Global Justice Movement Is Not Dead

Global Justice Movement Forum By Thea Lee January 25, 2002 available via Windows Media Player format It’s a great pleasure to be here and to have an opportunity to talk with some of our colleagues about how our movement sees the present moment and the present challenges which we face. I know there’s been a lot of discussion about whether the Global Justice Movement (GJM) is now dead, or as some call it the Antiglobalization Movement. I’ve never bought into that terminology, because it makes it seem as if there are only two sides to this issue, that of for and against. A Greatly Exaggerated Death Ed Gresser from the Progressive Policy Institute recently wrote an article claiming that this movement is now dead. That it was a flash in the pan of the 1990s and that on September 11 the movement died, because there was a split between the labor movement and the students over the war issue and they’ll never get back together again. And therefore this is all over and done with and we don’t have to worry about it anymore; we can go ahead with our agenda. And certainly a lot of folks would look at the two major trade events of the Fall: there was a new round of trade negotiations launched by the WTO in Doha, Qatar, in November, and then in early December the trade promotion authority, also called fast track, passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a narrow margin of 215 to 214. Fast track, as many of you know, is a trade initiative where Congress grants trade negotiating authority to the president (the Executive Branch) and agrees that they won’t be able to amend any of the trade agreements that come back, that they’ll just give them an up or down vote and consider them on an accelerated timetable. And this is something that, of course, had failed in 1997 and in ’98 and had been a concern of the business community and other so-called free trade advocates. So if you take all those things together, does that amount to the death of the GJM? Well, I guess it won’t surprise you that this is certainly not my view or, I don’t think, the view of anybody here on this panel. The stories of our demise have been greatly exaggerated. So let’s take a look at each of these things and see what the meaning really was. Few NGO Pests in Doha I went to Doha. I was one of 30 American NGO representatives who were in the country at all, because you couldn’t get a tourist visa or any other kind of visa to go to Doha during the week of the WTO Ministerial. Access to the country was severely limited. Registered NGOs were allowed one person each into the country, and that was pretty limiting. And of those 30 American NGOs, about half of them were business people, so only about half were civil society organizations. And I guess I couldn’t get around comparing the 30 American NGOs in Doha to the 30,000 people who were out in the streets in Seattle the last time that the WTO had its ministerial. And actually I wasn’t the only one. All anybody could talk about the whole week in Doha was how great it was (and by anybody I mean the trade negotiators, the delegates, the press folks) that we weren’t in Seattle and that we didn’t have to deal with those horrible protestors, and wasn’t it great to be here in Doha. And there we were in Doha, with machine guns trained on us and a big American warship parked visibly out in the bay, just in case anything bad happened, and antiterrorism kits, and a pretty scary situation in terms of personal security. But at least we didn’t have any “goddamn protestors.” It took them six days to come together over something that was basically an outline of what they’re going to talk about for the next couple of years. And it wasn’t an easy six days. The trade ministers who came together from 142 different countries were really committed to getting some sort of an agreement. They came in very committed to it for a couple of reasons. One was because of the failure in Seattle. They thought, and I think they were probably right, that if they failed a second time there really would’ve been no rescuing the WTO as an institution. The two failures in a row would really have been pretty much the end, or the public declaration that this was a dysfunctional institution. And the other reason was of course, the post-9-11, antiterrorism, world-community-coming-together kind of sense, where in times like these the world’s nations need to show unity, and that was why it was all so important. So those kinds of overwhelming pressures were on the trade ministers to come up with something called a declaration, and in some ways the conditions were about as favorable as they could’ve been. They were at the end of the earth, very far from their pesky domestic constituencies. I think you all have been around these trade debates for a long time–the basic feeling that trade negotiators have is that trade is really too important to be left to people or democracies or citizens, and that the only way you can get a good trade agreement through is if you remove it from the democratic process somehow. So, Doha succeeded in doing that. We removed it about as far as we could go. Bob Zoelleck was far from the steel industry and he had me as the American labor person, and I wasn’t much of a pest. I tried, but I wasn’t as much of a pest as I would’ve liked to have been. It was the same with all the other trade ministers. They had taken themselves away from their domestic constituencies. And in that setting they were able to agree to a ministerial declaration that laid out what they’re going to talk about, what they’re going to examine, what they’re going to negotiate, what they’re going to think about negotiating, and so on. But that’s all. And on some of the very, very tough issues–and I think the tough issues include agriculture, the trade laws, the antidumping rules, the market access in sensitive areas, and certainly environmental concerns–the fact that they’ve agreed to negotiate on some set schedule doesn’t mean that they’re going to be able to come to an agreement once they start those negotiations. So I think that it’s important, when people play the Doha outcome as though they were finally able to launch something resembling a new round, to realize it was a pretty minor victory and about what could’ve been expected, given the situation. Fast Track: A Dubious Victory The fast track vote was similarly a very weak victory. After wrangling all year with this issue, and actually since 1997 or even since 1995, they were finally able to eke out a 215 to 214 vote. Only by messing with the rules where the leadership of the House of Representatives kept the vote open for a significant time period after it was supposed to expire, they changed votes. People were in tears on the floor of the House, and I think you all know there were a lot of deals that were cut on the floor, some of which are not especially aesthetically pleasing. They were essentially protectionist deals, cut for various sectors, that in some ways undermined what was there. So they were able to get that vote, but you have a Republican president and a Republican-controlled House, and they were only able to get a 215 to 214 vote after a lot of broken arms and tears shed on the floor. Our interpretation, in terms of where the GJM is and in terms of substantive issues we’ve been raising in the past ten years or so, is that this vote was in many ways a victory for us. That our issues–the labor and environmental concerns, the development concerns, the transparencies concerns, the investment rules, the service sector rules–were really at the center of the debate of fast track, and that wasn’t the case back in 1991-92 when the NAFTA debate first began. And, certainly among Democratic members of the House, there wasn’t a single Democrat who would say he or she didn’t care about the labor and environment provisions that were in the fast track bill. There were some that said they thought the bill was good, and some who thought it wasn’t good enough and so on. But there wasn’t anybody, and there weren’t that many Republicans either, who would say they didn’t care, that those weren’t important issues. I think that it is a significant victory for the GJM that we have taken the issues we care about, that our members and constituents value and have been concerned about over the years, and we have succeeded in putting them at the very center of the domestic U.S. trade debate. We see a big shift within the Congress with how those votes have been addressed. And of course the fast track vote isn’t over yet, in the sense that the Senate still needs to vote on it, and the timing of the vote and the content of how the Senate will deal with it–whether there are amendments put on, whether those amendments complicate the conference vote, and when this bill will have to go back to the House for another vote. And you know when a vote has to go back to the House, and it only passed by 215-214 and some of the deals that were made back in December have already fallen apart, I don’t think the proponents of fast track should be too smug at this moment in time; there are a lot of possible complications there. And then the last piece is the street protests. Now, I think everybody knows that there was a big street demonstration that had been planned for Washington DC for the end of September, around the IMF and World Bank meetings. And that protest was canceled. The AFL-CIO along with a lot of other groups–Jobs With Justice, a lot of the religious groups, Jubilee 2000 and so on–had been very active in putting together common principles, common statements, demands, and so on–issues we wanted to raise with the World Bank and the IMF. And we canceled that out of respect for the nation being in mourning, and people like Gresser of the Progressive Policy Institute use that as an example of the death of the GJM. I think that is really outrageous. For a movement to shift tactics, in response to a change in the national mood or in response to events that happen, is a perfectly appropriate thing. And in fact any movement that didn’t do that, I think, would be signing its own death warrant in contrast. That temporary shift in tactics is an appropriate response to the kind of national tragedy that we all experienced. And what does it mean for the future of the street protests? Well, I don’t know; I don’t think anybody really knows what it means. Whether street protests will be forever changed by the sense of national security concerns and some of the confusion around who participates and who doesn’t participate. I think those are challenges the movement is fully prepared to accept and to acknowledge as we go ahead. In the Streets and in the Suites That gets to the next question of the World Economic Forum and the World Social Forum that are happening next week in New York City and Porto Alegre. And certainly the AFL-CIO/labor movement is participating in the fullest way in some of these events. We have a three-pronged strategy with respect to this. We have the streets, the suites, and the social forum. Many labor union leaders, including President Sweeney (AFL-CIO) and a lot of other national and international labor leaders have been invited to the World Economic Forum. And they will go. They will speak in some of the panels and so on. They will participate in the forum. But we also think it’s important that we have a presence on the outside, on the streets, since, of course, our members aren’t invited to the insides of those rooms and we also want to make sure that our voices are heard in the most effective way. So we’re also organizing a global workers forum on Thursday, January 31, and a rally that unites the clothing and textiles workers union has taken the lead at the GAP on Thursday afternoon at 4:30. So we’ll be in the streets and in the suites and we’ll also be sending a big delegation led by Linda Chavez-Thompson, our executive vice president to Brazil, and we have folks participating in a lot of the workshops and panels down there. There are also a lot of other events–teach-ins and seminars and so forth–that are being planned for the entire week, and I’m sure other folks will talk about that. Beginning of a Useful Dialogue So, as we look ahead, where do we see the GJM going? Well, I guess there are a couple of things that I think are really important. I think the domestic political debate has shifted to the point where we don’t agree on how labor and the environment or development issues should be addressed in trade agreements, but I think we agree that we have to address them. And I think that’s the beginning of a useful dialogue. It’s also true that the economy is weak. And workers in this country have been treated shamefully by Congress and by the administration, in terms of the economic stimulus or worker relief, or even any kinds of measures that would both get the economy going again and address the very real suffering and pain that our members and workers in the U.S. have been suffering with the one-two punch of the recession, which has been going on most of this year, and the lay-offs from September 11. This will be part of President Sweeney’s participation at the World Economic Forum–that workers are fighting back, that they’re angry. They’re angry about the global economy, they’re angry about the domestic economy, they’re angry about the ways in which workers’ concerns have been neglected in the political spectrum. And I think that will also make it harder for the administration to get new trade deals through that don’t address some of our concerns. We’re going to be putting focus in the next couple of months on a couple of things. There are new trade agreements being negotiated with Chile, Singapore, and of course the Free Trade Area of the Americas. We’re working very hard with Congress and with the administration to make sure the strongest possible workers’ rights and environmental protections are put into those trade agreements. We think that the administration needs to listen to those concerns. They had that narrow margin of victory on the fast track bill, and they’re going to have to bring these trade agreements back to Congress and pass the actual trade agreements. We think that if they don’t address the actual concerns we’ve raised, that will cause them trouble down the road. So that’s certainly the argument we’re going to be making. And, of course, they have the Senate fast track vote to worry about. And I think that if Bob Zoelleck, the U.S. Trade Representative, ignores workers’ concerns in the negotiations in the Chile and Singapore agreements, that makes it all the harder for him to get his bill through the fast track. Workers’ Rights Provisions We’re going to be trying to make sure that the workers’ rights provisions that we have in existing trade laws–whether it’s the generalized system of preferences (those are the extra benefits we give to developing countries), or the Andean pact, or Caribbean Basin pact–are going to be used aggressively, consistently, and effectively and, in fact, even strengthened, because, in fact, some of those bills are up for renewal. So we’d like to make those provisions more effective as we go forward. And I think the basic idea is simply this: that at any one forum–whether it’s the WTO or the FTAA or one particular trade agreement–we may or may not have a victory at one moment in time. But I think our goal is to use such a diversity of tactics to raise the issues around workers’ rights, and development, and the environment, and human rights, and democracy that multinational corporations and governments, including our own government, find that wherever they turn–whether it’s getting funding from an export credit agency, eligibility for IMF/World Bank loans, access to markets of rich countries–whatever they think of selling to consumers who are more and more aware of some of the concerns, that they find themselves facing these questions: How did you treat your workers? What did you do for the environment? What kinds of steps are you taking to be a responsible corporate citizen? And for the governments: Are you in fact putting out policies that are dealing with all of your citizens and not just the corporate elites? Those are the concerns we’ll be raising, and we think the movement is stronger than ever. (Thea Lee is a member of FPIF’s Advisory Committee. She can be reached at:tlee@aflcio.org to receive weekly commentary and expert analysis via our Progressive Response ezine. This page was last modified on Wednesday, June 4, 2003 5:56 PM Contact the IRC’s webmaster with inquiries regarding the functionality of this website. Copyright 2001 IRC and IPS. All rights reserved.