- MAI ties and blind eyes
The latest and largest free-trade agreement gives multi-national corporations even more power to ignore national borders. Gibby Zobel travelled to Geneva to meet the dissenters.
Squall 16, Summer 1998, pg. 43.
"In the short term the future's really good. I couldn't have foreseen this in my dreams. There is going to be a shock around the world, I mean it is gonna be like an earthquake. It's the first stirrings of something really massive across the world. The fuse has been lit on a really big piece of dynamite, y'know. Sometimes the fuse goes out or someone cuts it, but if it goes on like this we are gonna have a real explosion of a movement. Since '68 we haven't had this kind of special smell in the air."
Olivier de Marcellus, a grey-haired Swiss lecturer, is postively throbbing with excitement. He's one of the co-ordinating team of a new ad hoc international group called People's Global Action, where more than 300 delegates from 71 countries came to Geneva to share their anger over corporate rule.
"It is difficult to describe the warmth and the depth of the encounters we had here. The global enemy is relatively well known, but the global resistance that it meets rarely passes through the filter of the media. And here we met the people who had shut down whole cities in Canada with general strikes, risked their lives to seize lands in Latin America, destroyed the seat of Cargill in India or Novartis's transgenic maize in France. The discussions, the concrete planning for action, the stories of struggle, the personalities, the enthusiastic hospitality of the Genevan squatters, the impassioned accents of the women and men facing the police outside the World Trade Organisation (WTO) building, all sealed an alliance between us. Scattered around the world again, we will not forget. We remain together. This is our common struggle. "
Over half of the top 100 economies of the world are not countries, but corporations. And the WTO is the cosy home of their free trade bliss here in Geneva, the capital of world capital.
General Motors is bigger than South Africa, Shell mightier than Norway, IBM eclipses Pakistan. Mitsubishi, for example, is now the fifth largest 'country' in the world. "We are writing the constitution of a single global economy," boasts the WTO's Renato Ruggerio. Welcome to the new world government. Welcome to the united colours of global resistance.
"We have to start aiming at the head," explains Olivier. "We have been militants fighting against nuclear power, against housing, sexism. Different tentacles of the monster. You are never really going to do it that way, you really have to aim at the head."
The process began with the Zapatista-inspired 'Encuentro' in Mexico in 1996. "The Encuentro launched the idea of people working horizontally across the world, this international of Hope. They are the brain. Like a huge commercial fair of ideas and initiatives. The network you construct is... a fuzzy thing. Another kind of network would be to organise towards one very precise objective - Fuck the World Trade Organisation. There's room for both the general circulation of ideas, and also to make the networks work you have to do something. It was a big vision."
The World Trade Organisation was born out of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the global fast-forward button to corporate domination. It enshrined the free trade market and exists as a stand-alone body. It is the vehicle not only for manufactured goods but also agriculture, trades in services and TRIPs (Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights). TRIPs are far out - they allow multinationals to patent life for profit, whether it is the genes of a tribe in Ecuador or the seeds of an indigenous plant in India.
International trade treaties have become the most important phenomenon in globalisation. The latest scam is known as the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. The respected writer and broadcaster John Pilger describes the MAI as "the most important imperial advance for half a century".
Inside a Parisian bunker, every six weeks since 1995, representatives of the 29 richest countries on Earth - including the UK - have been plotting this new deal in secrecy and in haste. It is an agreement that would, at a stroke, legally bind together these countries for a minimum of 20 years and seek to invalidate all domestic, environmental, social and labour protections to the greater rights of money in the international free market.
The real clout in the MAI is the right it gives companies to sue governments for large damages. In what is known as the pay the polluter case, the Ethyl Corporation of America is suing the Canadian government for $367 million dollars for banning the use of MMT, a controversial gasoline additive, which it makes in Ottawa. It wants "immediate compensation for imposing legislation which hinders its operations [profits]" under free trade rules identical to the MAI.
But across the globe resistance is growing. In May this year actions were taking place to mark the rage against the WTO celebrations of their 50th anniversary. The fury ranged across all continents from Canada to Columbia, Bangladesh to Aotearoa/NZ. Over 30 cities, from Ankara to San Francisco were holding the first global street party on the same day with the slogan: "our resistance will be as global as capital!"
Heard World - Gibby Zobel and friends attended the Peoples Global Action conference in Geneva and talked to a host of worldwide activists - Squall 16, Summer 1998.
Resistance Allstars vs Globe Rotters - this May the temperature rose on streets across the globe in protest against the G8 Summit and WTO 50th Anniversary - Squall 16, Summer 1998.