Forwarded from CIEPAC

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon May 15 13:22:47 MDT 2000



(December 03 de 1999)

Seattle: The World Mobilization of the Century Against Globalization

>From November 29th to December 3rd the last trade summit of the most
important millenium was carried out in Seattle, Washington, USA. The Third
Ministry Meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO), called the
Millenium Round, was meeting for the first time in the United States. The
meeting was to begin a new round of negotiations between the 135 member
governments and to deepen free trade. The meeting was sponsored by
Microsoft and Boeing Co. (the world business leader in the construction of
airplanes). But, at the same time, the first impressive global resistance

What is the WTO?

The negotiations of the Uruguay Round began in 1987 and ended in April,
1994, when the 123 member governments ended the General Agreement on
Tariffs and Trade (GATT) which was born in 1947 with the goal of
eliminating tariff barriers (fixed prices charged on imports to a country).
 At that point the beginning of the World Trade Organization (WTO) was
decided which would enter into operation in January of 1995. Gaining more
access to the markets of poor countries and pressuring for their
elimination of tariffs and protections for the agricultural sector are
among the primary goals of the WTO. Meanwhile the principal powerful
nations refuse to address serious issues, including a lack of internal
democracy and a WTO which refuses to listen to the demands of those who are
excluded by this project. Meanwhile the most powerful nations continue to
amass the worlds wealth. As William Clinton said during the Millenium
Round, the United States has 4% of the worlds population while "we enjoy
22% of the worlds income."

In a parallel way, the international network against globalization refuses
to allow the superpowers and the large multinationals to define the destiny
of millions of people in the world with its globalization policies. Thus,
1,200 organizations of all types, representing millions of people from all
over the world, signed a declaration in September of 1999 in a summit held
in Geneva, Switzerland. In it, they denounced that the formation of the WTO
which was supposed to bring prosperity, global wealth and wellbeing for all
of the member countries has, after five years, brought more poverty and
injustice, causing a gigantic rift between the rich and the poor.

A Field-Day of Resistence

Just as the intention of capital is to be global, so is the civil
resistance and that of the peoples of the world who convoked other protests
in diverse countries of the world. In Seattle there was a global meeting of
6,000 people and sectors that had never before gone out into the streets to
protest together. Their common demands sought to defend life, work, the
struggle against poverty, humanity, the environment, and human and labor
rights and to protest the privatization of peoples lives and exclusive
international economic policies.

Workers, truck drivers, union members, students, fishermen and women, dock
workers, NGOs, environmentalists, intellectuals, farmers, service unions,
gays and lesbians, steelworkers, construction workers, food workers and
meat packers, machinists, retirees, Zapatista support committees, human
rights organizations, social justice organizations, humanitarian
organizations and economic justice organizations etc. came from Alaska,
from the north, south, the center, east and west coasts of the United
States, Latin America, Asia and Africa.

The majority of the non-violent activists blocked the entrance of the
Paramount Theater for the inauguration of the event for the 135
governments. The Secretary of State, Madelaine Albraight, and the United
Nations (UN) General Secretary, Kofi Annan, were not able to enter the
convention center the first day. Nor were many of the governmental
delegations who, frightened, confused and amazed, sought refuge in their
hotels or restaurants. The General Director of the WTO, Mike Moore, did not
give credit to what he saw. They underestimated societys ability to protest.

The local authorities decreed a civil emergency with a curfew from 7 p.m.
to 6 a.m. The pitched battle against the excluded was incredible for a
first world power. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against
the government of Seattle for imposing a prohibition on the protests in the
bosom of the American dream, in the "most democratic" country in the world.
 Police and soldiers had to go out into the street and, for the first time
in Seattle, the National Guard established a no protest zone 50 blocks
around the meeting to repress, not only North American citizens, but also
citizens of others countries. Pepper gas, tear gas, horses, tanks and
neighboring police forces had to enter into action, provoking injuries and
more than 500 jailings. The promoters of the "new economic order," based on
free market and free trade policies, were forced to have their talks amidst

The radio, television and press presented ample information about what was
happening in the streets. Of the more than 5,000 reporters invited by the
WTO, more than 3,000 joined the protesters. During the day the rubber
bullets and tear gas were shot at thousands of activists who linked
themselves together in the corners and to electricity poles. They were well
coordinated with walkie-talkies and whistles and carried out all kinds of
creative activities: dancing in the streets, dressed up with death masks,
dressed as clowns or gigantic puppets and rock groups offered concerts.
Many activists arrived with training in "non-violent civil disobedience"
actions and when the riot police came using gas masks, they put on
handkerchiefs and sat down in the street which obligated the police to
carry each one of the protester off.

The national dock workers union closed operations in all ports, from San
Diego to Vancouver in Canada, in support of the protest. The unconformity
arose in the innermost recess of the most powerful country. Some of the
protesters carried signs that said "radical lesbians," other older women
carried their own sign: "rabid grandmothers." Meanwhile, Greenpeace
appeared with a giant condom that said "practice safe trade" and a group of
pilots joined the protest. It was a carnival against capital. They danced
in the streets, inaugurating what they called "the protest of the century."

The Dangers

The agricultural theme is one of the most preoccupying parts of the
Millenium Rounds agenda. Here there are two large gangs: the United States
and the European Union, who together control 50% of the agricultural
markets. There is a tendency towards monopoly in some transnational
corporations who, between ten corporations in the world agrochemical
production sector, control almost 90% of the market (see bulletins # 165
and 175). In fact, while the Millenium Round was happening and just while
the discussion about the alteration of seeds called transgenetics is
brought to the limelight, two of the ten corporations, Novartis of
Switzerland and AstraZeneca with British and Swedish capital, announced
that they merged to form the largest agroindustrial corporation in the
world. This new corporation has a value of US$15 billion (December 2) and
will now be called Syngenta, having its base in Switzerland with annual
sales of US$7.9 billion. With this agreement 3,000 jobs will be lost (12.5%
of the total of both corporations) while increasing profits by reducing
costs by US$525 million per year. These corporations will not listen to the
repudiation of the poor nor actions like those in India, which brought the
people to the point of burning Monsantos fields of experimental
transgenetic cotton.

The United States-and the government of Mexico as one of its allies-wants
to liberalize agriculture, eliminate subsidies and tariffs on agricultural
products in other countries while they maintain them in their own country.
The European Union, Japan, South Korea, Norway and Switzerland speak of the
"multifunctionality" of agriculture. For them, the rural sector plays an
important role in the society, culture and environment. Therefore it cannot
be considered just another merchandise. The rural sector guarantees food
security, provides employment in agriculture, and depends on nature and
therefore policies to protect the environment are fundamental. For that
reason, to Europeans the agricultural sector should not be discussed in
trade negotiations and should have special protections, supports and
subsidies to maintain the development of this sector and its population.

In the case of Mexico, the government had already eliminated subsidies for
the countryside-of corn, of tortillas, and credits. The privatization of
Conasupo warehouses that stored, distributed and regulated the prices of
basic grains led to their closing. The future end of the Diconsa rural
stores will be the tombstone for campesinos and indigenous people. All of
this is occurring at a time when import quotas for grains from the United
States have already passed the limits stipulated in the North American Free
Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The problem of the liberalizaiton of agricultural and agroindustrial trade
goes hand in hand with another important issue: intellectual property
rights, which can include the intellectual property rights to virtually any
form of life. Intellectual property rights involves the patenting of
specific plants, genes or any other form of plant, animal or human life.
The governments of the poor and underdeveloped countries must guarantee the
protection of property rights; if not, multinationals are free to commit
biopiracy of the biodiversity of regions where species originate, as is
happening in Chiapas with the Pulsar Group and Monsanto. Thus, the issues
which surfaced in the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) have not
disappeared, they have merely camouflaged themselves in many forms and have
moved to the WTO.

The Proposals

There are numerous proposals that have been formulated worldwide for the
rural sector, in this concrete case. Among many others, there is one that
prohibits the privatization of any form of life. It is known as the
Convention on Biological Biodiversity. This convention regulates the
import, export and research of the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO),
Genetically Transformed Organisms (GTO) or Transgenetic Organisms,
whichever they are named. It further states that subsidies for the
countryside should not be eliminated and just prices for campesinos and
producers should be established and controlled. It also states that any
tendency towards the formation of a monopoly which would control food
production and seed production should be avoided, imports should be
controlled to protect small farmers, that the discussions of the WTO be
open and public with the voice of civil society being taken into account,
that workers rights be protected, etc.

It would be wrong to say that in Seattle there was only confrontation.
There were also proposals brought forth. The networks, organizations,
unions and other excluded sectors have environmental proposals, policies
favoring education, work, rural agriculture, human rights, external debt,
etc. that have not been heard although their actions have be able to stop
some advances of reckless globalization and have be able to penetrate
public policy. The networks in Seattle bring with them many proposals from
different sectors.

 A Successful Global Mobilization

The global mobilization of society in December of 1998 in France was able
to stop the advance of the secretive Multilateral Agreement on Investment
(MAI). The MAI was originally pushed forward by the Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an organization that is made
up of the 29 richest countries in the world. But now attempts are being
made to move the MAI to the WTO (for background on the meaning of the
impact of the MAI, see Bulletin #109). The global mobilization caused the
government of France to withdraw and the negotiations of the MAI were

Diverse meetings and events in the WTO were canceled in Seattle due to the
"rebellion of the globalized," as some called it. They achieved numerous
things: they detained the advancement of negotiations of a few who wanted
to define the direction and acceleration of world poverty; they raised the
consciousness of many who were previously ignorant to the issues in the
United States; and they were able to disseminate what the WTO and
globalization are. The struggles of civil society were received better
coverage in the press than the internal struggles of the WTO in which there
was debate between postures and secret negotiations between a few powerful
nations. They were able to unite the hopes and struggles of some of the
excluded sectors of Mexico with the struggle in Seattle. They were able to
put themselves on the agenda. But, above all, they created a turning point
for the struggle of civil society--they globalized it.

There are at least 15 continental and/or world networks which incorporate
hundreds of organizations that struggle against the effects of
globalization, against free trade, against the borders and the concept of
investment. They are: World Alternatives Forum, The Civil Society of the
Great Caribbean Forum, 50 Years Is Enough, Jubilee 2000, ATTAC, Ecounter
for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism, Global Forum on Food Security, The
Sao Paulo Forum, The Workers Movement of the Free Trade Zone of the
Americas, Peoples General Assembly, The Campesino Way, The Latin American
Rural Organizations Coordinator, Bank Network, SAPRIN, Anit-WTO,
South-South Meeting, Global Action of the People, among others. All of them
are looking to coordinate global efforts to unite the world resistance.

Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero and the Mexican society in general can no longer
be distant from the information about this globalizing process that affects
all Mexicans, especially the rural sector and the indigenous. Additionally,
we can no longer be mere observers of the actions of resistance where
alliances inevitably have to transcend borders. And the most radical
proposal perhaps is not one of content, but rather of form, in which
society demands to participate and to have its voice and needs heard during
the planning of the global economy.

For this reason the EZLN had the strongest antidote in 1994, the simplest
proposal, but more radical and difficult to accept for the system:
inclusion. The democratic participation of civil society in the
construction of a more humane and just world, with a more equitative
distribution of wealth is the strongest antidote against the accelerated
tendency towards monopolization and concentration of the economy, of its
system and its benefits in a few hands.

This rebellion of the globalized represents a qualitatively distinct
identity from a society that resists dying of hunger. Hopefully we
understand, sooner or later, that the WTO, that globalization, that the
neoliberal project, that the elections of 2000, that free trade, that
privatizations, that the free trade agreement with the European Union, that
social spending, that Chiapas, Guerrero and Oxacac, that the guerrilla
groups, that the National Human Rights Commission, that the strike in the
UNAM, that the external debt, that the International Monetary Fund (IMF),
that the World Bank (WB), that genetically altered products, that Monsanto,
that militarization, that the refusal to implement the San Andes Accords,
that what we are living, are not isolated things. When we put the puzzle
together in our organizations, in our families, communities and towns, we
will have more clarity, more proposals and more global struggles against
poverty and exclusion. A globalized rebel said in Seattle, "we are
verifying that the mobilization of the people can change history." For
another, "this is the beginning of the end of the WTO."

The Outcome

In Seattle the WTO failed to move forward or make any major decisions. Cuba
called the WTO the globalization of cooperation and solidarity. The Vatican
spoke out in favor of the protection of the Third World. The United Nations
Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights asked the WTO to take
human rights more into account in their decisions and not to sacrifice them
for "macroeconomic interests."

The President of the United States, William Clinton, had to sell promises
for votes and, concerned about future elections and not losing the vote of
the working class, agreed to put trade sanctions on countries that violate
international labor regulations that other countries are opposed to
discuss. Moreover, he said that United States citizens should not buy
products from companies that exploit their workers. Delegations from other
countries got angry because this theme was not on the agenda, but Clinton
did not have any option but to speak out on these issues, these being the
fruit of the struggle. Clinton also ratified, in these days of rebellion, a
new convention of the International Labor Organization (ILO) that seeks to
end exploitation of children. The Mexican Trade Secretary, Herminio Blanco
Mendoza, representative of the current government, affirmed in Seattle that
the agenda would not be contaminated with labor and environmental themes.
"We cannot allow these interests (of the protestors) to contaminate the WTO
agenda." He added that labor rights and environmental protection do not
have anything to do with the opening of borders to trade or the elimination
and/or reduction of tariffs.

We complain about the negative effects that the North American Free Trade
Agreement with the United States and Canada (NAFTA), but we fail to act as
the new wealthy cloned by the last government of Carlos Salinas takes
advantage of the opportunity to do the same to our Central American
brothers with the recent free trade agreement with Guatemala, Honduras and
El Salvador a few days after the end of the negotiations of the free trade
agreement with the European Union and at the same time the finishing
touches were being but on an agreement with Uruguay. Are the Central
American governments negotiating with justice and protecting its people?
Again the transition to democracy that demands the participation of the
excluded struggles a long battle in time against globalization. Therefore
there are two scenarios and poles of struggle: the resistance of Mexican
civil society and Congress from where the space for political participation
attempts to be reduced; and the resistance of the globalized civil society
and the international structures where they attempt to decide the course of
the nations.


Centro de Investigaciones Económicas y Políticas de Acción Comunitaria, A.C.

Eje Vial Uno No. 11
Colonia Jardines de Vista Hermosa
29297 San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, México
Teléfono y Fax: (01)9-67 85832
ciepac at

Miembro de la Red Mexicana de Acción Frente al Libre Comercio (RMALC)y de
Convergencia de Organismos Civiles por la Democracia.


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