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The Global Justice Movement: Alive and Kicking
5 December 2001
Since September 11, the media have rushed to write obituaries for the
movement against corporate globalization.
* As the world's trade ministers huddled in Doha, Qatar last month in an effort to fashion agreement to launch a new round of World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations, activists around the world demonstrated against the trade organization. In place of a new round of negotiations, the protesters demanded the WTO's power be curtailed or the institution abolished altogether.
In the United States, demonstrators hit the streets in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Harrisburg, Madison, Wisconsin, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Sacramento.
Even more impressively, protests and meetings were held across the globe -- in Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada (in a dozen cities), the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany (in more than two dozen towns), Honduras, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, the Philippines, Russia, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey and the UK. In Thailand, more than 1,500 farmers, union members and HIV/AIDS activists called for the WTO to get out of agriculture and medicines.
* In Doha itself, the campaign to promote access to essential medicines in poor countries scored a significant victory. Fortified by protests in recent years from HIV/AIDS activists and a torrent of technical information from advocacy groups, the developing countries extracted from the rich countries a pledge that "the TRIPS Agreement [the WTO's intellectual property agreement] does not and should not prevent Members from taking measures to protect public health." All WTO countries joined in "affirm[ing] that the Agreement can and should be interpreted and implemented in a manner supportive of WTO Members' right to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all."
This declaration will provide developing countries with the political space they need to begin introducing generic versions of on-patent medicines, including drugs to treat HIV/AIDS. Because generics are priced dramatically below the brand-name companies' products, the result may be that millions gain access to life-saving treatment they would otherwise be denied.
* On November 13, a coalition of environmental organizations, including Forest Ethics and the Dogwood Alliance, coordinated a day of action against Staples, featuring more than 200 demonstrations at Staples stores. The protesters demanded the company stop selling paper made from endangered forests and switch to recycled sources.
Staples -- which, according to the environmental groups, says that 97 percent of the paper it sells come from forests -- has responded to the Stop Staples campaign by introducing some recycled paper lines in its stores and sponsoring America Recycles Day.
The message from activists: "Staples must get out of the business of destroying forests," says Forest Ethics' Todd Paglia. "Putting a couple new recycled products on the shelves and buying their way into America Recycles Day doesn't save forests."
* On November 20, thousands massed in the streets of Ottawa for a militant demonstration against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.
Following September 11, the two institutions cancelled the meetings they had scheduled for late September in Washington, D.C. -- where they would have been greeted by tens of thousands of demonstrators demanding open meetings, debt cancellation for poor countries, an end to structural adjustment, and the elimination of lending for socially and environmentally dangerous projects, like oil, mining, gas and large dams.
When the institutions rescheduled scaled-down meetings with little notice, activists in Ottawa mobilized on the fly -- again showing that the proponents of corporate globalization that there is nowhere they can hide. When they meet, the people will take to the streets.
* This week, the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives is pushing a vote on fast track, which would give the president unbridled negotiating authority to expand NAFTA to all of the Americas, as well as the power to negotiate other bilateral and multilateral treaties that will drag down living standards in the United States and around the world.
But a coalition of labor, environmentalists, consumer groups and many others has out-organized the Big Business interests supporting fast track. As of this writing, it appears fast track -- if indeed the vote is held -- will be defeated.
[And to make sure that's so, U.S. residents should call their Member of Congress at 1-800-393-1082 (just give your zip code, and you will be connected to your representative) and urge them to vote "no" on fast track.]
This is just a small sampling of the global justice movement's accomplishments in the last month.
The tens of thousands who turn out for its major demonstrations are just the most visible manifestation of a movement that continues to gain strength. The global justice movement is a majoritarian movement, in the United States and around the world. There will be more major mobilizations in the months and years ahead, but there will also be more coordinated international days of action, more boycotts, more pressure campaigns, more lobbying -- and more victories. Not only does this movement have staying power, it is going to win.
Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman.