Peoples' Global Action Network protests against WTO

Protests and demonstrations against the WTO and its globalisation drive were held in Geneva and all over the world while the 2nd WTO Ministerial meeting was in progress. The Peoples' Global Action Network, a worldwide alliance of organisations and grassroots movements from 56 countries, was particularly active in this regard. We publish below an edited statement released by the Network on this occasion.

EIGHTEENTH May, the Second Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) starts in Geneva, in the context of hundreds of protests all over the world.

Nearly a million people from all social sectors (farmers, indigenous peoples, workers, women, ethnic groups, unemployed and many other groups) have been expressing since the 1st of May our rejection of the WTO, the multilateral trade system, and neoliberal policies - participating in the first international days of action of Peoples' Global Action (PGA) against 'Free' Trade and the WTO.

Among the actions taken during the G8 Summit in Birmingham (16/17 May) and during the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Geneva (18-20 May)

On 16 May, at the same time as the beginning of the G8 Summit, over 100,000 people throughout the world protested against the WTO and its neoliberal policies:

Global Street Parties were celebrated in 35 cities all over the world, for example in Geneva, Birmingham, Sydney, Toronto and Prague, with several thousand people in each town.

In Brazil, a protest march of 40,000 landless and homeless people reached the capital Brasilia; 10,000 unemployed joined them on 18 May. On 20 May, the final day of the WTO conference, a demonstration through the government district of Brasilia is planned.

In India, 23 regional conferences against the WTO are occurring today. In Hyderabad, WTO symbols are being burned in several public places. On Saturday, there were more than 100 actions against the WTO and on 1 May, hundreds of thousands of peasants and workers urged the Indian government to withdraw from the WTO in a massive national rally.

In Canada, a protest against the planned Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) is scheduled for today. There will be further demonstrations and direct actions in different Canadian cities on 20 May. The OECD meeting starting this weekend in Montreal shall be blocked throughout its duration.

On 'Peoples Trade Day' 18 May, actions are being carried out in the United States and in Geneva against different symbolic centres of global capitalism.

Meanwhile, an incredible wave of repression is hitting Geneva: throughout the town, people are being stopped by the police at random, arrested and jailed for hours without any given reason - without judicial basis. Foreign persons who 'do not carry enough money on them' (about 500 SFrs.) are registered for police records and then deported with a prohibition of re-entry.

Peoples' Global Action is a worldwide alliance of organisations and grassroots movements that was formed last February in a conference where representatives of grassroots movements from 56 countries of all continents came together. The conference produced the Manifesto of the PGA (available at that states:

'We live in a time in which capital, with the help of international agencies like the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB) and other institutions, is shaping national policies in order to strengthen its global control over political, economic and cultural life.

Capital has always been global. Its boundless drive for expansion and profit recognises no limits. From the slave trade of earlier centuries to the imperial colonisation of peoples, lands and cultures across the globe, capitalist accumulation has always fed on the blood and tears of the peoples of the world. This destruction and misery has been restrained only by grassroots resistance.

Today, capital is deploying a new strategy to assert its power and neutralise peoples' resistance. Its name is economic globalisation, and it consists in the dismantling of national limitations to trade and to the free movement of capital.

The effects of economic globalisation spread through the fabric of societies and communities of the world, integrating their peoples into a single gigantic system aimed at the extraction of profit and the control of peoples and nature. Words like 'globalisation', 'liberalisation' and 'deregulation' just disguise the growing disparities in living conditions between elites and masses in both privileged and 'peripheral' countries.

Land, water, forest, wildlife, aquatic life and mineral resources are not commodities, but our life support. For decades the powers that have emerged from money and market have swelled their profits and tightened their control of politics and economics by usurping these resources, at the cost of the lives and livelihoods of vast majorities around the world. For decades the World Bank and the IMF, and now the WTO, in alliance with national governments and corporate powers, have facilitated manoeuvrings to appropriate the environment. The result is environmental devastation, tragic and unmanageable social displacement, and the wiping out of cultural and biological diversity, much of it irretrievably lost without compensation to those reliant on it.

The WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, and other institutions that promote globalisation and liberalisation want us to believe in the beneficial effects of global competition. Their agreements and policies constitute direct violations of basic human rights (including civil, political, economic, social, labour and cultural rights) which are codified in international law and many national constitutions, and ingrained in people's understandings of human dignity. We have had enough of their inhuman policies. We reject the principle of competitiveness as solution for peoples' problems. It only leads to the destruction of small producers and local economies. Neo-liberalism is the real enemy of economic freedom.

The need has become urgent for concerted action to dismantle the illegitimate world governing system which combines transnational capital, nation-states, international financial institutions and trade agreements. Only a global alliance of peoples' movements, respecting autonomy and facilitating action-oriented resistance, can defeat this emerging globalised monster. If impoverishment of populations is the agenda of neo-liberalism , direct empowerment of the peoples though constructive direct action and civil disobedience will be the programme of the Peoples' Global Action against 'Free' Trade and the WTO.'

In a press briefing that took place today at the United Nations, the representatives of the PGA declared: 'The struggle that takes place in these days will continue until the disappearance of the WTO and all other institutions and agreements that cause misery and death. It is part of a process of convergence of millions of people fighting all over the planet for a just society in harmony with the environment. The movements that participate in this process want to send a clear message to the WTO: we will not allow economic globalisation to destroy our environment, our culture, our future, our lives. Consequently, we reject the treaties of the WTO and we will not allow their implementation'.

Women's groups express 'outrage' at WTO outcome

Below is a statement by Women's NGOs and the Women's Caucus during the WTO Ministerial Conference.

WOMEN'S NGOs and Women Caucus in Geneva for the 2nd Ministerial Meeting of the WTO, 18 - 20 May are once again outraged at the failure of the Conference and the Ministerial Declaration to recognise and take cognisance of the reality of women's lives, experience and work.

The Commitments made by governments at the Fourth World Women's Congress in Beijing in 1995 failed to play any role in the proceedings of the WTO Conference, especially the commitment to mainstream gender into all policies and programmes. The disconnection between the work of the United Nations and the work of the WTO is of grave concern to women's organisations that have, with the representatives of wider civil society, sought to enshrine the principles of sustainable development.

Women's work, waged and unwaged, valued or not in national accounting systems, sustains all societies and is demanding of appropriate recognition in the policies of the WTO. Women in most societies have multiple responsibilities and burdens which are on the increase as they endure the cost of free trade and market liberalisation. Women's rights are being eroded and their responsibilities are multiplying in their struggle to hold their households, communities and economies together. The benefits of the WTO have been exaggerated and the costs of its policies to women have been totally overlooked.

The Informal Working Group on Women and Trade, established at the First Ministerial Meeting in Singapore in 1996, has produced a number of working papers that have borne out the stated concerns of women world- wide. These include the following:

Women in developing countries are the main producers of food and women everywhere are the key actors in the food systems. The growing concentration of corporate control over the food systems through the WTO Agreements on Agriculture and TRIPs (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) has imperiled and denied women's rights as food producers and consumers. Women's expertise in biodiversity and agriculture is further being undermined by trade liberalisation and the TRIPs agreement. Women have, for thousands of years, had an important and vital role in local trade. However, with the current international trade regime, women are being reduced to suppliers of cheap labour and consumers of foreign goods.

Finally, the call for transparency in the WTO by various governments can only be made worthwhile if it ensures the full and consultative participation of the representatives of civil society determined in an open, broad-based and transparent process.

We note the initiatives of the youth and other people's movements in Geneva and around the world to bring the larger issues related to the WTO and globalisation to a popular level. We salute their courage and their commitment to non-violence and a better world for all.