Mobilization against globalization


Staff Reporter

An international coalition including labor, environmentalists, family farmers, human rights advocates, churches, consumer safety and public health activists, sweatshop opponents, and Third World solidarity activists is mobilizing to protest a gathering of the World Trade Organization (WTO) scheduled Nov. 30 to Dec. 3 in Seattle.

Since March, local coalitions have formed in Portland, Olympia, Seattle, and Vancouver, B.C., to organize the protest, and national groups as diverse as the Sierra Club, AFL-CIO, and Ralph Nader's group Public Citizen have pledged resources. Organizers expect 50,000 people will turn out in Seattle for four days of protests.

"The only way to be taken seriously is to turn out in large numbers," said Ron Judd, executive secretary of the King County Labor Council. "The Seattle round of WTO will affect the agenda for decades to come. We won't in our lifetimes have this opportunity again."

President Bill Clinton will welcome leaders from 134 countries to the four-day Seattle meeting that could threaten democratic institutions and undermine protections for worker rights, the environment, and consumer health all over the world.

As many as 7,000 trade officials, journalists and staff members will meet at the King County Convention Center for the third policy-making session of the WTO. Created by the 1994 expansion of an international trade agreement known as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the WTO uses panels of non-elected trade specialists to overturn national laws that are found to restrict trade.

Organizing around the WTO is just the latest campaign in a growing movement opposed to a model of globalization that places corporate profits above human and environmental needs. That movement began with the unsuccessful fights against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and GATT, but it's had some successes since then: In 1997 and 1998, the U.S. Congress turned down Clinton's request for "fast track" authority to negotiate new NAFTA-style trade agreements. [Earlier approvals of fast track, which requires Congress to vote an agreement up or down without debate or amendment, were a key reason the Clinton Administration was able to win congressional approval for NAFTA and GATT.] And in 1998, growing international public alarm over secret negotiations for an "investors' bill of rights" led to the failure of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) talks at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Those failed negotiations are set to be resurrected at the WTO meeting in Seattle. Other items on the agenda include further elimination of tariffs and an "Agreement on Government Procurement" which would forbid non-commercial considerations in government purchasing decisions, such as prohibitions on doing business with human rights abusers.

Labor, environmental, and civic groups have an alternative agenda for the Seattle meeting. Six or seven hundred non-governmental organizations have signed a letter to the WTO and its member governments calling for a postponement of any new round of negotiations until an "assessment round" is held in which the negative impacts of the WTO can be considered and corrected.

Many groups are also calling for the thus-far secretive and unaccountable organization to guarantee greater transparency, opening up trade dispute resolution panels to the public eye, and making internal procedures and meeting minutes publicly available.

And they want the WTO to adopt a set of core labor standards, such as the right to join unions, abolition of child labor and forced labor, and protection against discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, religion, and other characteristics.

"We're not against trade," explains Rich Feldman, executive director of the King County Labor Council's Workers Center. "We don't want to wall up America like Pat Buchanan does. But the rules of the game haven't been written with labor in mind."

In the weeks and months leading up to the Seattle summit, the plan of local WTO coalitions throughout the region is to educate and mobilize with a series of teach-ins and conferences.

In September organized labor plans to hold a series of forums on the WTO. On Oct. 22, The Labor Center of the Evergreen State College in Olympia will hold a conference to educate labor and other activists.

A week before the WTO convenes, 250 top labor leaders from 143 countries will gather in Seattle for a meeting of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. "It's a great opportunity to join hands with labor leaders from around the world on issues that affect the global economy," says Feldman.

Around the same time, the British Columbia Federation of Labour is having its 900-delegate convention; it expects to mobilize participants to come to Seattle.

To get involved in the Portland area, call the Cross-Border Labor Organizing Committee at 503-236-7916.

August 6, 1999 issue

Home | About

© Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. Inc.