This is an account of the Seattle demonstrations against the activities and plans of the WTO, as given in a free e-zine. We have every sympathy for their cause, but fear that the respite gained through their action might only be temporary, and that only a radical reform of the financial and economic system at both national and international level can resolve the basic problems.
Details of the publication and its address are in its own introduction….
Welcome to the latest issue of SOCIAL JUSTICE E-ZINE. The name Social Justice encompasses the struggles of people everywhere who work for gender equality, democratic government, economic opportunity, intellectual freedom, environmental protection, and human rights. Social Justice is an electronic magazine (e-zine) designed for free distribution through the internet. SJ now reaches approximately 10,000 e-mail recipients in eight dozen countries. Stories from SJ are then broadcast on radio stations throughout the English speaking world. Feel free to make copies and share with friends (or enemies). Think of this as a regular magazine without the recycling. If there’s nothing you want to read in this issue, just hit delete. Those wishing to be added to the subscription list (or conversely, those who want off the list) should write to us at :
#34, December 5th 1999
by Kim Goforth and Ray Goforth
IN THIS ISSUE :
- BATTLE OF SEATTLE
- WORKING FAMILIES TAKE THEIR MESSAGE TO THE WTO
- HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH CALLS FOR INVESTIGATION OF POLICE AT SEATTLE WTO
- WTO TALKS COLLAPSE
1. THE BATTLE OF SEATTLE by Ray Goforth
As I write this essay my city is under marshal law. Being Seattle, they are too polite to call it marshal law. Instead, they call it a “state of civil emergency with a limited curfew.” That limited curfew lasts from 7:00 p.m. until 7:30 a.m. in most areas and last 24 hours a day in some parts of downtown Seattle. That curfew covers 50 city blocks and police are acting as if it extends into surrounding residential neighborhoods as well. The National Guard has been mobilized and law enforcement from around the state have descended upon the city. Emergency laws have been decreed making it illegal for citizens to own or use gas masks. Moreover, it is now a crime to express political dissent within the “no protest zone” of downtown Seattle. The sound of sirens and the drum of police helicopters clearly sets the tone.
The local television news has served up a diet of shocking images: My favorite has been the footage of a police officer clad in body armor walking up to a citizen and kicking him in the testicles, and then shooting him point blank in the chest with a rubber bullet. This kicking of protesters in the testicles appears to be a favorite tactic as there are numerous photographs of it happening. Even local politicians weren’t spared the marshal law treatment as Seattle City Council member Richard McIver was dragged out of his car and thrown to the ground, and King County Council member Brian Derdowski was shot in the shoulder with a tear gas canister.
Thinking back upon the past couple days, I can still picture a group of old women gasping from the tear gas and a young man bleeding against an alley wall as his friend attempts to bandage the rubber bullet wound on his head. The police claim only three people were hurt but the fire department says that they transported over 90 people to the hospital and an untold number tended their own wounds. These same firefighters refused to turn their fire hoses upon the protesters despite repeated requests from the police. What has happened to my city?
Just yesterday morning I was one of 50,000 trade unionists and environmental activists peacefully marching through the streets of Seattle demanding that the World Trade Organization incorporate human rights and environmental protection into future trade agreements. The WTO was here in Seattle to set its agenda for the next several years and opponents of neoliberalism from around the world came to try and influence that agenda. Earlier in the morning, several thousand people had formed a human chain around the WTO meeting place and physically prevented the WTO from coming into session. The police used tear gas and pepper spray on the crowd but it refused to budge. Eventually the police gave up and let the protesters stay.
Throughout the day a small group of masked protesters caused sporadic violence (smashing of some windows, overturning newspaper vending machines, spray-painting on walls, etc.). Much of this was done in full view of the police who took no action to arrest them. While there was the occasional trash dumpster set on fire, the vast majority (99.9%) of protesters were peacefully registering their dissent against the WTO. Then at about 4:30p.m. when the sun was setting, the police suddenly began to attack these protesters with CS-gas, pepper spray, concussion grenades and rubber bullets. The effect as you might imagine was chaos. What devolved was a series of pitched battles between groups of protesters and police that lasted for three days. Peaceful protests also continued throughout the city including another labor/environmentalist march I attended three days after the first (this one bringing 10,000 marchers).
The people who took to the streets of Seattle were a motley coalition of trade unionists, human rights advocates, environmentalists and social justice activists. What they had in common was a coherent critique of the reigning neoliberal prescription for global economic integration.
They rejected the WTO notion that a state that keeps labor costs down by imprisoning and killing trade union activists is doing nothing wrong
They rejected the WTO notion that child labor (and even slave labor) is acceptable and should not be questioned in trade negotiations
They rejected the WTO notion that environmental protection laws are unfair barriers to trade
They rejected the WTO notion that states should be punished for violating patent rights but not for violating human rights
They rejected the WTO notion that its proceedings should be held in secret and shielded from the prying eyes of the working people who must live with WTO agreements
…. and finally they laughed together at the irony when the Mayor of Seattle declared a “no protest zone” around the Niketown and Nordstrom department stores but encouraged people to keep shopping there. The citizens of Seattle were free to shop for merchandise made in sweatshops, they just couldn’t complain about sweatshops.
Emerging from this common critique was an understanding that these groups had a common purpose. They all agreed that the emergence of the post-industrial economy should not be allowed to unravel the web of labor, environmental and human rights protections that common people have struggled long and hard to achieve.
When the WTO announced that their Seattle talks had collapsed without a single agreement, the protesters danced in the streets. We had won and our victory was twofold. We effectively disrupted the work of the WTO, forcing them to consider our agenda. Beyond that, we formed alliances that will carry on beyond the Battle of Seattle. Looking back on the past week, I predict that here in Seattle the seeds were planted for transnational social justice alliances to begin to tame the excesses of transnational capital. Fifty years from now, the Battle of Seattle may be remembered as the turning point where a more just and equitable global order began. At the beginning of this essay, I asked what had happened to my city. What happened is that common people defied the corporate and government elites, and won.
2. WORKING FAMILIES TAKE THEIR MESSAGE TO THE WTO
Shouting “No to the WTO,” working families from more than 50 unions, 25 states and 144 countries were among the tens of thousands of activists marching through the streets of Seattle Nov. 30 to demand that international trade rules be reformed to respect workers’ rights and protect the environment.
I believe it’s important to be here because working people around the world should unite. Corporations are growing stronger and stronger, especially in the industries that our union is involved with.
Louis Rocha, president of Communications Workers Local 9423 in San Jose, Calif.
We came from different unions, different countries and different races, but yesterday we spoke with one voice. I felt proud to be part of the labor movement.
Liz Brown of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, TNG-CWA Local 37082
Union activists, many arriving in the more than 200 buses hired for the occasion, began gathering at Memorial Stadium two hours before a 10:30a.m. rally. An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 participants overflowed the stadium and spilled into the adjoining parking lot, braving a cold rain. At the stadium, rally-goers listened to the fair trade message amid hundreds of colorful banners, signs and costumes, with the Teamsters in yellow rain ponchos and blue caps, Machinists parade marshals in blue ponchos and neon orange caps, and environmentalists carrying a huge inflatable turtle.
“We’re basically putting a human face on the WTO,” Teamsters President James P. Hoffa told the cheering crowd. “It has to consider human rights and worker rights along with trade.”
Speaking at the rally, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said, “Here in the United States, we will continue to organize in the Congress and elsewhere against any trade accords that do not include workers’ rights and human rights and environmental and public health protections. And we will stop them.” AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson, dozens of leaders of international unions, as well as religious, human rights, environmental and international leaders told the crowd that free trade isn’t “free” if its costs are child labor and forced labor, poverty wages, hazardous workplaces and environmental degradation, and that free trade must be substituted with fair trade.
“We were trying to send a very clear message to the WTO that we want the global economy to work for working families and if the WTO won’t do it, we need another organization that will,” said Rick Bender, president of the Washington State Labor Council.
Dan Thompson, secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO, joined the rally and march with a union delegation from his state. Thompson said he was amazed by the diversity of rally participants in Seattle. “If you look at each group, everyone has an issue,” he said, “but it all revolves around trade.” American workers, he said, are mobilized to protest U.S. trade deals with countries that tolerate rights violations and encourage the flight of jobs.
Following the two-hour rally, activists streamed out of the stadium for a march through the city’s center, stopping for a moment of silence outside the Westin Seattle Hotel, where President Clinton is staying.
Sweeney voiced agreement with President Clinton’s regrets that a few people had given the protesters a bad name. “We must not let the negative actions of a few overshadow the accomplishments of more than 30,000 positive and peaceful protesters,” Sweeney said.
In a demonstration of solidarity, the Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down the Port of Seattle and dozens of ports along the West Coast. “By taking time out from work to voice our concerns, the ILWU is telling the transnational corporations that they cannot run the global economy without the workers of the world,” said ILWU President Brian McWilliams.
For more information contact :
AFL-CIO 815 16th Street,
3. HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH CALLS FOR INVESTIGATION OF POLICE AT SEATTLE WTO
(New York, December 2, 1999) — Human Rights Watch today called on Seattle Mayor Paul Schell and Washington State Governor Gary Locke to appoint an impartial, independent panel to investigate the response of law enforcement to this week’s protests at the World Trade Organization (WTO) conference. The panel should investigate allegations that the police used excessive force and city officials placed unwarranted restrictions on the rights to free expression and assembly of peaceful protesters in violation of constitutional and international standards. If the panel finds wrongdoing, those responsible for such abuses should be held accountable.
Human Rights Watch also condemned the destruction of property and violent acts by some protesters.
Allegations requiring investigation include claims that :
police tactics to disperse protests in areas of Seattle outside the “no demonstration” zone were overly-aggressive. In particular, police actions on the evening of December 1 in the Capitol Hill area require investigation. Protesters and residents report that police used tear gas, concussion bombs, and shot rubber pellets into crowds, without warning, at a protest unrelated to the WTO conference. The encounter reportedly began when a police car drove into a group of protesters.
the decision by city officials to curtail all protests in the downtown area, including peaceful ones, may have violated protesters’ right to free expression and assembly. Despite assurances that they could be present in the area if they did not block traffic, protesters report that they were not allowed to do so.
there were restrictions on detainees’ attempting to meet, or speak by telephone, with public defenders or other legal counsel.
CS tear gas was sprayed into the faces of protesters who had chained themselves to objects or were cornered, and thus could not leave the area as ordered.
police indiscriminately shot rubber pellets, bullets, or other projectiles into crowds.
Human Rights Watch Website : http//:www.hrw.org
4. WTO TALKS COLLAPSE by Ray Goforth
Belying the smug assurances earlier in the week from World Trade Organization officials that the protesters were a mere inconvenience, the WTO announced December 3rd that talks had completely collapsed. The WTO would be leaving Seattle without an agreement to start a new round of global trade talks.
Conference participants later acknowledged that the pressure from the streets to protect labor and environmental standards exacerbated rifts between many of the 135 WTO member states.
Several of the richest states felt strong pressure to defend their domestic labor and environmental protection laws while many poorer states professed fears that this was just another form of protectionism.
“Many developing states have honest concerns about their ability to meet higher environmental and workplace safety standards. However, a great many of these states are playing a cynical game. They operate neglectful and often brutal domestic regimes. Their real fear is that a ‘fair trade’ agenda will lead to democratization of their own societies” said one observer who asked to remain anonymous.
Developing states steadfastly rejected a United States proposal for a working group to study how labor standards could be incorporated into future trade agreements. Tensions were also high between developed states as the European Community and the United States clashed over agriculture subsidies.
WTO supporters almost without fail are quick to pronounce that global trading integration is inevitable. While the collapse of the Seattle round of WTO trade talks does not necessarily negate these pronouncements, it does indicate that the terms of that integration are still open for debate