by SUSAN GEORGE
President of the Globalisation Observatory, Paris, vice-president of Attac and author of The Lugano Report, Pluto Press, London, 1999.
After the WTO fiasco at Seattle, many neoliberal commentators set about rewriting history. They said, somewhat improbably, that the US had emerged victorious and Europe and the countries of the South had lost out, Europe because it had not managed to table new rules and the South because it had failed to get more markets opened in the North. In fact, despite suitable noises from President Clinton, the failure of the trade talks shows the limits of Washington's power in the WTO, where for the first time delegates from the South turned the consensus rule to their advantage. As for the Fifteen and the European Commission, it is true that they had wanted to extend the agenda, but only in order to deregulate more areas for the benefit of their own multinationals. The true victors at Seattle are the citizens' movements. They have struck a blow against the proposal to use trade as a means of general deconstruction of all collectives and governments of the South, of whatever persuasion, that have now staked a claim to full partnership in the future. This is the birth of world public opinion. What we need now is national and international recognition of the peoples' elected representatives. - B. C.
The civic movement's success in Seattle is a mystery only to those who had no part in it. Throughout 1999, thanks primarily to the Internet, tens of thousands of people opposed to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) united in a great national and international effort of organisation. Anyone could have a front seat, anyone could take part in the advance on Seattle. All you needed was a computer and a rough knowledge of English.
The main rallying point was the StopWTORound distribution list. This put people in touch with the whole movement and enabled them to get their names on other more specialised lists. Among the most useful were those of the Corporate European Observatory in Amsterdam - unbeatable on the links between lobbies of transnational firms and United States or European trade negotiators - and the Third World Network and its director, Martin Khor, with its detailed information on the positions of Southern governments and everything that was brewing at the WTO's Geneva headquarters. A number of institutions published regular information bulletins: the International Centre for Sustainable Trade and Development (ICSTD) in Geneva, the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) in Minneapolis, and Focus on the Global South in Bangkok. Many enthusiasts from various countries, like retired Canadian trucker Bob Olson, located and circulated vital items of information from all over the web.
Add to this the frequent Internet updates on national anti-WTO movements in Europe, Australia, Canada, the US and India, and the slightly less frequent updates from Africa, Latin America and Asia, and you begin to have some idea of the volume of information available and the work of thousands of militants-turned-experts - conferences, symposiums and seminars, leaflets and articles, interviews and press releases.
Army of equals
In France outstanding work was done by the Association pour la taxation des transactions financières pour l'aide aux citoyens (Attac), whose international meetings in June 1999 - including a high-profile WTO element - were attended by delegations from 80 countries (1), and by Coordination pour le contrôle citoyen de l'OMC (CCC-OMC), which covers 95 organisations including the Confédération paysanne, Droits Devant!, the Fédération des finances CGT, and the FSU, and has the political support of the Greens, the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (LCR) and the Communist Party.
In the international division of work prior to Seattle, Friends of the Earth in London had undertaken to gather signatures from 1,500 organisations in 89 countries calling for a moratorium on the trade negotiations and a complete review of the operation of the WTO with full citizen participation. Mike Dolan of Public Citizen, an organisation founded by Ralph Nader in Washington DC, had been busy on the ground in Seattle since the spring of 1999, locating and booking the venues that would be needed to accommodate a huge number of meetings. In San Francisco, the International on Globalisation was putting the finishing touches to its 26-27 November teach-in, at which speakers from all the continents took it in turns in turns to address an enthusiastic audience of 2,500 crammed into the Bennaroya Symphony Hall.
For months thousands of people had followed training courses in non- violent protest organised by the Direct Action Network (Dan) (a collective of environmental and political activists). In the run-up to the WTO meeting, the Dan repository at 420 East Denny Avenue, Seattle, had become the focus for an army of equals. Separate teams had been formed to take charge in each of the 13 sectors surrounding the conference centre. Their members, all prepared to be arrested, were in place at 7 a.m. on the first day and blocked the opening session.
Artists had set to work well in advance on huge puppets and models that lent a festive air to an otherwise deeply political event. Students from dozens of universities, including nearby Washington State University, returned in force to the American political scene, concerned by the damage to the environment and the exploitation of third world workers and children (as a result inter alia of a campaign against sweat shops called Clean Clothes).
Even more surprising, in the light of recent US history, was the Sweeney- Greenie alliance named after John Sweeney, the leader of the powerful trade union group AFL-CIO, and the Greens. Ever since the Vietnam war, trade unionists and environmentalists had been on opposite sides of the political fence. For organised labour, ecology was synonymous with leftist policies and unemployment. They sank their differences, however, and made common cause against the WTO. For the first time pacifists and human rights campaigners, too, were disturbed by the harmful consequences of globalisation and joined in the anti-WTO movement. And Via Campesina, a network representing peasant movements in 65 countries, also had a date in Seattle. This coalition of the century was completed by many foreign delegations, the two largest being those from France and Canada.
In short, everyone was ready except the police, who looked like something out of Star Wars and acted in a way that was quite over the top. There is evidence, often backed up by photos or videos, of police provocation, coercion and collusion with "anarchist elements" that were in fact simply hooligans and wreckers. Whole districts and blocks of buildings, old people and children, were attacked with pepper and other (as yet unidentified) gases. Five hundred and eighty people were arrested, and many of them were roughed up and kept in solitary confinement for more than 48 hours in defiance of the American constitution.
Millennium Round stillborn
Thanks to Washington's intransigence on agriculture and Europe's wish to add a raft of new items (investment, competition policy, environment, public contracts, etc) to the agenda; thanks to the revolt of representatives of the South, outraged at being excluded from the negotiations (see article by Agnes Sinai); and finally thanks to the protest movement, the Millennium Round was stillborn. However, the WTO still has a remit, under the decisions taken at the Marrakesh ministerial conference in 1994, to resume at any time discussions on agriculture and services, including health, education, and "environmental and cultural services", whatever that may mean. The Trips agreement on intellectual property is also to be reopened, including the patenting of living organisms.
The instant people got back from Seattle, they all had their two pennyworth to say on the theme "things will never be the same again". And it is true. It was a defining moment, a beginning, but we must build on it without delay because the forces of neoliberalism, humiliated and determined to get their own back, will lose no time in regrouping. In other words, the popular movement may have gained time and scored a fine victory, but it has not yet got the moratorium and review it was seeking. The European Commission is anxious to resume negotiations "between responsible people" who have not budged an inch on the principle of free trade and commerce in the service of the transnationals. They will meet again, if possible behind closed doors, and will make sure opponents of out and out globalisation do not get another media platform like Seattle.
The basic strategy vis-à-vis governments, the European Commission, the WTO itself and the transnationals must be to maintain vigilance, keep up the mobilisation and pressure, and mount an offensive of counter-proposals with the ultimate objective of building genuine international democracy. This will call for a sustained collective effort, for discussion and action. It cannot be planned in every detail at this time.
It should nevertheless be possible to agree on some principles at once. Trade must have no place in areas such as health, education and culture in the broadest sense of the term. The case of hormone-fed beef is a perfect illustration of the WTO's refusal to exercise due precaution. So, if there is any doubt as to the harmlessness of a product, the burden of proof must in future lie with the exporter. No living organism must be patentable and any country must be free to manufacture and distribute basic medicaments in its own territory. Food safety and the integrity of peasant communities are more important than trade.
The proceedings of the WTO body for the settlement of disputes must be subject to recognised principles of international law: human rights, multilateral agreements on the environment, the basic conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). There must be an end to the WTO's refusal to discriminate on the basis of processes and methods of production (PMPs): we must be free to give preference to products that have not been made by children or semi-slaves.
The question is how to break the sterile North-South deadlock on the social and environmental clauses? With a jealous eye to the only halfway effective bargaining counter they have - low wages and cheap, pollution- generating production methods - some Southern governments see the introduction of rules in these areas as a disguised form of protection. One idea worth exploring might be to devise a system for rewarding the countries that make the greatest efforts in the areas of labour and the environment, instead of penalising them as we do now. No-one is suggesting that the same wages should be paid everywhere or that Laos should be treated in the same way as Luxembourg.
Thanks to World Bank and United Nations Development Programme statistics, we know a great deal about levels of material and human development worldwide. Suppose the ILO and the United Nations Environment Programme were to classify all countries at a given level of development - including the most advanced - according to the respect they show for labour law and for nature. The best, at each level, would be granted tariff preferences or even exemption from customs duties, while the products of the others would be taxed according to their classification. Such a system would allow a review of the hallowed most-favoured-nation clause, which in fact favours nothing but a rush to the abyss.
Free marketeers, from The Economist to Alain Madelin, the French neoliberal deputy, generally accuse opponents of the WTO of being 1. ignorant; 2. unrepresentative; 3. against the poor; and 4. against rules and in favour of anarchy and the law of the jungle.
In fact, it is precisely because they know what they are talking about that the NGOs and citizens' movements are against the WTO. Seattle has shown that the popular movement represents many things and many people. It is touching to see the sudden neoliberal concern with the fate of the poor in the South - not always well represented by their governments - but very few people have so far been discovered who enjoy working for a pittance in degrading conditions, who do not mind being unable to send their children to school or living in an environment that has been laid waste.
The popular movement is all for rules, but not the rules of the WTO in its present form. That is why, in the words of the militants, we shall have to "fix it or nix it".
Translated by Barbara Wilson
This is to inform you of the position EU commisioner Lamy has expressed on the post-Seattle process in the Committee on Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy of the European Parliament on Tuesday, 25.1.2000.
Mr. Lamy feels that there are more reasons than ever to maintain the aim of a comprehensive round. According to him the EU has to have the leadership in launching it as soon as possible, even before the presidential elections, in any case this year. Lamy feels that this aim is already supported by Japan, South Africa, Brasil and Thailand.
In a first phase, he says, confidence in the WTO should be built in a couple of weeks rather than in a couple of months ! ! Capacity building would help developing countries to find themselves better placed in the WTO. TRIMS, TRIPS, e-commerce have to be quickly discussed. Referring to the problem of improving the functioning of the WTO, he suggests that reflection on this should be made by a « Group of wise men(women ?) » Of course, he had some sugar for NGOs : they might get the right of accreditation.
During the discussion, Lamy made clear that he does not at all see the need for an evaluation of the impact of past liberalisation agreements on developing countries. He thinks that most of the WTO members share his opinion that liberalisation is a good thing. This means : he does not accept at all the « Review, repair, reform » concept and definitely rejects the demand expressed by 1500 or more NGOs in their declaration before Seattle.
Time is pressing again. The ordinary negotiations in Geneva on agriculture and services will start in February/March. Meanwhile, the Commission is already elaborating a new concept for a comprehensive round. The EU Council will meet informally during the Portuguese presidency, probably in March, in Portugal to decide on the Council strategy.
Seattle was a partial victory. But we did not even win the Millennium Round battle.
Dr. Gaby Kueppers, Green Group in the EP, Adviser on External Economic Relations
Rue Wiertz, Bâtiment Spaak, LEO 02 C 65, 1047 Bruxelles, T: 0032-2-284 3392, F: 0032-2-284 9110
It came true!
Under MEDIA spotlights in Davos, the revolt, after smouldering, exploded. It happened that many people showed how they don't agree anymore with a world that is made of WEF, WTO, WB and NATO. It happened that many people said NO to the barbarism of neoliberal thought and to its "human face". In the "little big global city" the strength of Seattle revolt was logically carried on, a process that was invoked in Seattle by the direct action of thousands of activists in the streets.
It is possible to rebel, the volcanic magma of those who undergo the effects of globalization is more and more resembling a real movement, which is able not only to unveil the barbarism of capital, but also to show and practice rebellion against it, generalizing a clear message for everyone: there is no more space for reforming barbarism, the only answer to property is to put back humanity in the first place.
And it is the necessity to put back humanity in the first place that gave the real capacity, in Davos like in Seattle, to unite different groups (from Bove's Confederation Paysanne to activists from social centres) who share a common goal, the battle against globalization, and who, reasserting their difference as a richness, can generalize and spread the battle against neoliberalism.
We believe that the process of globalizing fights is a reality that no one can ignore: "world leaders" who have to pay for it, and especially movements and subjects who must play a major role. We believe that here in Italy as well we must assume/adopt/follow this method and that in building our small or big battle everyday against neoliberal powers, being them D'Alema or Berlusconi, we must be able not to look at what divides us, but to focus clear and simple goals that can unite us, uniting the knots of ambiguity that often entangle us, as is the case of the "chameleon-wise" behaviour of those who think they can fight while at the same time managing the governments of neoliberalism.
This clear method must take us, starting from our partiality and local community work, to a leading role in a process that can impact and be credible in all the mobilizations that await us, from Genoa against biotechnology exhibition to Florence against NATO, to Mayday 2000 for humanity, so that these experiences will not be self-representative, but become protagonists of the building of a global movement which is able to destroy the barbarism of globalization to globalize humanity.
On our way back from Davos, Confederazione Nazionale COBAS, Movemento Antagonista Toscano, Officina 99 - SKA Realtà antagoniste romane, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
from GPA bulletin # 5
September 2000 will see the gathering in Prague of thousands of bankers, speculators and ministers from across the world for the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The shift of the annual meeting into the geopolitical space of Eastern Europe is not only due to the Czech government efforts to become the hosting country of the event, but also to the Fund's and Bank's way of showing-off their "successful" Eastern Plan.It is really important to re-open the "economic statistical reviews' of this part of Europe and put on the table the proofs of shaky eastern and southern economies and the destructive Fund and Bank policies applied to people and the environment. The economic and political situation in countries under the 'assistance' of the IMF/WB is one of deterioration. There is no evidence of prosperity or democratisation of governments. What grows instead is unemployment, diseases, famine and military oppression. The motivation to oppose this event comes out from the necessity to raise the issue of poverty increased by IMF/WB openly and critically. The reclaiming of the event itself will not be the beginning and the end point but just the encounter of various platforms from CEE. It is not that we are contesting in some nationalist fashion the citing of the meeting here in Eastern Europe, but we contest the very nature of these meeting, and the strangled future carved out in them. Moreover, it is necessary for the grassroots movements to target the International Financial Institutions by way of an international and local long term campaign. Prague IMF/WB meeting is a first and not-to-miss-possibility to start on! We always go to the international counter events which happen in Western Europe and now we will have one happening in the house and we just have to react. We have to react all together! Literally we can meet now, we can do the street parties and the demonstrations, and maybe our possibilities are about to expire within some new trade negotiations in the future which will cause a breakdown of what is supposed to be a new neoliberal democratic state .If you think you and your group would like to take part in this long term project, don't hesitate to send emails, reports, news and publications regarding the issues of TNCs, WTO, World Bank, IMF, EBRD and other like institutions. People like us never used to organise international events which is really understandable because the political situation in CEE wouldn´t give any chance to democratise the streets , people were sent to prison (and still are) for any anti-state piece of paper. What can be even more important is the fact to work together. This discussion list is the start of an important campaign,.a decentralised radical platform for eastern movements who will become actors in world wide struggling force against the corporate power.