Stay home for a while
July 23, 2001 / The Guardian
Plenty of old hands were saying someone would die at Genoa. The signs were clear in the escalating militarisation on both sides. But the members of the Landless Movement of Brazil (MST) could tell you that Carlo Giuliani, the young man shot dead as he protested at the G8 summit, is not the first casualty of the movement challenging neoliberal globalisation around the world.
The MST suffer ongoing persecution for their campaign for land reform in Brazil, their opposition to the World Bank’s programme of market-led land reform and to the corporate control of agriculture through patents on seed. Recently three students protesting against World Bank privatisation were shot in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Young men fighting World Bank-imposed water privatisation have been tortured and killed in Cochabamba, Bolivia. George Bush, Tony Blair and Clare Short, who portray those who protest at the unaccountable institutions of global governance as ignorant, violent enemies of the poor, do not seem to notice that the poor are leading the protests.
Those who run the global economy still seem to think their worst problem is that they can’t find a secure place to meet. Instead of addressing the root causes of the protests, the World Trade Organisation is fleeing to the Qatar desert, beyond the reach of even the most determined activist. The real problem is that its ideological adherence to “free” trade is casting it not just into the desert, but into the political wilderness. The regime it is implementing is so destructive that it is sparking off a global uprising against neo-liberalism.
Broadly, these uprisings can be described as struggles against the commodification of every aspect of life – water, genes, atmosphere, healthcare, culture, public spaces, land. For each locality, the moment when the people cry “Enough!” is different – but it is usually the moment when something regarded as central to the culture becomes privatised.
For the Zapatistas of Mexico it was the signing of the Nafta agreement, which outlawed the common ownership of land which Emiliano Zapata, folk hero and revolutionary of 1911, had fought for.
For much of southeast Asia it was the IMF austerity measures imposed on their shattered economies after the financial crisis of 1997. In Britain, it may be the slow sell-off of the NHS to private healthcare multinationals. Antoni Negri and Michael Hardt, in their seminal work, Empire, call this grassroots network of struggles “the multitude”. It is the opposite of a concentrated strata of power from above, in which decisions that affect billions of human lives are made at a transnational level.
The multitude embodies the real world below: humanity, nature, culture, diversity – all those factors not reducible to a commodity to be bought and sold in a global marketplace. In fact, the movement is not “anti-globalisation” at all. If anything, it embodies “globalisation from below” – an international multitude which challenges the idea that “the global surfaces of the world market are interchangeable”.
But the movement, particularly in the wake of the Genoa summit, urgently needs to build its own, alternative democratic legitimacy. For democratising the global economy will ultimately not come through increasingly militant action at summits, but through building a genuine, grassroots legitimacy from below. Instead of chasing into the desert in Qatar, we should build a broad-based, pro-democracy movement at home.
In a million small ways in Britain, that process has already begun. As a result of campaigning by the World Development Movement, the Scottish parliament will be holding the first parliamen-tary debate over WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services, which threatens to lock anything deemed a “service” into privatisation. Unions are beginning to organise against Gats; the rank and file are already beginning to rebel over public sector sell-offs.
Middle England continues to complain about GM crops and the railways, while Scottish crofters have joined the radical, anti-WTO, international peasant farmers’ union, Via Campesina – whose largest member is the MST. This is the birth of a genuinely popular global uprising against corporate control and the hijacking of democracy. The movement against economic globalisation: coming to a town near you.