THE ROAD FROM SEATTLE
by Jeremy Brecher, with Tim Costello and Brendan Smith
The "Battle of Seattle" marks a turning point in the politics
of globalization. It represents the emergence of a worldwide movement seeking to put
limits on global capital. The "Road FROM Seattle" provides greatly expanded
opportunities for that movement -- if it can avoid the potholes in the road.
The Significance of Seattle
Seattle showed that thousands of people are so angry about the direction of the global
economy that they are prepared to put their bodies on the line to change it. And it showed
that tens of thousands more are so concerned that they are prepared to break their daily
routine to protest it.
Seattle called the attention of millions of people to the simple fact that there is a
World Trade Organization and that it is something they need to be concerned about. Beyond
that, it established corporate globalization as a public issue.
Seattle redefined the issues of globalization for the public and the media, providing a
new paradigm for understanding what is really going on in the world today. It forced into
public awareness an understanding that protectionism vs. free trade is no longer the
issue. The demonstrators reframed the issue as rules protecting corporations vs. rules
protecting people and the environment.
Even though the Seattle protests had the WTO as their immediate target, they focussed on
the impact of globalization more broadly, avoiding the trap of defining the issue as
simply one of "trade" -- free or otherwise. The Jubilee Two Thousand movement
for the cancellation of Third World debt, for example, was represented in force, ensuring
a strong emphasis on the role of the World Bank, the IMF, First-World creditors, and the
structural adjustment programs that have devastated the Third World.
The movement was largely responsible for bringing the WTO to deadlock. As Washington trade
lawyer Peter S. Watson, former head of the International Trade Commission explained the
failure of the talks, "What you're seeing is the effect of the demonstrations, as
well as some real disagreements among the WTO members." [The New York Times 12/4/99]
On the one hand, Third World delegates were encouraged to question whether liberalization
was actually working for them, and to resist pressures to simply go along with the rich
countries' proposals. On the other hand, President Clinton responded to labor pressure by
endorsing sanctions against countries that violate labor rights.
In Seattle, the movement to control global capital established itself as a global
opposition, representing the interests of people and the environment worldwide. It
demonstrated that, even when governments around the world are dominated by corporate
interests, the world's people can act to pursue their common interests. (This is what some
people mean when they talk about the movement as an expression of "civil
The movement in Seattle was international and overwhelmingly internationalist. Echoes of
Pat Buchanan's neo-nationalism were few. Most meetings featured speakers from all over the
world. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the major labor-sponsored rally
included people from 144 countries.
"On stage at the rally were dozens of U.S. workers. . . who had lost work when their
plants moved to poor countries. Beside them were workers from Third World countries who
have won jobs in U.S.-owned factories but are making less than a dollar an hour and are
desperate to organize unions in their countries." [PI, December 1, 1999 p A14]
It is hard to think of anything like this kind of internationalism -- neither subservient
to any state nor polarized on Communist/anti-Communist lines -- since the death of Rosa
Luxemburg eighty years ago. It grows directly from the realities of the new global
economy, in which working people in all parts of the world are put into competition in
what many speakers referred to as a "race to the bottom." It's not just in China
that workers can't form a union or in Bangladesh that wages are being driven down by
international competition -- American workers at the demonstrations in Seattle knew the
same pressures are being applied to them.
While participants represented a wide range of views on the ideal balance of local,
national, and global power, a broad middle ground viewed some form of global regulation as
necessary, but saw a return of power to national and local levels as highly desirable. Few
would say that all forms of transnational governance should be abolished. Conversely, few
seemed to believe that globalization would be hunky-dory if a few global standards were
incorporated in the WTO.
On "the road to Seattle" there were significant tensions between organized labor
and the consumer, environmental, trade, and other groups with which it was allied. These
tensions were rooted in both policy differences and long-standing distrust. In the end,
however, this coalition succeeded in working together and avoiding a split. The huge rally
went forward without visible signs of disunity.
The tens of thousands of participants also expressed an unaccustomed unity. There was a
convergence of so many issues and of subcultures that it is hard even to list them all.
While conventional labor leaders and environmentalists spoke from the same podium,
blue-collar workers mingled in the crowd with young environmental activists decked out in
turtle costumes. Neither side seemed to feel contaminated by the presence of the other.
Seattle seems to have marked at least a temporary truce in the culture wars. In the dozens
of forums, teach-ins, and workshops that accompanied the battle, such interaction often
went beyond mingling to respectful mutual education.
There was also a surprising tolerance for different styles of activism. On Tuesday morning
thousands of direct actionists challenged police with extremely confrontational forms of
nonviolent action, in a surprisingly successful effort to prevent the WTO meetings from
going ahead. (Ironically, WTO Secretary-General Mike Moore confirmed critics' charges by
saying the disruptions didn't matter because the real work of the WTO was accomplished not
in the cancelled public sessions but in private meetings behind closed doors.) Meanwhile,
more than thirty thousand protestors, the largest group of them blue-collar trade
unionists, gathered for a peaceful rally and march. At the end of the march most of them
returned home, while a few thousand joined the direct actionists in the streets. Each
group seemed content to share the world -- or at least Seattle -- with the other. As a
result, the two forms of protest were largely synergistic. (Both groups took a strong
stand for nonviolence and the direct actionists on the street did far more than the police
to restrain the few dozen people who broke windows and trashed stores.)
The Future of Unity
The unity that was achieved in Seattle is vulnerable, both because of the diversity of
interests and cultures involved, and because an effort to buy some groups off and play one
against another is a no-brainer for the promoters of globalization.
The movement really is unified around the proposition that global corporations, markets,
and capital must be sufficiently controlled to protect the well-being of the world's
people and environment. But it is also composed of specific groups with specific
interests. Everyone who participates in this movement has a responsibility to represent
not just their own interests and concerns, but the general interests of people and the
environment worldwide. The "race to the bottom" makes these indivisible. We need
to see our particular interests and concerns as part of that broader objective. And we
need to grasp that our power to address our particular concerns depends primarily on the
growth and unity of the movement as a whole.
The movement's surprising level of unity has been achieved without centralized
organization, either nationally or globally. It is composed primarily of locally- and
nationally-based issue groups, transnational linking organizations, and a huge amount of
networking conducted via the Internet. It seems unlikely that such a diverse global
movement could ever develop a centralized organization and leadership. Unity will have to
be maintained and deepened by other means. The strongest force for unity is the pressure
of rank-and-file activists who understand and want it. The Internet allows them to network
across organization lines and pressure leaders and organizations to remain unified.
China Is Near
Many of these issues will be posed concretely in the forthcoming struggle around China's
admission to the WTO.
President Clinton has negotiated a deal for China's admission to the WTO. But for this to
happen, Congress will now have to agree to permanent most-favored-nation (MFN, or as it is
now euphemistically called, "normal trading relations") status for China. A
Congressional vote is currently projected for February. The period from the Seattle WTO
till then may well see the most important battle over globalization that has yet occurred
in the U.S.
The Clinton China deal provides huge and specific benefits for U.S. banks, insurance
companies, retailers, airlines, and entertainment companies. These corporations have
pledged to mount an all-out campaign to pass the legislation needed. They will be joined
by those who are ideologically committed to the idea of unregulated globalization.
There's a hitch, however. Over two-thirds of Americans oppose bringing China into the WTO
without further progress on human rights and religious freedom. (Four out of five want
labor rights and environmental protections incorporated in trade accords generally.)
Organized labor seems to have decided to take a stand on the China issue. Before Clinton's
China deal, John Sweeney persuaded the AFL-CIO to make an early endorsement of Al Gore,
and even signed a letter with top corporate leaders appearing to endorse Administration
bargaining objectives at the WTO. But when Clinton announced the China deal, Sweeney
called it "disgustingly hypocritical" and promised "a full and vigorous
campaign" to block permanent MFN status for China.
The Battle of Seattle has already provided a kickoff for that campaign. The public starts
out much more concerned -- and much better informed -- than in past trade battles. The
coalition is in place, experienced, and relatively united. But there are still dangers of
splits, co-optation, and branding of opponents as "special interests."
The battle can only be won if it is not defined as an issue of trade with China, or of
protectionism vs. free trade, but rather as an issue of what kind of global economy we
want. John Sweeney made a good start on this framing when he told the National Press Club,
"The debate isn't about free trade or protectionism, engagement or isolation. The
real debate is not over whether to be part of the global economy, but over what are the
rules for that economy and who makes them."
While the issue of human rights in China is important, bashing China for its poor human
rights record will not suffice. The last two fights in Congress over MFN status for China
were framed in this way and, as a result, did not get even a respectable vote count. For
the past decade, Congressional opposition to MFN has depended on a large scandal in
connection with China (e.g. the 1989 massacre, fundraising, weapons technology, and
spying.) In fact, the farther away from 1989, the fewer votes have opposed MFN. Further,
the case that bringing China into the WTO will weaken government repression is at least
plausible and is supported by important human rights groups both inside and outside China.
MFN for China needs to be made into a national referendum on what kind of global economy
we want to have. China must be made emblematic not just of human rights abuse, but of the
race to the bottom. After all, there are hundreds of millions of unemployed people in
China who have little choice but to work for pennies an hour. And far from raising the
living standards of the Chinese people, studies by the National Labor Committee and others
demonstrate that China's insertion in the global market is already lowering them.
Another vulnerability of this campaign is that it can be portrayed as representing the
special interests of privileged American workers, rather than the broad interest of the
world's people. This needs to be countered in several ways:
-- The struggle can only succeed if it is conducted by the broad
coalition of environmental, consumer, farm, labor, and human rights groups that opposed
NAFTA and blocked Fast Track. Sweeney's repeated emphasis on labor's dependence on its
allies is on the right track.
-- The campaign must outspokenly reject themes that are
anti-foreigner, anti-Chinese, or anti-Asian. We should learn from the NAFTA struggle the
power that came from working together with Mexican workers, and we should put Chinese
labor and human rights workers at the center of the campaign.
-- The campaign needs to be transnational. The strongest way to show
that we are not protecting narrow interests of American workers is to define the campaign
as one battle in a worldwide effort to shape a different kind of global economy.
-- A major vulnerability at present is that the campaign can be
portrayed as anti-Third World. Its participants need to take on as part of their core
message a commitment to reshaping the global economy to benefit the Third World. This
obviously includes such matters as debt cancellation, an end to structural adjustment
programs, trade advantages for poorer countries that meet labor and environmental
standards, and some kind of revival of the North/South Dialogue on the shape of the global
economy -- in a UN, not a WTO, framework. As Sweeney has pointed out, those who will be
hurt most by Chinese competition are those Third World countries that don't want to be
forced to exploit their workers and environment as badly as China has done.
-- If the issue is "what are the rules for the global economy
and who makes them," we need to project our vision of the answer. This is the best
way to show that we do not represent narrow or backward interests, but rather a superior
vision of what's needed for the future.
This struggle can only be won at the grassroots. Conventional lobbying
won't do it -- only grassroots mobilization has a chance to succeed. The original struggle
against NAFTA provides a starting point.
As in the NAFTA struggle, the main leadership will have to come from civil society
organizations; while politicians can play an important role, they should not be in the
driver's seat. The movement will have to further expand its capacity to function as an
opposition force that determines what happens in the political arena by shaping its social
How this struggle is fought may be as important as its outcome. The goal should be to come
out of it with a still more powerful worldwide movement that will not simply block MFN for
China, but which will be able to impose new rules on the global economy.
Victim of Sex Slavery dies in protest
Lola Lucia Alvarez, a victim of sex slavery by the Japanese Army in
WWII died at the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Pasay City at 4:20 PM yesterday. She was 74
years old. Her death came after five days of comatose, following a cerebral stroke she
suffered during a protest action at the Third Asean Informal Summit at the PICC
GABRIELA reports that it was around 8:00, Sunday morning when 60 lolas accompanied by
their families and supporters assembled towards the PICC where delegates of the Third
Asean Informal Summit were gathered, including Japan Prime Minister Keiko Obuchi. For the
lolas, it was a rare opportunity to air their grievances at the presence of the Japan
They were, however, not given the chance to get near the venue as a phalanx of policemen,
at the command of a certain PNP Officer Cabigon, blocked and pushed them away with
truncheons. They were later forced to retreat to the nearby Japanese Embassy to
symbolically hold the protest action. It was then that Lola Lucia Alvarez had her stroke.
The Tji Hak-soon Justice & Peace
Award for Ms. Rosaline Costa
Ms. Rosaline Costa, Hotline Extension Worker in Bangladesh, received a
human rights award from Korea. Her great work for justice in Bangladesh has achieved the
recognition from the world mostly because of her long committment. Ms. Costa has devoted
herself for the human rights of the most marginalized and poorest people, that is
children, women and tribal minorities. In particular, the selection committee recognized
her outstanding efforts and courage in difficult circumstances in leading the struggle to
get rid of child labour in the garment industry (mostly girls).
As a result of her various struggles, the garment company owners signed a contract with
ILO and UNICEF to stop child labour and put the children into special schools run by NGOs
for their primary education. This was the first time in the developing world that child
labour has been stopped in any industry.
As well, the selection committee appreciated her enormous efforts spent in many training
sessions for various groups, not only in the Catholic Church, but also for many NGOs on
the issues of justice, peace, human rights and conflict resolution, which have contributed
in the networking and organizations of various trade unions and human rights groups.
CCA/WCC Roundtable meeting on Indonesia
and East Timor
Twenty-four Church leaders and representatives of Churches from
Indonesia, East Timor and Partner Churches and Mission Agencies from Netherlands, Germany,
Switzerland, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong met from 12 to 14 November 1999 at a
Roundtable meeting in Hong Kong to discuss the current crisis in Indonesia. The three days
consultation included staff of CCA, WCC, and a Resource Person from Indonesia. The meeting
was convened by the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) and the World Council of Churches
(WCC) in cooperation with the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI).
The CCA and WCC have closely monitored the developments in Indonesia
since the May 1998 downfall of President Suharto's regime. Through the visits of
international ecumenical delegations and the staff as well as through consultation on a
virtual day to day basis, CCA and WCC have followed the situation in Indonesia with
growing concern. Both the ecumenical organisations have expressed concern on the
deteriorating situation, resulting in political instability, communal violence, human
rights violations of the Chinese ethnic minority and the atrocities committed by the
military against the people of East Timor and Irian Jaya. The post-referendum killings and
destruction of property in East Timor and the increasing incidences of Christian, Muslim
clashes that have resulted in wanton killings and burning of places of worship in Ambon
are matters of grave and urgent concern for the ecumenical fellowship.
The Roundtable made the following recommendations :
The Churches and ecumenical fellowship should assist the people and
churches of East Timor in their efforts for reconstruction and to promote peace and
reconciliation in society.
The humanitarian assistance to East Timor should be coordinated and
an appropriate mechanism be set up to channel aid and assistance to the churches in the
territory, particularly GKTT. Given the fact that at present there is no proper mechanism
to coordinate international support, it is recommend that WCC should convene an East Timor
Roundtable meeting of partners for purposes of ecumenical sharing of resources.
Since its inception GKTT being in the territorial jurisdiction of
Indonesia became a member of PGI. The vote for independence has radically changed that
situation. GKTT now has to reconsider its relationship with PGI and further re-establish
its identity in a predominantly Roman Catholic East Timor. It is recommended that GKTT be
enabled by the international ecumenical partners to achieve this goal.
The PGI should encourage and support GKTT to develop and grow as an
independent administrative entity in order to gain credibility in the new political ethos
of East Timor.
The members of the Roundtable appreciated the statement of Rev.
Francisco de Vasconcelos, General Secretary of GKTT to continue its good relations with
the Indonesian churches and seek their assistance in developing activities particularly in
the areas of theological education, capacity building, reconstruction as well as in the
process to promote peace and reconciliation. The Roundtable participants also welcomed the
announcement of the General Secretary, that GKTT will seek the membership of CCA.
The ecumenical partners should assist the Protestant Churches in
Moluccas in its efforts to settle the internally displaced people in the region.
The PGI, WCC, CCA as well as other partner churches and agencies
should initiate steps through visitations and consultations to find ways and means to
defuse conflict and tension between Christians and Muslims in the region and to help
promote peace and reconciliation between the two communities.
The ecumenical partners should encourage and support the efforts of
the Protestant Church in the Moluccas to enter into inter religious dialogue to promote
communal harmony and peace in the region.
WCC-CCA should coordinate efforts to provide aid and assistance for
the victims of communal violence and to help in the process of rebuilding homes for those
WCC-CCA should send as soon as possible an international ecumenical
delegation on a pastoral visit to Ambon. Members of the delegation should include experts
in inter-religious relations and be knowledgeable of Islam.
The international ecumenical community should help in the setting up
of model "peace villages" where Muslims and Christians could live in harmony.
The PGI, as soon as possible in cooperation with the Evangelical
Christian Church should convene a consultation that brings together leaders of church and
society as well as legal and political national experts to discuss the future political
status of Irian Jaya.
The PGI should initiate Roundtable discussions in Jakarta to focus on
the issue of Irian Jaya and in consultation with the Evangelical Christian Church,
formulate a policy statement that reflects the aspirations of the people of Irian Jaya.
The Roundtable noted with concern the report of the Evangelical
Christian Church in Irian Jaya about the growing influence of Islam in the region as a
result of the transmigration policies of the government, which is leading to tension and
conflict amongst the people. It is recommended that PGI take up this issue with the
The PGI and the Evangelical Christian Church undertake a joint study
of the new law relating to the autonomy of the regions and submit its comments to the
The international ecumenical community should channel aid and
assistance to Irian Jaya through the Evangelical Christian Church in order to ensure
coordination and proper utilisation of resources.
Given the tense situation in the territory, WCC, CCA and PGI should
continue to monitor the developments in the territory through regular visits and
Chinese Ethnic Minority
It is proposed PGI organise a consultation in Jakarta in cooperation
with the Chinese Church in Indonesia on "Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia and their
aspiration for nationhood"
The Roundtable discussed the deteriorating situation in Aceh and
proposed that the Church in North Sumatra closely monitor the situation of refugees. The
ecumenical movement should express its concern and solidarity with the muslims of Aceh and
make it known that the churches condemn the human rights violations being committed by the
military and are in solidarity with the victims.
Human Rights Violations
The Roundtable called on the PGI to address a letter of concern to the
newly created Ministry of Human Rights and to the Attorney General of Indonesia to demand
an enquiry into human rights violations being committed by the military in different parts
of Indonesia particularly in Aceh, Ambon, and Irian Jaya.
AUNG SAN SUU KYI'S Statement for WORLD
HUMAN RIGHTS DAY
A Karen doctor caring for refugees and migrant workers in Thailand, a
Burmese student activist held in solitary confinement for his beliefs and a Malaysian
human rights NGO earned praises from Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in
statements which was released on World Human Rights Day. The support was voiced by Ms Suu
Kyi in a smuggled video messages that was played at the presentation of the John Humphrey
Freedom Award in Montreal
This year's John Humphrey Freedom Award is being jointly awarded to Dr. Cynthia Maung, a
Karen doctor based in Thailand, and student activist Min Ko Naing who has been held in
solitary confinement in Burma for over a decade. The presentation ceremony has been
organised by the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (ICHRDD)
and the World Civil Society Conference (WOCSOC) at the Sheraton Centre in Montreal,
In another video message to the 10th anniversary dinner of Malaysian human rights NGO
Suaram in Kuala Lumpur, Ms Suu Kyi emphasised that human rights, including political,
civil, social and economic rights "are not a particularly western idea".
"Human rights are relevant to all human beings. Those who wish to deny us certain
political rights try to convince us that these are not Asian values. They try to make us
content with what they are prepared to give us.
"The whole concept of political and civil rights is based on the conviction that not
only do human beings have rights and responsibilities, but that they have the ability to
win these rights for themselves. And they have the qualities that make them deserve these
rights. For this reason, for us to be fully developed human beings who have realized our
potential, we need our political and civil rights.
"We have heard of brave organizations all over the world which fight for political
and civil rights in the face of tremendous difficulties. Quite often, these difficulties
come from the direction of the authorities. We know that Suaram, like the National League
for Democracy in Burma, has had to face many problems in their battle to promote political
and civil rights. Freedom of speech, freedom of association, the right to due process of
justice, all these cannot be taken for granted in our part of the world."
Ms Suu Kyi also focused on the need for closer cooperation to promote human rights:
"I hope the time will come when organizations working for human rights all over South
East Asia will be able to cooperate more closely. It is only by our united efforts that we
can change those attitudes which are detracting from the genuine development of our
CCA-URM Training Workshop on Freedom
from Debt Campaign
The CCA-URM organised a Training Workshop on Freedom from Debt Campaign
organised in Chiang Mai, Thailand, from 29 November to 8 December. A total of 21
participants from Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Burma, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan
participated in the workshop which was partly facilitated by the Freedom from Debt
Coalition from the Philippines. Other resource persons for the workshop include Dr.
Bantorn Ondam from ACFOD, Khun Chanida Chanyapej from Focus on Global South, Fr. J.B.
Banawiratma from Indonesia and Dr. Daniel S Thiagarajah, executive secretary for Missions
and Evangelism of CCA.
The workshop was organised to train as well as to network action groups in Asia for the
campaign on freedom from debt. Meeting at the same location was the joint meeting of the
Christian Conference of Asia and its counterparts in the Roman Catholic Church, the
Federation of Asia Bishops Conference. The participants sent a letter of appeal to that
meeting requesting for their support in their efforts to campaign against debt. (See
URGENT Appeal below for the appeal letter).