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Anti-WTO Chicago Rally Report

Date: 12/03 10:34 AM
From: Haldon C. Sutton,
The following is my report on the WTO demonstration that was held in Chicago:
Hal Sutton Chicago/Seattle protests

As tens of thousands of protestors from across the nation were venting their anger in the streets of Seattle as the World Trade Organization (WTO) was opening its week-long meeting in that city, more than two hundred protestors in Chicago voiced their feelings about the all- encroaching abuses of the globalized economy.

Lynn Talbott, International vice president of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) captured the essence of the protestors anger: "We are not against international trade and we are not against the global economy; they are not really the issue. The issue is who is going to make the rules and who is going to benefit? Until now, all of the WTO's rulings have favored the major multinational corporations at the expense of workers and the environment."

"Under WTO rules, countries are not allowed to treat imports differently based on how they are produced -- we can't bar imports made by child labor, slave labor, or by labor that is extremely low paid and that works under intolerable conditions," Talbott continued. "Imports made under these unhealthy conditions must not be allowed into our markets to compete with U.S. products made by workers with good jobs in plants regulated by labor, health and safety laws because this unfair competition drives down wages and causes factories to ship production out of the U.S. to Mexico, Indonesia, China and other countries where labor and environmental laws either don't exist or are not enforced."
Talbott denounced "Zenith, Xerox, Inland Steel and scores of other companies" for closing their facilities in Illinois and moving production overseas and complained that "other companies have threatened to move plants to other countries as a ploy to force workers to accept low wages and lesser benefits." "We think it's time to stop this mad race to the bottom," Talbott declared, insisting that workers, consumers, environmental groups and human rights organizations must participate in the formulation and enforcement of rules and regulations for the conduct of all participants in the global economy. Talbott concluded, "We demand that the WTO refrain from further negotiations until strong enforceable labor, environmental and human rights regulations are written into the core language of each and every trade agreement."

Daniel De La Palma (sic), from Su Casa Catholic Worker and the Columbia Support Network, described developments that have occurred in Columbia since that nation joined the General Agreement of Tarriffs and Trade (GATT, the predecessor of the WTO) in 1981 and became an active participant in 1993: "In Columbia, 3,832 people were killed for political reasons in 1998. And, 81 trade unionists were killed from Jan., 1997 to May, 1998, which means that half of the trade unionists killed all around the world in that period were killed in Columbia. And, over the last ten years, a third of the trade unionists killed all around the world were killed in Columbia. Right now, there is a bill in the U.S. Congress requesting $1,600,000 in military aid to Columbia. And, this military aid will support WTO regulations."

Dolores Brooks, from the Eighth Day Center for Justice and the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility complained: "Through the WTO, any company has the right to file suit against any city, any state, or any country. And the damage that has been done so far has mostly been to people who don't even earn a living wage to begin with. Laws protecting sea turtles from shrimp nets were overturned through WTO challenges."

Gary Casette, from the Chicago Religious Leadership Network, read a letter signed by religious leaders that was sent to the director general of the WTO: "As religious and community leaders, we write to oppose any effort to expand the powers of the WTO at the upcoming Seattle meeting beginning Nov. 30, until a thorough evaluation is completed of the impact of the WTO on hundreds of millions of impoverished people around the world. We are deeply troubled that the poorer majorities of our hemisphere and the world continue to be excluded from the benefits of the globalizing economy. Our concern about the WTO meeting is grounded in our religious roots. In the Hebrew scripture, God reminds us that the Earth is God's common provision for all, not for the benefit of some to the exclusion of others.

"Global inequalities in income and living standards have reached grotesque proportions. The three richest officers of the Microsoft Corporation have more assets, nearly $140 billion, than the combined Gross National Products of the 43 least developed countries, and their 600 million people. The richest 20 percent of the global population share 86 percent of the world's Gross Domestic Product, while the majority 80 percent of the population of this planet share a meager 14 percent.

The World Bank concludes that over one half of the world's population survives on $2 dollars a day, and half of that number on $1 dollar a day. "We call on the WTO to stop and evaluate its role in this grotesque gap between the rich and the poor and to search for new initiatives that will allow the poor majorities of the world to benefit from fair trade rather than be victimized by it. This evaluation should address the WTO's impact on marginalized communities' sustainable development, the environment, public health, human rights, labor rights and the rights of women and children. It is essential that this review be conducted with the full participation of civil society. We call on the WTO to become fully transparent, operating with more participatory participation, open process, and involving civil society in an ongoing way."

After the protestors, who had gathered at Chicago's Federal Plaza at Adams and Dearborn also heard speeches from representatives of the Sierra Club, the Green Party and a student activist from the University of Chicago, they marched with a police escort through downtown Chicago to the Old Navy store, which is owned by the Gap, Inc.

In a short rally, the protestors denounced the global business practices of the GAP Inc., asserting that the company unfairly exploits clothing workers in its overseas facilities and "has refused to abide by anti-sweatshop standards." The protestors also contended that the founder and CEO of the GAP has played an instrumental role in the formulation of WTO policies since its inception.

Other organizations that sponsored and participated in the Chicago protest were the Illinois Fair Trade Campaign, American Friends Service Committee, Young Democratic Socialists, Democratic Socialists of America, National Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues, Jobs with Justice, Jubilee Economics Ministries, and the Citywide Coalition Against Sweatshops, which includes Students Against Sweatshops from Loyola University, DePaul University, and the University of Chicago.

In solidarity, Hal Sutton

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