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The Growing Revolt
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by David Michael Smith
When government officials from more than one hundred countries arrived in Seattle for a World Trade Organization conference in late November 1999, they found more than luxury hotel rooms, gourmet meals, and Courvoisier cognac waiting for them. In the streets of Seattle, more than fifty-housand people gathered to protest against the loss of decent-paying jobs, proliferation of sweatshop labor, growing poverty and social inequality, mounting environmental devastation, and diminution of national sovereignty resulting from the W.T.O.'s "free trade" policies. Activists from labor, environmental, human rights, and radical organizations joined together for several days of demonstrations that frightened local corporate moguls and politicians more than any event since the Seattle general strike and workers' uprising of 1919.
The massive turnout and militancy of the demonstrators overwhelmed W.T.O. officials and the Seattle police. Many conference delegates found it physically impossible to attend their scheduled meetings, and speeches by Secretary of State Madeline Albright and other U.S. government leaders had to be canceled. As Stuart Laidlaw later noted in the Toronto Star ("Seattle Set New Agenda on Trade," Nov. 27, 2000), "The protesters did not shut down the W.T.O., but kept enough of it from running smoothly to have the same effect." Although the overwhelming majority of demonstrators were entirely nonviolent, small bands of activists smashed store windows, set fires in the streets, and spray-painted graffiti on buildings. The mayor declared a civil emergency and imposed a curfew. The police used tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets against protesters and bystanders alike. Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested, and dozens were injured in the process. In the months that followed, it became clear that the "Battle of Seattle" had signaled a new stage in the growing revolt against globalization.
What Are They Protesting About?
Globalization may not be a household word, but it has become a prominent term in the lexicon of transnational corporations, government officials, international financial institutions, academics, and activists during the past two decades. The International Monetary Fund defines globalization as "a historical process" involving "the increasing integration of economies around the world, particularly through trade and financial flows" ("Globalization: Threat or Opportunity?" January 2002). In practice, this has meant that the governments of the advanced capitalist countries, along with the I.M.F., the World Bank, and the W.T.O., have increasingly sought to force other nations to adopt market economies, privatize public companies and resources, abandon labor and environmental regulations, reduce social services, and embrace "free trade" and the free movement of transnational capital. As William Pfaff points out ("The West's Globalization Drive is Proving a Massive Failure," International Herald Tribune, Sept. 29, 2000), globalization is "the aggressive program for the imposition of Western norms of national economic management, economic deregulation and market opening, and facilitating takeovers of indigenous industries and agriculture by multinational companies."
The Zapatista movement of southern Mexico has become famous for its advocacy of the rights of indigenous peoples, but it has consistently held that neo-liberal economic policies are just as dangerous as institutionalized racism. As Katherine Ainger reported in the New Internationalist ("To Open a Crack in History," September 2001), it is no coincidence that the Zapatistas launched their rebellion in Chiapas on Jan. 1, 1994. This was the same day that N.A.F.T.A. went into effect, outlawing the indigenous system of collective land ownership in Mexico. Since then, the Zapatistas have drawn thousands of people from around the world to their periodic "Intercontinental Encuentros [Encounters] for Humanity and against Neoliberalism."
Predictably, the international financial institutions and other establishment "experts" have enthusiastically endorsed the expansion of unbridled capitalism throughout the world. I.M.F. officials argue, "Globalization offers extensive opportunities for truly worldwide development." From their perspective, the increasing global integration of national economies holds great promise because "Markets promote efficiency through competition and the division of labor...." Still, the I.M.F. concedes, "Markets do not necessarily ensure that the benefits of increased efficiency are shared by all." In his well-known book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree (2000), author and New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman insists, "Globalization has fostered a flowering of both wealth and technological innovation the likes of which the world has never before seen." Although Friedman admits that this historical process has produced substantial "disruption and dislocation," he appears primarily interested in finding ways to manage the growing "backlash" against globalization.
A much more critical perspective on globalization is provided by John Cavanagh and the other authors of a report by the Alternatives Committee of the International Forum on Globalization ("A Better World is Possible: Alternatives to Economic Globalization," Spring 2002). For Cavanagh, et al, "corporate-led globalization" and the "unrestricted movement of capital" generates enormous profits for transnational corporations but produces significant economic, social, and political harms for the majority of nations and peoples. This report finds that global well-being is threatened--not fostered--by the conversion of national economies to export-oriented production, the increasing concentration of corporate wealth, and the decreasing regulation of corporate behavior. The report also strongly criticizes the "undermining" of national social and environmental programs, the "privatization and commodification" of public services, the erosion of "traditional powers and policies of democratic nation-states and local communities," the "unrestricted exploitation of the planet's resources," the promotion of "unbridled consumerism," and "global cultural homogenization."
Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, challenges the claim that globalization has produced economic progress for most countries. Drawing on extensive research that he and colleagues at the C.E.P.R. have done, Weisbrot points out, "The past twenty years have been an abject failure for most countries." ("The Mirage of Progress," The American Prospect, Jan. 1, 2002). As Weisbrot and his colleagues document, the overwhelming majority of countries have actually experienced significant declines in economic growth rates, increased child mortality, and reduced progress in life expectancy as well as public spending on education (Mark Weisbrot, et al., "The Scorecard on Globalization, 1980-2000: Twenty Years of Diminished Progress," July 11, 2001). In addition, as Cavanagh and his coauthors note, "The undermining of small-scale, diversified, self-reliant, community-based agricultural systems, and their replacement by corporate-run, export-oriented monocultures" is "a major contributing factor to global environmental devastation."
Signally, the deleterious effects of globalization are not limited to the developing countries. As economist Robert Scott has concluded in a study for the Economic Policy Institute ("N.A.F.T.A. at Seven," April 2001), the North American Free Trade Agreement has resulted in the loss of approximately 766,000 actual and potential U.S. manufacturing jobs and "contributed to rising income inequality, suppressed real wages for production workers, weakened collective bargaining powers and ability to organize unions, and reduced fringe benefits." In another E.P.I. study ("Fast Track to Lost Jobs," October 2001), Scott has found that the combination of N.A.F.T.A. and other "free trade" policies has resulted in the loss of approximately three million actual and potential U.S. jobs, and contributed to massive trade deficits. Moreover, U.S. employers are exerting growing pressure on employees to work harder, accept smaller increases in pay and benefits, and forego improvements in working conditions--all in the name of "being competitive" in an increasingly globalized economy.
Globalization vs.The Environment
Increasingly, Americans are discovering that globalization is also undermining environmental protection and national sovereignty. In 1991, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade ruled that a U.S. law designed to protect dolphins from encirclement and drowning in tuna nets was an illegal barrier to trade. Congress then significantly weakened this law to comply with the G.A.T.T. ruling. In 1996, the W.T.O. ruled against a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulation governing the cleanliness of gasoline. The Clinton Administration agreed to abide by the W.T.O. decision. In 1998, the W.T.O. ruled against a U.S. law requiring turtle-excluding devices on boats selling shrimp to this country. The U.S. State Department then issued new rules that significantly weakened protection for sea turtles. As the Sierra Club explains on its website, the W.T.O.'s growing insistence on limiting economic regulation and enforcing "market access rules" could limit the ability of the U.S. government to regulate toxic wastes, reduce air and water pollution, and manage natural resources.
As Marc Cooper noted in the L.A. Weekly ("Less Bank--More World: First Seattle, Then A16," April 20, 2000), the "awesome student-worker-environmentalist alliance--that marriage of Teamsters and Turtles"--helped make the "Battle of Seattle" in late 1999 a turning point in U.S. opposition to globalization. But as Jessica Woodroffe and Mark Ellis-Jones emphasize ("States of Unrest: A World Development Movement Report," January 2001), "This new movement...is just the tip of the iceberg. In the global south, a far deeper and wide-ranging movement has been developing for years."
Neoliberalism and Globalization
Throughout the latter half of the 1990s, large numbers of workers, farmers, and other people protested against neoliberalism and globalization in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. In 1996, more than 130,000 Filipino laborers demonstrated against the Asian Pacific Economic Community meeting in Manila. In 1997 and 1998, scores of thousands of rural poor people in Thailand protested against the destruction of agricultural society and the growing impoverishment resulting from Western-style economic reforms. In 1998, over 200,000 Indian farmers took to the streets of Hyderabad to protest the W.T.O. As Katherine Ainger has noted, when W.T.O. leader Mike Moore visited India two years later, "He joked rather uncomfortably that in no other place on Earth had so many effigies of him been burned." In May 1998, tens of thousands of South Korean union members participated in a general strike and bitterly criticized the "global rule of capital."
In 1996, the Rural Landless Workers Movement turned out more than 100,000 people in Brasilia, Brazil to oppose the neoliberal "modernization" of agriculture under the direction of local agribusiness and foreign capitalists. During the past seventeen years, this movement has used both legal tactics and mass direct action to bring about grass-roots land reform, helping more than two-hundred and fifty-thousand families occupy and win land titles to more than fifteen million acres of land. In late 1999 and early 2000, the indigenous people of Ecuador launched a mass popular movement against the I.M.F.-imposed "dollarization" of their country and forced the resignation of their president. At the same time, an alliance of labor, human rights, and community activists organized a general strike in Cochabamba, Bolivia and successfully forced the government to reverse the privatization of the city's water system mandated by the World Bank and the I.M.F.
By 1999-2000, hundreds of thousands of people in Nigeria were conducting marches and strikes across the country to oppose the I.M.F.'s demands for privatization of public enterprises, reduced government spending on schools and hospitals, and higher fuel prices. As the millennium ended, mass demonstrations against "structural reforms" demanded by the inter-national financial institutions were mounting in Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia. As South African anti-globalization activist Trevor Ngwane explains (Ferial Haffajee, "From Seattle to Soweto," New Internationalist, September 2001), "We were able to get rid of the apartheid regime. But now our freedom is coming to nought because of neoliberal policies... which undermine our freedom."
In January 2001, the anti-globalization movement reached another milestone when activists from more than one hundred countries gathered at the first World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. This historic gathering aimed to provide a progressive alternative to the business-dominated World Economic Forum, then meeting in Davos, Switzerland. More than twenty-thousand people from labor unions, environmental groups, non-governmental organizations, social movements, and leftist parties around the world attended the Porto Alegre conference. As Mario Osava reported ("World Social Forum: Work Begins on a World of Solidarity," Inter Press Service, Jan. 26, 2001), participants were committed to ending "corporate-led globalization" and seeking "a different kind of globalization" which would provide for human needs and ensure sustainable human development. After six days of discussion and debate, representatives of one-hundred-and-forty-four organizations signed the "Porto Alegre Appeal for Mobilization," which called on the peoples of the world to struggle against neoliberalism and globalization.
One of the first major European mass demonstrations against globalization occurred in May 1998, when more than seventy thousand people protested against the Group of Eight meeting in Birmingham, England. In June 1999, protests were held in several cities in Europe and North America to coincide with the G8 Economic Summit in Cologne, Germany. Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets, most notably in London. The fact that the "Battle of Seattle" in late 1999 marked a new stage in the growing revolt against globalization has been noted by opponents as well as friends of this movement. In January 2000, a corporate lobbying firm in Washington, D.C. sent its clients a memorandum warning of "the potential ability of the emerging coalition of these groups to seriously impact broader, longer-term corporate interests" ("Leaked Memo: 'Guide to the Seattle Meltdown,'" Common Dreams News Center, March 10, 2000). In August 2000, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service acknowledged, "Opposition to corporate globalization has been growing for several years" and warned that the failure of the international financial institutions to implement reforms "may well serve to mobilize thousand more protesters and trigger a wave of anger and outrage at subsequent events." ("Report#2000/08: Anti-Globalization--A Spreading Phenomenon," Aug. 22, 2000)
The significant growth of the anti-globalization movement since Seattle certainly con-firms this prediction. In mid-April 2000, just a few months after the victorious mass protests in Ecuador and Bolivia, more than 30,000 people demonstrated against the annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C. As Marc Cooper reported at the time, demonstrators successfully blockaded almost twenty major intersections surrounding the World Bank and I.M.F. buildings. The delegates to the conference were able to attend their scheduled meetings only because they had been awakened at 4:30 a.m., bused to the conference under armed guard, and led through underground tunnels to their meeting rooms. As in Seattle, the overwhelming majority of demonstrators were entirely nonviolent, though hundreds of activists physically resisted the efforts by D.C. police to establish perimeters at various points in the city. Over a three-day period, the police arrested more than thirteen-hundred protesters.
As Jessica Woodroffe and Mark Ellis-Jones have observed, on June 9, 2000, more than seven million Argentine workers participated in a one-day general strike against I.M.F.-imposed reforms. During the next few months, hundreds of thousands of people took part in protests against various I.M.F.-prescribed "Structural Adjustments" in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Nigeria, and Paraguay. In early September 2000, several thousand people protested against the Asia-Pacific Summit of the World Economic Forum in Melbourne, Australia. Street battles between militant workers and heavily armed police went on for three days, and W.E.F. organizers were forced to fly delegates in and out by helicopter. At the end of September, more than twenty-thousand people demonstrated against the meeting of the World Bank and I.M.F. in Prague, Czech Republic. Protesters repeatedly clashed with police, and the ensuing turmoil led World Bank and I.M.F. officials to hastily end the conference twenty-four hours before its scheduled conclusion. In October 2000, more than twenty-thousand workers and students protested against the meeting of Asian and European Union economic ministers in Seoul, South Korea.
Three months later, on April 20-22, 2001, more than 60,000 workers, retirees, and students participated in demonstrations against the "Summit of the Americas" in Quebec City, Canada. While the leaders of thirty-four governments gathered to negotiate a "Free Trade Area of the Americas," thousands of people attended forums, rallies, and marches in order to voice their opposition. The largest protest event was a peaceful march by union activists, but thousands of people joined in other marches that came into confrontation with the police. Hundreds of activists tried to bring down the metal-and-concrete fence, which the police had set up to protect the visiting heads of state. Police tear gas injured dozens of protesters, and plastic bullets fired by police seriously wounded one young man. More than 200 people were arrested.
When the leaders of the world's richest countries assembled for the G8 meeting in Genoa, Italy in mid-July 2001, they encountered the largest and most militant European demonstrations against globalization to date. More than 200,000 people, representing more than seven hundred organizations, took to the streets. As in previous demonstrations, the vast majority of protesters eschewed violence, but some activists burned cars, broke windows, looted stores, and battled with the police. Tragically, one young Italian man, Carlo Giuliani, was killed by police and over 400 people were injured. As John Nichols has observed ("One Dead, Eighty Injured in Genoa," The Nation, July 20, 2001), "The economic policies promoted by the [G8] leaders...are now so unpopular that gatherings must be 'protected' with deadly police violence...If the croupiers of corporate capital really believe that restructuring the global economy to limit protections for workers, the environment, and human rights represents a positive development, why must they employ deadly force to defend the meetings at which they plot their warped vision of 'progress'?"
Death in Genoa
As journalist John Vidal pointed out (The Guardian, July 18, 2001), "The Battle for Genoa" made clear that the globalization of capital is increasingly "being mirrored by the globalization of protest." As Vidal concluded, "For the first time in a generation, the international political and economic condition is in the dock. Moreover, the protesters are unlikely to go away, their confidence is growing rather than waning, their agendas are merging, the protests are spreading and drawing in all ages and concerns." Four months later, large protests against the W.T.O. were held in more than thirty countries. On Nov. 20, thousands of people participated in militant protests against the World Bank and the I.M.F. in Ottawa, Canada. The following month, more than 80,000 people demonstrated against a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels, Belgium. As Constance Brand reported ("Eighty Thousand Peacefully Protest E.U. Summit," Associated Press, Dec. 13, 2001), the European Trade Union Confederation, representing sixty million workers from 25 countries, had organized the mass protest to demand that European governments act to reduce unemployment, expand workers' rights, and put an end to "today's unbridled globalization."
Although the transnational corporations, the G8 leaders, and the international financial institutions remain undeterred in their objective of worldwide exploitation and domination, the revolt against globalization will undoubtedly continue to grow. Over time, it will become increasingly clear "it is not enough to protest the effects of international capitalism or to demand the reform of its most extreme outrages. The answer is not 'fair trade,' and certainly not protectionism, but the uprooting of a system which poisons the earth, starves hundreds of millions of people, and condemns billions more to lives of brutal poverty" (Editors, "Imperialist World Order: Misery for Profit," 1917, February 2001). Of course, some analysts might object that a humane and democratic global socialism is "unrealistic." But millions of people are already involved in the struggle "to globalize equity not poverty, solidarity not anti-sociality, diversity not conformity, democracy not subordination, and ecological balance not suicidal rapaciousness" (Michael Albert, "What Are We For?", ZNet, Sept. 6, 2001). The hope that such vital objectives could be achieved without the abolition of global capitalism is what is truly "unrealistic."
Protests Rage On
While protesters were taking to the streets in Brussels, hundreds of thousands of workers and young people in Argentina were demonstrating against the I.M.F.-imposed government austerity measures that had resulted in mass unemployment, declining real wages, and widespread poverty. Despite the deaths of twenty-one protesters at the hands of police and the government's declaration of a state of siege, the demonstrations grew larger and more militant. After the Argentine General Workers Confederation called a general strike and spontaneous protests and food riots erupted across the country, President Fernando de la Rua resigned and fled the country. Although the new president, Eduardo Duhalde, promised to reject the economic demands of the international financial institutions, he reneged on this pledge within a few months. Not surprisingly, another giant wave of protests soon erupted in Argentina's major cities.
In early February 2002, more than ten-thousand people participated in protests against the World Economic Forum in New York City. Although the continuing trauma caused by the September 11 attacks had led some activists to forego participation in these protests, the respectable turnout and militant but peaceful conduct of the demonstrations made clear that the anti-globalization movement would not be a casualty of President Bush's so-called "War on Terrorism." As Liza Featherstone pointed out in The Nation ("A Recovered Movement," Feb. 4, 2002), these demonstrations proved that, in the aftermath of the September 11 tragedy, "The movement has recovered not only its ability to organize a major march but its optimistic spirit as well." Moreover, as Featherstone observed, the protesters in New York City succeeded in emphasizing "the themes that have always preoccupied this global movement: worldwide economic inequality, the unchecked power of corporations, and the dearth of political democracy."
World Social Forum 2002
At the same time, several thousand miles away, over 50,000 people from more than 120 countries were attending the second annual World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The theme of the conference was "Another World is Possible." In plenary sessions, workshops, and informal meetings, participants voiced support for the abolition of the W.T.O., the World Bank, and the I.M.F. They also discussed the development of new forms of international solidarity and cooperation that could effectively meet the material and social needs of humanity and ensure sustainable development. Activists expressed divergent views on whether "the globalization of justice" could ever be brought about without a direct assault on international capitalism as a system. But there was unanimity on the imperative need for the peoples of the world to put the brakes on "corporate-led globalization." Although the second annual W.S.F. was not highly publicized in the U.S., it was regarded as a major international event by millions of people throughout the world.
Anti-Globalization Movement Growing
The revolt against globalization has continued to grow in recent months. On March 16, 2002, more than 300,000 people marched in Barcelona, Spain to protest against a summit of European Union leaders. The banner at the front of the Barcelona march read: "Against a Europe of Capital--Another World is Possible!" On April 20, about 100,000 people demonstrated against U.S. foreign policy in Washington, D.C. Although protesters' support for the Palestinian "intifada" was the most highly publicized aspect of the event, this author was present and can attest to a sea of banners and signs opposing globalization. On May 19, nearly 200,000 people demonstrated against neoliberal economics at a conference of European and Latin American government leaders in Madrid, Spain. On June 8, about 50,000 people marched outside the World Food Summit in Rome, Italy to demand that the international financial institutions and the United Nations do more to help end world hunger.
On June 14, nationwide protests against the I.M.F.-imposed privatization of public electricity companies erupted in Peru. Two days later, President Alejandro Toledo declared a state of emergency and deployed soldiers to suppress the demonstrations. One student was killed, and hundreds were injured. When the mass mobilization of opposition continued to grow, the President backed down and suspended the sale of the electricity companies. On June 22, more than 150,000 people protested against the European Union's neoliberal economic policies in Seville, Spain. In late June, new demonstrations against the I.M.F.-imposed government austerity measures broke out in Argentina. The protests became even larger after Buenos Aires police officers killed two demonstrators in cold blood. Although the governor of Buenos Aires State ordered the arrests of these police officers, increasingly large crowds of protesters are now demanding food, social services, and the resignation of President Duhalde.
Hoping to avoid a repeat of the gigantic protests in Genoa last year, the G8 leaders met this June in the isolated village of Kananaskis, Canada. Although its remote location and a thirteen-mile-wide security cordon made a large demonstration there impossible, several thousand dedicated activists held peaceful protests in Calgary, Toronto, and Ottawa. To protest corporate profiteering through the use of sweatshop labor, two-dozen demonstrators stripped in front of a Calvary Gap store and chanted, "I'd rather wear nothing than wear The Gap." As Reuters reported ("Anti-G8 Activists Bare All in Cheeky Protest," June 25, 2002), "One line of activists dropped their pants to reveal the words 'Boycott Gap,' with one letter on each cheek of their posteriors." Although the G8 leaders may have enjoyed the relative quietude in Kananaskis, World Bank and I.M.F. officials will not be so fortunate when their next meeting convenes in Washington, D.C. Activists in the U.S. are already planning militant protests from Sept. 28 to Oct. 4, and tens of thousands of people are expected to participate.
The End of History?
Ten years ago, Francis Fukuyama argued in his famous book, The End of History and the Last Man(1992), that there was an emerging global consensus in favor of capitalism. Fukuyama claimed that the peoples of the world would increasingly embrace private ownership of the means of production, market-oriented production and exchange, and strict limits on economic regulation and government services as the surest path to prosperity for all. But during the past decade, the development of the international movement against globalization has proved Fukuyama wrong. From Bangkok to Barcelona, from Prague to Porto Alegre, from Seattle to Seoul, millions of people have made clear that they will not accept the globalization of capital. The growth of the popular movement for "the globalization of justice" can rightly be said to mark "the end of the 'end of history'" (Naomi Klein, "World Social Forum: A Fete for the End of the 'End of History,'" The Nation, March 19, 2001).
David Michael Smith is a professor of government at the College of the Mainland in Texas City, Texas. His e-mail is Dsmith@com.edu
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