Attack of the Killer Kapitalists

Protestors rally to oppose the world trade organization.

"The WTO represents to us the ultimate insult in a long history of capital-dictated government," says Brooke Lehman, an RTS participant. "We'll surround the Paramount Theater, where Clinton will be speaking, but the power in what we're doing is more than physically shutting down the meeting. It's sending a message to third world countries that there is massive opposition in the U.S. We're bringing people together in a way that hasn't happened since maybe the 1968 Democratic Convention." Throughout the festivities, DAN's alternative media center will be feeding live coverage onto the Web and into the airwaves (www.indymedia.org).

While on their own, each of the radical groups is relatively small (with participants perhaps in the hundreds or less), the presence of the granddaddy of rally-rousing, the AFL-CIO, likely will bring the largest contingency (estimates range from 25,000 to 35,000 workers and their families, with other actions and solidarity rallies taking place across the country) and lend the protest the stamp of institutional cred. "We look around and we see we've been engaged in this process of enhancing capital mobility and what we have to show for it is financial crises around the world, the development process failing, and job insecurity in the U.S.," says Thea Lee, assistant director of public policy for the AFL-CIO. "We're demanding enforceable workers' rights be included in WTO trade agreements—rules against child labor, forced labor, and discrimination."

To emphasize just how some of these issues of forced labor and environmental disasters play out in the world, the Global People's Tribunal will "try" corporations for crimes against humanity. Witnesses will present written, oral, and videotaped evidence of negligence, indifference to human life, and unfettered greed on the part of such corporations as UNOCAL, a California-based oil company (which activists see as supporting the military junta in Burma by investing in a gas pipeline constructed with forced labor) and Union Carbide (for the Bhopal chemical leak disaster in India that killed thousands). "Our goal is to focus some of the attention beyond the WTO and at the structures of power that raise the foundation on which the WTO was built," says Ward Morehouse, president of the Council of International and Public Affairs, and tribunal coordinator. Although they are using international law as their guide for assessing crimes against humanity, "this is not a court of law, but a forum of public opinion. It is a further step in evolving a people's jurisprudence on corporations."

Beyond the clamor of "No to WTO" chants, the street spectacles, the dance and ruckus, is a growing exasperation with unfettered corporate power and a sense that the media's current orgy over the "robust" U.S. economy distorts the reality of financial crises for peoples elsewhere, far off the average American's radar.

The meeting and the protests promise to raise important questions as to what is expendable in the quest for higher profits and power. If you're a corporate executive, do you turn a blind eye to forced labor because it cuts costs on sneakers? View an oil spill as an occupational hazard of the industry that sells cheap gas? Patent a farming method that others have cultivated for generations because it creates a new source of revenue? As a consumer, do you buy those Nikes made in sweatshops in Indonesia or that hip Pakistani rug made with child labor?

Activists believe there's no better time to grapple with these issues than now. It may be a trade bureaucrat's headache and a Seattle street cleaner's nightmare, but the protests in Seattle signal the stirring of a global movement not just against a particular government or organization but against the very idea of corporate domination.


Additional Information:
Independent Media Center -up to the minute information from Seattle.

Anti-WTO rallies in New York: Friday, November 26, 2p.m., Union Square: Reclaim the Streets will take over a major metropolitan street and create a carnival-like forum for civil disobedience. Saturday, November 27, 2 to 4 p.m., the Gap, Broadway and 42nd Street: The Global Sweatshop Coalition protests Disney, the Gap, and the WTO. Tuesday, November 30, noon, World Trade Center: Students for a Free Tibet will stage a massive die-in.

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