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(en) More about Seattle, Davos and Prague.

From "Katharine Ainger" <katainger@gn.apc.org>
Date Thu, 2 Mar 2000 09:32:48 -0500


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[a-infos-worker reminder: People also said that the MAI agreement failed
not because of struggle but because France government opposed it - as if the
two are entirely not related.] 

HOW MUCH DID ACTIVISM CAUSE THE WTO FAILURE AT SEATTLE?

Cedric wrote:
> I think we have to keep in mind why the demonstrations in Seattle were so
> important in the media and the official appearance: It was to
> hide the fact
> that the negociations had already failed before the beginning in Seattle.
> Because there was no agreement between the EU and the US on the
> agenda, the
> Seattle was about to fail, the excuse of the street protest was a good
> excuse for them.

I think it is 100% wrong to say that the demonstrations provided a welcome
explanation for the WTO as to why the talks failed. And I think Cedric is
underestimating what activism did to contribute to the failure.

You're right that the meeting at Seattle was likely to encounter massive
problems, perhaps even fail, considering that most of the text was still in
square brackets[] which means not agreed on, by the time they got to
Seattle, and it would be naive to say that it was the demonstrations alone
which caused failure.  In direct terms, what they did do was make it harder
to hold the meeting.  They disrupted the proceedings, cutting into the
valuable time they needed to bulldoze towards an agreement.  But the meeting
might have ended in failure anyway (but in far less embarrassing
circumstances) had the demonstrators not been there.

More important in the failure was EU-US disagreements, and the rebellion of
developing countries.  But one of the EU-US main arguments was biotech &
agriculture - EU ministers knew they could not get their populations to
accept what the US wanted.  That is a LOT to do with European activism
against it.  Developing countries were strengthened in their position to
stand up to rich countries bullying at the WTO because of the demonstrators
in 2 ways.  Firstly, they were angry at Clinton's cynical use of being seen
to 'listen' to the angry unions and Sierra club types,  trying to push the
developing countries into labour/environment commitments that in reality
would serve to further US economic interests.  Secondly, they were angry
against the undemocratic nature of the meetings, which they were often
excluded from, and the protests outside were a clear illustration that
others were angry too.  That strengthened their resolve.  At least 2
delegates from small island states, plus one from Bangladesh to my certain
knowledge, said 'I feel like protesting myself' to the demonstrators.

Another tale of the impact of the demonstration can be seen from the
delegates reaction when 30 or so people from Geneva locked themselves inside
the WTO building in the week before Seattle.  The WTO had heard about the
protests but when people actually came in and locked themselves in delegates
were quite shocked and (according to Martin Khor of third world network who
was present in the building at the time) had it really brought home to them
the level of dissent they were facing. And that was only 30 people's
action - imagine the impact 60 000 people must have had.

Most of the WTO delegates, and the US media, AND the US population at large,
were absolutely stunned by the demonstrations.  The reason the media paid
attention to the demos was that they couldn't believe their eyes - there
were thousands and thousands and thousands of people pouring through the
streets of prosperous Seattle shouting about globalisation, capitalism, and
corporate rule.  It went against everything their comfortable existences had
taught them to believe.  Never underestimate that.

The WTO have spent a lot of time downplaying the failure, downplaying the
demos: the worst PR they can imagine is to have people believe that the
protests on the streets led to failure at the negotiating table.  The
demonstrators did not give a welcome excuse to the WTO as to why it failed.
The WTO has instead been pretending desperately that it didn't fail at all
and that the protests were not that significant.  The media have been
disparaging and downplaying the power of the demonstrators in their
post-Seattle analyses.  Don't go along with their attempts.

Re Prague I think the only thing one can predict about these global meetings
is that they are going to continue to be heavily and violently policed.
They won't want to be taken unawares again.  People should probably expect
mess.

A divide and rule strategy will probably also be effectively employed - some
groups will be invited to the negotiating table, others that refuse will be
increasingly marginalised, arrested, etc.   If you read the Economist after
Seattle you will see this is their suggested tactic  - they say it worked in
crippling the '50 Years is Enough' campaign.  So another thing to think
about is however frustrated you get by those who get involved in dialogue,
to what extent you are serving their interests by getting into slanging
matches about NGOs.



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