On Overthrowing the Permanent Government

26 November 1999
Article

Thank you Jerry and thanks to the IFG and all the people who have worked so hard to create this event. This is absolutely fantastic! We're going to have intellectual and political fireworks so bless you all, you've done a terrific job.

You've heard of the Battle of Lexington and Concord. You've heard of the Battle of Gettysburg. You've heard of D-Day. Well this is the Battle of Seattle. And it's just as much a historical turning point as any previous battle in the history of this country or any other. I'm not using the idea of a battle, or a war, as just a metaphor or an image.

I think we are really at war. Not all of us perhaps are aware of this but everything fits. As in other wars, there's an objective: it's the control of the world, the world's wealth. It's an objective of power. You don't need tanks and missiles necessarily to carry out a war. You can use other methods. And if you want access to all world resources, whether financial, or material, or natural, or human, obviously you're going to have to fight for that.

So here we've got an adversary, we've got an enemy which is the whole corporate system. The objective of that corporate system, whether financial or industrial, is to be able to go where it wants, and produce what it wants, when it wants, for as long as it wants, to make as much money (obviously) as it can, and damn the costs. The goal is profit and anything that enhances that goal is good and anything that goes against that goal is bad.

You'll notice that in this model there's absolutely nothing about employment, there's nothing (obviously) about social justice, about the environment - any of those things. Those are just side-effects. Of course corporations do employ people but that is not their purpose. Their purpose is profit, period.

But transnationals have to have rules. Any system has to have rules. Even the mafia has rules. The rules that they want are the ones they are attempting to write and to some degree have been successful. I think they need three things:

  1. They need the freedom of capital movements. That is something that the IMF takes care of. The IMF imposes its law on countries in the south and now the east and it insists that capital be free to cross their borders in all directions. This (of course) leads to financial crises, to collapse. We'll be hearing more about that in the course of this evening and tomorrow. The IMF has been able to put those laws into effect because countries have been so indebted. That's one set of rules.
  2. They wanted freedom of investment. That is what they were trying to get through the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, through the MAI. And they were absolutely stunned when popular movements defeated the MAI. Stunned and mad as hell. And don't think it's not going to come back if they have anything to say about it because it is. That's one of things that is likely to be, in one way or another on the agenda of the WTO. Not necessarily as a free-standing agreement on investment but they can get what they want, also through the TRIMs agreement [Trade-Related Investment Measures] and through the Services Agreement.
  3. Then they need a third set of freedoms which is the movement of goods and services. That's what the GATT took care of at one point. Now it's the WTO with much more forceful means of ensuring those freedoms.

Everything in the world, and every aspect of human activity is defined as tradeable. All our activities are objects of trade: agriculture, natural resources, life forms. Services alone - it's eleven different sectors including health and education and environment as Maude told us, and 160 sub-sectors. I don't care what your job is or what industry you are in, what you're working on, I will bet you that it can be found under the rules of the WTO.

Transnational corporations control, directly or indirectly, two-thirds of all world trade. It's a misnomer to speak of trade. Because if you have one-third of all exchanges that are taking place between affiliates of the same corporation, IBM trading with IBM, Ford trading with Ford - and that's the case for one-third or more of all world trade - that can't be called trade. A further third of what is called trade takes place between the affiliates of different transnational corporations.

In other words, anything that could be called "national trade" is a very shrinking and small part of the total. The rules of the 18th century simply cannot be applied to this.

You can't talk about comparative advantage the way Adam Smith or David Riccardo did, in the 20th century. It simply doesn't apply. But they want a rule-based system and they (of course) want to make those rules. If you think I'm exaggerating let me give you the alphabet soup of the different coalitions that have been "coaching" all of our negotiators at the WTO and previously at the GATT.

You've got the TABD. That means the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue. That's industries from both sides of the Atlantic. They just had a meeting in Berlin. They called our commissioner for Europe, Pascal Lamy, to that meeting in order to give him and i quote, "detailed recommendations".

You've got the US Council on International Business.

You've the the US Coalition of Service Industries which is telling Mrs. Barshefsky what she is to do at the negotiations. One of the things she's supposed to do is to attack the public services in Europe - particularly health - because the health care industry in the United States wants to get at our nationalized health systems and particularly wants to get what they call the market of the over-sixty-fives. That's part of Mrs. Barshefsk's instructions.

You've got the European Roundtable of Industrialists, the ERT, 45 presidents of the most powerful firms in Europe. They have their office in Brussels. They are coaching the negotiators all the time.

You've got the European Service Leaders Group.

In other words these people are there, they are making the rules and they are telling the negotiators what to do. I don't agree that deregulation is a legitimate word. I think that it is a false word, a trap. And that what is really going on is reregulation. There are rules that are being written all the time but these rules are being written of, by, and for the corporations.

Now let me come to the WTO. These rules tell us that we don't need the Precautionary Principle. These rules tell us that we can have child labor. They tell us that the multilateral agreements on the environment don't count and that WTO law supersedes those agreements. They tell us that genetically-manipulated organisms are good for our health, that hormone beef is delicious, and that Europe can't have a foreign policy because it was giving preferential treatment to the bananas produced by the African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries. No. We have to import Chiquita Brands' bananas on the same terms. In other words we have to scrap the Lomé Convention. The Polluter-Pays Principle is outlawed as well.

These are the rules that are being written by these corporations. And for a long time, all of this seemed extremely technical and remote. People were not catching on to what was happening. When the GATT was transformed into the WTO in 1994 there were some sporadic protests. But people didn't understand what was happening and even worse, our elected representatives didn't have a clue as to what was happening.

But now something really is happening and suddenly this isn't working. These corporations, who want a perfect world, want a utopia for transnationals and nothing for consumers, for labor, for health, for education, and especially for democracy. They're creating the opposite of a utopia. I looked it up, it's a dystopia. A dystopia is what they are actually creating.

Any war requires propaganda. Part of their propaganda is to put the slogan of "free trade" ahead of everything else. "Free" always sounds good. And if you're a "protectionist", anything with an "ist" or an "ism" at the end, is bad news. I don't know why because it seems okay to me to protect your family, to protect your children, to protect your country. But suddenly this is a bad thing to be.

Part of the propaganda is also that the market knows best. It's all-seeing, it's all-knowing. The market is going to be able to be the most efficient allocator of all resources whether they're human, natural, knowledge, or industrial resources. There is absolutely no evidence that trade is linked with growth or greater welfare. There is no empirical evidence of this. But they proceed as if this were a given.

But suddenly their dream of making universal rules is breaking down and that's because they forgot just one thing. They forgot about the people. That's why we're fighting the Battle of Seattle.

If the enemy is transnational and is going for total control, then I think it's obvious that the response has also got to be transnational and it's got to be a mix of people. We don't want totalitarianism. That's not our goal. We want international democracy. But if we're to get it we've got to fight for each other. We've got to fight for each other. The threat is to all of us.

But we can't fight against these threats individually. Yes, the farmer and the family farm are threatened. They are threatened by mass exports and by cheap cereals. The Canadian farmers of the north now are losing their prices. As Maude said they are now where they were in 1926. But if the farmer fights only for agriculture in the WTO, that won't work.

Film makers and authors - yes, we're threatened by the TRIPs Agreement and the cultural provisions. But getting a cultural exception the way French government seems to think it's useful, that isn't going to work.

Yes the environment is gravely threatened but ecologists won't save it by fighting only for environmental protection.

Yes the North-South gap is becoming a chasm, but we won't close it simply by demanding special and differential treatment for the south.

Yes labor rights and wages are being forced down everywhere but unions are not going to protect working people by fighting only for a social clause when all other aspects of the WTO favor privatization and they make ceilings and not floors.

In other words if we're not fighting each-for-all, all-for-each, we're going to be picked off one-by-one.

Now if you're in a war, and I want to convince you that we are in a war, you've also got to think about who your allies are. Are our governments allies? I'm very sorry to say that it's a rare government that's an ally in this struggle. There's a permanent government. The packs you got coming in say an invisible government and that's true. But there's also a permanent government which is the government of the industrial and financial corporations. And then every now and then we're allowed to elect men in suits (and they mostly are men) who read the script for the permanent government.

The state seems to be accepting its own demise. I don't know what the reason for that is. We struggled with this contradiction during the anti-MAI struggle. Why were our governments prepared to give up so much and get absolutely nothing in return? The only answer I could think of, is contained in a document that's 150 years old which says, `The state is the permanent committee for running the general affairs of the bourgeoisie.' I'm sure that you notice the reference. I don't expect I have to give you the reference on that.

But we're at the point now where you can rent-a-government the way the American government was rented by Chiquita Brands and (of course) brought suit in the WTO.

You don't have to do it directly. You don't have to have the investor-to-state dispute resolution the way it was outlined in the MAI. No you can do it through governments. Our governments seem to be willing to give up their sovereignty and have great pleasure in doing so.

Do we have allies in the UN system or any place in the international system? There again, the news is pretty bad. I have it on absolute authority, and I cannot tell you what my source is for obvious reasons. But last week, Mike Moore telephoned Mrs. Brundtland who is the head of the World Health Organization and he said I've got enough on my plate as it is and enough problems and I don't want the World Health Organization raising any questions about genetically-manipulated organisms or about AIDs medicines in South Africa or in Thailand. And Mrs. Brundtland accepted not to bring up any of these subjects. [expressions of dismay] No this is true, I am very sorry to say it but this is true.

We've got several of the UN agencies that are now making alliances with these corporations. The UNDP has got its Global Sustainable Development Facility[1] where no matter who you are you can be the worst human rights violator, like Rio Tinto Zinc [2], if you pay $50,000 you can use the UN flag and the UN logo. We've got Kofi Annan who is helping to sponsor the Geneva Business Dialogue[3] with the President of Nestle. We're calling him now, some of us who are not very respectful, we're calling him Neskofi.

I want to quote our commissioner. We've got a new commission in Europe and the trade commissioner is supposed to be a French Socialist. I don't know how he got that label. He's replaced Sir Leon Brittain who was too conservative even for Margaret Thatcher and Pascal Lamy says that Britain's program was really a very very good program. And this is what he says speaking about the negotiations in Seattle in the Financial Times: "The fallout from a breakdown could be serious. If some NGOs thought they had succeeded in destroying further liberalization we'd be confronted with a real problem". So I want to invite you all to create a real problem for Pascal Lamy.

He says something else: "Not moving forward in economic matters doesn't make sense. Economics is a world where you always move forward. You never stop. Trade is based on this same sort of law". Well maybe we should be moving forward but certainly not on that road.

We've got to stop and turn around and we've got to do nothing less than overthrow the permanent government of the transnational corporations. This is difficult and we shouldn't hide from ourselves the difficulty because we've got to make a huge leap towards common action which transcends not just nationality, which is already hard enough - but we did a pretty good job of that during the MAI struggle - but we've also got to transcend all the other boundaries; all the boundaries of age, of class, of race, of gender - all special interests.

Because we can win if we pledge ourselves to each other because history is handing us an enormous opportunity and we've got to seize it. We are the actors who can create a real victory for international democracy and we're going to start doing that tonight against the WTO. Thank you.