BELEM (Brazil) - LAY-OFFS around the world brought on by the economic crisis will result in social upheaval and violence that could herald the death of capitalism, unions meeting at the World Social Forum in Brazil said.
Such unrest would be a painful but necessary step towards a new world order that is being delayed by efforts to save the old, crippled one, argued the labour organizations, mostly from Latin America.
'It's obvious the effects of this crisis will be large-scale social conflicts,' Martha Martinez, the Americas director for the World Federation of Unions, told trade unionists here on Thursday.
Governments were already making moves to forcibly repress 'social fragmentation,' she said, citing conservative-ruled Colombia and Peru as examples.
Long-cherished hopes of a workers' revolution were bubbling up all over the forum, which had gathered 100,000 people from left-wing groups as a counterweight to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland where presidents and corporation chiefs from around the planet were meeting.
Julio Gambina, the head of the research centre for the Argentine Judicial Federation, accused developed countries - particularly the United States - of trying to save a neoliberalism he said was 'broken.'
The role models now to be followed, Mr Gambina said, were Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia, all of which had rewritten their constitutions along socialist lines to redistribute wealth to the poor.
The force of the Marxist rhetoric here stemmed from the jolt countries from Finland to the Philippines have experienced as they confront an abrupt and widespread decline in employment.
According to the International Labour Organisation, global unemployment could grow by up to 50 million workers by the end of this year.
'I think that social unrest is here already,' ILO Director-General Juan Somavia told reporters in Geneva.
Germany announced its number of jobless has surged to 3.5 million.
In France, more than a million workers went on strike to protest against conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy's handling of the crisis, and against fears of job losses.
Japan is feeling the strain, too, with big companies readying the axe as all-important exports plummet.
The United States, the epicentre of the crisis, was still struggling to get a grip on the meltdown of its credit and financial markets. Reports suggested a US$800 billion (S$1.2 trillion) rescue package could be expanded significantly, perhaps through fresh aid to banks trying to dump so-called toxic assets.
Russia's ruble was sinking rapidly, and China has warned it was in for a 'very severe' year.
In Brazil, Latin America's biggest economy, there were concerns that a decade of economic growth was coming to an end because of the corrections in the developed world.
A loss of 650,000 jobs in December - the worst monthly number since 1999 - has galvanised the government.
'We need to prepare ourselves so that we avoid in 2009 having a big level of unemployment,' President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Monday in his weekly radio program.
He and other leftwing leaders in Latin America, from Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay, were scheduled to attend the World Social Forum as a sign of how unsettled they were by the situation.
Through it all, though, unions are clinging to the hope that the inferno will clear away three decades of consumerism and the concentration of wealth.
'The crisis is something good and positive, because it has opened the way to discuss and to revise the (world economic) model,' Sonia Latge, the political science director for Brazil's Workers' Central of Brazil, told AFP.
'I think the future of the planet is socialist,' she said. -- AFP