Worldwide Protests Target WTO

Revolutionary Worker #1128, November 25, 2001, posted at  

Where do you meet when you’re a group of international predators, hated for sucking the blood of the world’s people? And when your last major get-together collapsed in defeat amidst protests and street fighting? You move your next meeting to a feudal Arab emirate where no protest is allowed and you can help hand-pick the people allowed into the country. And you have your meeting defended by 5,500 security personnel and the U.S. Marines.This describes how the WTO was able to conduct its 4th Ministerial meeting this past week in Doha, Qatar.

But the WTO faced coordinated opposition worldwide. Hundreds of thousands of people in some 40 countries took to the streets from Nov. 6-13 to protest the WTO meeting.

The actions ranged from small to very large, and the concerns raised by people covered the spectrum. Small farmers came out to stand against the destruction of their lives by the capitalist “free market”—they criticized how the WTO allows wealthy nations to dump their agricultural products into the oppressed countries while protecting their own home markets with farm subsidies. Workers and trade unions voiced opposition to how WTO and capitalism as a whole is increasingly targeting health, safety and labor regulations as barriers to free trade. Students protested the increasing commercialization of education. Global justice activists spoke out against plans by the rich countries to use the WTO to open up vital utilities like water, electricity and education to privatization for more profit-making by wealthy corporations. Anarchists and other youth mobilized behind a call for a “global carnival against capitalism.” Many all over the world linked their protest against WTO to the unjust war the U.S. is waging on the poor in Afghanistan, the repression against dissent and immigrants, and the whole system of imperialism that is fostering globalization.

In the Streets Worldwide

50,000 people, including many farmers, rallied on Nov. 6 in New Delhi, India. A theme of the rally was to oppose the WTO’s favoring the rich nations at the expense of the poor in agricultural trade and patent laws. A major issue in many of the poor countries has been WTO’s “intellectual property” rules that have protected patents on drugs by huge multinationals, preventing poor nations from developing or importing cheaper generic drugs to help deal with major public health catastrophes like the epidemics of AIDS in Africa and Brazil.

A large protest of workers—including thousands of locked-out workers from Korean Telecom and Samsung—was held in Seoul, South Korea. A report from the Independent Media Center (IMC) says, “20,000 people marched today on the anniversary of Jeong Tae Il (a Korean worker who burned himself to death to protest exploitation of the workers in 1970) to continue the fight for labor rights in the midst of neoliberal restructuring and to show solidarity with international protests against the war in Afghanistan, the WTO conference in Qatar and imperialist globalization.”

In Rome, 150,000 people marched on Nov. 10 to oppose WTO and the war on Afghanistan. A report from the IMC-United Kingdom (UK) said, “Various immigrant groups were greeted with applause by people on the streets throughout the march. During the demonstration, the student movement targeted two banks financing the defense industry, covering windows with posters saying ‘not in my name’ and ‘no war.’” Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi organized a state-sponsored rally in support of the war to compete with the anti-WTO protest, but it only drew 40,000 people. Last July Berlusconi unleashed the brutal police who beat anti-capitalist demonstrators in Genoa and killed one protester.

Nov. 10 in Berlin saw 5,000 people gather for a rally and march. A lawyer spoke out against a new anti-terrorism bill the German government is trying to pass, which he called “a war declaration against the new peace movement and the opponents of globalized capitalism.” A report from IMC Germany says: “Aboard an independent truck with a samba band, refugees from Nigeria and Colombia shared their experiences of oppression and protested against exploitation by companies like Shell and imperialist programmes like Plan Colombia. ‘Enough is enough!’ Theophilus from Nigeria declared, ‘It is time to fight this system.’”

Other actions in Germany included a demonstration of 1,000 people in Frankfurt. At the end of the march, there was a confrontation with the cops, and the police clubbed people. Protesters threw food, plants and other things at the cops, who were forced to retreat. A German flag was pulled down from a hotel and burned.

10,000 gathered on Nov. 19 in Geneva, Switzerland, the site of the headquarters of the WTO. Participants included groups from Switzerland, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, and Kurdistan as well as Zapatistas, Green Party supporters, squatters, autonomen, farmers, students, anarchists, and others. Banks and buildings were spray-painted with slogans condemning capitalism and consumer society.

Many other actions took place in Europe. 1000 gathered in Barcelona, 5,000 for fair trade in London, and numerous actions in France. Many actions in France and other countries were organized by the group ATTAC (Association for a Taxation of Financial Transactions and for Assistance to Citizens) whose goal is to create “an international movement for democratic control of financial markets and their institutions.”

In Manila, the capital of the Philippines, thousands participated in a series of protests on Nov. 7-9 under the theme “Intensify the Resistance Against Imperialist Plunder! Junk WTO!” The protests were sponsored by the Peasant Movement of the Philippines (KMP), the National Federation of Fisherfolk Organizations, Bayan (New Patriotic Alliance) and the International Alliance of Filipino Migrants Association. Highlights of the actions included a protest and a peasants’ human chain in front of the U.S. embassy and a people’s street conference against imperialist globalization.

Anti-capitalist globalization activists and farmers in Bangkok, Thailand marched to the U.S. embassy to demonstrate against the WTO meeting. 500 people marched in Johannesburg, South Africa and Teheran, Iran. 5,000 people gathered in Bolivia. And there were protests in Argentina, Brazil and other countries in South America. There were protests against WTO and capitalism in Australia and New Zealand as well.

Demonstrations, actions, teach-ins, meetings and press conferences were held in dozens of countries worldwide in connection with a call from the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). These events helped the anti-globalization movement make a connection into many countries such as Croatia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Russia, and others where there hasn’t been a connection before. There were also workers’ demonstrations in Turkey, Mexico, Bangladesh, India, Norway, South Africa, and elsewhere. In Tunisia there reportedly were plans for teach-ins on globalization at 500 workplaces.

An important “World Forum on the WTO” drew 800 people in Beirut, Lebanon. A report posted on the UK IMC website says, “As U.S. cluster bombs fell on Afghanistan, activists from all over the world met to discuss building a movement to resist war and globalization.” The conference drew together human rights activists, trade unionists and global justice activists from Tunisia, Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, Syria and other parts of the world. Kanj Hamade, an organizer of the conference, said, “Everybody in Lebanon knows about the anti-globalization movement. People are really interested in the fight against international capitalism and the multinationals.”

Protests of hundreds took place in a number of cities in the U.S. and Canada. In New York City, 200 people marched to Rockefeller Plaza, doing a tour of corporate backers of the WTO such as Citibank, Shell and Bristol-Meyers Squibb. In the San Francisco Bay Area, hundreds came out in two protests under the theme “Globalize Justice, Not War.” The actions linked opposing WTO to opposing corporations damaging the environment in the area. Police attacked the marches, arresting 22 people. At the protest in Richmond, people surrounded police cars, sitting down and locking arms, after police unjustly arrested two peaceful protesters.

300 to 400 people marched in Seattle, the scene of the WTO’s defeat in 1999. The people were very spirited and proud of this history. There were dozens of black-clad youth drumming on buckets, peace activists, fighters against police brutality, youth dancing and twirling ribbons, and a street theater group wearing business suits and carrying U.S. flags with signs saying “Exploitation Kicks Ass!” and “Slave labor is the best labor!” The marchers opposed the WTO and made links to the war in Afghanistan and the suppression of civil liberties. They marched to a Seattle police precinct, the youth juvenile detention center and the INS building. At the INS the anti-WTO people hooked up with a protest of 150 Somalis outraged over an FBI raid that had shut down several businesses serving the Somali community, part of the U.S. attacks on immigrants under the cover of “war against terrorism.”

Doha and the WTO Declaration

There was some protest even in Doha itself. Fifty representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) allowed in by the WTO and Qatari government taped their mouths shut and held signs opposing how the rich countries’ representatives were twisting the arms of the “developing” nations to get an agreement signed.

In the end the WTO announced it had been able to get agreement on a ministerial declaration agreeing to new trade talks. But the declaration is being interpreted in different ways by various forces and countries, and it’s unclear what its effects will be. It appears that while the imperialist countries didn’t get everything they wanted, they were happy to get some agreement to further talks over certain issues and not have the whole meeting collapse again in disarray as happened in Seattle. The New York Times called the agreement “a 10-page document setting out, in the vaguest terms, the starting point for many years of talks.” The Washington Post called the summit a triumph but said the difficulty of even setting an agenda for future talks “suggests the scale of the challenge ahead. This is all the more true since the toughest issues were resolved less by substantive compromise than by linguistic finesse.”

It seems the U.S. and European Union did everything possible—including threatening some countries with less favorable trade status and less aid—to get the governments to agree to the declaration. Both the U.S. and EU made some compromises in language on agricultural subsidies and patents on drugs that allowed leaders of other poorer countries to sign on so the talks wouldn’t fall apart. But behind the smoke and mirrors, the WTO continues to be—and can only be—an instrument of the rich capitalist countries to pursue their interests at the expense of the poor of the world.

Given this reality, the worldwide protests against the WTO pointed to the way forward—continuing and building the people’s globalized resistance.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)