Free Trade & Globalization

Public Protests Around The World    

Mass protests, throughout history have come at a time when enough of the population are affected by policies of the rulers and elite. They have often been met with brutal, efficient crackdown by the guardians of the elite, be they local police, militias, national militaries, or even another nation's military forces.

The protests against the current forms of globalization and the marginalization it is causing, and the increasing disparities between the rich and the poor that it has predictably led to already, has motivated people all over the world to protest. Seattle in 1999 and Washington D.C. in 2000 were just the more mainstream and reported ones because they were in the home nation of the current superpower, the United States. These protests, directed at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank respectively, were all protests at the effects of the current forms neoliberal/free trade (or more of a mercantilist/imperialist policy of wealth appropriation that is a continuation of such policies throughout history.)

The WTO protest of Seattle were about the trade policies that are being drawn up in undemocratic ways but affecting all people around the world. Here too, the elite's front guard were mobilized to protect the image of the multinational corporations and institutions that support their "rights". The police crackdown was often violent and unprovoked. The IMF and World Bank protests in D.C. were about the policies of the IMF and World Bank towards developing countries. Their methods of "assistance" are criticized for increasing dependencies on the richer nations and promoting a form of development whereby developing nations continue to provide cheap resources and labor to the richer nations, to continue to remain in servitude for the west. These policies are a precursor and basic framework to allow trade policies discussed at the WTO to be effective; they go hand in hand.

It is ironic then, that in many countries, leaders, elected through processes of democracy (themselves often painful, trying and hard-won) have been turning against protestors, via pressure from the aristocracy of that nation and from western financial institutions that are the target of the protests and criticisms.

Mainstream Media Portrayal

The mainstream media portrayal by many western nations, notably the US, has been very biased. Being corporate-owned, and due to the fact that the protestors are voicing concerns over the current form of globalization, which is seen as overly corporate-friendly without appropriate considerations for people, this bias can be seen as quite obvious. However, most people get their views and news from mainstream media, from what are regarded as "respectable" news sources and hence it makes it difficult for additional views and perspectives to be heard, thereby contributing to the on-going process.

Protests Have Occurred All Over The World

"[T]his 'new movement', portrayed by the media as students and anarchists from the rich and prosperous global north, is just the tip of the iceberg. In the global south, a far deeper and wide-ranging movement has been developing for years, largely ignored by the media." — Jessica Woodroffe and Mark Ellis-Jones, States of unrest: Resistance to IMF policies in poor countries, World Development Movement.

Some mainstream media representation may leave the impression that the recent public protests in D.C., Seattle, Prague and other western cities are recent issues, or that these are the only protests, and that only a few are protesting. In fact, Seattle and D.C. protests were international protests in their composition. The mainstream avoided in-depth issues of developing nations in Seattle, for example, while they concentrated on sensationalism.

Both before (long before in many cases) and since Seattle, around the world thousands upon thousands of people have turned up in waves of protests at various IMF, World Bank, WTO meetings or policies in various nations. Repression has been equally brutal and sometimes worse. For example there have been protests in:

  • Argentina
    • up to 80,000 protested against the IMF, in May 2000.
    • Over 7.2 million workers support a 24 hour general strike in defiance of the new IMF-prescribed labour laws, June 2000. [Struggles in Argentina]
  • Australia (even during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, there have been various protests to do with globalization issues).
  • Bolivia [protests in April 2000 led to some bizarre media coverage (Struggles in Bolivia).]
  • Brazil
    • As reported by the World Development Movement (WDM), "[a] referendum asking whether Brazil should discontinue IMF reforms is backed by more than a million people. Organised by the National Council of Bishops and Jubilee 2000, the 'unofficial' referendum is a marked success."
    • The WDM report continues, that on "7 September [2000], to mark the end of six days of voting and Brazil's Independence Day, a demonstration draws thousands of protesters under the banner of Cry of the Excluded. All the main cities in Brazil are "crammed", say reports, with more than 100,000 people in Sao Paulo. The Government had previously called the [above-mentioned] referendum "stupid" and an isolated project undertaken by "minorities"." (emphasis added)
    • To coincide with the annual World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, Switzerland, where multinational corporations get to meet, and have access to world political leaders, Porto Alegre in Brazil, at the end of January 2001 saw a World Social Forum meeting attended by over 10,000 people. The goal was to discuss alternatives to the current forms of globalization.
  • Colombia saw 15,000 workers go on protest and strike regarding IMF's loan conditions requiring further opening up of the economy and cutting back on social provisions and jobs.
  • Costa Rica in March 2000, 10,000 people protested at IMF-prescribed policies of privatization, and faced police brutality in the process.[Costa Rica Reports]
  • Czech Republic (World Bank and IMF meetings in Prague, end of September, 2000)
    • Estimates vary from 20,000 protestors to 50,000
    • As with other places, heavy security response and police brutality was in effect, as predicted.
    • Protests in other regions of the world coincided with this — for example, in the U.S. in all 50 states, there were protests — not that the mainstream media would have described it in much detail.
    • The Prague protests disrupted the IMF and World Bank meetings enough to end the meetings a day early.
    • The IndyMedia Center Prague has much more detail.

    S26 Prague  S26 Global ]
  • Ecuador
    • Marches at the beginning of 2000, see over 40,000 indigenous people protesting US and IMF-prescribed reforms (resulting in 35,000 military personnel and police being deployed).
    • 10,000 protested, also in January, at the fear of dollarization of their economy (which became reality in September, 2000)
    • There was even a coup attempt that month.
    • Numerous strikes and protests occur throughout the first half of 2000 due to IMF reforms. Numbers are in the tens of thousands. (On one occassion, 30,000 doctors were part of a protest).
    • The dollarization and other US/IMF-prescribed policies have left many problems in their wake and protests etc are sure to continue.
    • The above-mentioned WDM report provides more detail. [Struggles in Ecuador]
  • Germany
  • Honduras, where numerous IMF-prescribed cut backs and privatizations policies are being protested. In August 2000, thousands of civil servants went on strike for 24 hours disrupting education, transport and health services. The strikers were opposing plans by the administration of President Carlos Flores to privatize the electricity, telecommunications and social security sectors as required by the International Monetary Fund.
  • India (In some instances there were forced and violent attempts to stop protestors gathering or forming.)
  • Indonesia
  • Kenya has seen many protests on IMF conditionalities.
  • Malawi too has seen protests on IMF conditions, where protestors were dispersed by tear gas. [see: Malawi Reports]
  • Mexico has seen protests that at first sound local but have a more global aspect to it. That is, the struggle is Chiapas of the Zapatistas. While fighting for their indigenous rights (against military crackdowns which human rights groups have heavily criticized), they have seen the effects of the current form of globalization on them very sharply, as this translation from the leader of the Zapatista National Liberation Army shows.
  • Nigera has seen many protests on the IMF austerity measures, and violent crackdown as well.
  • Paraguay has seen protests that have also been met with police violence. IMF reforms are heavily criticized there. [Struggles in Paraguay]
  • Peru
  • South Africa has seen numerous protests as well. The above-mentioned WDM report also mentions that "[o]n of the protesters, Trevor Ngwane, a city councillor from the Soweto township, says, "Many of those debts were used to buy weapons and suppress the people during apartheid. So we are paying twice for it - once with our lives, and now with an inability to fund critical social services. Instead of building health clinics the Government is selling off zoos and libraries to stay in the good graces of the IMF."
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand [Thailand Reports]
  • Turkey has seen protests, the latest being September 2000, where the IMF is pressing for higher energy prices, wage "control" (i.e. reductions) and tax reform.
  • Venezuela. On 27 February 1989, structural changes imposed by the IMF were followed by a popular uprising (the caracazo), but was put down with 4,000 dead.
  • Zambia [see: Zambia Reports]
  • Recent G8 Summits
    [Okinawa G8 2000]
  • The June 18 campaign in 1999 was another highly publicized event, with biased media reporting. This was another international protest, where many major cities in the world on the same day saw large protests. In fact, as this report shows, the June 18 protests occurred all over the world, including:
    • Argentina
    • Australia
    • Belarus
    • Canada
    • Czech Republic.
    • Germany
    • Italy
    • Netherlands
    • Nigeria
    • Pakistan
    • Spain
    • Switzerland
    • United Kingdom
    • United States
    • Uruguay
    • Zimbabwe

    Note that in many of these countries, the protests were in numerous cities.

These are just a small number of examples. (It is not even a complete list.) And protests are likely going to continue around the globe if policies continue along the way they are. (And supressions or crackdowns are equally likely — ironically by the policing forces that are meant to uphold people's rights, who instead are and will be upholding and protecting the rights of the elite and power holders. The mainstream media too is likely to continue its negative portrayal, as it affects them directly as well.)

In fact, just a few months after writing the previous paragraph, amongst other places, we have seen police crackdowns in Davos, Switzerland, at the beginning of 2001 at the annual World Economic Forum and we see that the next WTO meeting will be held in Qatar so that protestors cannot have a chance of voicing their concerns (because Qatar has oppressive laws about such things). Unforunately this pattern is likely to continue.

Protestors Are Labeled as Anti-Trade and Anti-International

The (corporate-owned) mainstream media have often criticized the protestors for being anti-trade or against international cooperation and hence anti people, or against giving a chance for the poor to have a decent chance for a standard living. In fact, it couldn't be further from the truth! Most protestors are for international trade. However, the corporate-owned media assume that the current form of globalization (i.e. corporate-led) is the only way (and this is more anti-people than protestors have ever been). It is already shown that this is increasing disparities (which has been predicted by many over a number of years). Protestors are therefore voicing their concerns to these issues.

However, there is one aspect the media have concentrated on disproportionately although not realized that it is a concern with the protests. That is, in the US especially, elements of the Right Wing have been also opposing globalization and the progressive protestors risk forming a dangerous alliance with them. The Right Wing have a more isolationist agenda that the media attributes to all the protestors. While that is a concern and something most would oppose, the vast majority of protestors in Seattle and D.C. for example, have been progressive people concerned at the social welfare and basic human (i.e economic and social as well as civil and political) rights for those affected.

In the industrialized countries, there is the additional concern for one's own job moving overseas which has also led to more people voicing their concerns. As globalization in its current form continues, and IMF/World Bank policies continue to open up developing countries and force their wages and resources to become cheaper and cheaper, this puts a downward pressure on wages in the western countries as well (because corporations move to those cheaper areas, where they can take advantage of the exploitation that can be done). Hence while many in developed nations may have additional reasons to join in the protests, the voices of protestors from developed and developing countries are at the same concern — the effects of overly corporate-led forms of globalization.

To developing countries, the effects are much worse as standards are systematically reduced. The chance of improvement for most people around the world, for an equitable share and chance are all becoming less likely as the dependency and influence of outside force take control over their lives, directly or indirectly. In developing countries especially, many are aware of the geopolitical processes at play, as many have lived through struggles against imperialism and colonialism. However, as the effects of western policies are now also affecting a large number of citizens in their own countries, protests are getting louder. While there may be elements of nationalism and anti-internationalism involved, by far the largest factor is fairness, equity, social justice, environmental, basic rights etc. in international trade as international policies affects domestic policies.

Police Brutality and Other Civil Rights Violations Ignored

"A million dollar bail for walking down the street with a cell phone during a demonstration. Passports taken and political activity forbidden because of a misdemeanor act of civil disobedience. The big boys don't like to be messed with, whether they are bombing the s[#$!] out of a Third World country or meeting in luxury hotels and convention centers to keep the reins of the world economy in their little paws. There's growing, worldwide opposition to corporate global pillage. The response, typical of autocratic regimes, is the criminalization of dissent." — The Criminalization of Dissent,

The media has also ignored the often brutal police and law enforcement crackdowns. Tactics have included:

  • torture
  • physical and sexual violence
  • detaining suspects without proof
  • not providing food or water or access to lawyers
  • absurd bails
  • and so on.

And this isn't just in countries where civil rights are not as prominent. These are some of the same problemsthat have occurred in the United States.

Another tactic used has been to get the police to infiltrate as "anarchists" as happened inPrague and Seattle.

In some places, including the US, where there are an expected large turnout in public protests, the localpolice have often had to quickly increase their numbers that are present. This itself has sometimes not helpedas often the rushed increase leads to more untrained police in comfrontational situations, who are more armedthan citizens protesting.

For more information

The links below provide additional information on some of the Free Trade-related issues that have hit the media recently. Simply click on one of them to find out more.

  • Free Trade and Globalization
  • A Primer on Neoliberalism
  • Criticisms of Current Forms of Free Trade
  • The Mainstream Media and Free Trade
  • The WTO and Free Trade
  • Deregulation or Protectionism?
  • Some Regional Free Trade Agreements
  • Public Protests Around The World
  • WTO Protests in Seattle
  • General Agreement on Trade in Services
  • Multilateral Agreement on Investment
  • Links for More Information

"Bad ideas flourish because they are in the interest of powerful groups." — Paul Krugman