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


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

by Robert Weissman

"It is best at this time to take a 'time out,'" U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky told the assembled group of country delegates to the World Trade Organization (WTO) late on the night of Friday, December 4. "Therefore we've agreed to suspend the work of the Ministerial," said Barshefsky, who served as chair of the meeting of trade ministers.

As Barshefsky closed the meeting in total disarray -- without even a final formal declaration issued from the world's trade ministers -- a roar went up from the back of the convention hall. Non-governmental organizations had been permitted into the closing session of WTO meeting, and they greeted the failure of the trade talks with celebratory cheers.

Many of the country delegate seats, however, were empty. Frustrated, tired and disgusted with the negotiation process, many delegates skipped the final session altogether -- a visible manifestation of the breakdown in fraternal relations at the WTO.

It was a surprise ending to a week of stunning developments, in which the opponents of WTO-facilitated corporate globalization exerted more influence over the negotiating process than any could have expected.

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

The tone for the week of WTO meetings was set on Monday, when approximately 10,000 demonstrators organized by the Jubilee 2000 Northwest Coalition linked arms to surround an opening reception for WTO participants. Apparently fearful of the demonstrators, most delegates, journalists and others invited to the reception, sponsored by the corporate-funded Seattle Host Organization, stayed away. No more than 1,500 came to sample the fine foods -- a far cry from the minimum of 5,000 that organizers had said they expected.

Early Tuesday morning, thousands of people, mostly students and young people, gathered in two locations to begin marching toward the convention center where the WTO talks were scheduled. With most organized into affinity groups coordinated through the Direct Action Network, they moved toward the convention center, located in the city center, unimpeded by Seattle police. As they neared the convention center, they split up into multiple groups.

Eventually, the protesters moved to occupy every intersection providing access to the convention center. In a highly disciplined action, core groups sat down and blocked the intersections. In some access ways, groups "locked down," joining arms inside pipes so the police could not drag them away.

At some intersections, there were hundreds of people, at others a thousand or more. The protesters chanted, "Just Say No to the WTO" and danced. They linked arms to prevent any delegates to the WTO, or anyone else, from getting by and entering the convention center where opening sessions were planned.

While the direct action participants expected to be arrested, the riot-gear equipped Seattle police initially took no action against them, other than forming lines to block them from advancing all the way to the convention center. As the morning wore on, the crowd participating in the direct action grew, reaching approximately 10,000.

The eventual police response was erratic. In many intersections, the police never moved against the demonstrators. In others, they responded not with arrests, but with extraordinary amounts of tear gas, almost always fired without prior warning. In some areas, the tear gas cleared the demonstrators, but in others the crowds were simply too dense and those with gas masks remained unmoved. In some cases, police fired rubber bullets into the crowd and used their batons to rough up protesters.

While the police eventually cleared some access ways to the convention center and the adjacent Paramount Theater where formal opening ceremonies had been scheduled, it was impossible for the vast majority of delegates to reach the convention center or the theater. Delegates that tried to walk through the protesters' lines were turned away. Many, including high-ranking members of the U.S. delegation, were locked down in their hotels, denied the right to exit by police. WTO proceedings were cancelled in the morning, and only a small portion of delegates were able to participate in the sessions held in the afternoon. By and large, Tuesday was a lost day for the negotiators.

Meanwhile, as 10,000 young people stood face-to-face with police in gear that resembled the Storm Troopers armor in Star Wars, tens of thousands of people participated in a labor-led rally and march against the WTO. Representatives from labor unions in more than 100 countries joined with the leadership of the AFL-CIO in denouncing the WTO's failure to respect basic labor rights.

Members of the steelworkers and teamsters unions turned out in force, joined by substantial contingents of longshoremen, iron workers and other unions. Many outside of the labor movement joined the demonstration, including thousands of environmentalists, farmers, consumer activists, religious people and women's activists.

The labor-led march turned around before reaching the convention center, remaining physically apart from the direct action. But many of the marchers broke off and joined the direct action, providing reinforcement in the early and mid-afternoon.

In the later afternoon and evening, the crowd of demonstrators thinned and the police ratcheted up their response. The police became increasingly aggressive, using more tear gas, rubber bullets and violence, though refusing to make arrests to clear the streets. A small number of protesters broke storefront windows, primarily but not exclusively of major chain stores. Those engaging in property destruction were easily identifiable -- many were dressed in all black as part of a Black Bloc that considers itself anarchist -- but the police chose not to arrest them or take action to prevent them from engaging in further property destruction. In contrast, many of those participating in the direct action did try to stop the property destruction, engaging in heated discussions and chanting "Nonviolence."

The police violence would escalate on Wednesday, including on Wednesday night, when the police -- now bolstered by National Guard troops and reinforcements from areas surrounding Seattle -- chased protesters out of the downtown area (declared a "protest-free" zone) and into the Capitol Hill residential neighborhood. The police fired huge amounts of teargas, made arbitrary arrests and brutalized protesters and some not even participating in the protest. Many of those arrested alleged that they were beaten and mistreated in jail. Until ordered by a court to allow those arrested to see legal counsel, police at the jail seemed to maintain an overt policy of denying prisoners access to legal representation.

The Wednesday police violence largely took place away from the convention center and the awareness of WTO delegates. But the police actions, plus alleged mistreatment in jail of those arrested in connection with the protests, were severe enough to prompt calls for investigations not just by Seattle's mayor but by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. "The use of chemical sprays, restraint chairs and beatings appear to violate international human rights standards," Amnesty International said.

Notwithstanding city efforts to clamp down on all public dissent in the downtown area, protests continued throughout the week, with thousands demonstrating at separate environmental, farmer, steel worker and women's marches and rallies. All of the demonstrations were high-energy and featured focused attacks on the WTO and the corporations that have drafted and lobbied for its rules. Protesters enthusiastically chanted "This is what democracy looks like" -- a pointed contrast to the proceedings inside the WTO -- as they marched in the streets.

On Friday, perhaps 10,000 joined in a spirited labor-led march -- organized on about 24 hours notice -- to again protest the WTO and the city's infringements on civil liberties through the creation of a "no protest" zone.

The Collapse

Inside the convention center, negotiations began on Wednesday after riot-gear-equipped police and National Guard forces cordoned off the downtown from most protesters. The trade ministers were seeking to achieve a final Ministerial Declaration which would establish the framework for a new round of trade talks to expand the power and authority of the WTO.

WTO Director General Mike Moore and Barshefsky had announced that negotiations would be conducted in five working groups, discussing: agriculture, market access (the extent to which industrialized countries have opened their markets to developing countries), implementation (if and whether industrialized and developing countries have and should implement their obligations under existing WTO agreements), the Singapore work program (continuing issues discussed at the previous WTO ministerial meeting, including the possibility of new agreements on investments and competition), and transparency and openness.

However, for reasons that are in dispute, the separate working groups failed to produce compromise agreements. Each of the working groups was open to any country that wanted to participate in them.

"There was a general view that we need processes with a greater degree of transparency and inclusion," Barshefsky said after the negotiations collapsed. "But this process became exceptionally difficult to manage."

When it became clear the working group format would fail to produce a compromise deal in the limited time available, the United States sought to forge a deal through the WTO's heavy-handed old-style tactics.

Charlene Barshefsky and the rest of the U.S. negotiating team picked a handful of countries to commence negotiations in a closed "Green Room." The idea was for the selected bunch to work out a comprehensive deal, and then present it to the entire WTO membership as a fait accompli for adoption.

Developing country delegates were outraged at the return to Green Room negotiations. On Thursday, more than 70 African, Caribbean and Latin American countries -- a majority of the WTO members -- issued statements warning that they would not be steamrolled into joining a "consensus" statement.

Early Friday morning, a draft compromise text was released. The compromise seemed to embody a slimmed down negotiating agenda, which did not include controversial EU proposals for negotiations on investment and competition agreements.

The EU seemed to give in on its demand for recognition of "multifunctionality" in agriculture -- the idea that agricultural regulations should be governed not just by narrow market considerations but keep in mind food's central role in national cultures and the importance of protecting farmers.

The United States agreed to permit a review of anti-dumping rules. Dumping is the practice of countries selling goods in foreign markets at below-cost; many developing countries argue the United States uses anti-dumping rules to exclude their goods illegitimately. U.S. unions in certain sectors, especially steel, believe the rules are crucial to stop unfair competition.

A proposal for a draft working group on biotechnology remained in brackets -- used for areas where agreement has not been reached -- as did much of the text. (Biotechnology had sparked a huge conflagration within the European delegation. The European Commission -- made up of the top officials who represent the entire European Union -- agreed early in the week to a WTO working group on biotechnology. This position provoked outrage among numerous European environmental ministers -- who are part of elected, national governments -- for whom the announcement came as a surprise.)

But the Friday morning draft turned out not to be the basis for a final compromise. By mid-afternoon, rumors started flying that the entire negotiation might break down. Published reports indicate that Charlene Barshefsky saw the writing on the wall at about this time, and made a decision to pull the plug.

In a news conference following the close of the meeting, Barshefsky asserted that most contentious issues never even reached final negotiation stage, implying that the negotiations had foundered solely on the basis of agriculture, and the European Union's refusal to compromise on its support for export subsidies. Export subsidies is an issue where the United States is allied with developing countries against Europe, so for Barshefsky this explanation was in part an attempt to spin the collapse as due to EU resistance to global demands.

In contrast, Pascal Lamy, the EU trade minister, attributed the collapse to "the complexity of the negotiation" and developing countries' dissatisfaction with the negotiating process. The EU, he said, "stood as a bridge between the United States and developing countries on most topics."

Barshefsky and Lamy were probably both right to some degree, though Barshefsky's claim that the agricultural dispute was solely to blame is almost certainly too narrow a reading of what occurred.

The agricultural disagreement was one of the key factors in the breakdown. Others included: the revolt of the Third World countries against the Green Room negotiation process; the Third World government resistance to the U.S. call for formation of a working group to study the relationship between trade and labor issues (intensified after Bill Clinton told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that he hoped the WTO would eventually enforce core labor standards with sanctions); and the potential domestic political costs of U.S. agreement to the Friday morning compromise proposal.

On each of these issues, the street protests helped heighten contradictions and conflicts.

The simple fact of preventing negotiations on Tuesday helped impede agreement in the agricultural sector, by limiting the time negotiators had to cut a deal.

The street demonstrations clearly stiffened the spines of the Third World negotiators. As the talks collapsed Friday night, a delegate from Zimbabwe explained how the street demonstrations emboldened the Third World negotiators to object to the exclusionary processes inside the WTO.

By the end of the negotiations, the Third World ministers' bitterness was palpable. George Yeo, head of the Singapore delegation and the chair of the controversial agricultural working group, said that a "quiet revolt" emerged against rich country backroom deal-making.

"We know we will not get anywhere with this [negotiating] arrangement where things are hidden," Mustapha Bello, head of the Nigerian delegation, told Multinational Monitor.

Bello echoed the sentiment of many other developing country delegates in self-consciously expressing almost complete ignorance over what "they" -- the rich countries -- were doing in the real negotiations.

But the street demonstrations also simultaneously antagonized many Third World negotiators, who objected to demands by some critics for inclusion of labor and environmental standards in the WTO.

Meanwhile, U.S. labor movement demands that the WTO respect efforts to enforce core labor standards -- backed by mobilized rank-and-file members -- pushed the Clinton administration into a corner. It became clear that an administration cave-in on its minimalist labor rights demands, or on the dumping issue, would have domestic political costs, especially for the presidential candidacy of Al Gore. And so the vocal protests drove the country negotiators apart, contributing to the collapse.

Democracy Over Globalization

For those who opposed the Seattle agenda of expanding the WTO's power, the events of November 29 to December 4 exceeded their most optimistic expectations.

While Barshefsky and Moore suggested that future WTO talks could build on the progress made in Seattle, once the member countries had caught their breath following the "time out," that scenario seems unlikely.

The venom from the EU's Pascal Lamy and the Third World delegates at the conclusion of the Seattle meeting suggests much more of a back-to-the-drawing-board future (although talks on agriculture and services will automatically begin in Geneva in January as part of the WTO's "built-in" agenda).

"I believe that the global economic order will define its history as the time before Seattle and the time after," said Han Shan of the Ruckus Society, one of the main organizers of the Seattle direct actions.

"History has been made in Seattle as the allegedly irresistible forces of corporate economic globalization were stopped in their tracks by the immovable object of grassroots democracy," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch as the talks disintegrated. "The momentum from tonight's victory will enable us to move from successfully resisting a new round of WTO expansion to starting a turnaround."

But as spectacular as was the Seattle victory, achieving the second half of one of the week's primary slogans -- "No New Round, Turnaround" -- will be even more daunting. Launching a new WTO negotiating round is nowhere near as important to corporate interests as maintaining existing WTO rules and the prevailing model of corporate globalization.


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