How demonstrators exposed the free-trade cheerleaders
May 11, 2001 | Pages 12 and 13
Eric Ruder reports from Quebec City on the fight against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
PRESIDENT BUSH gives a simple reason for why he wants Congress to give him fast-track powers to negotiate the FTAA. "Trade helps spread freedom," says Bush.
But the tens of thousands of people who protested last month against the FTAA--from Quebec City to Tijuana, Mexico-- know different. They know the U.S. wants to implement the FTAA--effectively an expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement throughout the Western Hemisphere--to give U.S. multinational corporations free reign over half the globe.
And protesters at the April 20-22 Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, where political and corporate leaders discussed the details of their deal, succeed in exposing the free trade cheerleaders. Forced to meet behind a 10-foot-high fence and ranks of riot cops who filled the air with tear gas, by the end of the weekend, the hemisphere's 34 heads of state--minus Cuba--had to drop their talk about trade and promote the FTAA's "democracy clause" instead.
But last-minute changes in emphasis didn't fool FTAA opponents. The democracy clause, for example, is so vaguely worded that the U.S. could use the provision to threaten sanctions against any country that dares to defy it.
"Corporate-driven trade agreements already dictate our environmental and social policy," wrote Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians. "We certainly don't want them redefining our notions of democracy."
As long as George Bush is president, you can bet that there will be leeway granted to countries where powerful family members help steal an election through widespread disenfranchisement of racial minorities. And it took a lot of gall for Bush and friends to talk about democracy after the Canadian authorities' arrogant disregard for civil liberties in trying to stop protests of the summit.
Anti-FTAA protesters were barred from crossing the U.S.-Canada border, the center of Quebec City was turned into a walled-off armed camp, and police used huge amounts of tear gas against demonstrations. The repression united the diverse groups of protesters--despite attempts to divide them with fear-mongering about demonstrators supposedly bent on violence.
"I wasn't too concerned about the scenes we saw on the television or anywhere else, because they were exactly the scenes that we saw in Seattle," said Sid Ryan, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario. "If it weren't for those scenes around the world, we wouldn't have had the focus in Quebec City or any of the other protests that have happened since." As an analysis article in the Toronto Star concluded, "[I]f anything, many of those who went to Quebec ready to protest peacefully emerged from the tear gas determined to be more radical next time."
For both protesters and residents of Quebec City, the authorities' wall around the summit site became a focus for pent-up anger. The "wall of shame" was temporarily breached by 5,000 direct action protesters on Friday, raising the prospect of shutting down the summit.
The next day, 50,000 union members and their allies assembled for a labor march--the kind of numbers that could have broken through. Though labor officials had decided to march away from the wall, CUPE Ontario--the largest district of the largest union in Canada--issued a call to go toward it. But after the CUPE contingent headed toward the wall, the next contingent in the march--the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW)--slowed up, allowing marshals from the Quebec Federation of Labor to link arms and form a blockade that stopped others from following.
Nevertheless, the idea of a confrontation at the "wall of shame" connected with tens of thousands of marchers. Carol Phillips, director of the CAW's international department, said CAW members were embarrassed and disappointed when they realized they were being marched away from the summit.
"A lot of our members who came to Quebec are now telling me they want to take part in the fightback that takes place in the streets," said Phillips. "A lot want training in direct action." This growing together of two currents of protest--direct action and organized labor--is an important step for the fight against globalization.
But the movement has to grapple with other questions, too--like how to bring the spirit of resistance shown in Quebec City and other large mobilizations into local struggles. "I think there's an awareness that summit-hopping is unsustainable," said Naomi Klein, author of the anti-globalization book No Logo. "The real task of the movement now is to connect the global and the local."
Sid Ryan is president of CUPE Ontario. He spoke with Socialist Worker about the union's decision to call for a march on the wall in Quebec City--and about the future of the anti-globalization movement.
WHAT WAS behind your decision to march on the summit?
WHEN I read that some labor leaders were talking about walking away from the wall, it was clear that we needed to give it some leadership by marching in solidarity with the younger people who were taking on the police. What got to me was the symbolism of walking away from the wall--I thought it was terrible.
We brought about 2,000 to 3,000 people to the perimeter, but we would have brought the entire parade if it weren't for the marshals from the Quebec Federation of Workers. If you want to fight globalization, then you've got to be prepared to open up not only your borders but also your minds to other ways of protesting.
Labor had decided on this narrow agenda that was probably based on a commitment to the government that they would march away from the wall. I suspect that was in return for some funding that they received for labor's parade--both from the Quebec government and the federal government.
WHEN THE fence was breached on Friday, it seemed possible to go through, but that didn't happen.
EXACTLY. THE objective should have been that we want a couple thousand protesters to go in and peacefully sit down in the streets and say this is our city as much as it is their city, and we're taking it back. That would have been far more effective than tearing the fence down and then retreating.
WHAT'S THE next step for the antiglobalization movement?
THERE ARE two ways I'd like to see it develop. I'd like to see more activity outside of where the WTO, the OAS or whoever is meeting. We should be in the city where it's taking place, but I'd like to see a more concerted effort to cause "disruptions," if you will, in cities where they aren't meeting.
And the second thing is to mobilize in a huge way for one of these meetings. This movement will really take root when we begin to get 100,000 or 200,000 people in the streets protesting what they're doing behind those closed doors.
That's not pie-in-the-sky stuff, because we in Ontario had 200,000 in the streets of Toronto protesting the right-wing government of this province. If we can get that kind of a protest going in a major city, I think we have a real good chance of defeating their agenda.
OF THE more than 450 people arrested in Quebec City, only one remains behind bars. Jaggi Singh, the leader of the Canadian direct action group CLAC, is being held without bail until trial--which could be months.
"This is about targeting effective activists by hitting them with all sort of bogus charges," Naomi Klein told Socialist Worker. Jaggi is facing four charges--participation in a riot, possession of a weapon and two counts of violating bail--conditions that stem from arrests at other demonstrations.
"Even if he were convicted of all four things, he wouldn't get the kind of jail time that he's serving now awaiting trial," said Irina Ceric, a member of the Quebec Legal Collective.
The "weapon" that Jaggi supposedly had was a catapult that other activists were using to launch teddy bears at the authorities.
As for participating in a riot, Jaggi was nowhere near where the fence came down. But it turns out that authorities had been watching him the whole time--and then pounced on him. "Three people dressed as activists--with goggles and hooded sweatshirts--tackled Jaggi just as the protests turned violent," said Klein. "I think Jaggi was basically a victim of entrapment."
Altogether, more than 450 protesters were arrested in Quebec City. "[People] were held in filthy conditions inside the jail," said Maude Barlow. "Women were stripped and doused with disinfectant by male guards, and people were squeezed into tiny cells without toilet facilities or food."
We won't let them intimidate us. Free Jaggi Singh now!
Sign an online petition demanding freedom for Jaggi Singh at www.rabble.ca. To contribute to a defense fund for those arrested in Quebec City, contact Socialist Worker at 773-583-6725.