Issue 237 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published January 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review
'The WTO is about violence--violence towards poor people, violence towards the environment, violence towards human rights. I am a gardener from British Columbia who has taken time off to come down here. How can we continue to accept a system where priorities are so wrong? Our protests have opened up new possibilities.'
'Boeing workers have stewarded the march today and we are proud to do so. These people who head the corporations say they care about all of us, but in the last few years it has been more work and more pressure all the time. There are a thousand reasons why people are on this march. It has pulled together all our concerns.'
'I saw the WTO protest as a chance to show the world that we are not all like Bill Clinton. I'm 17. I've seen so many wars by the US already in my life and I don't want to see any more. I hitched here from about 500 miles away because I want to show that I am on the side of the Third World people, on the side of those fighting environmental destruction.'
'I'm here as a worker and because I care deeply about the environment. I work for General Electric. The chief executive got $30 million last year--yet the company is laying off people. They say he would like the factories to 'be on barges' so they could float them off to whatever part of the world is the cheapest. These people are deeply evil, violent and out of control. Every trade unionist needs to have an environmental focus. Every environmentalist has to understand how the economy is at the centre of what happens.'
'I used to think these kids talking about the environment were just wingnuts. Now I think they're part of the big 'us' that is going to have to change the world. We need a new coalition to take on the corporations and win. Every time I turn on the television and hear more about the way the world is going, the spookier it seems. There are all these unaccountable governments and firms and international bodies that are trying to override all human concerns. It's time to fight.'
'The WTO harms workers and it harms the environment. That is why organised labour has turned out today to take on organised global capital. I'm a teamster shop steward in local 174, working at UPS. I have seen that things can change. Our strike in 1997 was the beginning of a change in America. It shook people.'
Free trade and global capitalism are accepted almost unanimously among important people in Britain. Multinational companies demand free trade because it gives them freedom. The City needs it to prosper as a financial centre. Speculators depend on it. Most newspaper proprietors and editors are committed to it. The BBC is so devout about free trade that it broadcasts share values and currency values every hour, entirely replacing the daily prayer service. Teachers explain free trade in business study courses and some trade union leaders believe that free trade is bound to come about.
The truth is that the benefits of capitalism and free trade are not really being seen in the world at all. We are told, for example, that the best way to narrow the gap between rich and poor is to have free trade and world capitalism. Ten years ago the world had 147 dollar billionaires, five years ago it had 274 dollar billionaires, and that number increased recently to 447, which is a rise of 25 percent. Those billionaires have a combined wealth equivalent to the annual income of half of the world's population.
We must consider also what the World Health Organisation says about the health of the world. One fifth of the world's children live in poverty, one third of the world's children are undernourished, and half of the world's population lack access to essential drugs. Each year 12 million children under five die, and 95 percent of them die from poverty-related illness, more than half a million mothers die in childbirth, and more than 1 million babies die of tetanus. What contribution have globalisation and free trade made to solving those problems?
The theory that wealth trickles down and that the richer Bill Gates gets, the richer people in Asia will get, is one of the most ludicrous illusions that could possibly be imagined.
Fifty one of the largest 100 economies in the world are now corporations: Mitsubishi's is bigger than that of Indonesia; General Motors's is bigger than that of Denmark; Ford's is bigger than that of South Africa; and Toyota's is bigger than that of Norway. The sales of the top 200 corporations are greater than one quarter of the world's economic activity. Multinational corporations want free trade because they are trying to get governments off their back so that they can exploit the profits that they can make with the minimum of interference. They think that global capitalism and free trade will end redistributive taxation and, although this has not been mentioned so far, gradually turn health and education into market-related activities.
Global capitalism empowers companies to move money freely, but it does not allow workers to move freely. If someone owns a factory in London but the wages are so high that he cannot make a profit, he can close it and open it in Malaysia, where wages are lower. If, however, someone from Malaysia tries to come to London where wages are higher, immigration laws would keep him out.