Victory For Workers In Seattle:
Workers Students, Activists Rout WTO
the biggest global victory for workers in decades, thirty thousand
unionists, and tens of thousands of students, environmentalists
rights activists stopped the World Trade Organization in its
sent its 133 Trade Ministers home in utter defeat. The Battle
Seattle has made it almost impossible for the WTO to take
major new steps in the next few years to further drive down
working conditions and environmental standards throughout the
Before the week of protests and demonstrations, most workers
in the US
and around the world had never even heard of the WTO, but now
capitalist governments that run it and their thieving corporate
can no longer work quietly in the dark to undermine workers and
everywhere. Seattle may well be the first step in stopping and
back a generation of losses for working people, a real turning
National Political Protest By Labor In Decades
This was the first major political protest by US workers
Major unions such as the Steelworkers, ILWU and a host of others
mobilized thousands of their members. Over three thousand workers
Canada and delegations from many countries around the world also
together to make their voice heard. Over 50 busses were paid
British Columbia labor movement for workers and protesters to
West coast ILWU longshoremen shut down the coast for 8 hours,
Taxi drivers went on strike on Tuesday November 30 and tens of
of workers throughout Seattle and around the country took off
attend the demonstrations and meetings.
Brian McWilliams, president of the ILWU challenged the
bosses in a speech at the labor rally. "In closing the
ports, the ILWU
is demonstrating to the corporate CEOs and their agents here
that the global economy will not run without the consent of the
everywhere in this country and around the world." This received
response from the crowd.
"When the ILWU boycotted cargo from El Salvador and
Africa, when we would not work scab grapes from the California
cross picket lines in support of the fired Liverpool dockers,
concrete expressions of our understanding that the interests
people transcend national and local boundaries, and the labor
truly means that when necessary we will engage in concrete action."
Also for the first time at an AFL-CIO mass protest, Williams
where the wealth comes from. "Let's not allow the free traders
us as isolationist anti-traders. We are for trade. Don't ever
is the labor of working people that produces all the wealth."
new words for the AFL-CIO and the rank and file.
The protest was also the most important linking up of
the environmental movement and human rights movement with labor
1960's civil rights movement. It was the power of this alliance
brought the WTO down, uniting labor's numbers and organization
daring, civil disobedience and broad-based support of
students,environmentalists and other activists, whose actions
workers to cut loose from the attempts of union bureaucrats to
protests "within bounds".
Arrested protesters were now joined together in jail.
"After he was
arrested in Seattle, (UC Student) Vandaei found himself sitting
people who were involved in different causes than he was. They
gathered with their hands tied behind their backs, waiting for
be taken away by police wagons. 'It forced us to sit here together
union workers, with Teamsters, with environmentalists,' Vandaei
'You get arrested together, you ask each other's names.' said
San Francisco Examiner December 5, 1999
It is this newly-forged alliance that will give workers
they need in every city in the country.
A Lightning Rod For World Mobilization
What brought this together as a lightning rod was the
international meeting of the World Trade Organization. The WTO,
organization where multi-national corporations and their servants
governments come together to secretly map out how they will
increase their control of the world's economy. The past round
of trade negotiations and decisions organized by
the WTO has led to massive privatization and deregulation of
banking,telecommunication and utility industries combined with
cuts in education, housing and health care. The WTO order governments
eliminate environmental, health and safety regulations, and pressed
to cut back on any protection of workers in a race to cut the
labor to the bone. Collaborating with the IMF(International Monetary
Fund) and the World Bank, the WTO pressured countries to go along
this economic agenda or face trade sanctions and huge fines.
The latest planned WTO meeting was an effort to extend
"liberalization's" toward the total elimination of
all food and
agricultural tariffs, a move that would benefit the giant US
and food conglomerates while wiping out small farmers and agricultural
workers around the world. It would create a new flood of unemployed
coming out of the countryside and drive wages down still further.The
resistance of not only underdeveloped countries to this expansion
WTO but even of major economic partners, who face their own protests
home, was evident even before the WTO met. A new round of trade
negations would have inevitably led to more attacks on workers
as well, more privatizations, more gutting of social services
Blame Us" Says Clinton
The WTO is in reality controlled by the United States
help from its major allies, Japan and the European Union. For
countries, it is part of an American-run world government. Because
WTO makes its decisions in secret, far from any possible democratic
control, it has functioned as a way for corporations to win wildly
unpopular policies that hurt workers in the United States as
"Don't blame us", say American politicians like Bill
Clinton, " The WTO
forced us to do it!"
Growing opposition to the expansion the the WTO rules
subsidies was also significant in major capitalist allies of
States like Europe and Japan.
The Japanese LDP government and Prime Minister Obuchi's
base of support
is in the countryside. After the war the capitalists with the
the US gerrymandered the country to favor the more conservative
An elimination of tariffs in Japan would eliminate the rice farmers
drive the LDP out of power. Clinton and proponents of expanding
coverage were aware of this and realized that they had nothing
to lose by
"talking" about including labor rights.
Labor Bureaucrats Welcome WTO's Mike Moore
The Director-General of the WTO, Mike Moore was a true
example of the
kind of collaborator the WTO looked to in its effort to expand.
WTO Chair Mike Moore had in fact won the job for helping
to lead the
biggest assault on New Zealand's working class and poor in history.
leader of the New Zealand Labor Party, Moore launched a massive
privatization of whole sections of the economy from the ports
and safety. These actions split the New Zealand labor movement
created a dangerous division between the public workers and private
Leading up to the massive protest of the WTO convention
was also a
meeting of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions
This was it's first meeting in the United States.This organization
was set up by the AFL-CIO and the CIA to help be a counterweight
Russian controlled Word Federation of Trade Unions has now become
largest international trade union federation with the membership
affiliation of most unions around the world.
Bill Jordan, chair of the ICFTU is also the former right
wing leader of
the AUE in the United Kingdom. He had invited none other than
to have an exchange at the ICFTU conference. Moore was clearly
uncomfortable but did his best. He accused the ICFTU and other
of the WTO of being against "internationalism". He
said that their
opposition to free trade would hurt workers around the world.
Bob White of the Canadian Labor Congress was the sharpest
called the Moore's view 180 degrees wrong. White said the problem
that multi-nationals and other corporations were seeking to violate
and protections of workers in order to continue their child labor
other labor violations. White and others at the meeting called
and the WTO to integrate the ILO and UN resolutions on labor
The focus however of the ICFTU meeting besides getting
a seat at the
table for the union officials was to push the WTO to set up
group" that would discuss labor and environmental conditions
according to their plan, would eventually be included in the
text of the
WTO agreements. This was hardly radical. In fact, the US head
Chamber of Commerce agreed with this perspective and Clinton
in a private
meeting with John Sweeney and others said he would continue to
"reform" of the WTO.
While raising the issue of labor rights and environmental
little was said by both the ICFTU leaders and the AFL-CIO leadership
about the actual economic program of the WTO. This so called
"liberalization" and "structural reform program"
of the WTO went mostly
unchallenged at the ICFTU meeting and in most speeches of the
leadership. One women unionists demanded to know of Moore whether
supported continued "privatization" of education and
turning it over to
the "market economy". Moore refused to address this
and many of the other
When media critic and journalist Norman Soloman asked
Sweeney at an
ICFTU press conference on December 29 if the reason that he was
asking for a "working group" was so that he would
not embarrass AFL-CIO
supported presidential candidate Vice President Al Gore, Sweeney
livid. He declared that this was not tokenism and that they
He was also asked how the AFL-CIO, the German trade union
call for more transparency of the WTO when these organizations
were undemocratic. Sweeney and Dieter Schulte of the DGB denied
they were undemocratic and said the questioner was only really
representing the interests of the corporations.
"WTO Must Go" Or "fix it"?
of the coalition that came to protest the WTO had a clear
demand--get rid of it. As the demonstrators chanted, "The
WTO must go!"
The very least protesters aimed at was preventing the new round
negotiations from starting.
John Sweeney and the other top labor leaders had other ideas.
wanted a "partnership" like those they have been pushing
in the US-- for
"a seat at the table" for union officials to push the
WTO to set up a
"working group" that would discuss labor and environmental
that, according to their plan, would eventually be included in
of the WTO agreements. This was hardly radical. In fact the US
the Chamber of Commerce agreed with this perspective and Clinton
private meeting with John Sweeney and others said he would continue
push this "reform" of the WTO. Like in any labor-management
the idea was to let management do what it wants, while labor
pretend that they are standing up for workers.
Pursuing this strategy of not breaking with Clinton and
Gore, but being
pushed by tens of thousand of rank and filers to protest the
and company planned a tame protest, keeping the tens of thousands
labor marchers away from the WTO meeting- place and the militant
of students, environmentalists and others. But the rank and file
In The Streets
On Tuesday, November 30th the mobilization exploded in
streets. Besides the trade union rally and march, thousands of
blockaded the intersections and WTO delegates from around the
unable to get to and from their hotels.
When the WTO has met in other countries, whole sections
inner city are blocked off to prevent protesters from getting
mayor of Seattle thought that he could continue to have the WTO
simply blocking off the convention center. The police at first
charge the demonstrators but when it became clear that the whole
convention could not even convene without clearing the streets,
was given to blast away.
CS gas was shot into the crowds, concussion bombs were
and large cans of pepper spray were used on the protesters as
well as any
tourist who might happen to be around. The police also began
to beat the
demonstrators and anybody else they could get their hands on.
This led to
a angry crowd and the trashing of the windows of The Gap, Starbucks,
McDonalds and a host of other chain stores.
Prior to the march, the police were using gas but when
march began, the tear gas stopped as thousands of unionist left
stadium and were headed downtown. The IAM march marshals sought
prevent the unionists from reaching downtown to join the mostly
protesters. They physically blocked two intersections and sought
divert the marchers toward another hotel where they said a sit-in
take place. They were primarily interested in preventing the
of the thousands of youth with the unionists in battle against
and the WTO.
Many workers marched right past the march marshals. The
many other unionists went downtown to join the youth who were
protesting. In one instance, police were chasing some youth and
delegation of ILWU longshoremen. They quickly turned around
The Steelworkers had brought hundreds of striking workers
Oregon Steel and Kaiser Aluminum to Seattle for the whole week
got a view of American justice that will never go away. This
signals a very important change in the thinking not just of the
steelworkers but hundreds of thousands of workers throughout
The beginning of the week was just the start of a tumultuous
police riot. The police also attacked a steelworkers march a
later with tear gas and marauded through not only the downtown
neighborhoods like Capital Hill to terrorize the population.
The mayor brought in the National Guard and also declared
of emergency and curfew after 7 PM on Tuesday and this was used
police to make further arrests and encouraged their rampage against
protesters. Over 600 were arrested and dozens were injured from
and plastic bullets.
Rout of the WTO
The result of this battle was a complete rout not of the
but of Clinton and his cronies. Not only could the WTO not open
with the center of Seattle tied up by pretests and turned into
camp by police in Star-Wars gear, it was impossible for them
accomplish anything. The trade talks collapsed without even a
statement--there is to be no new WTO round of negotiations. Clinton
scared to ram through a new agreement because he knew that his
Sweeney could not control the labor troops. His signature on
a new WTO
agreement would mean that millions would bolt the labor-Democrat
"Mr. Clinton's advisers worried that the agenda
emerging from the talks
would so outrage American labor unions that they would denounce
administration and Vice President Al Gore, who needs the unions'
energetic support in his bid for the presidential nomination.
that this agenda could further jeopardize chances of winning
Congressional approval for China's entry into the trade organization,
which was negotiated in Beijing just two and a half weeks ago."
Times December 5, 1999.
Lost At Seattle?
The most overt anger from the union bureaucracy over
the collapse of the
talks was International Metal Workers General Secretary Marcelllo
Malentacchi. On December 7, 1999 in a public statement, Malentacchi
complained about the protests.
"The march was a success until a few hundred started
the riots and
managed to attract all the mass media's attention. And now these
are claiming victory. Maybe they are the winners. But then what?
trade unions have lost two years of hard work. We will have to
over again and organize our action even better, to make sure
that at the
next meeting, in two years' time, our demands are met by the
trade." Maybe Malentacchi is pitching himself for the job
that Mike Moore
will soon be leaving and wants to set the proper tone.
Other governments saw well enough what would happen back
home if they
struck a new rotten deal. "All these post-Seattle maneuvers
carefully monitored in Beijing. 'The Seattle meeting has poured
water on WTO' prospects, says Hai Wen, deputy director of the
Center for Economic Research at Beijing University. Already conservatives
are counseling Beijing to go slow on economic reform and privatization."
Business Week December 20, 1999
And File Alliance Brought Victory
Only the alliance of rank and file workers with students,
environmentalists and other activists made this victory possible.
many workers themselves noted, without the civil disobedience
the conference in knots, a polite labor rally would have just
a few editorials. And without the presence and active participation
thousands of trade unionists in the militant demonstration in
of Seattle, the police would have used mass arrests from the
sweep "a few crazies" away from the convention center.
But with this
alliance, the protesters could not be dismissed or repressed.
We won this
round. The WTO and the capitalists lost.
Millions of Americans now began to learn about the real
role of the WTO
and workers and people throughout the world were uplifted that
the US people were going on the offensive against this world
dictatorship. Reality is beginning to sink in that the few democratic
rights we have are quickly being usurped by the needs of the
corporations. This was clearly illuminated by the militarization
police and their tactics of torture and beatings. Many of the
demonstrators were stunned that for their peaceful picket they
met with such tactics.These tactics of course are common practice
parts of the world.
The failure of the talks are absolutely due to this massive
protest . The confidence of the Clinton and the cooperate controlled
politicians has been shaken. This fear of this massive demonstration
anger against the system is a threat to both political parties
"The victory in Seattle has emboldened labor, environmental,
anti-WTO forces to redouble their efforts. On Dec. 8, AFL-CIO
John J. Sweeney and the labor leaders joined an anti-sweatshop
Manhattan-the first time they have joined the annual rally."
Gerry Fernandez director of International Relations for
the United Steel
Workers of America, at an international USWA educational in
November 29 gave a international perspective in fighting the
"We need international labor solidarity. The fact
of the matter is that
international solidarity works. The WTO talks about core labor
They say we should support the incorporation of the ILO core
into the WTO. They talk about social clauses, social mandates,
Let me tell you about the ILO: Unions have won only two
cases in the ILO
over the past 18 years. We can't count on these folks, just as
count on the WTO. The WTO is run by the corporations. The only
can count on is ourselves.
With the global corporate economy, we can no longer win
on the picket
line. We have corporations - and politicians - who close down
and move overseas if we strike. These same folks push for striker
replacement. These are the people who run the WTO. Are they really
to give us a seat at the WTO table? I say they aren't.
When we have a strike here, we need to have actions in
20 countries or
more. We have to internationalize our labor movement. "
While Fernandez is wrong about the power of a real strike
absolutely correct about the need for internationalizing the
movement with global contracts and joint action worldwide.
For the working class, this was an important and historic
action against the multi-nationals and the US government. John
the AFL-CIO as well as Hoffa Jr. and most of the leadership will
keep this mobilization contained.
The political danger for the AFL-CIO bureaucrats is
that once millions
of workers become engaged in this fight, they will undoubtedly
question how the trade unions
can continue to support the very politicians that support global
barons. They will also begin to question how they can seriously
their rights, when in most unions they have little control over
structure.The next mobilization may come in the third week of
when the World Bank and the IMF are holding their international
conferences in Washington DC. Already discussions are going on
national march in Washington against these organizations and
entry of China into the WTO.
Some unionists are also seeking to push for a national
one day strike to
demand that the US pulls out of the WTO. This would clearly put
and the others who want to reform the WTO on the spot.
Use Of Communication Technology Spreads Message
The need to use the internet and communication technology
to begin this
discussion, debate and organization is crucial. Workers from
South Africa to the US can now really build a new internationalism
no borders and with complete democratic communication and simultaneous
international workers action.
In an important example of this work to break the corporate
blockade, an Independent Media Center was set up in Seattle
information electronically (www.indymedia.org)
by the hour and
audio/video streaming on the internet as well as broadcasting
satellite 1 hour a day throughout the country. One of the videos
broadcast was the Korean Labor News Production "Crisis Of
Only a week following the protests, a video on the labor
Seattle and interviews with dozens of workers was streamed on
the web at
(www.brightpathvideo.com/default_labor_video.html) It was captured
labor communication activists in Turkey and used to show the
labor in the battle against the WTO.
This use of communication technology by workers around
the world is a
historic and profound development for all working people of the
For the first time since the 1930's, the US working class
going into a new confrontation with capital that is immediately
international in it's character. This new alliance with other
the population can be a powerful vehicle to begin to not only
the WTO and other anti-working class attacks but to lead to a
working class political alternative. We will be taking this alliance
home to form similar city wide alliances all over the country.
The battle of Seattle is an exciting indication of things