Why has Seattle Left Us?
by Lee, Chang-Geun(PICIS, firstname.lastname@example.org)
The WTO negotiations in Seattle have ended without reaching an agreement and there have been many analyses about the results. There have been somewhat crude reports about the results of the Seattle negotiations being due to the actions and voices of the NGOs and the tens of thousands of activists on the streets in Seattle. However, we must be wary of being too self-complimentary about the results, and analyze and evaluate the happenings in Seattle more closely and calmly, and based upon it plan our future action.
Clinton’s remark upon arrival in Seattle that “the voices of the NGOs on the street should be heard” was a carefully calculated political move, one which was used to give weight to the U.S. government’s position in the Seattle negotiations. The U.S. steadfastly held to its demand that global labor standards be put in place and be discussed at the WTO negotiations in relation to trade, despite opposition from the 3rd world countries, (global labor standards were also one of the AFL-CIO’s demands), and stressed it even more after the first day’s intense demonstrations. This has led to the view that the movement was somewhat manipulated or used by the U.S. government to further its own interests. The fact that the AFL-CIO is supporting Al Gore and the Democratic Party, which Clinton is a part of, also supports this view.
The relationship between labor standards and trade is one of the key issues which led to the negotiations breaking off without any results. It is a very sensitive issue, with a long history of clear differences between different parties, even among the people’s movement organizations. Positions on this subject also clashed at the Seattle meetings.
On the surface, it took the form of a standoff between the U.S.’s position that ‘countries which do not abide by the labor standards should be penalized’ and the 3rd world countries’ voice that ‘labor standards are just another form of protectionism.’ However, it is not hard to figure out that the U.S.’s position on the subject serves the American capitalist class in that it allows them to protect themselves from cheaper 3rd world products, and the American working class in that it protects their jobs. The third world countries’ voice also takes the position of their own local capitalists since it enables local capitalists to continue the barbarous exploitation of workers.
Neither one of the positions is valid in our search for the furthering of workers’ rights and the people’s basic rights on global scale. The AFL-CIO has demanded that labor standards be included as a topic at the WTO meetings. However, when we look back upon similar efforts at the NAFTA negotiations, we can see that committees and clauses for such standards in the NAFTA were powerless. It ended up serving the corporations in the end by giving the impression that such standards were taken seriously by the NAFTA system. Such demands only serve to increase the power and authority of the WTO. As such trends continue, treaties and declarations, which are products of long-lasting international struggles by the people, such as the Universal Human Rights Declaration and the ILO Labor Standards can only lose their effectiveness and influence. What is presently needed are struggles to strengthen the authority and influences of such progressive declarations and treaties, and also to struggle for these standards and principles to be accepted at the national level. We believe that this is the minimum strategy to resist the free trade order of the WTO.
It is possible to draw two principles for our future activities from Seattle. The first is that the discussions on labor and environmental standards must not go on inside the WTO system in a way which strengthens the WTO’s power and authority, but in a form which increases the authority and influence of other progressive international institutions or statements. The second is that environmental and labor standards must be considered as principles which should be ratified in each state, but exposing the reasoning of the ruling class in demanding these standards must also be included in the struggles, so as to prevent the products of these struggles from serving the ruling class’s interests. Workers in the North should remember that they have steadily lost their jobs under the name of restructuring and workout, even in the industrial areas which have not faced competition with the Third World’s cheap products. And workers in the South also should remember that local capitalists have oppressed the workers’ rights only for their higher profit.
However, it is impossible to degrade the entire movement in Seattle as being ‘manipulated’ or ‘used’ by the U.S. government’s position on the WTO negotiations. There were demonstrations and rallies all over the world, and even in Seattle, although the AFL-CIO was the biggest organization present, there were hundreds of other activists, farmers, environmental activists, feminists, and unemployed, from hundreds of other organizations world-wide, who did not agree with the AFL-CIO’s views. There were also rank and file workers who did not agree with the leaderships views, who continued to participate in the demonstrations after the first day’s AFL-CIO-led rally. The voices all over the world against the WTO, and the solidarity between hundreds of organizations in Seattle prevent the Seattle movement from being devalued.
Even though the Seattle talks collapsed, the negotiations on Agriculture and Services will start from Jan. 1, 2000, and the capitalists and imperialist countries will try again to launch the so-called ‘New Round’ next year. The Korean government also continues to maintain its policy of ‘liberalization and market openness’ after the collapse of the Seattle talks. During the last negotiation for the Seattle talks, the government has made every endeavour to get some results on the issues of ‘customs valuation’ of non-agricultural products and ‘anti-dumping’, in which the Chaebol, Korea’s big companies have strong interests. However, the government has no concern over the issues of agriculture, public services, including education and healthcare, environmental services, including drinking water, and patents on life in TRIPs, which have affected and also will affect people’s livelihood directly. The government only serves the Chaebol and has no consideration for democracy, labor rights, ecology, human rights, and cultural diversity in the process of WTO negotiation. We, the Korean people, oppose strongly this kind of position of the government, every WTO talk for ‘more liberalization and openness’, and every plan to strengthen the WTO’s power and authority. We support strongly the argument that Agreements on sectors essential to the people, including Agriculture, Education, Health, Culture, and Drinking, water must be taken out of the WTO.
Even though we don’t think that it is no alternative to the WTO, we believe that it can pave the way for our future struggles against globalization and the WTO.
No to WTO!
No to New Round!
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