Seattle protests illuminate implications of trade talks

The Report: November / December 1999 vol.20 num.4


On November 30th, the world witnessed demonstrations in Seattle unlike anything that wehave seen since the protests of the 1960s. The mounting concern, rising to a level thatbrought thousands of people into the streets around the world on the opening day of theWTO talks, is indicative of the fear that people have about increasing globalization,unfettered market practices and the implications for democracy, the environment and humanrights.

Democracy is at the core of the WTO protests. While the WTO denies that it acts on behalfof corporations (it claims that the rules are the result of negotiations amonggovernments), the fact is that the rules are written by and for corporations with insideaccess to the negotiations. Input from consumer, environmental, human rights and labourorganizations is consistently ignored. It is the structure of the WTO (who is there) andthe processes (proceedings in secret; dispute panels made up of trade bureaucrats) that isbeing challenged by a growing number of organizations and individuals.

Frustrated by the inability to change the structure and process through traditionalchannels, people have taken to public demonstrations to capture the attention of thebroader public, shed light on the implications of international trade negotiations andinitiate a broader and more inclusive debate about the proceedings and decisions.

The "think globally, act locally" slogan captured our imagination and gave everyday people a sense that they could belong and contribute to society at all levels. It madeus feel that as individuals, we are part of a greater whole and our every day actions havesignificance.

Most importantly, opponents of the WTO have reminded us that the society that would resultif we "act globally, without thinking locally" may help large corporations, butcould have dire consequences for working people, our families and our communities.