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Voices against the FTAA

April 13, 2001 | Pages 10 to 13

NAOMI KLEIN: "The authorities have overplayed their hand"
BORIS KAGARLITSKY: "They saw U.S. kids calling for change"
KEVIN DANAHER: "I think we're on the offensive"
JAIME COTA: "We're exploited by the same boss"
PAUL BABIN: "We need to organize across the borders"
CAROL PHILLIPS: "These agreements are about corporate power"

"The authorities have overplayed their hand"

NAOMI KLEIN is the author of No Logo and one of the leading voices in the anti-globalization movement. She talked to CRAIG MICHAEL JOHNSON about the Canadian government's attack on protesters' rights.

I'VE JUST written a letter defending the right to protest and the right for people to cross the border, and we're going to get it signed by a lot of famous people. The message is to the police and the immigration officers, basically saying, "We're watching you, and it's your responsibility to defend the freedom to protest." And there's actually a court challenge going on right now in Quebec to get an injunction against the feds.

So it's all not over yet. But one of the things I think the police did with Quebec City is that they overplayed their hand--they got so nervous. This security report was leaked where they quote my book, and they talk about tapping phones and increased monitoring of activists.

That was released months ago, and they haven't come up with any evidence that anyone is planning anything violent. The best that they can do is say that there are groups supporting "a diversity of tactics"--from popular education to direct action--which is hardly a call to arms.

So people in Canada are watching this, and they see that something's wrong. They see that a fence has been built around the city. They don't believe that activists are terrorists.

I think that a lot of people are fighting for the right to protest in Quebec City, and that it's possible that they'll have some impact. The labor movement in Canada is much more progressive than the AFL-CIO and is much more committed to being part of a social movement.

All the big labor associations and federations and big unions like the Canadian Auto Workers have been at the table in organizing for these protests. So, whereas the AFL-CIO sort of abandoned ship after Seattle and started working full-time to try to get Gore elected, that isn't the case in Canada.

The thing that the police have successfully done is that they've scared people. People say to me all the time, "I'm an elementary school teacher, and I think the FTAA is going to lead to the privatization of education, but I don't want to get pepper-sprayed or tear-gassed, so I'm not going."

There's this assumption that going to a protest means that you're going to get teargassed, you're going to get pepper sprayed, and people are scared. And the other thing is that the bus companies are now telling people that they won't take them to Quebec City. This assumption and this campaign to equate protests with terrorism before anything happens--without any evidence whatsoever that there's any violence planned--has been so effective that now the bus companies are treating Quebec City as if it were a war zone by saying that they won't drive there.

I would say that the biggest impact of the cops' campaign has been to scare off some people who are activists and think of themselves that way. So then the best-case scenario would be that the citizens of Quebec City itself who don't have to go anywhere would just come out of their houses.

The problem is that Quebec is a Francophone province where most of the radical political energy involves a campaign to try to separate from Canada in a sovereigntist struggle. And as part of that struggle, traditionally, the Parti Québecois, which represents the sovereigntists, has been pro-free trade--because what they want is not to be part of Canada, but to be able to have a direct trade relationship with the U.S.

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"They saw U.S. kids calling for change"

BORIS KAGARLITSKY is an author, activist and socialist in Russia. He spoke to LEE SUSTAR about the international impact of antiglobalization protests in the U.S.

WE UNDERESTIMATED the potential of the American left and progressive forces. Basically, the feeling was not that this was such a conservative country, but a country that was so culturally and politically dominated by the ruling elite and by the hegemony of neoliberalism that it didn't seem possible to break through it on any scale.

Until [the 1999 demonstrations in] Seattle, Washington, and so on. It was a very encouraging message--one that interfered with the general trend to Americanize youth culture in Russia and Eastern Europe.

They created this idea that American kids were the model. Then they saw American kids on the streets of Seattle calling for progressive change!

That was something that really backfired in cultural terms. Maybe because they acquired some of the habits of the Western lifestyle, they're developing as radicals. That's happening right now in Russia.

For example, at Alexander Buzgalin's Alternative University, the lectures are full, and we don't have enough physical space for everyone who wants to go there. All the left-wing groups are growing. In the unions, locals are getting stronger.

There are two big obstacles. One is the top bureaucracy of the unions, which has really sold out, and the second is the official Communist Party, which is not a left-wing party. A year or two ago, these obstacles seemed insurmountable. But now it looks like the situation is changing.

If it was in Toronto, if it was in Vancouver, if it was anywhere in English Canada, it would be very locally based as well. But in Quebec, issues around trade are very complicated because of the sovereignty issue.

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"I think we're on the offensive"

KEVIN DANAHER is the co-founder of Global Exchange, editor of Globalize This! and Democratizing the Global Economy, and a key organizer of the protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle in 1999.

I THINK we're on the offensive, and the people in power are on the defensive. You could see it with the A16 protests in Washington, D.C. They had to block off 90 square blocks and spend $11 million on tear gas and police to throw at us instead of debating us.

They say we don't know what we're talking about--but they won't debate us. You've got the WTO having its next meeting in November 2001 in Qatar, an undemocratic monarchy without a constitution. You've got the FTAA in Quebec City building an 8-foot fence on top of a 3-foot cement blockade all around the downtown area.

To me, that smacks of a ruling class that's on the defensive. So does the fact that they're putting out rhetoric that tries to mimic some of our concerns about poverty and the environment.

The movement knows what their paradigm is. It's maximizing profits for transnational corporations. Now the challenge for us is: Can we link this up on a transnational basis and create the first-ever global revolution? That's what we have to do. That's the challenge.

What I see going on at the grassroots level is that people have had enough. I live in San Francisco, where we're seeing a grassroots rebellion around energy. What's happening is that people are forming these coalitions and saying, "Look, it's about corporate power, whether it's the WTO and the FTAA or whether it's about energy."

If you look at the ranks of these mass protests, a lot of them are students, which makes sense because they see the planet being destroyed. And they're scared. I think we're at a unique phase.

This free-market paradigm has shot its wad. It's had 50 years. U.S. imperialism promoted it around the world. They knocked down all sorts of trade barriers.

And what have we got? We've got more inequality. We've got more environmental destruction. We've got more human rights abuses. And at the very time when the economic crisis is starting to come, we get a political crisis of legitimacy--a dumbshit president who couldn't even get elected fair and square and had to have the Supreme Court come in and appoint him president.

But I think we've got to get away from this thinking that it's going to happen on its own. It's we, the people, who are going to go out and organize and make it happen. If we don't change the very nature of the system, driven by the maximization of profits and corporate power, we're kidding ourselves.

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"We're exploited by the same boss"

JAIME COTA is a veteran activist for the Workers Information Center in Tijuana, a group that has been behind many organizing efforts in the area's maquiladoras. He talked to Socialist Worker's AVERY WEAR.

THE FREE-trade treaties have made for a better relationship between the social movements in the U.S. and Mexico. That's one of the benefits. There's no movement that is going to triumph here if it can't count on some support in the United States.

I believe that the Mexican revolution is intimately related to a very strong movement in the U.S. In Vietnam, the most important thing was the struggle of the people in Vietnam. But they couldn't have won without the antiwar movement in the United States. It's the same here.

What we need to understand is that we are equals. At the same time, we're different, and we need to understand this difference to make the unity we need to win. The United States and Mexico have a long common history. But this common history has had different results.

For example, what for you was the conquest of the West was for us the robbery of half our country. We are being exploited by the same boss--the same enemy. But U.S. workers might make $20 an hour, while a Mexican worker would make that in a day. These are different results of the same history, and we have to understand this.

The Mexican people have suffered many wounds from U.S. imperialism. So people are suspicious. People in the U.S. can put pressure on the maquiladora-owning companies that are based there. You can demand that the Mexican government enforces--and that companies follow--actual Mexican labor law.

Or there can be sympathy action by workers at U.S. companies. When there was a struggle at the Ford plant in Cuautitlan, and Cleto Nigmo, one of the workers, was assassinated, there were sympathy actions by Ford workers in Detroit. Whether there are strikes, slowdowns or workers wearing black armbands in sympathy, it's all helpful.

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"We need to organize across the borders"

PAUL BABIN is an executive board member with IUE/CWA Local 201 at General Electric (GE) supplier AMETEK Aerospace in Wilmington, Mass.

IN OUR union, we've already felt the impact locally of NAFTA through GE supplier migration at AMETEK Aerospace and outsourcing at the GE plant in Lynn, Mass. We see the FTAA as an ever-increasing downward spiral with workers in each country trying to outbid each other.

The things it took us decades to win are being rolled back. We want to raise standards in Latin America up to our level, not bring ours down.

We need to organize across borders. It's a slow way, but it's a more permanent solution--for all workers in all countries to be organized to stand up for workers' justice.

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"These agreements are about corporate power"

CAROL PHILLIPS is the director of the international department of the Canadian Auto Workers union.

THESE TRADE agreements aren't so much to do with trade, but about corporations having the power to make decisions without rules and regulations to restrict them. Our members are already being affected.

Since the 1960s, auto production in Canada has been regulated by the Auto Pact, an agreement between the U.S. and Canadian governments that a car sold in Canada must be made in Canada. Without it, we wouldn't have an industrial base in Ontario. The pact was challenged in the WTO [World Trade Organization], and as of February 19, it's over.

The ramifications of this are worldwide. Countries in the South will be stripped of their power to develop an industrial policy.

Secondly, our health care system is being eroded. The private sector is clamoring to get access. And once the private sector is in, we'll have to open up to U.S. for-profit companies.

When we talk to members about these issues, they're ready to go. We have 14 buses going from Ontario to Quebec, and our affiliates in Quebec will be mobilizing. And a lot of members who can't travel to Quebec will take part in solidarity actions in Vancouver and Windsor.

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