Vol. IV, Bulletin No.20.                                                        November 10, 1999 

The WTO Must Stop Acting Like an Ostrich

Bury the World Trade Organization?  No, But--

Next door to a store selling Harley-Davidson clothes in downtown Seattle, another store serves as a make-shift office preparing for mass demonstrations late this month when top leaders of the World Trade Organization are in town. The office has two storefront windows, one saying "People for Fair Trade," the other "Network Opposed to the WTO."

The different signs reflect two powerful wings of a global protest movement. One wants to reform the WTO, the other to bury it.  But inside the office hangs a huge banner making the crucial point on which both wings agree:

Workers, the Earth, and Democracy

Will the world's trade ministers take heed when they gather in Seattle for their historic meeting?  Or will they keep their heads in the sand?

If, ostrich like, they ignore the cries for making labor and environmental reforms in the world trading regime, they will be aiding those forces aiming at the WTO's destruction.

Workers of the World, Globalize!

I originally gave the article a straight-forward title: "Worker Rights and the WTO." Later the editors and I changed it to "Globalization with a Human Face."  Then, at the last minute, the editors came up with something better: "Workers of the World, Globalize!"

Under that title, the article appears in the November issue of Foreign Service Journal, the monthly magazine of the U.S. State Department union, the American Foreign Service Association. In effect, the article makes a case for why the trade ministers meeting in Seattle starting on November 30 should put worker rights on the WTO's agenda. (See the full text of the article at wr-wto.htm.)

Among the items deleted for space reasons was a telling point made by Bill Jordan, general secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, about the WTO's zeal in protecting trademarks and other property rights while ignoring worker rights completely.

This contradiction means that the WTO "ensures that Mickey Mouse now has more rights than the workers who make [Disney] toys because it covers trademarks but not labor standards," as Jordan has put it.
Happily, space demands did not kill other material on the WTO and an important agreement it enforces, the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, which has its own official acronym, TRIPS. I argue that the WTO needs to adopt and enforce an Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of International Labor Rights--with TRAILS as its acronym. Since "social clause" has fallen out of general use as shorthand for a worker rights dimension in the WTO, nothing has replaced it. Could TRAILS fill the gap?

In a talk I gave October 30 at the University of Washington, I intended to test how TRAILS sounded to a live audience. Unfortunately, I never reached that part of my presentation. I got involved in the argument about whether the WTO should be abolished. It was a bit strange--me, outspokenly critical of the WTO in these pages and elsewhere, actually defending the WTO!  Or, more precisely, arguing against trying to kill it off.

"NO WTO!" is a catchy campaign slogan. But the idea of abolishing this international organization, with a history going back half a century, is a pipe dream. A serious mobilization even to cripple it would take an incredible amount of resources in time and energy. What if those resources were devoted to correcting the WTO's faults?  Realistically, the odds for the success of a constructive campaign are far more favorable than those for a campaign of destruction. 

Linking Up to What's Up in Seattle

Don't expect TV and the press to tell you as much about the WTO as they do about the stock market or the Ramsey murder case. The best way to track the issues confronting the WTO is to browse the World Wide Web. Here are some on-line sources to check:

Diary: Lots Of Work To Do At Home

Friends have asked me: "Are you going to Seattle?" No, I'm not. For one thing, I've just returned from a trip there, and that was wearing enough, thank you. More important, I'm stacked up with work right here at home.

Apart from preparations for the Seattle Ministerial, the struggle for worker rights is heating up in many other arenas in the United States and around the world. Much, much is happening. I feel delinquent in not reporting on some of these developments, good and bad. But to do so now will force a further delay in putting out this issue of Human Rights for Workers. Remember, this is just a one-man operation.

Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. IV-20, November 10, 1999
Robert A. Senser, editor
Copyright 1999
hrfw@senser.com. (Send e-mail)

Back to Home Page
A short cut to a list of previous Bulletins in 1999, 1998, 1997, and 1996