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The threat of democracy - Mary Zepernick

(Cape Cod Times, 24 September, 1999)

"The single greatest threat to the multinational trading system is the absence of public support for that system and for the policies which have created that system....And unless public support is generated, I think that WTO is going to face tough sledding in the years ahead."

How sweet these words from the lips of Charlene Barshevsky, the U.S. Trade Representative. Actually, Barshevsky represents only those who benefit from the corporatized global economy. (Interesting that a woman is the top shill for multinational corporations.)

Whether or not you're familiar with the WTO and Barshevsky, you're a member of that public whose support is sought in a struggle that will to a great extent determine all our futures -- here on Cape Cod, in the country, and around the world.

Folks obsessed with black helipcopters and the specter of one-world government might well switch their focus from the more visible and benign UN to the highly secretive World Trade Organization. The WTO was created in January 1995 by governments involved in the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. GATT, formed in 1947, was part of the Bretton Woods agreement that created the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

These institutions and treaties--ostensibly responding to the needs of less developed nations--in reality serve those already well served: the U.S. and its most industrialized allies, and the moneyed interests driving their policies.

So what does this alphabet soup have to do with life on Cape Cod? Just this: the WTO is a profoundly anti-democratic organization, with the authority to make rules implementing decisions signed under the GATT, including the power to overturn national and local laws deemed obstructive to global trade. Its dispute resolution proceedings are secret, binding on member states, and provide no outside appeal or review. The Wall Street Journal approvingly called it "another stake in the heart of the idea that governments can direct economies."

No matter your opinion of "guvmint," that's us folks, our best crack at being in charge of our collective life. In the words of the Declaration of Independence, if government isn't responsive to our needs and wishes, it's up to "the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new govenment...most likely to effect their safety and happiness." If it's broke fix it. If this applies to our domestic arrangements, how much more to supranational agreements and bodies.

Given the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut of global capital, what is Charlene Barshevsky worried about? Who is this pesky "public" seeking to slow or derail progress toward a bright capitalist millenium? You wouldn't know it from the corporate media in this country, but ordinary people around the world, from peasants in India to anti-genetic engineering activists in the British Isles are saying no to the corporatization of their lives.

Many of them are finding their way to the streets and meeting halls of Seattle this November for the WTO's third annual Ministerial Conference. Unlike the previous two such meetings, for which host governments footed the bill, this one is nakedly corporate-sponsored, Northwest megacorps Boeing and Microsoft co-hosting the organizing committee. For a mere half a mil a corporation can be in the "emerald circle," entitled to access that us regular folks can only imagine -- like political campaigns and subsequent policy-making.

Emblematic of the awakening public giant is the corporate hosts' counterpart, a coalition of environmental, human rights, peace and justice, and labor groups that recently put a spanner in the works of a King County Council resolution sponsored by corporate boosters. Framed simply as welcoming this event, the resolution was amended by the Republican-dominated council of a heavily trade-dependent county to declare that "trade laws should be used to empower workers (and) consumers, protect the environment, reinforce sovereignty and foster sustainable, broad-based economic development." Further, a global economy that fails to protect such rights "is a global economy that will not work."

Barshevky and company, beware.

Imagine that...the people having something to say about the arrangements and institutions that intimately affect our lives.

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