Farmers Support WTO Protest

NAda802074 at NAda802074 at
Sun Nov 28 19:53:48 MST 1999

Farmers support Seattle free trade protest

By Lem Harris

Acting as a major sponsor, the AFL/CIO has mobilized a huge coalition to
oppose the "free trade" plans of the World Trade Ortganization (WTO) meeting
in Seattle Nov. 30 to Dec. 3. Responding to the call are the two largest
European trade union confederations. Many consumer and ecological
oganizations are also joining the protest.

Why this huge opposition? Because U.S. organized labor and its allies have
learned the hard way that free-trade agreements are bad medicine for workers
but are enormously profitable for international corporations.

Just a few years ago the first of these trade agreements was enacted: the
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It was ratified by Congress and
signed by the president in spite of the protests of labor and farmers. NAFTA
has resulted in an exodus of American industries to Mexico, where wages are
far below American levels.

American grain farmers have had their local markets glutted with Canadian
grain, pouring into Montana and the Dakotas, with no interference at the

Since NAFTA, labor and farmers' common interests have become more evident.
AFL/CIO spokesmen have been attending the annual conventions of the National
Farmers Union. Their message is always the same: "Our living standards depend
upon wages, yours on the price you get for your crops. Both are controlled to
our disadvantage by the monopolies. We should join forces."

In July, in a small Montana community named Sweetgrass, located on the
Canadian border, 800 farmers and rural people gathered. They were responding
to the call of a recently formed organization, the Campaign to Reclaim Rural

This group represented small town residents who feared their towns would
become ghost towns as farm income plummeted.

They drew up an eight-point program of "requests," to be endorsed at
Sweetgrass and at other planned gatherings, and submitted them to the
Congress and the president.

Their petition contained 13,000 signatures. The signers were small-town
people - storekeepers, professionals, local bankers and township officials.
Their eight-point program was really a farm program. Most important of the
points were:

An emergency price-support and safety-net system for all agricultural

The start of vigorous anti-trust investigations into the concentration of
ownership in meat packing, grain handling and retail;

Block the Cargill-Continental grain merger (two of five private corporations
that dominate the international grain trade);

Actions to ensure that farm and ranch producers' interests are represented in
the 1999 WTO negotiations.

Most significant was the wide response this meeting received. Sweetgrass,
Mont. was chosen because it is on a port of entry into and out of Canada.
This was one of the ports through which Canadian grain trucks glutted
American markets.

Canadian farmers were invited to attend and take part, tryomg to find
solutions to the conditions from which both Canadian and American farmers
suffered. And Canadian farmers did come, bringing with them Cory Ollika,
president of the National Farmers Union of Canada (no connection with the
U.S. National Farmers Union).

Ken Maki, president of the Montana State Farmers Union, attended and
introduced Ollika. (The two leaders are of Finnish ancestry and are carrying
on the progressive tradition for which they have long been known.)

Most significant was labor's participation in the event. The Montana State
AFL/CIO was invited and sent Don Judge, its executive secretary, who
addressed the gathering. In addition, the United Steelworkers of America
promised to send Bill Klinefelter, their legislative director.

His appearance was cancelled due to late-breaking negotiations over the
Steelworkers Import Quota Bill. It is significant that this big union, based
in Pittsburgh, responded to the appeal of this rather obscure rural

Not a few farmer actions have occurred this year, in which farmers are
attempting to break the stranglehold that agribusiness exerts on the
farm-price structure.

In April, a farmers' forum was held in South St. Paul, Minn., sponsored by
two U.S. senators, Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

Hundreds of farmers and farm cooperative officials attended from nine states,
as well as National Farmers Union President Leland Swanson and a
representative of the Minn. AFL-CIO.

A number of U.S. senators had requested the Department of Justice send a
representative of the anti-trust division to hear the testimony of farmers
and farm cooperative managers, citing illegal activities by various branches
of agribusiness that depress farm prices. The Justice Department sent Joel
Klein, head of the Anti-Trust Division.

Klein assured the assembly that his objective was to determine whether the
anti-trust laws were being violated.

To that end, he announced that six lawyers from the Minnesota State
Prosecutor's office were present and ready to take testimony from any of the
farmers and ranchers present.

He said that "when we get the facts we are not afraid to act ... We
prosecuted Archer Daniels Midland in Illinois District Court, resulting in a
fine of $100 million for illegal price fixing of farm prducts."

Harkin made the major address. He strongly supported the anti-trust action,
but said that congressional legislation would still be necessary for farmers
to win a price structure that would meet their costs of production.

Harkin recalled that, in his first senatorial term, he introduced a bill
modeled on President Franklin Roosevelt's farm parity price measure, which
gave producers of storeable crops their costs of production for several
decades. In the end, agribusiness succeeded in cutting the guts out of the

"If my bill had been enacted when I introduced it 12 years ago, we would not
be here today," Harkin said. "But you should know that if the Democrats win
the Senate in 2000, I will chair the Senate Committee on Agriculture ... How
I would love to get my hands on those numbers." The assembled farmers greeted
this with a roar of applause.

These are the kinds of happenings that contain the seeds of a potential
progressive coalition of labor, farmer, consumer, ecological, as well as
religious forces, that could start turning things around in America.
This article is reprinted from the latest edition of the "People's Weekly
World" newspaper.  Subscription info:
1 year ------   $20 (individual)
1 year ------   $10 (low income, unemployed, seniors, students)
6 month --- $10 (individual)
2 month --- $1  (trial sub)

Long View Publishing Co.
235 W. 23rd Street
NYC, NY 10011

More information about the Marxism mailing list