The Guardian May 3, 2000


Striking back in Washington

by Steve Lawton

Six months after the Battle for Seattle outside the World Trade 
Organisation summit, tens of thousands marched and demonstrated in 
Washington over the weekend of April 15-17 to demand drastic changes to the 
role of financial institutions that are deepening the wealth divide.

While around 12,000 attended a rally near the White House to hear 
international rights campaigners and trade union leaders, a big contingent 
of trade unionists, environmentalists, student alliance and other protest 
groups, marched in the rain to the World Bank building as Group of Seven 
top capitalist nations' finance ministers met.

Clashes with the huge police presence, estimated to cost US$6 million in 
operations since Seattle, led to over 600 early arrests.

The coalition force Mobilisation for Global Justice (MGJ) reported: "Dozens 
of people were treated for lacerations, pepper-spray, tear gas, and other 
injuries at makeshift clinics set up in the streets. The National Guard 
were also brought in.

In all some 1,300 protesters, according to the Washington Post, had 
been arrested by Tuesday the 18th, packing local jails. Officers were 
brought in from many cities to prepare themselves for future actions on 
their own patch.

The FBI tried to shut down MGJ's radio station, but quick demo action 
foiled them.

Trade unionists had no doubt it was time to act. "I live 30 miles from the 
Mexican border, Southern Arizona steelworkers' leader Ian Robertson, in an 
AFL-CIO report, explained, "where they live on wooden pallets made from the 
maquiladoras [dangerous and intensely exploitative border zone industries] 
where they work.

Blaming IMF-World Bank greed, he went on: "In three nights, nine children 
died from the cold or were asphyxiated trying to keep warm.

Whether from Ohio or Quito, Ecuador, student activists were of a mind in 
their opposition to the strangulation of the developing world that attaches 
a debt-tag to its peoples from the day they are born and thereby 
prematurely die.

The IMF, World Bank and WTO are increasingly seen as secret, unaccountable, 
robber killer institutions of the West. Anti-debt coalition Jubilee 2000 
estimate that in the first three months of this year some 3.5 million 
children had died directly due to the debt crisis.

Yet what does the IMF & WB have concretely to offer? Slow-acting, tip-of-
the-iceberg debt relief for the very worst hit nations, the so-called 
HIPC's  Heavily Indebted Poorest Countries.

President Fidel Castro, at the historic but largely ignored four-day South 
Summit in Havana which concluded the day before the Washington protests, 
pointed out the bare fact of what that amounts to: a negligible 8.3 percent 
of developing countries' total debt.

Combined with the tremendous damage done by the crisis of capitalism in 
Asian countries and their markets, in Russia, Japan and elsewhere, the 
result has led steelworker and student alike to conclude that something 
more is required than the usual reform talk every time there is a crisis.

The South Summit (G77) of 133 developing nations including China, which met 
for the first time since 1967, officially endorsed the protest mobilisation 
in Washington. The Summit represented a landmark setting to work for unity 
and economic self-defence against US-led corporate domination and 
profiteering.

That spirit is hardening. It's expressed by Fidel and some other delegates, 
notably Malaysian Prime Minister Mohamed Mahathir, in sharper terms than 
the final declaration. Fidel agrees with the Mobilisation for Global 
Justice: the IMF should be scrapped.

Developing countries' toughening position is the reason why the Summit was 
treated as a trifle, and why no connection between Havana and Washington 
was made in the media here. Actually, it's better that activists tell us 
what's what.

Bolivian machinist Oscar Olivera was a leader in the resistance to the 
privatisation of his nation's water supply. He hid for four days to avoid 
arrest, the AFL-CIO reported, before escaping to the US.

"The people have recaptured their dignity, their capacity to organise 
themselves  and most important of all, the people are no longer scared, 
Oscar told applauding thousands in Washington.

At the South Summit therefore, Fidel was quite reasonable and measured when 
he called for corporate-driven genocide to be given the Nuremburg trial 
treatment: Hang capitalism, build for development and socialism.

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New Worker

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