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Mayday press reports from Paris: le Monde Economie

This article will doubtless annoy the hell out of many around RTS, especially for its insistence on there being "leaders". All the same, it shows how out of step the mainstream political cultures of the UK and the USA are with the real world. There, the critique of free-market globalisation is pretty much the mainstream.

Imagine this appearing on the front page of the Telegraph business section, or even the Observer...

Anti-globalisation campaign weaves its web

Thousands of demonstrators will protest at the IMF and the World Bank, pepped up by their victory in Seattle

"Wind up the Fund, break the Bank and cancel the debt!"* This banner, radical to say the least, heads a week of protest, starting on the 10th, against the "Bretton Woods institutions" at their Spring meeting. The climax of the gathering will be on the 16th, when the demonstrators will try to blockade the opening ceremonies.

"Fifty years is enough!" will be at the head of the procession. This group, launched in 1994 for the anniversary of "the twins" of Washington, calls for fundamental reform of the World Bank and of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - and it's promising "Seattle Mark II" in the streets of the American capital. Let's see.

Third World debt and the misery of the poor countries have been less important in mobilising the North than the effects of laissez faire globalised free trade on jobs, the environment and the presumed dangers of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food.

But whether they oppose GMOs, the World Bank or the IMF, all these activists of that civil society which showed its determination at Seattle have common goals. They want to submit the international institutions to more democratic control; to break the opacity of decision-making and to replace the rationales dictated by triumphalist economic liberalism with new ones.

Politicians respond that parliaments are better incarnations of national representation than is agitation in the streets. The international institutions, they say, are designed precisely to regulate and to organise the global economy. Moreover, they point to the risks when a small number of people claiming to be the voice of the general interest. And they are right. Absolutely right. The challenge after Seattle is that a growing section of public opinion finds itself better represented in the discourse of this new breed of "agitator", quite independent of trades unions and of the political parties, than in that of elected politicians who fail to transmit their concerns.

The fiasco at the WTO and the farrago of finding a new head for the IMF have added to the sense of crisis around these institutions - which globalisation has made into the pillars of international governance as it erodes the power of nation-states. (The OECD, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, is a third pillar.)

So these citizens' movements are reinventing a way to do politics at precisely the time when politicians - powerless to imagine and without the courage to propose alternatives - are at the mercy of economic imperatives over which they seem to have no hold. "People are rediscovering politics, often extreme ways," comments Alain Touraine of the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences in Paris; "This process is normal, and it is positive because what is catastrophic is homogenised thought. [la pensée unique; c.f. la monnaie unique, Single Currency]"

This new opposition is more than a mere rush of blood to the head. Its protagonists are organising a campaign for the long haul. They are weaving the strands of an international network - the fabric of which is denser than ever before because of the unprecedented power of the internet to inform and to communicate.

The International Forum on Globalization is behind most of the large-scale initiatives. [Are you sure about that?] This "network of networks" brings together the most influential movement leaders: Ralph Nader, Lori Wallach, Martin Khor, Vandana Shiva, Susan George and plenty of others... Their strategy is to occupy the foreground of international affairs and thus to raise awareness. Officials of international institutions and governments alike must therefore expect to trip over them often. After Washington they'll be in Brussels in June for the meeting of European bosses; then in Geneva for the United Nations social summit; then they'll regroup in Prague for the annual meetings of the IMF and the World Bank.

In parallel, this group is working with jurists to draw up a declaration of citizens' economic and social rights, and considering an International Court of Economic Justice. They wouldn't dare to believe that these ideas can be implemented any time soon. But the leaders of the challenge have a profile in North and South alike, a discourse and a network which cannot be ignored.


* Original English:
"De-fund the Fund! Break the Bank! Dump the Debt!"

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Updated
17/04/2000

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