[Documents menu] Documents menu
Date: Sun, 19 Dec 1999 18:35:04 -0500
Message-Id: <199912192335.SAA18499@lists.tao.ca>
From: Ronald W Walters <rwalters@bss2.umd.edu>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Black Interests and the "Battle in Seattle"
Sender: worker-brc-news@lists.tao.ca
Precedence: bulk
To: brc-news@lists.tao.ca
X-Sender: Ronald W Walters <rwalters@bss2.umd.edu>
X-WWW-Site: http://www.blackradicalcongress.org/

Black Interests and the "Battle in Seattle"

By Dr. Ronald Walters <rwalters@bss2.umd.edu>
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.

[Articles on BRC-NEWS may be forwarded and posted on other mailing lists/discussion forums, as long as proper attribution is given to the author and originating publication, and the wording is not altered in any way. In particular, if there is a reference to a web site where an article was originally located, please do *not* remove that.

Unless stated otherwise, do *not* publish or post the entire text of any copyrighted articles on web sites (web-based discussion forums exempted) or in print, without getting *explicit* permission from the article author or copyright holder. Check the fair use provisions of the copyright law in your country for details on what you can and can't do.

As a courtesy, we'd appreciate it if you let folks know how to subscribe to BRC-NEWS, by leaving in the first two lines of the signature below.]

BRC-NEWS: Black Radical Congress - General News/Alerts/Announcements Subscribe: Email "subscribe brc-news" to <majordomo@tao.ca>