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Chasing them into the desert

 Genoa and Onward


By Katherine Ainger


The airport at Genoa is named after Christopher Columbus. Five hundred and nine years after he set sail for the new world, launching what in today's parlance would be called 'a new trade round' - centuries of genocide, plunder and colonialism - Latin American civil society brought its struggle against globalisation back to the place where it began. Members of the Landless Movement of Brazil (Movimiento Sem Terra - MST) spoke of the massacre of neoliberalism at the Genoa Social .

In the weeks leading up to the summit, plenty of old hands were saying someone would die at Genoa. The signs were clear in the escalating confrontation and militarization of both sides. But the MST could tell you that Carlo Guiliani, the young man shot dead as he protested at the G8 summit last weekend, is not the first casualty of the movement challenging neoliberal globalization around the world.

The MST suffer ongoing persecution for their campaign for land reform in Brazil, their opposition to the World Bank's programme of market-led land reform; their opposition to the corporate control of agriculture through patents on seed; their opposition to the big landowners' farms where cattle for export graze while the campesinos starve.

Recently three students protesting against World Bank privatization were shot in Port Morseby, Papua New Guinea. Young men fighting World Bank imposed water privatization have been tortured and killed in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

George Bush, Tony Blair, and Clare Short, who portray those who protest the unnaccountable institutions of global governance as ignorant, violent enemies of the poor, have not seemed to notice that the poor are leading the protests. A message, dated last April, sent out by members of the African student movement says: 'the anti-globalization movement, which had as one of its sources the persistent anti-structural adjustment student movement in Africa, has finally leaped from the streets of Harare, Addis and Algiers into Washington DC in April and Prague in September last year. [The World Bankers] have been hounded by a truly international youth movement which has carried the African student dead to their door.'


Yet those who run the global economy still seem to think their worst problem is that they can't find a secure place to meet.

Instead of addressing root causes of the protests which rocked Seattle in late 1999, the World Trade Organization are fleeing to the Qatar desert, way beyond the reach of even the most determined activist. The Chretien administration is now searching desperately for the highest mountain in Canada in which to hold the next G8 summit.

Their real problem is that their ideological adherence to 'free' trade is casting them not just into the desert, but into the political wilderness. The regime they are implementing is so destructive that it is sparking off a global uprising against neoliberalism. These are the beginnings of a new force that will shape the global political project in the new century.

Broadly, these uprisings can be described as struggles against the commodification of every aspect of life - water, genes, atmosphere, healthcare, culture, public spaces, land. For each locality, the moment when the people cry 'Enough!' is different - but it is usually the moment when something regarded as central to the culture becomes privatized. For the Zapatistas of Mexico it was the signing of the NAFTA agreement, which outlawed the common ownership of land which Emiliano Zapata, folk hero and revolutionary of 1911, had fought for. For much of South East Asia it was the IMF austerity measures imposed on their shattered economies after the financial crisis of 1997. For South Africa, it is seeing the ANC, former rebels against apartheid, making Faustian pacts with the global economic elite as inequality grows greater, not lesser, in their country. For France it was the integrity of their food culture, and the punitive tarriffs on Roquefort cheese imposed by the World Trade Organization. In Britain, it may be the slow sell-off of the National Health Service to private healthcare multinationals.

Antoni Negri and Michael Hardt, in their seminal work Empire, call this grassroots network of struggles, 'the multitude'. It is the mirror opposite of a concentrated strata of power from above, in which decisions that affect billions of human lives get made at a transnational level. The multitude embodies the real world below - a sphere of humanity, nature, culture, diversity - all those factors not reducable to a commodity to be bought and sold in a global marketplace. In fact, the movement is not 'anti-globalization' at all. If anything, it embodies 'globalization from below' - an international multitude which challenges the idea that 'the global surfaces of the world market are interchangable'.

This is a new force for radical political change, but in a global economy, it does not have a Winter Palace to storm. This is why protesters have been targeting international summit meetings. But if these unnaccountable institutions of global governance are losing their legitimacy through citizen action, the movement, particulary in the wake of the Genoa summit, urgently needs to build its own, alternative democratic legitimacy. For democratising the global economy will ultimately not come through increasingly militant action at summits, but through building an genuine, grassroots legitimacy from below.

The Brazilian educator Paulo Freire wrote: 'Sooner or later, a true revolution must initiate a courageous dialogue with the people. Its very legitimacy lies in that dialogue. It cannot fear the people, their expression, their effective participation in power. It must be accountable to them, must speak frankly to them of its achievements, its mistakes, its miscalculations and its difficulties.'

Instead of now chasing the world leaders into the desert in Qatar, then, the task at hand is to work on building a broad based pro-democracy movement at home. In a million small ways in Britain, that process has already begun. As a result of campaigning by the World Development Movement, the Scottish parliament will be holding the first parliamentary debate in the world over WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which threatens to lock anything deemed a 'service' into privatisation. Unions are beginning to organise against GATS; the rank and file are already beginning to rebel over public sector sell offs. Even the Women's Institute is alarmed. Middle England continues to complain about GM crops and the state of the railways, while Scottish crofters have joined the radical, anti-WTO, international peasant farmers' union, Via Campesina - whose largest member is the MST.

This is the birth of a genuinely popular global uprising against corporate control and the hijacking of democracy. The movement against economic globalization: coming to a town near you.

Katharine Ainger is editing an issue of the New Internationalist on global resistance.

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Recommended Reading:

- Belen Balanya, Ann Doherty, Olivier Hoedeman, Adam Ma' anit & Erik Wesselius, EUROPE INC: Regional & Global Restructuring and the Rise of Corporate Power. London, Pluto Press, 2000

- Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen, Nick Faraclas und Claudia von Werlhof (Hg), There is an Alternative. Subsistence and worldwide Resistance to Corporate Globalization, London, zed press, 2001


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Emanzipation Humanum, version 7.2001, Criticism, suggestions as to form and content, dialogue, translation into other languages are all desired