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New Globalization, New Activism?

Peter Dale Scott, Tim Falconer, William Watson, David Widgington - Moderated by David Webster

Maisonneuve's first political discussion deals with the movement against economic globalization. As the world seems more and more integrated into a single global economy, a growing opposition movement has emerged. Protesters have taken to the barricades from Quebec City to Prague. For them, in the words of the Indonesian protest chant, "there is only one word: resist." Has the irresistible force of globalization met its immovable object?

Four Canadian observers offer their thoughts: Tim Falconer, author of Watchdogs & Gadflies; Peter Dale Scott, former Canadian diplomat, poet and professor at Berkeley; William Watson, columnist, editor of the journal Policy Options and economics professor at McGill; and David Widgington, editor of Cumulus Press in Montreal. Moderator David Webster is a graduate student at the University of British Columbia and long-time activist.

Italicized text is supporting material provided by the moderator. The discussion took place on-line February 18-22, 2002.

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David Webster: Let's start by offering thoughts from two people who were unable to take part because they were travelling this week.

Philosopher Richard Rorty suggests that protesters and activists in the 1960s stopped being activist and instead became spectatorial when, in an almost surreal scene, they began singing "Yellow Submarine" by the Beatles instead of "Solidarity Forever." Richard Rorty teaches at Stanford. His book Achieving Our Country looks at movements, campaigns, and ideas of the American left from the past century. Too young to remember the Beatles? Check out the song & cartoon at www.hollywoodandvine.com/yellowsubmarine. If Rorty sees activism as ceasing to be serious at Berkeley, Naomi Klein has been arguing that it is returning to seriousness at gatherings like the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, held to coincide with the World Economic Forum in New York. Rather than simply raising a ruckus at international summits, she sees a movement now building alternatives to economic globalization. Klein argues that the movement is taking on a fundamentally new colouring. Activists are no longer trying to reform the system or talk to those in power. "They are instead attempting something infinitely more difficult: to topple an economic orthodoxy so powerful, it can withstand even its strongest advocates [the WEF itself] whipping and kicking it from the centre." Toronto writer Naomi Klein's column appears weekly at www.globeandmail.ca and www.rabble.ca. She is the author of No Logo, one of the movement's canonical texts. For more on Naomi, point your browser at www.nologo.org.

We welcome your reactions. Is there a new activism since the 1960s, or are there more important similarities? Have activists become more or less serious over time, and does it matter? Is there a movement making a systemic challenge today that was not present before? And is that a good thing?

Peter Dale Scott: I was there in the Berkeley classroom where activists, in I think January 1966, all sang "Yellow Submarine." The movement subsided for a few months, until the next mass arrests. We went on to protest such matters as the lack of ethnic studies on campus, nuclear weapons development at the University of California Livermore campus, indiscriminate logging of old-growth redwoods, University and state investment in firms doing business in white South Africa, and (most recently) the murderous Indonesian occupation of East Timor. Peter Dale Scott's most recent books include Cocaine Politics, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, and Minding the Darkness: A Poem for the Year 2000. Other
writings appear at
socrates.berkeley.edu/~pdscott.

Astonishingly, we won all of these struggles, except for the one over the UC Livermore Weapons Lab. In retrospect, it was the position of our opponents which now seems "surreal." I remember one self-named "realist," an orthodox social scientist, muttering to me that "you guys will never get what you want to see in East Timor." He was wrong. East Timor was invaded by Indonesia in 1975 but refused to be annexed. It gains its independence on May 20, 2002. For more, check out www.easttimor.com; for info on the North American support movement, see www.etan.org, www.interlog.com/~cafiet, or the forthcoming East Timor: The Courage to Come Back, photos by Elaine Briere, text by David Webster (www.btlbooks.com).

Recently there has been much talk here about globalization (top-down New World Order globalization, not people-to-people exchanges), and what to do about it. Across the Bay in San Francisco, Medea Benjamin and Global Exchange have mounted a series of campaigns, exchanges, etc. on issues such as human rights in Brazil.

To help develop a "realistic alternative to a globalized [top-down] corporate economy," Global Exchange is taking part with other Green organizations in developing a "Green Economy Festival" in September 2002. Global Exchange is a California-based education and action organization. Its website is at www.globalexchange.org/ and information about the Green Economy Festival can be found at www.globalexchange.org/greeneconomyfestival.

This is only one of many alternative programs being developed here and elsewhere - alternatives not just to the programs being developed by the IMF, WTO, and Group of Eight, but alternatives also to the globalized protest meetings organized at Seattle, Quebec City, and Genoa. Investigations into the police riots at the Genoa meeting last July suggested that Italian intelligence agencies had penetrated the anarchist cadres participating in the protest, using them to discredit the anti-globalization movement, and as a pretext to crack down violently on non-violent protesters. This is a problem with mass protests not easily solved. Where a movement is essentially unified and of one spirit, it is amazing what trained non-violent monitors can do to neutralize agents-provocateurs. But this may be impossible with large international protests.

This is no reason for defeatism, however. The net effect of globalizing treaties like NAFTA is to marginalize traditional national politics, and to bypass decades of hard-won social security and environmental legislation. One can predict confidently that there will be more and more new channels to protest and modify this trend away from democracy. It is not a matter of reviving a defunct anti-war movement, as Richard Rorty reportedly suggested. It is a matter of moving forward with existing sources of social protest, whose efficacy have already been refined and proven to work.

Tim Falconer: Since I was only old enough to watch the sixties on television, I can't really comment on how serious activists were back then. I suspect that many of them were serious about ending the war and improving civil rights, just as many of today's activists are serious about what they're fighting for. In fact, sometimes their seriousness goes so far that they have no sense of humour. But it's the wrong question; instead, we should be considering how sophisticated the activists are. Tim Falconer teaches magazine writing at Ryerson University in Toronto. For more, surf to www.timfalconer.com.

And if we are just talking about the people who are labelled "anti-globalization activists," the answer is not very. Although some groups - Vancouver's Check Your Head, for example, which offers workshops on globalization to schools -- are willing to do some education, most seem stuck on the big street protest. Such demos can be a great tactic, but only if they are used strategically. They have to be part of a larger campaign. Check Your Head educates on globalization in BC high schools - check them out at www.checkyourhead.org.

Since the sixties, activists working on a variety of issues - and from across the political spectrum - have become increasingly professional and, not surprisingly, increasingly effective. When Greenpeace started, it used civil disobedience effectively to get its message out in creative ways. That was often enough because the media loved the group's high-risk tactics. But over time Greenpeace became more sophisticated. Its recent markets campaign to get retailers to stop selling wood from old growth forests is a perfect example, and that's why Ikea and Home Depot eventually signed on. Civil disobedience was a part of it, but so were other tactics such as negotiations with the companies and ads in the New York Times to thank cooperative retailers. Founded in Vancouver in 1971, Greenpeace is now the world's largest environmental organization. (The Economist has compared it to a multinational corporation.) Home Depot agreed to phase out wood from endangered forests in 1999. More info is at www.greenpeacecanada.org and www.greenpeace.org.

The anti-globalization crowd likes to paint Nike as the poster boy for bad behaviour. So why don't they try a markets campaign against Nike and all the other running shoe manufacturers that are doing bad things? Global Exchange has also prioritized campaigning on Nike - check out www.globalexchange.org/economy/corporations. Vancouver-based Adbusters magazine, the slickest anti-globalization voice, carries material on Nike boycotts at www.adbusters.org.

David Webster: I remember hearing Cicih Sukaesih, a Nike Indonesia worker fired for trying to organize shoe factory workers in Jakarta, when she visited Vancouver in 1997, shortly before the protests at APEC in Vancouver and the WTO in Seattle - summits that the media tell us were the birth of the anti-globalization movement. Global Exchange was the main mover behind her North American tour.

So, are we looking at a sophisticated and effective movement? An ineffective band more concerned with protest for its own sake than effectiveness? Something too disparate to be called a movement at all? Or are all of these wrong?
 
William Watson: My participation in sixties protests was limited to wearing a black armband on Moratorium Day in 1970, a gesture I expect was largely lost on my fellow commuters as I took the train in from the Montreal suburbs to classes at McGill University. (No doubt this was partly because my at the time de rigueur suede jacket was dark brown.) A year or two earlier I had led a student revolt at my high school, trying to establish the principle that on all non-academic matters, such as dress, students should rule. To his credit, the school's Principal came out to debate the new constitution I proposed for the Student Council, even if his argument, a blunt one, was that no such constitution would be permitted: he made policy for the school. I was also naturally in favour of all the child-centred educational reforms proposed during those days: "relevant" course material, no rote learning, nothing so archaic as Latin, de-emphasis of facts in favour of analysis, and so on - virtually all of which have come to pass, much to the detriment of my son who, though in Grade Three, has trouble adding six and four, can't spell worth a damn and for all that, isn't especially well socialized or full of self-esteem. William Watson's book Globalization and the Meaning of Canadian Life was runner-up for the Donner Prize for best Canadian public policy book of 1998. Check out Policy Options at www.irpp.org.

I do recall that in the 1960s we had what really were police riots. There's little other interpretation for what went on at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968. But if I recall correctly, the fellow who got himself shot in Genoa was about to heave a heavy canister through the window of a police jeep. In Canada, we've just finished a three-year multi-million inquiry into, not a police killing or even a beating, but an aggressive pepper-spraying. Our governments are more sensitive than they used to be. ABC News revisits the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago at www.abcnews.go.com/sections/us/1968/Rewind1968_DNC.html. The report on RCMP excesses at the 1997 APEC summit by the Commission on Public Complaints Against the RCMP is available to the public - see news releases at www.cpc-cpp.gc.ca. Protesters called the report "an expensive doorstop." Their views can be found at www.cs.ubc.ca/spider/fuller/apec_alert and at www.tao.ca/~wrench/jono/pcc. UBC Press recently published Pepper in Our Eyes: The APEC Affair, edited by W. Wesley Pue.

After finishing university I became what Peter Dale Scott calls an "orthodox social scientist"- even worse, an orthodox economist. I therefore naturally take issue with the view that "globalizing treaties like NAFTA ... marginalize traditional national politics."

The letter of such agreements is usually quite explicit about not doing that. (Their effect I'll talk about in a minute.) With some exceptions, the letter generally implements the GATT/WTO principle of non-discrimination, which is that however a country decides to regulate goods and services, it must regulate foreign-produced goods and services the same way it regulates domestically-produced goods and services. It can have tight regulations or loose regulations - that's for it to decide - but it can't have special rules for foreigners from which domestic producers are exempt. It can also, of course, impose tariffs on foreign goods and keep them out of the domestic market that way, but once goods are in, they have to be treated the same way as domestic goods.

It's true that some parts of some agreements, including GATT/WTO, go beyond that and explicitly harmonize certain domestic practices, such as requiring scientific input in judging the risk of various products or processes, but even in these cases there is considerable leeway for domestic regulators.

Does anyone out there oppose the principle of non-discrimination? If so, how would they prevent domestic interest groups, including corporations, from acting out their worst protectionist fantasies? Without disciplines on the commercial persecution of foreign producers, how do we prevent the beggar-thy-neighbour trade policies that made the depression of the 1930s so much worse than it had to be?

Going beyond the letter of these agreements to their effects: there's no more globalized country in the world than Canada. (In fact, when Europeans worry about the downside of globalization they often talk about "Canadianization.") Over the last 40 years we've had the Production Sharing Agreement with the United States, the Canada-US Auto Pact, the tariff reductions of the various GATT rounds, the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement, the NAFTA and finally the WTO Agreement. Our capital markets are deeply integrated with US capital markets. Trade is now 45 per cent of our economy and 85 percent of that is with the US. And although there is much less labour mobility between the two countries than there was in the 19th century, when you could just pick up and go (as millions of Canadians did), there is by more recent standards significant labour mobility-even if, baseball and football players excepted, the flow is almost exclusively from Canada to the US.

Has Canadian democracy curled up and died as a result? One measure of government is taxes/GDP. If you want to run "hard-won social security and environmental legislation," tax revenue is a handy thing to have. And the latest data available from the OECD do show that taxes in Canada are not as high as they used to be. To be precise, in 1999, taxes were one tenth of a percentage point of GDP lower than they were in 1998. But 1998 was the all-time record high for taxes. Public spending continues to run 10 points higher in Canada than in the United States-a difference that emerged only in the 1960s, just as the continentalization of the North American economy was beginning to take off. (In the 1950s, when trade was at its lowest share of GDP since the 1930s and we didn't yet have Medicare or the Canada Pension Plan, Canadian governments were smaller in relative terms than American governments, and US tax rates-unbelievable as it may seem to 21st-century Canadians-were higher than ours.)


There are lots of other measures of government, of course. Most of them suggest government is still huge and in many cases growing. It is hard to think of any activity in this country that is not regulated. Virtually anything that anyone wants to do requires some permit or other. And governments show little sign of withdrawing from regulation. If national governments really don't have any power any more, someone should tell the politicians that run them. As a university professor (working, yes, at a public university, since there aren't any private universities in Canada), I'm hardly a plutocrat, but adding up all my taxes, I pay 53 per cent of my income in taxes. We've had the FTA now for 13 years and NAFTA for 8. Maybe relief is coming. Maybe the Canadian state will eventually waste away. But it's taking its sweet time.

Peter Dale Scott: I've read both Tim Falconer and Bill Watson with interest. Since Watson's comments take issue with mine, let me say that I found them thoughtful and informative. I wish I had a week to think about them, but I'm not sure a week would be within the rules of this dialogue.

So let me just speak off the top of my mind.

I find myself easily persuaded by both sides of the globalization issue. I used to be in the Canadian Foreign Service; and I consider myself a friend of both Allan Gotlieb and Sylvia Ostry, who played such a role in the difficult job of negotiating NAFTA. I respect not just their minds but their judgments.

And yet I also respect the minds and judgments of many, many people, from all over the world, who believe that globalization is replacing political processes of regulating economic powers with bureaucratically-arrived-at ways for deregulating them. Take a moment to look at an article by the late French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, published in Le Monde on 24 January 2002, the day on which the paper reported Bourdieu's death. It is on the web at www.opendemocracy.net/forum/document_details.asp?CatID=18&DocID=1100.

I have excerpted from it the following two paragraphs:

"The term 'globalisation' is simultaneously descriptive and normative. Everything encompassed in it is the precise result, not of economic inevitability, but of a politics, conscious and calculated, which has led the liberal and even social democratic governments of several economically advanced countries to divest themselves of the power to control economic forces.

"They have at best relinquished those powers to see them concentrated in the 'green rooms' of big international concerns, such as the WTO; or in such multinational 'networks' as the network made up of fifty multinational companies, which through all manner of ways and means, including legal ones, are in the process of imposing their will."

As I no longer live in Canada, the rest of you can test the applicability of these remarks better than I. My impression from the US is that thanks to NAFTA, Canada has been losing its tax base, and thus also the ability to maintain social services like the Canadian health plan at their former level.

Bill Watson's formulas sound equitable in theory. But in practice, they may not be. Didn't Canada have to pay a fine, a big one, because it had outlawed a gas additive, known to be poisonous, that California is now in the process of phasing out down here? (That's the scuttlebutt one hears in Berserkeley.)

Also, what about protecting cultural institutions? Until recently Canada taxed foreign journals like Time, whose "Canadian" edition was in fact little more than an extension of the US print run, differently from domestic journals like Saturday Night. I know that the US State Department is passionately devoted to breaking down such "cultural protectionism" all over the world, including Canada. Am I correct in deducing that Bill Watson is their ally in this? If so, I dissent.

There are no easy answers here. As we become absorbed into larger agglomerations, this trend is obviously going to put strains, not just on formal democratic procedures, but on all methods of reaching human consensus. But if we replace these with abstract formulas, of the kind Bill Watson enunciated, we risk becoming homogenized in a way that may suit abstract corporations, but not human beings.
Finally, in response to Tim Falconer, I generally agree. But I don't see much point in advising others to be sophisticated. If corporations and G8 meetings want their critics to act responsibly, there has to be some willingness to make it clear that responsible criticism will be listened to.

There are reasons why irrational outbursts occur.

David Widgington: I guess I should start by thanking someone for the invitation to participate in this discussion. That would be expected of me, as would a brief introduction of myself to reveal where I fit in. If at all. At first glance, I fit into this discussion group like a T. My skin is a pinkish shade of white, I am male and I was brought up in a middle class suburban neighbourhood with generally well-trimmed lawns, swimming lessons, at least one car in the driveway and surrounded by neighbours generally similar to myself. As a child, I spent many weekends at the family cottage and later, I attended university. I have a computer, I surf the net several times each day and I have had the opportunity and privilege to travel to many foreign countries. David Widgington is a designer, publisher, cartographer and activist, among other things, living in Montreal. With Luca Palladino, he is compiling the book/CD COUNTER PRODUCTIVE: Alternate sounds, views and words from the Summit of the Americas. Details are at www.cumuluspress.com.

I could continue for paragraphs and each of the four other panelists would probably identify with much of this autobiography. We are privileged to have this debate. Between regular meals. In front of our computers. It's all very academic and homogeneous, like a tall cold glass of pasteurized milk or a glass of port before bed.

We can speak of the evolving activism from the 60's to Seattle but not for a second can we offer any vision of "globalization" with any credibility. We can discuss activist tactics and whether they were effective in the streets of Genoa or Washington because the dissenters who were there, mostly share our privilege to have chosen to raise our voices. We can debate NAFTA regulations and whether they have increased GDP in the three countries but we cannot genuinely discuss whether GDP has increased standards of living. And I emphasize these points because the economic, trade-based globalization will be good for the wealthy: For us.

PD Scott wrote: "The net effect of globalizing treaties like NAFTA is to marginalize traditional national politics, and to bypass decades of hard-won social security and environmental legislation." What of the Mexicans who have not succeeded in winning their social security? In cities like Juarez, Mexico, the unemployment rate has decreased to a low of around 7% since NAFTA - a resounding success by Canadian or US standards, where social security norms are high from these hard-won battles. But in Mexico, the battles are ongoing but now they are being fought against Canadian and US corporations who employ Juarez residents. It is not at all a success to the 40% of the residents of Juarez living in extreme poverty. The Maquila Solidarity Network campaigns in support of Mexican sweatshop workers - see www.maquilasolidarity.org.

We continue to look at globalization through northwestern, green-tinted filters. Up here, tucked in the white corner of the world, we are used to dominating the rest. In fact we expect it, even when we disagree with it. It is all we have known for more than 500 years of territorial 'discovery' and cultural imposition. The WEF and the G8 are the new colonial alliances, meeting to strategize their positions in the WTO or other regional trade alliances they dominate. Naomi Klein suggested in her Feb. 18 Globe & Mail article that the super- rich and their political allies attending the WEF were trying "to outdo each other with self-flagellating speeches about how their greed is unsustainable," and whether or not they were discussing alternative ways of better distributing their wealth. I cannot imagine for a second, and there is no precedent for, the world's wealthy and powerful elite willfully reducing their stature and privilege for the benefit of the masses. The notion is preposterous. In fact, the opposite is true. Precedents of corporate and political alliances in the name of trade, and their devastating wakes, are plentiful. These are not times of globalized enlightenment, in economic or social terms, where 200 of the wealthiest individuals have more than the poorest billion. The WEF protester in New York had it right with his sign "Bad Capitalist, No Martini." I guess they'll have to settle for a gin and tonic. The World Economic Forum used to meet annually in Davos, Switzerland. Its 2002 meeting took place in New York City. See www.weforum.org. For reports on protests see www.anotherworldispossible.com. A parallel meeting of activists now takes place annually in Porto Alegre, Brazil: see www.forumsocialmundial.org.br/eng/index.asp.

Remember the Conference of Berlin back in 1884-5 when German chancellor Otto von Bismarck, representatives of all European nations, the United States, and the Ottoman Empire met to consider problems arising out of the European invasion of West Africa. The stated purpose of the meeting was to guarantee free trade and navigation on the Congo and the lower reaches of the Niger. Territorial adjustments made among the powers were an important result of the meetings. The sovereignty of Great Britain over South Nigeria was recognized. The claims of the International Association, a private corporation controlled by King Leopold II of Belgium, were also recognized. They guaranteed free trade and the neutrality of the region in wartime and set up rules for future colonial expansion in Africa. These rules were hailed as a great success (much like our NAFTA agreement) but no one considered asking the people living along the Congo what they thought.

The debate about whether mass protests are successful or not in the struggle against global neoliberalism is one we should not spend much time on. As most people who attend these protests with their gas masks and banners know, a diversity of tactics is necessary. Protests will not go away, in fact they will probably grow, but other tactics - like alternative media campaigns, public education, the World Social Forum, the linking of local concerns with global ones - will add force to the movement. Protests are important if for no other reason than to publicly demonstrate Opposition, so that others around the world can see that a common struggle is being fought on many fronts.

I was recently told a story by a Bolivian man visiting Montréal. He spoke in Spanish but his words were simultaneously translated into English and French. He told of his country's struggles against the privatization of water. In 1998, the World Bank refused to guarantee a $25-million USD loan to refinance water services in the country's third largest city, Cochabamba (population: 600,000), unless the government sold the public utility to the private sector. Bechtel Enterprises, an American transnational from San Francisco, obliged the Bolivian government and signed a forty-year lease for rights to the city's water resources.

Higher tariffs were instigated, to guarantee the 16% annual return on the corporation's investment written into the agreement. Many Bolivians suddenly had to pay more for water than they did for food. For some, the cost of water accounted for half of their monthly budget! He and his neighbours were forced to revolt against the privatization of such an essential life source as water. During a declared state of emergency, water rights leaders were arrested and the military was ordered into the streets. Predictably, injuries were high and unfortunately one person was killed. Another example of collateral damage of state policy. In April of that year, the Bolivian government ceded to the protesters' demands by cancelling the lease. An important victory for the people but paid for with a human life.

During the struggle, he and other Bolivians realized that masses of people-particularly in wealthy countries where most transnationals keep their head offices-were protesting against the same forces of neocolonialism and privatization, sharing their struggle. They were inspired by the sincerity and volume of the protests. They were invigorated by a broader solidarity. The people who were in the community centre with me to listen to this Bolivian man, were, in turn, inspired by a larger solidarity. The movement had grown stronger.

The debate needs to be larger than ourselves because we are the minority and need the perspective of the rest. All discussions need the participation of women, people from the indigenous community, recent immigrants, blacks and people with a skin colour darker than pink, people living outside North America and Europe, people living in poverty, Argentinean workers, homeless or landless people... the more the better. It is diversity on every level that will give us the perspective needed to make a movement that will adequately confront the hegemony of world trade organizations and military/economic alliances. This is the strength (or potential strength) of the WSF. We cannot discuss globalization with theoretical models and abstractions because huge numbers of people are dying and living miserable lives because of the 'market forces' that free trade advocates suggest will alleviate poverty. And it is not just people in poor countries to the south that are affected, but people in our own communities too.

There are many whose ancestry has given them privileged lives, who are now rejecting this privilege because they know that it came only from the suffering of others. These are the people who are now dismantling the colonial 'free' trade model: rape and pillage, divide and conquer, steal and hoard, enslave and kill. The FTAA, WTO, NAFTA are just the latest marketed version of the same forces of domination. This is not globalization.

The real globalization that is taking place is the unification of the people from the so called "developing world" who refuse new forms of colonization being imposed on them. It is also their alliance with the anti-corporatists from the rich countries who refuse to colonize.
I've ranted long enough. Goodnight.

Tim Falconer: While I am certainly not defending the undemocratic tendencies of our corporate or political leaders, I'd argue that the activists have to prove their views should be heeded. That may not be just or fair, but it is reality.

The over-reliance on street protests by the so-called anti-globalization movement will only play into the hands of the so-called leaders. Seattle was great for the movement because millions of North Americans watched on television and said, "What the hell is this all about?" It put the issues on the agenda for people in the news media and in much of the general public. Quebec City started off well for the activists because in the weeks and months before the Summit, the media ran stories about the movement, the issues and the FTAA. This applied pressure to the politicians, who even agreed to release a working text of the agreement. But once the protest actually happened, a handful of hooligans who figured tossing hockey pucks and paving stones at the cops was a good tactic snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. As soon as the media focused on the violence - virtually ignoring the tens of thousands of peaceful marchers - the pressure was off the politicians. The "leaders" knew the vast majority of Canadians, many of whom might have been starting to take the activists seriously, would quickly assume the protesters were just a bunch of trouble makers with no serious ideas.

I know some in the movement have written off the great swath of ordinary, middle-class suburban people as lost causes, but activism, like all forms of politics, is the art of the possible. So the activists need to keep their irrational outbursts to a minimum and devote more time and energy to effective tactics.