transfer of scientific progress toward application now takes place faster. Information and communication technologies are making tremendous progress, persons suffering from disease can hope to survive long enough to benefit from therapy that can save them. New types of equipment with exceptional characteristics, and more and more efficient robots make our work and life easier…or could make our work and life easier!

These positive results of science are very unequally shared among human beings. Access to health, energy and comfort is totally un-egalitarian. In Africa some schools have no electricity. AIDS patients in some regions of the world have no access to triple therapy, and in some regions of the world “technical progress” means the possibility to sell a body organ, to procreate and sell a child to a wealthy family.

The consequences are also global warming, unlimited extraction in the entire earth’s crust, industrial agriculture that depletes soils and generates sometimes dangerous foods. There is also the production and use of more and more devastating weapons

We understand why we often encounter two attitudes toward science, contradictory and also negative. On the one hand, as a century ago, the belief in science saving humanity, and on the other hand the opposite attitude, science and technology perceived as pollutions of a healthy natural order. Some religious currents – in the United States in particular – go as far as denying universally recognized knowledge like evolution and a number of biological mechanisms. In a word, we have on one side scientism, which now claims for example that our researchers will in time find a way to stop greenhouse gas emissions, which makes it unnecessary to confront the oil multinationals. On the other side we have enemies of science, who refuse to take into consideration the needs of humankind as a whole.

III.2. Policies for the sciences, the condition of researchers

I persist in my positive assessment of the quantitative development of the production of knowledge. Figures as well as an evolution of language show the undeniable character of this development. We can say that there are as many scientific workers alive today as there have been since the beginning of human history. We now call these people researchers, no longer learned persons or scholars. 

Dark spots, however, have appeared these past years, in particular in Europe and North America. Science, conditions of research and personnel undergo the same general pressure imposed by multinationals and the states that support them. This is why our Nizhny Novgorod declaration of 2013 is more relevant than ever. Let me quote an excerpt from it: financial objectives are largely favored at the expense of economic, social, environmental and social objectives. Basic research is thus sacrificed. Knowledge and university degrees are becoming commercial assets. Research thus becomes nothing but a tool to gain market shares, and is considered useful by political and economic powers only because of its possible impact on innovation. One of the consequences of this evolution is job insecurity of researchers, especially young researchers, a phenomenon which seems to be spreading all over the world.

This is why the last Executive Council session in Barcelona launched the idea of a World Day against job insecurity in scientific professions. This job insecurity combined with project-based funding leads only to a decline in the working and living conditions of people. It is a negative factor for quality research, and leads to working too fast, whereas research requires time and thought. Job insecurity encourages conformism and superficiality, and weakens basic research and the human and social sciences in particular. I disagree with the idea widespread in the media that science thrives on and is stimulated by job insecurity.

This trend is also accompanied by a decline in collegiality and the strengthening of the weight of hierarchy at every level. As for regional, national and supranational decision-makers, they are characterized by the notions of assessment, performance, excellence and competition, which in fact hide submission to industrial lobbies, for example agri-food and pharmaceutical lobbies. which in fact

We have reached the point that when independent researchers dare to publish articles alerting us about the uselessness or danger of a molecule, a product or process, the businessmen and economic powers that profit from it use all the weapons they have (threats related to funding or career, for example) to silence the whistleblower or make him inaudible.

IV. The responsibilities and activity of the WFSW

IV.1. Our scope of action

In the preamble of our statutes we wrote the following.

The existence of the WFSW was and remains a call to the entire scientific community to contribute to placing science and technology (…) in the service of the well-being of humanity. Today, scientific knowledge has become decisive in most human activities.

Scientific workers, men and women, whether they be researchers, teachers, engineers or technicians, are increasingly challenged about their responsibility in connection with the impact of their knowledge and research on the future of society and on the sustainability of its development.

(…) . The economic and social conditions of scientific workers play a decisive role. By acting with member organizations to obtain a recommendation in 1974 by UNESCO on the condition of scientific workers, the WFSW contributed to opening opportunities for emancipated professional activity to scientists.

Scientific workers (…) feel the need to act in accordance with their ethics (…). In the respect of academic freedom and individual responsibility, the scientific community, civil society, and more broadly citizens, men and women, must be associated with the definition of priorities. This is a democratic demand. This is the meaning that the WFSW gives to the idea of social responsibility. This is why the WFSW participates in struggles for peace and disarmament, solidarity among peoples, social and durable development, for a new world economic order.

Everything that I have just stated, analyzed and commented upon validates – unfortunately, if I may say – our commitment and that of our affiliated organizations and individual members.

IV.2. Work themes

We thus have good reason to develop the activity of the three present working groups (these are not permanent groups; we will provide an update at the General Assembly next year, we will perhaps create or add others) focusing in particular on:

–     peace, priority to negotiation, a stronger role for the United Nations, the only organization in   a position to interpose or intervene;

–    destruction of arsenals of weapons of mass destruction

–    NATO and the revival of the Cold War in Europe (maneuvers in Ukraine)

–    the specific role of scientific workers with respect to the “culture of peace”

         forced migrations, the refugee question

         research: the weight of military financing and applications

         energy, the climate, binding measures and international law to be developed

         access to fundamental needs: food, water, energy

         free public education up until the university, educating the autonomous and critical citizen and not only the worker

         digital tools, plurality and independence of journalism

         working and living conditions of scientific workers which guarantee independence and quality    of work

         the campaign against job insecurity and the creation of a World Day

     action with UNESCO and the member states for a revision and update – and not a revision downward – of the 1974 recommendation

         sciences and ethics; individual and collective social responsibility of scientists

         the definition of research priorities: by whom? How?

These subjects are directly or indirectly related to my presentation. Some have already been worked upon and have provided content for our annual Letter and communiqués or declarations. Others have already been discussed, and others or the same are proposed for work this afternoon.

Let me remind you of the titles of the groups that will meet later today:

– «disarmament, peace and cooperation »

– « energy and climate »

– « research conditions and status of researchers ».

Needless to say, the doors are wide open for all of you.

Let me remind you of the major stages of our action:

   on a permanent basis, UNESCO with her UNESCO-NGO liaison committee, with UNESCO commissions, including the ethics commission where our representatives have put forward the image of a serious and responsible WFSW, with a truly worldwide network.

         active participation and organization of seminars and roundtables at the World Social Forum, a privileged moment to broaden our relations, to disseminate our ideas and projects (Belem in 2009, Dakar in 2011, Tunis in 2013 and 2015, Montreal very recently – in August 2016),

      participation in congresses or seminars of affiliated organizations or friend organizations for the same reasons (for your information, over these past two years in Portugal, Senegal, Argentina, Cuba, Italy, France).

IV.3. The organization – internal work

We have succeeded in implementing the recommendations of the 20th (Paris-Marne-la-Vallée) and 21st (Moscow-Nizhny Novgorod) General Assemblies, some fully and others partially. These recommendations were developed by successive Executive Council meetings:

1.  Organization and holding of regular meetings of the International Secretariat.

  1.   Drafting and rapid communication of reports of the different bodies of the organization.
  2.   Dissemination of a regular newsletter.
  3.   Modernization and regular updating of our website.
  4.   Holding an annual “in presence” meeting allowing dialogues, closer relations and “on the         spot” construction of common positions.
  5.   Search for financial aid and administrative support for the functioning of the Federation.
  6.   Setting up of working groups with a coordinator and diffusion lists.  
  7.   Involvement of each of the members of the Executive Council in a working group.
  8.   The contribution of affiliated organizations and individual members to our newsletter and       our website with materials.

The WFSW has thus been present and visible in a wide variety of places and themes.

But unlike other NGOs we are not a centralized general staff financially supported by a foundation, or working under contract with this or that institution with resources to finance field activities. We are a federation of existing national organizations (trade unions or associations), which are not branches of the WFSW. All our work is based on goodwill, persuasion and trust. We must succeed in bringing up the problems of affiliated organizations in our discussions and publications. Just as our affiliated organizations – which are taken up by daily tasks in defense of colleagues, their missions and their rights – should think of including contributions of the Federation in your publications. Stronger circulation of information among us is therefore a necessary step.

                            V. Main Tasks of this 86th Executive Council session

  1. Holding good lively meetings of the working groups this afternoon, good because they will make it possible to work well at the plenary session tomorrow and thus to take decisions and appropriate initiatives, which will be supported well beyond the Federation.

Be confident. The meetings have been well prepared with agendas and preparatory texts.

  1. The present Executive Council session is the last one of the mandate begun in Moscow. It must decide on the place and the date of the next General Assembly. It must prepare the organizational rules of the Assembly so as to guarantee transparency, democracy, and efficiency. And it must also think of themes to be privileged, in particular the subject of the symposium which we will surely organize then.
  1. This Executive Council session takes place at a moment when we are truly beginning our campaign against job insecurity. The blog is ready, you have all received information about how to use it. Testimonials, alternative proposals, campaigning and action projects must and can now enrich the blog, thus preparing the World Day, which could take place on March 15, 2017.
  1. On the basis of my presentation on the world situation, our responsibilities and activity, I propose that we privilege several points arising from themes of discussion or simply from our organization, or from both.

–  In the face of the tragic events that are occurring, must we systematically speak out? What is our “natural” scope of action? What are the roles of the affiliated organizations, of the Executive Council and the Secretariat?

–  After two seminars/symposiums on the question of energy (Barcelona and Minsk) are we able to publish in our newsletter or in a larger format essential elements and summaries of our positions?

– We have received an invitation from the International Bureau of Peace which will hold its congress in Berlin at the end of this month. Perhaps we are not in a position to provide new input, but that can encourage us to pursue the ideas of Frederico, of Seiji, focusing in particular on our specificity, “science”: science and military technology, research and military financing?

– The question of refugees, forced migrations is one of the major ones today. What might be our approach to the subject?

– Let us not forget the themes already explored but which are “hibernating”: science and education, science and democracy.

– We must think of “sustainable development” in our own organization. This requires financial resources. We must pursue the discussion we had last year in Barcelona.

I end this overview with these proposals. My aim was to fulfill the twofold function of our annual meetings. First of all that of our Executive Council, our legislative organ, our Parliament, which conducts the policy of our Federation between two General Assemblies. But these meetings are also a time and a privileged place to present “live” what we are and what we do, to colleagues who are attending for the first time.

This last function leads me to conclude with this very encouraging observation: the number of affiliated organizations has grown regularly, reflecting the number of persons and organizations in contact with us, through our newsletter, through UNESCO, through all the places where we act. This greater visibility is stimulating and demanding.

Thank you for your attention, and good work.

Jean-Paul Lainé, September 16, 2016