[Marxism] POLITICS-US: Activists, Big Business Converge on G20 Meet

Noah S. Zweig nsz at umail.ucsb.edu
Mon Sep 21 00:30:48 MDT 2009

A colleague asked me to forward this article. Thanks and regards,


Activists, Big Business Converge on G20 Meet

Jeb Sprague

PITTSBURGH, Sep 20 (IPS) - As media and government delegates prepare  
for the G20 Summit to be held Sep. 24-25 in Pittsburgh, local business  
and activist groups are promoting clashing visions of days to come.

Hit hard over the last quarter of the twentieth century with a  
collapsing steel industry, recession and falling population,  
Pittsburgh is still a decent place to live - often highly rated  
because of low housing costs.

On one side, Pittsburgh government and business leaders say they have  
reshaped the city to connect with globalisation as a hi-tech,  
financial and medical industry hub.

On the other side, labour, community, youth and environmental groups  
are fighting for green jobs and clean energy, while calling into  
question how government and corporate leaders have dealt with the  
global financial crisis and urban renewal.

The host of the summit is the Pittsburgh G20 Partnership, run out of  
the Allegheny County Conference on Community Development, which  
according to its executive vice president is "a sort of holding  
company" for the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and other  
regional business groups.

The group includes many of the largest business interests active in  
the area. Public affairs coordinator, Philip Cynar, explains, "Our  
group is made up of corporations involved in advanced manufacturing,  
financial services, healthcare, information technology, and energy".

Bill Flanagan, executive vice president of corporate relations for the  
group, says that Pittsburgh's business leaders have learned to operate  
in a globalised world, and the G20 summit provides a prime opportunity  
for further insertion into the global market.

"We've learned capital tends to flow freely" so "we are trying to put  
Pittsburgh on the map and attract global investors," he told IPS.

Large business interests have been at the centre of coordinating the  
summit. "We communicate on a daily basis with the White House, the  
State Department and the Secret Service, all in preparation for  
communication operations and planning receptions at the 14 hotels  
where journalists and delegates will be staying, the trappings for  
welcoming the world to the region," Flanagan added.

Not far from the Regional Enterprise Tower, where business groups  
promoting the summit operate, a peace and justice coalition based out  
of Pittsburgh's Thomas Merton Centre is organising for a people's  
march against the G20, sending a very different message.

The umbrella coalition, including organised labour, anti-war  
activists, and numerous environmentalist, socialist, and grassroots  
organisations, levels steep criticism at the G20 leaders and global  
capitalism, most pointedly the effects on low-income and working-class  
people by state policies meant to benefit transnational corporations.

Melissa Minnich, communications director of the Thomas Merton Centre,  
says, "The financial bailouts of the G20 governments are meant to  
benefit the largest corporations. The people that end up paying are  
the average citizens."

Dozens of other organisations are taking part, such as the G-6 Billion  
with an inter-faith march, a march for jobs in Pittsburgh's poor Hill  
district, and a people's summit to call for economic and environmental  

Carl Davidson, a labour writer and organiser with the local Beaver  
County Peace Links, observes that, "Pittsburgh in particular has  
suffered from policies advocated by the G20, hit hard by the job loss  
and deindustrialisation in globalisation. People see these world  
leaders and the global corporations they work with as responsible."

David Hoskins, an organiser with Bail Out the People, told IPS "We  
will have a march for jobs, calling for a federal job programme like  
the New Deal era, on Pittsburgh's Hill".

Pittsburgh business and government leaders, with a successful  
downtown, have recast the city as a modern centre for green-technology  

But problems remain. Pennsylvania is the only state in the U.S.  
without a budget. Unable to pay some of its pensioners, the city of  
Pittsburgh has sold off parking lots to raise money.

With ghost towns at the city's outskirts and many communities  
suffering from environmental degradation, local activists say  
development has been an undemocratic process geared toward the  
beautiful downtown.

Melissa Minnich says poor communities have lost out. She lives near  
"one green space that was slated to be worked on". However, she  
explains, "We were told by the contractors that city funds were  
rerouted to downtown so construction could not begin."

With rich coal deposits in the south of Pittsburgh, dirty mining  
techniques remain. Longwall mining, cutting deep horizontal shafts,  
has caused sinkholes, draining one lake on the outskirts of the city,  
as well as forming huge coal piles that sit idle leaking mercury into  
the Monogahela River.

There are dozens of large coal-fired electric power generators, and  
one nuclear power plant, all along the Ohio River stretching down to  
West Virginia, supplying electricity to much of the east coast.

David Meieran, an organiser with the Three Rivers Climate Convergence,  
a Pittsburgh-based environmental group, says "It is absurd that  
Pittsburgh's chamber of commerce and corporations like the PNC-bank  
are saying they are green companies now just because they are  
constructing these environmentally-friendly buildings."

He adds, "They still maintain sizable holdings in coal companies that  
do mountaintop removal and longwall mining, profiting off deaths and  
environmental devastation."

In 2008, according to the American Lung Association, Pittsburgh ranked  
above all other U.S. cities in short-term levels of particle  
pollution, "a deadly cocktail of ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals,  
metals and aerosols that can spike dangerously for hours to weeks on  

The defence industry has a presence in Pittsburgh. Carnegie Mellon  
University has a robotics institute working closely with the U.S.  
Department of Defence. Local universities are involved in healthcare  
research and development tied to the private sector.

To defend the summit, Pittsburgh's mayor and city council have amassed  
a force of four thousand police, including many auxiliaries from the  
rural countryside. Two thousand National Guard and an untold number of  
secret service agents with hi-tech surveillance will be present.

Diane Richard, public information officer for the Pittsburgh Bureau of  
Police, explains "There are facilities in place to afford us leeway in  
how many arrests we have to make". She acknowledged other agencies  
would have horseback units present.

Much of the discussion within Pittsburgh's advertiser-radio and  
newspapers has focused on financial costs of hosting the summit and  
the inconvenience to downtown dwellers.

One downtown resident told IPS that a big part of the population in  
the city "is as old and conservative as Miami, Florida, and they don't  
want to see any spray paint or flag burning". He expects that the  
Pittsburgh police will use harsh tactics against protesters.

It is believed tens of thousands of protesters from Pittsburgh and  
around the country will gather. A mass march will start on Sep. 25, at  
12:00 P.M., on the corner of 5th and Craft near Pittsburgh's college.

Reverend Thomas E. Smith, of the local Monumental Church, has offered  
his lawn and parking lots to protestors.

He explains, "We are hosting a tent city that is symbolic of the need  
for a fair and living wage, and for a national and international  
workers' movement similar to the poor peoples' campaign that Dr.  
Martin Luther King was in the process of organising prior to being  

The G20 protesters face hurdles in getting their message out to a  
wider audience. With official politics in the United States channeled  
through a corporate media and a powerful two-party monopoly, peace and  
justice organisers say, the biggest challenge is just for their  
message to be heard.


Noah S. Zweig
nsz at umail.ucsb.edu

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