Date: Sun, 19 Dec 1999 18:35:04 -0500
From: Ronald W Walters <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Black Interests and the "Battle in Seattle"
X-Sender: Ronald W Walters <email@example.com>
Black Interests and the "Battle in Seattle"
By Dr. Ronald Walters <firstname.lastname@example.org>
19 December 1999
Sometimes the creation of a crisis can clarify issues in a way that mere
argument cannot. Such was the case with demonstrations in Seattle against
the World Trade Organization regime which -- miraculously carried by
C-Span and other news outlets -- had the effect of dramatically putting on
the national agenda the opposition of an entire segment of people and
institutions to the direction of the global trade policy.
As is now known, the black leadership split over the Africa Trade Bill
(African Growth and Opportunity Act) and a few months ago, I actually
jumped the gun by saying it would pass, but it became tied up in the
Senate and failed to emerge, becoming a dead letter in this session of the
Congress. At the time of the debate over this bill, however, many ordinary
black citizens were confused about the issues involved because they are
not accustomed, as with other Americans, to having to factor foreign trade
into their reasons for why the quality of life has not improved in some
areas. Nevertheless, some of us have labored to make clear that economic
globalization is picking winners and losers and in an environment where
those who control global finance and business are shaping the rules, they
are designing them to their advantage, not to the advantage of workers and
ordinary black people, either in America or in Africa.
So, the dramatic protests in Seattle outside of the delegate hall made
clear to everyone that in the World Trade Organization, the institution
that has been set up to regulate international trade, concern for core
labor standards is weak. To further prove this, inside the hall where the
delegates debated policy, the final talks broke down over this issue and
the meeting has been declared a failure, not just for the demonstrations,
but because they could not reach a consensus on whether and to what extent
workers would be cut in on the benefits of global trade --- that is the
issue. This means that those of us who oppose the WTO approach are two for
two: no African Trade Bill and no strengthening of the WTO trade regime to
the detriment of workers.
So the demonstrations in Seattle, opposing the WTO contributed to the
hesitation of the delegates to secretly pass rules on such issues as:
environmental degradation, global pricing of some precious commodities,
the genetic content of food and others -- all of which are balanced
against corporate interests. So, why weren't black people more visibly a
part of this movement? I can think of two things.
The first is that so much of the organizing in opposition to the WTO has
been conducted around arcane issues of the plight of sea turtles,
environmental degradation and etc. to the extent that organizers have not
clearly identified core quality of life issues affecting blacks, except
for the African (and Caribbean) Trade Bill, the first problem is to raise
them clearly. The other piece of legislation which surfaced these issues
was the so-called "fast-track" proposals of the White House, which were
designed to give Clinton the authority to negotiate a series of trade
agreements with minimal oversight by the Congress.
In any case, since blacks are workers, what affects their working
conditions and wages would appear to be important to their leaders. The
fact that the international environment is influencing them at an ever
increasing rate, should bring us strongly to the table of this debate.
But there is a problem that I have previously tried to point out. So much
of the black leadership is allied with the Clinton administration on other
issues, that they are not in a position to break with him over trade. That
means that even though Al Gore has the same position on free trade, black
leaders are busy holding endorsement parties for him, as was recently done
by the black political establishment in Baltimore.
To make matters worse, organized labor has been weak on its own opposition
to the administration, having caved-in and supported Clinton and Gore in
`96 even in light of the fact of their strong push on NAFTA and other
anti-union aspects of trade. Labor, now has decided to endorse Al Gore and
fight the battle against free trade in the street. But how much sense does
it make to forfeit the presidential politics as the strongest point of
leverage in public policy? They believe they don't have much choice.
If you look at the current cast of characters in the 2000 presidential
race, this will become clear. Buchanan, whose social issues have bordered
on out-and-out racism, has taken a position free trade that is nationalist
and conservative, but insofar as it protects workers rights and jobs as
opposed to corporate profits, it can also be construed as progressive.
Meanwhile, all the others support "free trade" even George Bush, Jr., the
lone exception being Alan Keyes, the Black Republican who openly referred
to the Seattle demonstrations in a recent presidential debate.
Obviously, there is a need for educational programs that enable people to
identify their interests in the morass of complex issues that are part of
the debate over trade. If the black public, for example, had known that
the U. S. Government had rallied to the interests of pharmaceutical
companies and opposed the attempt of the South African government to
permit the production of AIDS drugs at a cheaper generic price, they might
better understand how the game is being played.
Copyright (c) 1999 Ronald Walters. All Rights Reserved.
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