by Rene Ciria-Cruz
opponents of globalization only three tumultuous days of civil protest in Seattle to make the otherwise innocuous sounding World Trade Organization (WTO) a less-than-savory household name. Now they are eager to stack more victories on top of their political triumph.
There's talk of mass mobilizations next spring around the meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, of workshops to bring issues to the local level and of making the WTO an issue in the presidential campaign. Most strikingly, protest leaders readily downplay conflicting agendas and expect greater collaboration among WTO critics.
"There were major differences among the separate coalitions that ended up working pretty well together," says Medea Benjamin, executive director of Global Exchange. Unions were for getting a working group within the WTO, while coalitions like Citizen Trade and Direct Action Network were for abolishing it, she explained. But Benjamin is ecstatic about the "new kind of communication and links that were forged" among the protesters in Seattle.
"You have Teamsters and longshoremen saying they care about turtles and environmentalists saying they care about sweatshops," Benjamin adds. "We can now go to these groups and get more support than in the past."
It's notclear how tightly unions will embrace their new allies, but AFL-CIO president John Sweeney has declared publicly, "We're in it for the long haul on the trade issue." Other labor spoksemen have repeatedly stated that trade agreements must include labor, human and environmental rights.
This is a far cry from the trade union establishment of the early '70s, when hardhats chased anti-Vietnam war protesters with baseball bats. "Big labor" is no longer a working class aristocracy, having seen its ranks and political clout shrink dramatically as corporations chased cheap labor in poor countries and the influx of cheaper imports further undercut domestic manufacturing. Archie Bunker's slogan "Our country right or wrong" has disappeared with the "Made in USA" label.
The fledgling alliance is gearing up for the next big fight -- and the upcoming vote in Congress on the normalization of U.S.-China trade relations, which would clear the way to China's acceptance into the WTO. Critics fear that China's entry will undermine efforts to include environmental and labor standards in the trade regulations as China will be too lucrative a market to rein in.
"Clinton's deal with China is a big slap in the face for labor," says Benjamin, "and they're talking about stopping Congress from passing NRT (normal trade relations)."
Benjamin, however, feels "terrible about aligning with Pat Buchanan, protectionists and Cold War types on the anti-China issue." Nonetheless, she argues that the opposition to the WTO is more of a fair trade movement than a protectionist one.
China, she says, poses less a threat to jobs in the United States than to jobs in other parts of Asia, "like Malaysia and the Philippines where people are fighting to strengthen independent unions, and they are going to be pitted against Chinese workers."
"Our agenda is to stop the race to the bottom," Benjamin says, "and you now hear more union people saying the issue is how we're going to bring the bottom up. That's an internationalist position, not a protectionist one."
Third World delegations at the WTO meetings aren't so sure. Their bitter denunciations over being denied a voice were aimed as much at labor and environmental protesters as at first-world WTO delegates.
Protest leaders like Robert Weissman, editor of the Washington, DC-based magazine Multinational Monitor, say these "ideological differences" will be set aside in the struggle to confront "a whole series of property issues." He credits the "Battle of Seattle" with emboldening "delegates from the poorer countries for the first time to resist arm-twisting by the industrialized nations."
Citing the push by African governments prior to Seattle to ban patents on life forms, Weissman underscores how wedges can be driven between developing countries and the industrialized powers to slow down, if not totally incapacitate, the WTO.
Meanwhile, back in Seattle, the Direct Action Network is busy raising civil liberties issues stemming from what activists described as a "police riot," and considering possible lawsuits with the help of the National Lawyers Guild and the American Civil Liberties Union. But new "international mass actions," coordinated via the Internet, are already being mulled, says Denis Moynihan of Direct Actions' media desk.
"May Day is a big one to think about," he says, "for a global action to celebrate people power over money power."
While May 1 is celebrated as International Workers Day in most parts of the world, Americans have commemorated Labor Day on Sept. 1, a pointed disavowal of May Day's radical legacy. How the AFL-CIO responds to its anti-WTO allies' call to "take back May Day" will signal just how willing it is to take a new path.
December 19, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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