Mark Engler, 11/19/2003
(Note: Excerpted from a new discussion paper on the challenges facing the global justice movement and available in full at http://www.fpif.org/papers/miami2003.html .)
Good news has arrived for people concerned with workers' rights and
the state of the environment in the hemisphere: When trade minister
meet in Miami this month to negotiate the Free Trade Area of the
Americas (FTAA), their talks will probably fail. Most likely, their
conference will produce only a symbolic declaration of intent and will
make no real progress.
For those of us who will be protesting the
talks, this will be cause for celebration. However, it will also
present an important challenge for the global justice movement.
The type of resistance that has gained widespread public attention
since the 1999 Seattle, Wash., protests against the World Trade
Organization (WTO) has gone far in wresting legitimacy from the
neoliberal economic policies long imposed on the developing world and
in publicizing the harmful impacts of trade pacts, such as the North
American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
But the FTAA will fail in Miami less because of such outside opposition than because of resistance from the White House. In the past two years, U.S. President George W. Bush and his administration have been inclined to abandon multilateral approaches to trade and development in favor of a newly unmasked
nationalist approach to exercising U.S. power abroad. This approach
demands a fresh response from social movements resisting imperialism
and corporate globalization.
The Bush administration's attitude toward
globalization differs substantially from former President Bill
Clinton's. In contrast to Clinton's support of multilateral
negotiations, Bush's stance is as a nationalist. In a marked shift
from the Clinton era, Bush's economic nationalism has put many of the
leading institutions of globalization at risk. The International
Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, which served as dominant
mechanisms for exercising U.S. power through the 1990s, have been
sidelined in the new century.
As far back as the 2000 presidential
election, analyst Walden Bello, director of Bangkok's Focus on the
Global South, foresaw that these two leading promoters of the so-
called "Washington Consensus" would face an inhospitable four year
under Bush. "The Bretton Woods institutions," Bello wrote, "will lose
their liberal internationalist protectors like Treasury Secretary
Larry Summers who believe in using the Fund and Bank as central
instruments to achieve U.S. foreign economic policy objectives."
However, our global justice movement has not widely acknowledged that
the administration's fervent unilateral approach extends even into the
realm of economic relations.
As the global justice movement prepares for the Miami protests, an
appreciation of Washington's new approach to foreign policy need not
alter our attitude toward multilateral agreements like the FTAA so
much as our priorities and our strategies in challenging the global
race to the bottom. Since large-scale international treaties will
likely be stalled with or without increased activist pressure, we
should use our presence at international gatherings to promote a
broader set of goals.
Debt cancellation is one topic that could move to the fore of our
attention. Success in the past decade at highlighting the devastating
impact of developing countries' loan obligations has created a
promising climate for forcing real change. With the Bush
administration promoting debt forgiveness in Iraq, the United State
is poorly positioned to fight against such demands. Further analysi
of the developments in the global economy that have influenced Bush'
economic nationalism will allow us to put the international debt
crisis in a context of larger change and to identify other priority
Moving beyond Miami, we need to prevent the Bush administration from
framing its nationalist turn as a program to benefit U.S. workers.
Today, globalization is increasingly leading to the loss not only of
manufacturing work, but also of white-collar jobs in the United
States, in the process dubbed "off-shoring."
Bush may attempt to co-opt this issue in the upcoming election—to
convert anti-corporate resentment into the type of nationalism
witnessed in the era of former President Ronald Reagan, when protest
against U.S. factory downsizing were channeled into Japan-bashing.
Progressives must show that the neo-conservative empire-building
favored by the White House is as detrimental to labor rights and
living wages worldwide as the administration's domestic policy of
weakening unions and giving tax cuts to the rich is to the great
majority of U.S. citizens. Devoting energy to the issue of jobs will
be an important means for U.S. activists to ground our movement in the
economic realities faced by working people.
Part of our challenge in rejecting the pejorative label of "anti-
globalization" is to promote our own multilateral agenda—a brand of
globalization based on international solidarity and just exchange or
fair trade. This internationalism should affect not only the solution
we promote for job creation, but also our views of trade policy.
While opposing coercive arrangements that maximize wealthy countries'
ability to leverage concessions from the South, we should highlight
poorer countries' efforts to promote inter-regional commerce and to
cooperatively develop their internal markets.
An overemphasis on responding to large, multilateral agreements like
the WTO and the FTAA as the leading mechanisms of globalization limit
our flexibility in rising to the challenge of changing political and
economic conditions. With or without the FTAA, the United States will
attempt to expand its power abroad. With or without the FTAA, we need
to challenge arrangements that place the drive for corporate profit
ahead of local protections for workers and the environment.
We need to demand an end to forced privatization and to IMF-imposed cuts in
social services. And we need to connect the plight of working people
in wealthy countries to the struggles of the world's poor. If we
continue to be taken by surprise by the Bush administration's economic
nationalism, we will lose important opportunities to advance thi
Mark Engler, a writer and activist based in New York City, is a
commentator for Foreign Policy In Focus (online at www.fpif.org). He
can be reached via the web site http://www.DemocracyUprising.com.
Research assistance for this paper was provided by Jason Rowe.)