Issue 254 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published July 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review



Journalist and film maker John Pilger has produced a television programme about how the world's poor continue to suffer because of the WTO and the IMF. He spoke to Karen O'Toole
The market has meant appalling conditions for children in the Third World
The market has meant appalling conditions for children in the Third World

Who are the new rulers of the world?

A new economic junta of multinational corporations and the great imperial powers, especially the US. Although the project is old, stretching back 500 years, the form in the modern era has changed significantly. Multinational corporations haven't simply taken over--the US state has never been more powerful. But it's a combination, an integration, of state power along with these great totalitarian entities, the multinational corporations.

So it's a new power with an old agenda. Why is this happening now?

There's been a process since the Second World War, starting with the Bretton Woods agreement when the International Monetary Fund and World Bank were first established, which cast the die for western economic power. This opened the door for interventions into the developing world, and that has accelerated. In a perverse sense the Vietnam War had a great effect--the war was so inflationary for the US that it had to print money in order to keep it going. This meant that the great corporations outside this inflationary situation were able to build on their own. Now we have the most extraordinarily integrated globalised system since the end of the Cold War in 1989. With the establishment of the World Trade Organisation, we now face the greatest integrator, predator and implementer of US policy throughout the world. Now the WTO can really mop up what the World Bank and IMF haven't succeeded in doing. If it is allowed to go ahead, the General Agreement on Trade and Services (Gats), a WTO project, will intervene in education, health and other public services.

In your forthcoming television programme on globalisation you speak to some of the leaders of the World Bank and IMF. Did they say anything to you about the anti-capitalist protests?

What comes through very clearly from speaking to the World Bank and IMF, and to those representing other pillars of globalisafion is their fear of the protests. They have attempted to go through a public relations transformation in which even the IMF, which is no more than a loan shark, has reinvented itself as an institutional Mother Teresa wanting to reduce poverty. The World Bank has been playing this tune for many years while actually doing the opposite. It has stepped this up almost to the point of farce by saying that it is actually a poverty reduction agency. You even have probably the greatest predator institution, the WTO, describing itself as a charitable organisation. All this is in response to the worldwide resistance to globalisation.

The resistance represents probably the greatest single movement against the system since the Second World War. It has actually taken on capitalism, and although that happened in the 1960s to some degree, I don't think this has ever happened to such an integrated extent throughout the world. In a country with a so called free media we hear so little about it. That's not new, but it is extraordinary when you have movements in Latin America, Asia and Africa, and the developed world, that represent grassroots movements, which really represent massive opposition. That the news has been largely ignored or suppressed is a measure of their fear. You see the reaction of western governments to the protests as epitomised by the Blair government's attack on the anti-globalisation demonstrators on May Day. That backfired, but it's an indication of the great concern among the proponents of the neoliberal project.

Great events like these have never seen such a diverse range of people, and resistance to global capitalism has included the trade unions, NGOs, young people not affiliated to anything. It's produced a significant range at grassroots level and the main element in that has been the working class movement.

Clare Short says that if you argue for abolition of the World Bank and IMF it condemns trade to being a system simply for the rich. Can these institutions be reformed?

Clare Short's Department for International Development is an absurd title--it should be called the Department for Globalisation. It exists as a cover for reaping the benefits for Britain's huge network of multinational corporations and their investments around the world and to promote its trade. Britain has one of the smallest contributions of aid to the developing world (well below the UN recommended percentage).

The IMF and World Bank should be abolished. They are in many ways corrupt organisations which can't be reformed. Short's suggestion is that those who don't believe in the neoliberal order she believes in have no solutions. What we want is international institutions that represent people, not profit or governments that are coerced into being part of them. We want institutions that represent the sustainable development needs of people, which means the public services and education needs across the world. There are plenty of models for these, drawn up and debated over many years. What is so interesting about the resistance to neoliberalism is that it is a very educated one. The Clare Shorts haven't got a clue about this. She's moored in her own bogus socialism. In fact, she doesn't represent any socialism and she's missed the truth that for some years people have been educating themselves, and they understand the system. Unlike her, they are also true to their principles. The majority of people in the west get on with their difficult lives, with their day to day struggles. They're not the 'we' that Clare Short talks about. 1 percent control the resources of 60 percent of the world, and that distortion is worsening.

Is there a new arms race concurrent with globalisation?

Capitalism and war have a very warm relationship. The new capitalism has been generating an arms race since it got under way at the end of the Cold War. I've always felt that we're in the second Cold War--we have been since 1989. This is in many respects a more dangerous one because most of the time the last one was a rhetorical stand-off between the Soviet Union and the US, with the real battle being fought in the developing world.

This arms race is extremely dangerous because it is not just the present Bush government. The arms race was initiated by Bush's father, and was accelerated by Clinton. The so called National Missile Defence is really about the US militarily controlling space and creating a situation where those that try to keep up, like China and even Russia, end up breaking their economies. I think it's got a lot to do with the military control of space. If you look at some of the documents that haven't had a wide circulation they do talk about the world dividing into 'haves' and 'have nots', and how important it is to protect US interests.

I don't know what this all adds up to. It may all be a grotesque fantasy, but it may not be. Certainly what isn't a fantasy is the waste of huge resources that will go into the great US arms corporations in order to build this. It will distort things all over the world and produce mini arms races. China will undoubtedly step up its arms building. As a result of the Gulf War and Kosovo operations the Russian National Security Council has rethought its whole strategy--defending its western borders with limited nuclear weapons. It's an extremely dangerous period and of course there is the non-nuclear arms race which is going on, with Britain one of the leaders of the charge.

In the face of this growing instability what is the way forward?

The protests have achieved more than perhaps many people thought they might ten years ago. I think the surreal time in politics has ended and there is a very clear agenda by the forces of resistance. It never happens overnight, it will take some years, but the clear anxiety of western governments, corporations and the great capitalist institutions is the best indication you can have--that the resistance is gaining support everywhere. I think the way forward is direct action. If the neoliberal Blair government has things sewn up electorally for the next four to five years, there is no question that the real opposition to it should be direct action.
John Pilger's programme The New Rulers of the World will be shown on Wednesday 18 July on ITV

At whose service?

Solomon Hughes on New Labour and the Gats selloff
Opposition to privatisation is spreading
Opposition to privatisation is spreading

Labour's ministers have been united in their enthusiasm for trade liberalisation under the WTO umbrella. This February Tony Blair told the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce that 'government has to be the helper and partner of business internationally in the WTO, G8 and above all the EU'. Last year (14 December 2000) Clare Short told the House of Commons that 'the UK strongly supports the General Agreement on Trade in Services (Gats) negotiations and their objective of progressively opening up trade in a fair and predictable manner. We believe this process offers benefits to all World Trade Organisation members by promoting more efficient, competitive and varied markets domestically and for export.'

While Blair and Short's support for big business is genuine and heartfelt, there are also many backdoor links between the pro-Gats business lobby, which is open about its desire to use trade liberalisation to privatise state services, and the Labour Party. Euro-lobbyist Paul Adamson is a leading part of this lobby. He runs the Brussels-based lobbying firm Adamson BSMG, and is also a donor to the Labour Party who rubs shoulders with labour ministers and advisers. Adamson BSMG has lobbied for the chemical, car and biotech industries. His firm also has a Geneva office to help lobby the Swiss-based World Trade Organisation, and boasts of 'WTO expertise'. He has actively campaigned to make 'services', including the public sector, open to competition and privatisation under trade agreements like Gats.

Adamson is a member of the 'Global Services Network', as are two of his employees at BSMG. Stephen Kehoe and Bart Vermeulen. This network is a group whose 'mission' is 'to build global support for the liberalisation of international services trade, and to create a global services community of businesspeople, government officials and academics who are committed to increased trade in services'.

Tens of thousands of anticapitalist protesters take to the streets in Gothenburg
Tens of thousands of anticapitalist protesters take to the streets in Gothenburg

The network was founded by a conference in April 1998 at Ditchley Park in Oxford, called to 'discuss and prepare for the "Services 2000" negotiations in the WTO'. The event was supported by corporate interests including the Coalition of Service Industries, the Chubb Corporation, EDS, and the London Investment Bankers Association. The conference vowed to fight for the extension of Gats to embrace 'free trade' in areas normally run by the public sector, arguing that 'the Services 2000 negotiations must achieve much broader coverage of services sectors in national schedules of commitments... They should ensure the application of Gats principles to public procurement of services.' The attendees also founded the Global Services Network to carry on the privatisation battle. True to form, the network said in 1999 that Gats must 'exclude only the most sensitive issues from liberalisation, and ensure that exemptions are precise, transparent, temporary, and limited to the minimum required for their purpose,' and 'agree on transparent procedures in public procurement, with the long term objective of a single binding WTO multilateral set of rules on procurement'. Free trade in Public Procurement may mean that a country could not give preference to its own health service over private industry when 'buying' medical treatment for its citizens.

Cash for New Labour

Adamson and his staff are prominent in the Global Services Network, as are some important players in the privatisation game, including executives from the Chubb Corporation and Goldman Sachs. British members also include two civil servants, Malcolm McKinnon of the DTI and Angela Strachan, who works for the Commonwealth Secretariat. Strachan's official job is to 'assist small and least developed Commonwealth member countries address the challenges of globalisation, and to better integrate into the global economy'.

Adamson has worked hard with the Global Services Network. He was a member of the Business Advisory Committee of its 'World Services Congress 1999'. On the programme were courses in 'Privatisation Practices' and 'Pioneering Public-Private Partnerships'. The conference, which took place in Atlanta, Georgia, included a forum on 'Building a National Strategy for Health Services Exports: What Government Must Do'. This sounds like a manifesto for transnational firms forcing the privatisation of state health systems. The discussion centred on, 'How can government and industry work together to promote exports of healthcare services around the globe?'

As well as giving cash to the Labour Party, Adamson has put some effort into supporting former foreign secretary Robin Cook's 'think tank', the Foreign Policy Centre. Founded in 1998 with Tony Blair as its chief 'patron', Robin Cook as the centre's president and Labour's Lord Levy, it also includes Lord Paul and Baroness Helena Kennedy on its advisory council. Last November Adamson BSMG 'kindly supported' the centre's publication 'The Future Shape of Europe', edited by Labour's 'rebranding Britain' expert Mark Leonard. The pamphlet contained an article by Tony Blair. Ironically, given its support from a lobbyist representing big business in the EU, the pamphlet claimed to deal with Europe's 'democratic deficit'. The pamphlet was launched in December by Peter Mandelson at a reception that was also sponsored by Adamson BSMG. Last September Adamson BSMG sponsored a meeting on 'How to Win the Euro Referendum' at the Labour conference. European minister Keith Vaz addressed the meeting, which was chaired by Paul Adamson himself.

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