HOW The New Activists Are Fighting Global Corporate Rule
Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke Stoddard, 2001
I first became aware of a new sense of empowerment, a globalization from below and a movement for democratic and political change in Germany. It was 1985 and I found myself in East Berlin. I had come to visit and be with friends. I found a civil society percolating – artists, poets, intellectuals, workers, church people, youth and the many unlabelled were owning, discovering and speaking from a new power. They were creating awareness from below, to which the authorities were oblivious. This new consciousness led to the collapse of the Berlin Wall on November 9th, 1989. For a people long oppressed the cause of democracy had found new beginnings and a fragile voice. Within months however this dream was dashed when the large corporations from the West rolled in and defined the body politic of a new united Germany.
Maude Barlow, the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, the director of the International forum on Globalization and the founder of the Blue Planet Project along with Tony Clarke the director of the Polaris Institute of Canada and chair of the committee on corporations for the International Forum on Globalization have documented the rise of Civil Society and the new democracy movement from the Seattle Showdown to the Summit of the Americas in Quebec city in April 2001. Their book Global Showdown – How The New Activists Are Fighting Global Corporate Rule is a must read. It is an excellent primer in preparation for the Summit of the Americas to be held in late April in Quebec, Canada. It is a valuable contribution to all those interested in democracy and formulating a human political agenda for a new millennium.
Barlow and Clarke have, to a degree, an ally in former External Affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy. In an article in The Globe and Mail, Wednesday March 28th commenting on the upcoming Summit of the Americas, Axworthy suggests that the gathering must listen to the voices “outside” for the cause of democracy is at stake. “What can be done at the Quebec Summit to promote and sustain the most crucial issue facing the Americas namely the development of democracy?” The question hovering over that Summit remains: “What will emerge from Quebec to strengthen the capacity of the Americas community to maintain and promote democracy in our neighbourhood?” Most trade negotiations are carried on “without due process, transparency or accountability.” Quebec is an opportunity to rethink the whole issue of trade and democracy. Barlow and Clarke would agree.
Let us take Global Showdown in hand. On November 30th, 1999 ten years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall the World Trade Organization (WTO) arrived in Seattle Washington to launch the “Millennium Round” – “the next phase in creating a seamless global economy with universal rules set by big business for its own advancement.” In Seattle a revolution from “outside” from “below”, from civil society took place. Global Showdown is the story of that revolution. Global Showdown traces the role of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in developing and determining national and international life in recent times. It shows how our own Canadian Department of External Affairs has been co-opted by its force and power resulting in a renaming of this department into the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DEFAIT) with trade the leading language and influence. Barlow and Clarke expose this agenda and the workings of the WTO while at the same time documenting the rise of organizations and movements within civil society, the new movement for democracy.
The role of the politician, the labour union member and the church person, while still important, seems to be eclipsed by the energy, vision and the passion of new and varied movements within civil society. The New lies elsewhere. Bright and articulate people like Naomi Klein (No Logo) and Avi Lewis (CBC counterSpin) speak for a whole new generation of insight and passion who see that things have to change and new venues created if we are to have thriving democracies in the New Millennium. People like Klein and Lewis and movements in civil society are growing in size and imagination that they will appear in retrospect “as significant an historical development as the creation of the nation state in the last part of the nineteenth century.” In the battle against governments and global institutions like the World Trade Organization (WTO) the future lies with civil society for “political power and control cannot be sustained in the long run without popular support.”
Barlow and Clarke show clearly and convincingly that “civil society politics are the politics of the twenty-first century.” They maintain that it is time to take them seriously.
In October of 1998 the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) wanted to ratify a global treaty on direct foreign investment – the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). Public resistance from all sectors of civil society prevented this from happening. It was thousands of small campaigns working in concert but not “directed from on high” with the help of modern technology especially the Internet, which created a political force demanding that governments and global financial institutions deal with them. A movement was born.
This new movement for democracy within civil society believes that the present system of economic globalization “is causing such distress to our ecosystems that the planet is coming dangerously close to meltdown.” Wide-open worldwide markets promote a form of global class warfare. This movement of civil society believes that “transnational corporations have gained far too much power and they now dictate government policies at all levels.” Activists call this “corporate rule.” “They think that the WTO and its sister organizations the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are run by transnational corporations and exist to dictate to governments what they can and cannot do on behalf of their citizens.” Global Showdown in its fifth chapter shows clearly how Ottawa plays the game of the global corporate governance through the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The Trade Secretariat under the Chretien government in 1993 was given the increased powers in relation to Foreign Affairs and most other departments in government. The transnational corporation was the “train leading the world economy” and its agenda had to become the agenda and concern of national governments. As one senior official from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DEFAIT) when talking about trade missions recently stated: “We used to go with lists of political prisoners we wanted released. Now we go with lists of companies that want contracts.”
Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke in Global Showdown invite all of us to take seriously these our times. They remind us that a future is at stake. They call us to take back democracy and make it a part of our everyday living and working. It is not only the future of Canada and its citizens that matter but also the quality of life and relationships on our planet earth. These new movements and organizations within civil society are exciting and hopeful. I do believe that they are the beginnings of our future. At the same time, I am personally aware of what happened in Germany after November 9th, 1989. We are up against forces and power. St. Paul in his writings would say that we are up against “powers and principalities.” I would agree for they are truly structures of sin. A conversion of soul and spirit is needed. It is a call of the religious, of all people of passion and compassion. For citizens of Canada may the Quebec Summit of the Americas be a continuing of the global showdown. Attend the summit in body or spirit and have a copy of Global Showdown in hand.
Paul E. Hansen