A Maturing [anti-war] Movement
by David Moberg
In These Times magazine,
March 3, 2003
PORTO ALEGRE, BRAZIL
If the mood of nearly 100,000 global justice
advocates who gathered for the third World Social Forum is a good
indicator, the prospects for their campaign against the way the
world's economy is now run are as sunny as this summery "happy
Even as the threat of war in Iraq preoccupied
delegates from 126 countries, and created a new focus on the United
States as the single dominating power in the world, this optimism
was a striking contrast to the doom and gloom reported from Davos,
Switzerland, where business and political elites met in the opposing
camp of the World Economic Forum.
In Porto Alegre, there was a prevailing
sense that the "Washington consensus" deregulated markets,
free capital flows, privatization of public services, privileges
for multinational corporations, and economic austerity-had little
popular legitimacy and declining official support. Even the international
financial institutions have been forced to give the appearance
of putting social issues, like reducing poverty and debt, at the
center of their agendas. "The Washington consensus and neoliberalism
have been defeated," proclaimed Jose Dirceu, chief of staff
for Brazil's new president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
But the global justice movement is still
divided on the policies for "another world" and the
strategies to get there. The divisions are between North and South-that
is, countries at different levels of income and economic development.
But they are also found among movements within countries at each
The most fundamental conflict is between
totally rejecting "globalization" or trying to make
global economic relations more just. Calls to abolish the IMF
still motivate street protests. But many are now more interested
in defining a new model of globalization. A recent survey of 15
countries conducted by Environics, a Canadian firm, found that
despite positive general sentiments about growing global linkages,
clear majorities in most countries say that globalization is driven
by the interests of big corporations, that globalization concentrates
wealth rather than extending opportunities to all, and that "global
society" should concentrate on social issues before economic
At one debate in Porto Alegre, Mark Weisbrot,
co-director of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy
Research, and Yashpal Tandon of Socrine, a Ugandan NGO, both argued
for withdrawing from the international economy to either nationally
or regionally based economic development strategies. On the other
side, Eveline Herfkens of the U.N. Campaign for the Millennium
Development Goals argued that protests and criticism are changing
international institutions. Still, she acknowledged global "deficits"
in the areas of adequate economic regulation, democracy and coherence
among international institutions. (The World Trade Organization
and World Health Organization pursue conflicting policies on AIDS
treatment, for example).
Brazil's Dirceu outlined a strategy that
was both national and global, reflecting his role as a chief strategist
in a new government which must balance the demands of its populist
base with the need to avoid provoking retaliation from international
financial markets and the U.S. government. "I can see no
way that we can ignore the fact that we must take on national
development" and use national industrial policy to create
jobs, he said. "But I do not think you can delink from the
world economic project. It is dangerous."
While social movements in Latin America
denounce the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, as Lula
himself once did, his government now expresses willingness to
negotiate an FTAA. But Lula's version would be much different
from the one the Bush administration is pushing, and would require
Latin America to agree first on its own priorities before negotiating
with the United States.
While groups from both North and South
worry about the disruptive forces of corporate globalization,
their perspectives often diverge. Looking at China, for example,
Martin Khor of the Malaysian-based Third World Network is concerned
that China's entry into the WTO will force 100 million Chinese
peasants from the land as cheap, subsidized grains flood the market.
On the other hand, Bill Brett of the International
Labor Organization worries that all the jobs will go to China
when global garment quotas expire under WTO rules next year. "The
danger is that everything moves to China," he says, "where
no trade union standards are honored and the right to strike is
trampled. How do you make it fair when American capitalism and
Chinese communism form an irresistible combination for commandeered
Trade issues often risk pitting potential
global justice allies against each other. Brazilian metal workers
were unhappy when Bush imposed, union-backed tariffs on steel
imports last year. But Brazilian and U.S. steel union leaders
met in Porto Alegre to talk about common campaigns on issues like
debt relief and fighting anti-union multinational corporations.
"We made the decision to look beyond these problems and try
to find things we could work on in common," said United Steelworkers
global representative Doug Niehouse.
Femando Lopes, soon to be president of
the 900,000-member Brazilian metalworkers union, explained that
after visiting the United States, "We know more about what
happened in the United States, more about the real problems in
the United States and the real position of steelworkers in America.
Also, we now have more power with our own boss," who had
tried to blame unrelated job cuts on the tariffs.
Many parts of the global justice movement
want to restrict global rule-making, especially NAFTA provisions
permitting corporations to sue governments to change domestic
laws, or WTO expansion of marketplace domination to public services.
The latter would turn water into a commodity and undermine everything
from prisons to education. The global labor movement continues
to campaign for labor rights and environmental protection in the
WTO. And groups including the French-originated international
organization ATTAC want to increase international regulation of
tax havens and financial speculation, including imposition of
a tiny "Tobin" tax on global currency trading.
Yet "The World Is Not For Sale"
coalition is not building its campaign to "shrink or sink"
the WTO at next September's Cancun, Mexico, ministerial meeting
by mounting massive protests that risk brutal repression. Instead,
the coalition plans to ratchet up political pressure domestically
on individual governments.
There is a growing recognition, partly
inspired by Lula's victory, that the movement must move beyond
protest to politics. Whatever the long-term goal, eventually the
question comes down to who's in power in national states. Global
markets and corporations may be overwhelming many governments,
but governments also have unnecessarily given away their powers.
"We can't change or abolish the WTO, IMF or World Bank except
through governments," argued Susan George, vice president
of ATTAC. "Protests at meetings don't stop institutions.
We need binding laws, and we can only get them through governments."
Lula provides a model for other countries.
Brought to the presidency by the Workers Party, itself formed
through decades of rigorously grassroots, politically inclusive
and democratic organizing, Lula now faces great expectations at
home. His allies expect him to reform labor laws to strengthen
an already vibrant union movement. Much as they support him, union
leaders and other social activists intend to keep mobilizing their
supporters and pressuring Lula to deliver on his promises to end
hunger and expand the domestic market by redistributing income.
At the same time, the new president is
burdened with a high-interest, rapidly growing, ultimately unsustainable
foreign debt that more than doubled under his predecessor. Lula
is trying to tackle global pressures on Brazil and assert more
control over the national economy with other measures, such as
reform of the tax system.
The New York Times recently reported that
the Workers Party lost the governor's race last fall in the state
of Rio Grande do Sul partly because it refused to give $37 million
in public subsidies to Ford to build a new plant in the state.
Ford instead built the plant with subsidies in lower-wage Bahia.
Now Lula intends to reform tax laws to eliminate such competition
between states for multinational investment. Like nearly every
new government initiative in Brazil, this will be developed through
wide-ranging discussions involving business, labor, NGOs and politicians,
with the new governor of Rio Grande do Sul, ironically enough,
as head of the commission.
No unified strategy emerged from Porto
Alegre. But along with a shared sense of hope, the faint outline
appeared of a maturing movement that strives to expand protest
to encompass politics more broadly, to define alternatives for
both nations and regions to assert more autonomy, and to create
new global institutions that would regulate the world economy
with greater justice. ~