Home Mail Articles Stats/current Supplements Subscriptions Links


A daily report from the World Trade Organization summit, Seattle

by LBO editor Doug Henwood

Wednesday, December 1

Seattle is in a state of siege. Cops, paramilitaries scarily clad in black, and National Guard soldiers armed with nothing other than clubs stand at every intersection in numbers ranging from groups of three or four to broad and deep lines of blockade. For much of the day there were scattered demonstrations, but nothing matching yesterday's. The WTO delegates were able to meet, but no one really seems to be paying much attention to official goings-on; the summit looks like a footnote to the real event, the mobilization.

But all was not thoroughly calm. Steelworkers and environmentalists staged a joint Tea Party, dumping loads of steel (symbolizing imports) and hormone-treated beef off a pier. The speeches apparently went on too long for some of the young people, who, accompanied by some Steelworkers and Teamsters, left and headed towards downtown. John Nichols - editorial page editor of the Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin) and co-host of RadioNation's coverage of the events - caught up with them and watched as cops were moving in on them. (There would have been some excellent pictures of this here had not the camera battery died at a particularly bad time.) Avoiding one phalanx coming from their right, the marchers - numbering about a thousand, and behind a banner saying "Capitalism Cannot Be Reformed" - turned left into oncoming traffic, bringing it to a halt. A cop-bearing armored vehicle arrived, and cops jumped off, spraying tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowd, with the cars caught in the fire. The Nation's Peter Rothberg said he saw a whole busful of passengers getting caught in a gassing earlier in the day.

Today the Seattle cops got mean, shedding the anguished liberal demeanor characteristic of the city. Retreating protesters were shot in the back with rubber bullets, and peaceful demonstrators were exuberantly gassed and clubbed.

Alexander Cockburn opined on a South African radio commentary today that the big story was the AFL-CIO's failure Tuesday to direct its marchers towards support of the young folks blocking the streets. The reward for this good behavior, Cockburn claimed, was that AFL-CIO president John Sweeney would be granted an audience with Bill Clinton. Maybe this is true. But it seems to me the big story was that the AFL-CIO is here at all in an official capacity, and that lots of rank-and-file unionists have joined in the street festivities. Steelworkers - mainly strikers from Kaiser Steel - were a significant presence at the march described above, and I saw a guy in a Teamster hat chanting "fuck the corpos!" as he marched. This is not routine behavior for the American working class. Had Sweeney directed the marchers in support of street-blockers that would have been something like a pre-revolutionary act - which is delicious to contemplate, but it would be getting a bit ahead of events. There are, however, evident strains in the unions' ties to the Democratic Party, and these should be cheered and encouraged.

What next? The two major questions of the moment are will this movement continue beyond today, and will the WTO ever recover from this blow?

The movement itself should be seen as part of a worldwide mobilization which is increasingly positioning itself as anti-capitalist rather than merely anti-globalization - a followup to the worldwide June 18 (J18) demonstrations against the G-7 summit, and closely related to the anti-World Bank/IMF movement. These issues of political economy were the province of specialists less than a decade ago; now they're at the center of a great political mobilization. Can it consolidate and expand from here?

Some people - like economist Mark Weisbrot, formerly of the Preamble Center, and now of the newly formed Center for Economic and Policy Research - are saying that the WTO is finished. That seems over-optimistic. But with the major players in the WTO unable to agree on an agenda for a new round of trade talks, and the institution itself under massive political attack, it's hard to argue that its future is very bright. The protesters were saying today, "We won." Yes, they did, though it's not clear exactly what the fruits of victory will be. But their first taste is very sweet.


© Copyright 1999, Left Business Observer. All rights reserved.

Home Mail Articles Stats/current Supplements Subscriptions Links