Labor Stood With the Direct Action Folks...

On April 16 and 17, the 29 or so police agencies that share jurisdiction in the national capital closed down the town in order to keep the International Monetary Fund open, an effort they described as a "victory."

Perhaps it was, but the trade unionists, environmental activists, students, and concerned citizens in town to protest corporate globalization and its excesses thought otherwise.

Organized such around ideas as "Defund the Fund" and "More World, Less Bank," the demonstrators saw themselves as Seattle II, the successors to the protests against the World Trade Organization. The effect has been to put globalization on the front pages and into the policy dialogue in the United States and all over the world. And the administrators of the global economy at the IMF, World Bank, and WTO have been on notice that irate workers and citizens will greet them wherever in the world they choose to meet. Their troubles are just beginning.

One victory came almost immediately, as House Minority Leader Gephardt came out against the China trade bill. The effect of this bill would be to exempt China's labor and human rights record from the current annual congressional review. Of more long term significance is that the American public is now aware of the IMF and World Bank, and millions of people here have for the first time learned of how their policies harm people in poor countries. This has created much-needed political space for developing countries to speak up on behalf of their own interests.

NEW LABOR AWARENESS

This new awareness is especially apparent in the labor movement. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, speaking in Davos, Switzerland, told the corporate big-wigs at the World Economic Forum, "Understand the message of Seattle.....It was a call for new global rules, democratically developed. Workers North and South marched together. And the many different voices made one clear statement: Fundamental reform is needed. If the global system continues to generate growing inequality, environmental destruction, and a race to the bottom for working people, then it will generate an increasingly volatile reaction that will make Seattle look tame."

Sweeney's prediction is actually a description of events going on around the world. We just don't know about most of them because they are not reported in our corporate-controlled media. The Zapatista uprising in Mexico, the recent coup in Ecuador, the civil war in the Congo, the turmoil in Indonesia, and the threat of the U'Wa people to commit mass suicide are all expressions of the social explosion that has arisen from the desperation caused by the policies of the World Bank, IMF, and their corporate overlords.

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American Federation of Government Employees President Bobby Harnage said on April 16, "Today, working people from around the world stand shoulder to shoulder to fight for economic justice. We fight for the right to work with dignity. We fight for the principle that the value of work is derived from the inherent dignity of every human being. Today we stand and defend the inalienable human rights of workers around the world. Workers produce the enormous profits of global capitalism. It is a crime against mankind that they do not share in those benefits."

WHAT THE IMF DOES

The IMF is the muscle in the international financial system, the one they call in to "break your legs" if you don't pay up. The way it does this is through "structural adjustment," the collection of policies that the IMF imposes on indebted countries in the interest of western bankers and currency speculators.

The point is to create an export surplus so that the interest can be paid. Thus education and health programs are decimated while investment is channeled into export industries aimed at the consumer of last resort, the United States. The demonstrations shined the light on "structural adjustment."

One result is that good U.S. jobs are lost to imports. Another is that peasant farmers are pushed off the land to work for next to nothing in the cities. Yet another is that the land is redirected from food production to industrial crops for export, leading to a food shortage. The result of April 16 was that these issues have become part of the U.S. political dialogue.

The reason that the mobilization was so effective was the labor stood with the direct action folks--if not alongside, at least near by. The result was a story that could not be relegated to the back pages. AFGE together with the United Electrical Workers and the central labor councils of Washington, DC, San Francisco, and San Jose, pioneered in sponsoring the legal Rally and March for Global Justice. The AFL-CIO and many other international unions including the Service Employees, Textile Workers, Steelworkers, and Machinists later joined in.

Now we find that Americans reject the race to the bottom that results from corporate globalization. A recent Harris Poll found that the people are much closer to the protestors than the establishment: 50 percent described themselves a fair traders, 37 percent as protectionists, and only 10 percent called themselves free traders. As economist Mark Weisbrot had it, "These demonstrations are a way of helping our leaders catch up with public opinion."