SOCIALIST WORKER SPECIAL COVERAGE
April 27, 2001
"SO-SO-SO, SOLIDARITÉ! Avec le peuple du monde entier!" Solidarity with the people of the whole world!
Tens of thousands of protesters returned to this chant again and again as the smell of tear gas filled the streets of Quebec City in April.
It was this cry that brought together unionists from Canada, the U.S. and dozens of other countries; high school and college students; indigenous activists from Mexico; anti-sweatshop organizers from Guatemala; socialists and environmentalists. They came to show their opposition to George W. Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and 32 other heads of state who were in Quebec City to negotiate the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
Chrétien and friends preached about how free trade would increase democracy and prosperity. But at the same time, Quebec's highest court ruled that police preparations for the summit were an infringement of the right of freedom of assembly.
However, said Justice Gilles Blanchet, such violations were "justified" under the circumstances. That is to say, it's okay to trample on democracy--so long as you say you're defending it!
So as the summit approached, a force of more than 6,000 police rolled out their newly acquired water cannons and guard dogs along a 2.4-mile perimeter that turned the heart of Quebec City into a walled fortress.
Resentment of the wall among residents fueled sympathy for protesters. On one corner, the owner of a bar ran a hose so demonstrators could flush their eyes and fill up their water bottles. "This is my form of protest," the man told reporters--as an activist poured vinegar on his sweatshirt as a more effective barrier against the clouds of tear gas.
Despite all the repression, protesters still managed to breach the hated perimeter wall on Friday afternoon after more than 5,000 people marched to the barricade.
Almost simultaneously, three cops dressed as protesters tackled and arrested Jaggi Singh, a leader of the direct-action group CLAC--just as he was trying to lead people away from the barricade, saying that the situation had become "too tense." As Socialist Worker went to press days later, Singh was still being detained.
Though the whir of helicopters continued through the night, intimidation couldn't stamp out the memory of what had happened. "They make such a fuss about security, yet they're the ones who make the real violence," Jean-Claude Parrot, executive vice president of the Canadian Labor Congress, told Socialist Worker.
The next day, more than 50,000 people marched against the FTAA--with raised spirits from the breached barricade the day before.
The Ontario district of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)--Canada's largest union--tried to lead marchers toward the barricade, instead of away from it. But labor leaders had marshals stand with linked arms to make sure few followed.
So the summit continued for a second day--as the clouds of tear gas spread.
For many marchers, it was clear why the Western Hemisphere's political leaders needed a barricade. "Free trade means a degradation of the environment, a threat to biodiversity, commercialization and the trade in life itself," Juan Chavez, from Mexico's Congreso Nacional Indígena, told Socialist Worker.
George Bush and friends wanted to send a message from their weekend in Quebec City--that their free-market system works. But what the weekend really showed was that there were two Quebecs. One walled off where the rich and powerful planned the carve-up of the hemisphere. And another where ordinary people showed their opposition to corporate power.
And while the solidarity of tens of thousands was on display in Quebec City, thousands more participated in marches and demonstration across the U.S., Mexico and South America.
The mobilizations were wonderful. But we haven't even begun to show our full strength.
Our task is to mobilize a force strong enough to pull down whatever walls the bosses put up to keep their system of power and privilege in place.
Tuesday Opening of the People's Summit, with 2,000 delegates attending a range of forums over the next five days.
Wednesday More than 200 attend a spokescouncil meeting to plan direct actions to shut down the FTAA summit.
Thursday After another spokescouncil meeting, between 3,000 and 4,000 take to the streets for an evening torchlight march to kick off the protests.
Friday Five thousand students march from the University of Leval towards the FTAA summit meeting site. Half take one route that links up with a labor march of 2,000--while the other half marches straight to a police checkpoint and tears down the barricade.
Amid clouds of tear gas, police are pushed on the defensive, with protesters attacking water cannon vehicles with metal poles and bats. FTAA delegates start their opening ceremonies an hour late--as tear gas blows through the area.
Saturday Starting from the People's Summit, 50,000 unionists and other activists march through the streets of Quebec City.
Several hundred unionized grad students break off and, along with more than 1,000 students, march on the barricade. A battle continues for hours, with the perimeter breached at several places. So much tear gas is released that a swank hotel with nine FTAA delegations has to turn off its ventilation and close its kitchen.
GEORGE W. BUSH had more to worry about in mid-April than a avoiding a snoutful of tear gas in Quebec City. As he returned to Washington, D.C., on April 22, some 15,000 abortion rights protesters had just finished their march through the capital.
Even if the media largely ignored it, the young crowd represented the beginning of a new movement that could take on Dubya's attack on the right to choose. And the week before in Cincinnati, anger at racial profiling and police brutality boiled over into a rebellion.
Rev. Damon Lynch III, head of Cincinnati's Black United Front, explained the roots of the battle. "We have the corporate headquarters of major Fortune 500 companies here," Lynch said. "And they really run the city. You have political leaders who listen to the corporate entities, and so most of development, most of the money that's spent is spent at the corporate whim. There's a sense here that the African-American community is under growing siege...And so that brings about the anger."
In each one of these protests, there was carried a similar grievance--that this world is run for the wealthy, the rich, the corporations and the politicians, and not for us.
That's what was behind the desire of so many in Quebec City to pierce Fortress Quebec as the leaders of 34 heads of state met to discuss the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)--essentially the expansion of free trade and free market policies to every country of the Western Hemisphere except Cuba.
When protesters succeeded in forcing delegates to endure the stench of tear gas as they posed for pictures, the largely ceremonial affair became a public relations embarrassment. With the media picking up on protesters' criticisms that the FTAA would hasten the already blazing global race to the bottom, delegates had to respond by promising to reduce the gap between rich and poor and promote democracy.
But it's hard to take either of these promises seriously. Take the FTAA's "democracy clause." The provision is defined so vaguely that it could be used by the U.S. to threaten sanctions against any country that dares defy it.
The Financial Times, for example, speculated that it might be used against Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide--who is hugely popular in Haiti but hated in Washington for his refusal to knuckle under to U.S. demands for more austerity.
This is the U.S.'s vision of free trade and democracy--a world where might makes right.
As the overwhelming economic and military power, the U.S. will use the FTAA as an instrument to open up other economies for the benefit of U.S. multinationals.
But this relentless rush to profit--at the expense of workers here and abroad--has also sparked a resistance. Just ask the hundreds of steelworkers who demonstrated in Chicago on April 21 against the FTAA and the planned transfer of their jobs to Canada and Mexico.
"The system that's denying us our democracy, that's ripping the riches away from us, and giving the rich more...a system that has to build 10-foot high fences...is a system that will fail," Leo Gerard, president of United Steel Workers of America, told the rally. "It's up to us to make sure it fails."
by LANCE SELFA
SAN YSIDRO, Calif.--Chanting "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us," about 1,000 demonstrators marched to the U.S.-Mexico border crossing. Hundreds carried the demonstration across the border to join a rally of Mexican activists against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) at Playas de Tijuana.
On the day following the protest, more than 200 activists from both countries met at the Monclovia Rojas community in Baja California to launch a binational solidarity network.
The Saturday rally took place at a park here within sight of the metal and concrete walls that divide the U.S. and Mexico.
"We are divided by this border," said Enrique Dávalos of Globalifóbicos, a binational network of activists. "But this border has brought us together today, too."
A wide array of groups and individuals--from organized labor to student social justice groups and from as far away as northern California--rallied in the park.
Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine told the crowd: "NAFTA has been a failure. When our government says, 'Let's expand NAFTA,' we say, like the Zapatistas say, 'Ya Basta!--Enough Already.'"
"We're for the globalization of resistance," said Don White, a member of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador in Los Angeles. "We're for the globalization of solidarity."
The only note marring the spirit of international solidarity came from Jerry Butkiewicz, secretary treasurer of the San Diego Central Labor Council.
Butkiewicz rightly called for U.S. support for union organizing in Mexico and backed the AFL-CIO's official position in favor of amnesty. But he defended the International Brotherhood of Teamsters' plans to block Mexican truckers from entering the U.S. "We're going to raise standards for workers on that side of the border by enforcing the laws on this side of the border," he said.
Unfortunately, this argument gives a cover to those in the labor movement who target Mexican workers as the problem.
"The real threat is on this side of the border--the U.S. trucking bosses," said Justin Akers, a member of the ISO and an organizer of the protest. "Rather than see [Mexican workers] as enemies, we should see them as allies. Like this protest, we should organize unions across borders."
A huge police presence from the San Diego Police Department, the California Highway Patrol and dozens of other officers--including about 200 cops in riot gear--dogged the march. U.S. and Mexican helicopters hovered overhead.
Speakers at the demonstration in Tijuana included Carmen Valadez of the Factor X women's group, Alejandro Kurzcyn of Frente Zapatista and agricultural workers from San Quintín.
"This was very exciting, especially when we marched across the border," said Joseph Stebler, a student from San Francisco State at tending the Tijuana protest told Socialist Worker. "This is life-changing."
by STEVE LEIGH
BLAINE, Wash.-- About 5,000 people rallied at the Canadian border north of Seattle April 21 to protest the FTAA. The rally was organized by the Peace Arch Coalition, made up of the major labor federations and unions in the area, as well as students and environmentalists.
Speakers from Canada, the U.S., Mexico and other Latin American countries explained what the FTAA would do--cement corporate control at the expense of workers' rights and the environment.
After four hours of speakers and music, thousands walked to the Peace Arch, between the U.S. and Canadian Customs posts. They then walked through the Canadian border and back to the U.S. Customs post, where they sat and blocked the highway for half an hour.
This was a protest against the free flow of capital across borders while people are restricted and deported.
Having made their point, most of the crowd marched back to the park for more music and speeches before dispersing. About 200 people stayed in the road, and eight were eventually arrested. In Portland, Ore., another 1,000 people marched.
Everyone who participated saw these Pacific Northwest rallies as a step forward in building international solidarity. We vow to fight on until the FTAA is stopped.
by LEIGHTON CHRISTIANSEN
DETROIT--About 1,000 unionists, activists and students rallied on the riverfront here in conjunction with a demonstration across the border in Windsor, Canada. The march--composed mainly of those attending the Labor Notes conference nearby--was followed by a peaceful blockade of 200 young activists at the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.
Dirceu Travesso of Brazil's Central Union of Labor (CUT) addressed the crowd. "In the last 15 days, we had the opportunity to be in the streets in Buenos Aires, when we made a demonstration against the FTAA," Travesso said. "There were more than 20,000 people. This week, we got the opportunity to be in Quebec."
Jose Ramirez, national director of the human rights committee of the Colombian oil workers union, also spoke. "Solidarity with Colombia means solidarity with all the peoples of Latin America and all the peoples of the world," he said.
Geronimo Hernandez, a member of UAW Local 600 and a worker at Mexican Industries in Detroit, also addressed the crowd. "They brought NAFTA, and they're inventing things," said Hernandez. "They're talking about the FTAA. Well, what are we gonna say? It's enough! Ya basta!"
by LEE SUSTAR
CHICAGO--About 800 union members and activists turned out for an anti-FTAA rally here April 21, where United Steelworkers of America (USWA) President Leo Gerard called for more action against rotten trade deals.
The rally was held at the Hendrickson Spring plant, where members of the USWA will lose their jobs if the company proceeds with plans to move production to Canada and Mexico.
"These are workers that have kept these companies together while bad management has pissed away the profits and destroyed their communities and destroyed their lives," Gerard said. "American steelworkers are among the most productive in the world. They're having their lives and families destroyed because of the goddamn government. And the goddamn Clinton government was just as bad. Let's make no mistake about it."
The rally was initiated by Jobs with Justice, unions including the USWA, the UE, UNITE and SEIU, and groups like the American Friends Service Committee, the ISO and several student groups. The majority of demonstrators were steelworkers bused in from Indiana towns such as Gary, Hammond, Portage and Indianapolis.
Gerard described the steelworkers' role in the global justice movement in demonstrations since Seattle--and the union's efforts to build alliances with workers in Third World countries.
He denounced governments for "criminalizing dissent" in the global justice movement--especially at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January, where authorities threatened to spray protesters with liquid manure. "That's an example of the level of paranoia that the rich and the powerful are feeling as we start to expose their system," he said.
To cheers, Gerard linked the fight against corporate globalization to Black labor leader A. Philip Randolph's historic struggles for dignity and justice for African Americans and all workers.
As he summed up the stakes in the struggles ahead, "I want my kid and grandkid to have the same chance in life that I had. No less. Sisters and brothers, this is solidarity, arms linked together, taking to the streets and kicking some ass. We will win!"
by DONNA FLYNN
WASHINGTON--Some 750 activists gathered at the doorstep of the offices of the U.S. Trade Representative April 12 to oppose the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Led by Philadelphia ACT UP, the protest drew special attention to the lack of affordability of medications for people suffering with HIV and AIDS.
Shahid Robinson explained that he was protesting "because of what the FTAA stands for. It stands for annihilating public health plans. Medications only cost a dollar to manufacture, yet they're charging thousands. Five hundred people are dying each day in Africa...and the governments of the countries they're going against can't fight back. People aren't going to take this. They're tired of losing loved ones."
The drug giants are willing to see people die of AIDS in order to keep their profits high. We have to continue our efforts to stop these corporations--and the trade deals like the FTAA that serve their interests.
by MIKE CORWIN
AUSTIN, Texas--Nearly 150 people gathered April 16 at a teach-in called "A People's Forum on Globalization and the FTAA." The meeting featured political commentator and author Jim Hightower as well as speakers from PODER, an Austin group fighting environmental racism; the National Organization for Women; and the International Socialist Organization.
Speakers addressed how globalization affects women around the world, the connection between attacks on workers at home and abroad, and the need for an international fightback.
"Who's in charge?" Hightower asked the audience. "Is it going to be we the people, or the global greed-heads, the spoilers, the speculators, the big-shots and bastards?"