Multinational Monitor

DEC 1999
VOL 20 No. 12


The Ten Worst Corporations of 1999
by Russell Mokhiber

Democracy is in the Streets: Protesters and Police Clash, As WTO Negotiations Collapse
by Robert Weissman


Native Struggles for Land and Life
an interview with
Winona LaDuke


Behind the Lines

The Meaning of Seattle

The Front
A Policy of Conviction - Clinton’s Lack of Conviction

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News



The Meaning of Seattle

When the teargas cleared in Seattle, the World Trade Organization (WTO) was still standing, but the talks intended to launch a new negotiating round to expand the WTO's powers had collapsed.

As we describe in our Seattle report, "Democracy Is In the Streets," the vibrant street protests that disrupted the Seattle Ministerial meetings directly contributed to the failure of the industrialized countries' initiative to kick off a new negotiating round.

For the grassroots opponents of the WTO, around the world and especially in the United States, Seattle was an unmitigated victory. But as WTO opponents bask in the triumph, it is important also to assess what actually was, and was not, accomplished.

The most celebrated achievement of the week was the visible coalition between labor and environmentalists -- "teamsters and turtles," as one sign famously said -- as well as the other key constituencies participating in the many Seattle demonstrations.

The alliance was very real, and the feeling of solidarity palpable in the street demonstrations. Marching together -- and being teargassed together, for those who were -- tends to forge deeper bonds than those arising from position papers. The coalescing of interests in Seattle is likely to have long-term consequences for international citizen movements against globalization, and for U.S. politics.

At the same time, it is premature to see in the Seattle demonstrations a "red-green" alliance that will remake the U.S. political scene. First, unions and environmental groups joined forces in Seattle over a relatively focused trade agenda. A more politically transformative alliance will have to go beyond this single uniting issue.

One example of how such a deeper coalition might be developed is a unique arrangement between steelworkers and forest activists. Inspired by Charles Hurwitz's Maxxam Corporation, which owns both Kaiser Aluminum, where workers are locked out, and Pacific Lumber, which is famous for manic logging in the Pacific Northwest, the United Steelworkers of America and forest groups have entered into a standing, long-term coalition.

Beyond finding common enemies, a permanent alliance will require a broadening of focus and shifting of position by both groups. Environmentalists will have to focus more on issues of direct concern to workers, notably workplace safety. And labor unions will need to switch to more enlightened positions on matters such as global warming.

A more immediate challenge for the labor-environmentalist alliance is on the trade issue itself. While many individual unions have taken relatively strong postures in opposition to the corporate globalization agenda -- mostly the industrial unions, such as the steelworkers and auto workers, and especially the teamsters -- most of the labor movement has not. And the AFL-CIO itself has been shaky on the issue. Neither labor nor environmentalists will find themselves able to rally their troops around demands for a "seat at the table" in trade talks, nor is there any prospect of accomplishing anything of consequence through such an approach.

In WTO terms, Seattle was very important. The collapse of talks will indefinitely stall the aggressive effort to expand the WTO, meaning its trade-above-all rules will not be extended to cover still more aspects of the global economy.

On the other hand, the WTO itself has not collapsed. It will continue as the multinational corporations' enforcer. As the institution becomes more entrenched, it will probably rule on an accelerating number of cases. And its worst effects will soon be evident, as developing and least developing countries come under its rules (for many WTO agreements, developing countries were given a five-year phase-in period -- now ending -- and least developed countries a 10-year transition).

Moreover, despite the defeat in Seattle, the WTO is planning on expanding its power in important ways. At the Seattle meeting, the WTO announced a new policy of coordination with the World Bank and IMF, which suggests the possibility of the Bank and IMF using their leverage to force countries to adhere to the very specific dictates of the WTO. China is on the verge of joining the WTO -- a development which will be contested in the U.S. Congress, which must approve the move -- which would extend the reach of the WTO to more than a billion new people. And even without strong negotiating directions from a Seattle Ministerial Declaration, the WTO member countries will begin a "built-in" review and negotiations on agriculture and services.

Still, for now, the WTO and its proponents have lost their momentum. Under the "shark theory" of the WTO, this may itself be enough to lead to the downfall of the trade agency -- if it does not keep moving forward, it dies.

Unfortunately, while this theory might be true for globalization itself, we don't think it applies to the WTO. Even without an expanded and strengthened World Trade Organization, multinational corporations now benefit from a set of world trade rules that permit them to drive the reckless process of economic globalization forward.

Seattle was a great start, but stemming corporate globalization's momentum and turning it back will require much, much more.



Mailing List


Editor's Blog

Archived Issues

Donate Online


Send Letter to the Editor

Writers' Guidelines