Vol. VI, Bulletin No. 2.                                                                        February 5, 2001

Coming Attractions: Quebec City in April, Honolulu in May

More Seattle-Like Protests Brewing

Poor Seattle. The Asian Development Bank was planning to hold its annual meeting there, but shifted the venue to Honolulu, Hawaii, where there would be fewer trouble-makers. Or so the ADB is hoping.

Poor ADB.  Honolulu is no safe haven. It harbors many students and others who oppose the policies of both the ADB and its multilateral sisters, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. And the ADB's May 9-11 meeting, along with parallel NGO events May 5-11, will most likely attract more protesters from Asian countries than did the World Trade Organization's 1999 summit in Seattle.

Already a Hawaii group called ADB-Watch has issued a "Global Call To Action" against ADB/IMF/World Bank activities that "create poverty and undermine local control and cultural rights throughout Asia and the Pacific." Opposition to these institutions has grown because "corporate-driven globalization has run over so many people," Walden Bello, sociology professor at the University of the Philippines and co-director of the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South, told an audience of 300 people at the University of Hawaii last month. He said that the challenge for activists is to turn the ADB into "a more chastened institution that is willing to look at its really terrible record."

Mobilizing Against the FTAA--Free Trade Area of the Americas

Another opportunity to challenge the present direction of globalization will arise this spring in Quebec City, Canada.  Top governmental leaders of North, South, and Central America, as well as of the Caribbean (excluding Cuba), meet there April 20-22 for the Summit of the Americas.  They will review the initial draft of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement, now being negotiated by trade ministers for eventual adoption in 2004 or 2005. Labor, human rights, and other groups hope to derail it well before then by a massive outpouring of protesters in Quebec City.

FTAA would essentially be a continent-wide expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), now limited to Canada, Mexico, and the United States. The push to adopt FTAA, therefore, is not only reopening and renewing the battle over NAFTA but expanding the battleground to cover the whole Western Hemisphere. Anti-FTAA campaigns seem to be popping up all over the place. A few examples:

Blessed Are the Trouble-Makers

One day in February 1960 a group of four students from a black college in North Carolina sat down to eat at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.  They were refused service, as they expected. But they sat there until the store closed and returned the next day.  Similar "sit-in" demonstrations and other protests soon swept the South, and led to the lowering of racial barriers in 125 Southern communities, including Greensboro, within a single year.

Those four students were among the many heroes, black and white, Southerners and Northerners, who dared to challenge the public policy of compulsory racial segregation in the United States.  At great personal sacrifice, in defiance of police and other authorities, and against all odds, they awakened the nation to the ugliness of racial discrimination, and sparked a movement for freedom and justice that is still underway.

Today a new set of heroes is fighting for freedom and justice, not just in the United States, but across the world.  Some make headlines: Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, Han Dangfong in China, Dr. Nguyen Dan Que in Vietnam, and Kailash Satyarthi in India, for example. On every continent, other men and women, little known or unknown outside their own countries or outside their own factories, are carrying on similar struggles in their own ways, often at tremendous personal sacrifice.

Few of them are able to participate personally in the demonstrations like those held in Seattle, Davos, Prague, and Bangkok. But their cause is supported there by numerous other men and women, from both industrialized and developing countries, seeking to awaken the world to the ugliness of poverty and injustice and to prod the consciences of world leaders. Not that these world leaders are all evil. They are not.  Neither were all the Southern and Northern leaders who upheld or condoned racial segregation. They did desperately need to be jolted out of their traditional ways of thinking and acting. So do the leaders of the WTO, IMF, World Bank, and such organizations, as well as the bureaucracies under them.

Forty years ago, in an article published during the civil rights struggles, I wrote: "Thank God for the racial trouble that exists today....It is a sign that the moral climate is changing for the better."  At the time, 1961, that assessment exuded an optimism not widely shared. Amid all the trouble over globalization, is it too early to be optimistic in 2001?

But Hasn't Globalization Improved Things?

After watching a TV report on poverty among blacks in an American city, a relative of mine reacted with irritation. "What are they complaining about?" she asked. "Aren't the blacks doing better than if they had stayed in Africa?" Using historical or geographical comparisons to critique people's aspirations can be vicious or tricky, or both.

Take those studies, books, op-ed pieces, and speeches lecturing us with statistics on how much better things are these days than they used to be, not just for us in the United States but also for people almost everywhere. A few questions are in order:

1. Are these glowing analyses true?  No, says Economist Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He has examined the official data carefully, and concludes: "The policies of the IMF and the World Bank, and other globalizing, unaccountable institutions have clearly failed to promote economic growth." The evidence is in a report he co-authored, "The Emperor Has No Growth: Declining Economic Growth Rates in the Era of Globalization" (available at www.cepr.net).

Michel Chossudovosky, professor of economics at the University of Ottawa, and author of The Globalization of Poverty, agrees. In a recent paper, "Global Falsehoods: How the World Bank and the UNDP Distort the Figures on Global Poverty," Chossudovosky, highlighting points he makes in a Journal of International Affairs article, charges that Western governments and international institutions manipulate statistics to make their global economic polices look good.

But, anyway, between us, let's pretend that those glowing analyses are actually true. Serious questions remain nevertheless.  And a key one is this:

2. Even if true, so what?  Some modern parents or grandparents like to lecture their demanding offspring about the contrast between the soft life they have and how hard it used to be for the young of decades gone by. When a grandson of mine gets ice cream any time he wants it, I can't help remembering that for my sisters and me, as kids, ice cream was a special treat only on Sundays, if then. But I don't bring that up. If I did, my smart little grandson would be right to retort: "Hey, Grampa, that was then, this is now."

The same point applies to issues beyond the consumption of ice cream. It is quite a reach to hark back to olden days in order to bolster a weak argument. That was then; this is now--the now of the globalization era. We live in a different world. We have unprecedented possibilities for human progress. Hence:

3. What's the moral of these glowing analyses?  All too often their not-too-subtle message is: everything's just hunky-dory; don't you rock the boat.  Indeed, many of us are doing splendidly, some fantastically so. The privileged seldom see the need for social change, of course, and will even mobilize statistics to defend the status quo.

That fools some but not everybody.  Many people in both rich and poor countries know better.  Thanks to the explosion of information technology, many millions have had their eyes opened to the fact that they've been left behind and that this need not be so. Now they too want to share the fruits of globalization that they help produce. Happy generalizations and statistical abstractions won't silence them.

'Make Globalization Work for All': Annan

If globalization does not work for all, the backlash can "unravel the open world economy that has been so painstakingly constructed over the past half century."  That was the warning delivered by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in an address last month to the 2,000 participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Once again, Annan stressed the need for the business world to help make globalization work. Specifically, he urged corporate leaders to join the UN Global Compact on human rights, launched last July with about 50 top corporate leaders. Though he did not say so, the enlistment of top multinationals in the Compact initiative has been lagging, particularly among American corporations.  Now a corporate insider will try to change that.  Annan announced that Goran Lindahl, named 1999 CEO of the Year by Industry Week magazine, who recently stepped down as chief of executive of ABB, will lead corporate recruitment for the Compact.

Cynicism about the Compact abounds, and so does criticism of the World Economic Forum. Yet eight top labor leaders attended this year's sessions in Davos, more than ever before, and took a more active role than ever before in bringing the trade union message to the Forum  They included the presidents of the AFL-CIO, the Australian Trade Union Council, the Canadian Labor Congress, and the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions and the deputy chairperson of the German Trade Union Federation, as well as Philip Jennings, general secretary of the Union Network International (UNI).

'Against Globalization?  No! For a New Internationalism'--Sweeney

One of their major efforts was to attack the notion that labor is anti-globalization.  AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, for example, criticized the title, "Addressing the Backlash against Globalization," provided for his remarks. "What we are witnessing is not a backlash but pangs of birth," he said. "And it is not against globalization but for a new internationalism."  It is movement with a moral force "profoundly threatening to the so-called Washington consensus--and profoundly promising for poor and working people across the world."

The many initiatives by union leaders at Davos, ignored by the media, deserve attention. Fortunately you can read reports about many of them on the UNI Website.  There you can find evidence for the positive note struck by Sweeney: "A new morning is dawning, and we should rejoice in it."

Economist OKs Labor Rights Links in WTO

In his new Economic Strategy Institute study, "Labor Standards in the Global Trading System," Economist Peter Morici recommends that the United States press for the inclusion of core labor rights in all its bilateral, regional, and multilateral trade agreements. "Better [international] enforcement of these rights would likely promote trade that increases incomes and growth in industrialized and developing countries," he writes.

Morici examines the arguments for and against adding these standards to those already enforced by the World Trade Organization, and comes down on the pro side. He proposes the adoption of a Labor Rights and Trade Agreement (LRTA) covering the core labor rights of the International Labor Organization. One of his reasons:

"Negotiating an LRTA within the context of a broader round of multilateral trade negotiations would provide developing countries the opportunities to achieve concessions in other areas to compensate for the economic adjustments and technical and financial burdens an LRTA would impose on them."
The ESI study was supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation. The recent interest of foundations in international worker rights is itself a sign that a new day is dawning.

At a congressional forum where the study was introduced on February 1, Morici and panelists--Congressman Sander Levin, the AFL-CIO's Thea Lee, and Columnist Bruce Stokes--agreed that adopting an LRTA is still "far off," but that it is important to start moving. Levin argued that the rapid expansion of globalization requires confronting worker rights issues, or else a new round of trade negotiations is doomed.

Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. VI-2, February 5, 2001
Robert A. Senser, editor
Copyright 2001
hrfw@senser.com. (Send e-mail)

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