cj#1031,rn,sm-> ** Best Seattle report I’ve seen **

1999-12-08

Richard Moore

friends - there have been many very good reports and some
really bad ones - this seems to give the best overall picture
covering both the WTO process and the demonstrations.  See
corp-focus subscription and website info below - many thanks
to Mokhiber & Weissman  - rkm

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Reply-To: •••@••.•••
Sender: •••@••.•••
From: Robert Weissman <•••@••.•••>
To: Multiple recipients of list CORP-FOCUS <•••@••.•••>
Subject: A Whiff of Democracy in Seattle
Date: Mon,  6 Dec 1999 18:35:30 -0500 (EST)

A Whiff of Democracy in Seattle
By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

Democracy was certainly in the streets of Seattle last week,
and a whiff -- perhaps carried by teargas -- even made it
into the convention center where trade ministers from the
World Trade Organization (WTO) member states met.

Many factors contributed to the collapse of the WTO talks --
an effort to expand the scope of the trade agency's
authority -- but there is no question that popular protests
played a central role.

Tuesday saw at least 40,000 people take to the streets to
protest the corporate tilt of the WTO. A stunning coalition
of teamsters, consumers, sea turtle protection activists,
religious people, women's groups, environmentalists,
students and anti-corporate youth and many, many others
joined to "Just Say No to the WTO."

Approximately 10,000 people -- primarily students and youth
-- joined together in an extraordinarily well organized and
highly disciplined direct action to block every access way
to the convention center, stopping most of the official and
negotiating activities scheduled for the WTO meeting's first
working day.

Notwithstanding city efforts to clamp down on all public
dissent in the downtown area, protests continued throughout
the week, with thousands demonstrating at separate
environmental, farmer, steel worker and women's marches and
rallies. Always on display were focused attacks on the WTO
and strident criticism of the corporations that have drafted
and lobbied for its anti-people rules.

On Friday, perhaps ten thousand joined in a labor-led march
-- organized on about 24 hours notice -- to again protest
the WTO and the city's infringements on civil liberties
through the creation of a "no protest" zone.

Meanwhile, students and others in an overwhelmingly young
crowd continued civil disobedience and direct actions
throughout the week.

Inside the convention center, where negotiations began on
Wednesday after riot-gear-equipped police and national guard
forces cordoned off the downtown from most protesters,
turmoil was building as well.

When separate working groups negotiating over a wide array
of sectors failed to produce compromise agreements, the
United States sought to forge a deal through the WTO's
heavy-handed old-style tactics.

Charlene Barshefsky, the U.S. Trade Representative, and the
rest of the U.S. negotiating team picked a handful of
countries to commence negotiations in a closed "Green Room."
The idea was for the arbitrarily selected bunch to work out
a comprehensive deal, and then present it to the entire WTO
membership as a fait accompli for adoption. But even the
Green Room gambit failed, and the talks ended in complete
disarray.

The complexity of trade negotiations -- with compromises
made in one sector dependent on unrelated compromises in
another -- means no single factor can explain the talks'
failure. But it is possible to identify many of the key
negotiating reasons for the collapse:

* The European Union and the United States could not work
out an agricultural accommodation, with the EU's commitment
to export subsidies a critical stumbling block.

* Many Third World countries revolted against the
negotiating process, and their complete exclusion from the
Green Room discussions. More than 70 developing countries,
primarily from Africa and the Caribbean, declared on
Thursday that they would not sign a final declaration
negotiated in a process from which they had been excluded.

* Many Third World countries resisted the U.S. call for
formation of a working group to study the relationship
between trade and labor issues.

* A compromise deal that was floated early Friday morning
would have entailed politically unacceptable compromises on
the key issues of concern to U.S. labor unions --
anti-dumping (rules permitting countries to block the import
of below-market-cost imports) and some progress on rules to
promote adherence to core labor standards.

On each of these issues, the street protests helped heighten
contradictions and conflicts. The simple fact of preventing
negotiations on Tuesday helped impede agreement in the
agricultural sector. As a delegate from Zimbabwe explained,
the street demonstrations emboldened the Third World
negotiators to object to the exclusionary processes inside
the WTO. And the demands from the U.S. labor movement --
backed by mobilized rank-and-file members -- stiffened the
U.S. negotiators so that they at least refused to cave in on
their minimalist labor rights demands.

For now, street heat has stifled the corporate elite. Just
as they blocked delegates from entering the convention
center, so they blocked the corporations' attempt to extend
the WTO's reach even further into nation's economies and
societies.

But as spectacular as was the Seattle victory, achieving the
second half of one of the week's primary slogans -- "No New
Round, Turnaround" -- will be even more daunting. Launching
a new WTO negotiating round is nowhere near as important to
corporate interests as maintaining existing WTO rules and
the prevailing model of corporate globalization.

Still, a little bit of democratic empowerment can be a
dangerous thing. If the broad coalition that came together
in Seattle can stay together -- a big "if" -- it may
eventually be able to force new rules for the global
economy, so that trade is finally subordinated to the humane
values of health, safety, ecological sustainability and
respect for human rights, rather than the reverse.


Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the
Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor. They are
co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits
and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage
Press, 1999, http://www.corporatepredators.org)

(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

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