By Aziz Choudry
31 July, 2003
early June, Canada's trade minister, Pierre Pettigrew exultantly announced
the death of the "anti-globalization" movement. "I draw
great satisfaction out of the fact that the phenomenon of anti-globalization
has completely disappeared", he crowed. On the eve of this week's
World Trade Organization informal mini-ministerial in downtown Montreal,
he was singing a different tune. He lashed out at those mobilizing against
the WTO meeting, claiming that they "should bear the responsibility
that what they're trying to do is really screw the African cotton farmers
and the African HIV victims as well".
At Saturday's "Words
are Weapons" anti-WTO teach-in at the Universite Du Quebec a Montreal
(UQAM), I publicly pondered why it was that this week Toronto was getting
the much-heralded Rolling Stones concert (as the city attempts to attract
hordes of visitors and their wallets back in the wake of the SARS scare)
while Montreal got the WTO meeting. I suggested that perhaps the most
appropriate Stones songs for Pettigrew might be You Can't Always Get
What You Want or (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction.
As trade ministers
and officials from 25 other countries arrive in the city, at a local
and global level, things are not going so well for the WTO. Just over
a week before the Montreal meetings kicked off, the original venue,
the lavish Queen Elizabeth Hotel, changed its mind about hosting the
event, citing concerns for the safety of its clients and staff. So the
meetings moved to the Sheraton. Police have erected a perimeter around
the Sheraton complex and a no-traffic zone in the streets around it.
This has infuriated small businesses, many of whom say that they have
been advised to close for the meeting's duration. "I'm very upset.
No one gives a damn about small businesses", Emmanuel Mavrikidakis,
who runs several central city parking lots, told the Montreal Gazette.
The resulting traffic disruption is not endearing the meeting to many
The WTO is in crisis
management mode. The Montreal meeting is a last-ditch attempt before
September's WTO Ministerial in Cancun to try to get agreement on widely
differing positions in global trade negotiations which have become bogged
down. While Pettigrew characterised Montreal as "a meeting that
will want to weed out the issues so that when we arrive in Cancun, we
are already hot", others were less upbeat. Even New Zealand's trade
minister, ardent free trader Jim Sutton said that the mini-Ministerial
was needed "to avoid a derailment at Cancun," and that it
needed to issue a challenge to revitalize the "lagging negotiations".
Few expect the Montreal meeting to break the gridlock which has seen
negotiating deadlines missed and renewed tensions between the Quad countries
which dominate the WTO (US, EU, Japan and Canada) and many countries
in the South, as well as disagreements among the Quad countries themselves.
Some are predicting that the Cancun talks could be an embarrassing flop,
and that this would plunge the 146-member organisation into a serious
crisis of credibility.
A draft Cancun Ministerial
text circulated on 18 July has come in for strong criticism for its
predictable tilt towards the interests of the industrialized North,
and its failure to reflect the divergent views held by many Southern
delegations on many issues, including attempts led by the EU to push
an investment agreement onto the WTO negotiating table. It further reveals
the WTO's fundamentally anti-democratic processes which have consistently
excluded the delegations from many poorer countries from having any
input into its content.
As in the late June
mini-Ministerial in Egypt (see my last ZNet Commentary, Lurching Towards
Cancun, for more on this), agriculture - especially the vexed question
of agricultural subsidies - is likely to dominate the Montreal meeting.
So will the issue of TRIPS (Agreement on Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual
Property Rights) and the rights of countries to produce or import affordable
Given the continued
hardline stance of the US at the WTO in protecting the exclusive patents
and rights of its pharmaceutical corporations to make money, over the
lives of people with HIV/AIDS who are being denied treatment, the Bush
Administration's recent move to tie aid for HIV/AIDS to governments'
acceptance of food aid which may contain GMOs, strong African resistance
to biotech crops and food, and Canada's support for the US WTO complaint
against the EU's de facto moratorium on genetically modified food and
crops, Pettigrew's attack on anti-WTO protesters makes me wonder which
planet he is from. His remarks are redolent of Bush's recent cynical
statements about the EU moratorium, and hunger and AIDS in Africa. Then
there is the fact that most of the African countries devastated with
HIV/AIDS were not even invited to Montreal. Perhaps Pierre can speak
on their behalf; he already seems to think that he can.
By contrast, the
organising of the Montreal Popular Mobilization Against the WTO (see
http://montreal.resist.ca) has its feet firmly on the ground, making
the connections between local and global injustices, and local and global
resistance. In rain and sunshine, around 2000 people marched through
downtown Montreal on Sunday, on the eve of the official meeting, under
the umbrella of No One Is Illegal. "We are marching together today
in clear opposition to the WTO and its agenda of dispossession and displacement
and displacement. This is a demonstration representing over eighty groups,
and many more individuals, who are publicly and unabashedly declaring
our solidarity with movements for self-determination, justice and dignity,
at home and abroad. We also march as a message of support and solidarity
for our sisters and brothers in Latin America, who will converge in
September to oppose the WTO in Cancun, Mexico", reads a flyer for
As Pettigrew positions
himself as a champion of the poor in his shrill advocacy for free trade
in agriculture, small farmers in the South continue to be displaced
from their lands and pushed further into poverty through policies cloaked
in the shiny new version of colonialism of the free market. Some of
them end up as immigrants and refugees in countries like Canada.
The No One Is Illegal
march brought together children and the elderly, and members of communities
which are under attack within Canada and overseas. As it passed by corporate
and government offices it highlighted the struggles of immigrants and
refugees in Montreal like those who have fled Pakistan and Algeria and
are now being detained and/or face deportation after their refugee claims
have been rejected. It highlighted the links between militarization,
the occupation of Iraq, Palestine, and the continued colonial occupation
of North America, and the interests of global capital. It was a festive
and vibrant political space for people from different struggles to march
together, talk, and celebrate their resistance to injustice and determination
to create a better world.
Adopting the hallmarks
of Peoples' Global Action (http://www.agp.org), the Montreal Popular
Mobilization Against the WTO is characterised by a clear and principled
rejection of the WTO, capitalism, and imperialism in all of its forms,
and decentralized organizing. As local activist Stefan Christoff puts
it: "We're for the WTO shutting down, period." On a less-than-shoestring
budget, this mobilization has helped to make the connections between
a number of struggles at a local level, but also connected these with
a bigger picture of the WTO and neoliberal globalization.
If we are truly
fighting to win, struggles against neoliberal globalization must be
firmly grounded in the day-to-day struggles in our communities, and
based on solid community organizing, and not reliant on grand NGO talkfests,
trade union or NGO elites' cosy, private chats with politicians and
business, or glossy lobby documents. In directly confronting the processes
and actors in our own communities which perpetrate injustice we can
better identify and understand the mechanics of global capitalism and
how to resist them.
In a rather pathetic
public relations effort, Pettigrew scheduled a photo-op with a handful
of NGO representatives on Monday morning, in a day mainly set aside
for meeting "civil society" - selected NGOs and business representatives.
Meanwhile, direct action against the WTO meeting continues out on the
streets. Police blocked an early Monday morning protest march and then
proceeded to make mass arrests after surrounding a "green zone"
- a safe space well away from the meeting venue.
have pledged to continue direct actions which aim to disrupt the official
meeting until it winds up on Wednesday afternoon...perhaps just in time
for Pierre to jet to Toronto's Downsview Park and drown his sorrows
with Mick and the boys. Even the militarization of a sizeable chunk
of Montreal and a security crackdown cannot force the miracle that the
WTO's cheerleaders so desperately need. Wherever we live, let's make
sure that the world's free traders get no satisfaction in Montreal,
Cancun and beyond.