Anarchist News

No 21 Nov 1999

Against the WTO Against Capitalism

The problem with the World Trade Organisation is not simply a problem of bad decisions, it is a problem with capitalism itself. The decisions of the WTO may often seem to be crazy to ordinary people but to business they make sense. It represents the continued ascendancy of profit over people.

With or without the WTO we live in a crazy world, where people count for nothing while capital counts for everything. How else can we explain how according to the UN "the assets of the 200 richest people are more than the combined income of 41% of the world's people." And the poverty of those at the bottom is thrown into stark relief when you consider that over one billion live on less then a dollar a day. The result of this global madness; 17 million children die every year of easily preventable diseases. More generally one third of people in the Third World do not reach the age of 40.

We must be clear that abolishing or reforming the WTO will not in itself make a significant change to these figures. The problem is with the capitalist system itself, a system that can put a man on the moon but cannot provide clean water to all of the world's population. This is not because the system is run by bad people &endash; the rules of competition and profit which today we are meant to worship means that if it doesn't turn a profit it's not worth doing.

It is worth organising against the WTO precisely because it is a figurehead of world capital. But lets not fool ourselves that if it can be reformed or abolished this would make any real difference. It is the capitalist system itself that is rotten and that must be got rid of.

What is the World Trade Organisation?

The World Trade Organisation is the international body that tries to set rules for trade between countries. It was set up out of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Gatt) in 1995. Its conferences are dominated by the imperialist powers (the US, Canada, the EU and Japan) who can afford to send huge 'negotiation' teams and who determine the agenda each day. In turn the policies these teams argue for are determined by the wishes of big business in the form of the multinational based in these countries.

The WTO has the power to decide that any given country is erecting barriers to trade. Often this translates into multinationals objecting to laws that give some local protection to workers or the environment. Right now for instance Canada is taking a case on behalf of its multinational asbestos industry that seeks to overturn the ban on the use of asbestos in construction.

The WTO is a rich man's club. It is integral to the global nature of modern capitalism. But it is meeting growing opposition. The Seattle meeting will see tens of thousands of people demonstrating against the WTO in Seattle and hundreds of thousands demonstrating all over the world.

The WTO only serves the interests of multinational corporations

The WTO is not a democratic institution, and yet its policies impact all aspects of society and the planet. The WTO rules are written by and for corporations with inside access to the negotiations as is shown below

The WTO has ruled that it is:
1) illegal for a government to ban a product based on the way it is produced (i.e. with child labor); and
2) governments cannot take into account the behaviour of companies that do business with vicious dictatorships such as Burma.

Under the guise of removing "barriers to trade", corporations are using the WTO to dismantle hard-won environmental protections. In 1993 the first WTO panel ruled that a regulation of the US Clean Air Act, which required domestic and foreign producers alike to produce cleaner gasoline, was illegal.

The WTO's fierce defense of intellectual property rights-patents, copyrights and trademarks-comes at the expense of health and human lives. The US government, on behalf of US drug companies, is trying to block developing countries' access to less expensive, generic, life-saving drugs.

During a the most recent period of rapid growth in global trade and investment-1960 to 1998-inequality worsened both internationally and within countries.

Why the WTO can't be reformed

Some of those organising the demonstrations around the World Trade Organisation are not seeking to get rid of it. Instead they think it can be reformed so that it becomes a force for progress, protecting the environment, workers rights and the poor. Most commonly it is suggested that if the NGO's (non-governmental organisations, like voluntary groups and charities) were represented at the meetings then the interests of ordinary people would be protected.

We don't go along with this line of argument. The WTO will only be taken seriously by global capitalism if it is useful to it. Just like the UN any incorporation of a 'human rights' agenda will be done in such a way that it can be ignored. The problem with promoting such reforms is that it promotes the idea that what is needed is smarter or better leaders to make these decisions on our behalf.

We must refuse to play the reform game, it only serves to reinforce the WTO. We must reject the path that seeks to persuade the Irish government to fight our battles for us. The scandals here show that the Irish government is no more on the side of workers and the poor then any government anywhere. Allowing them to pretend they are on the international level just undermines our message at home.

The anarchist alternative to the WTO

If you believe the problems of the world are caused by the capitalist system itself then you need an alternative to it. But for many people what the left has done in power under Leninism in the Soviet Union or the Labour parties in the west seems to prove there is no such alternative. We believe that lessons are to be learned from those failures and that these lessons lead us to anarchism.

Anarchism is the idea that the mass of people, the working class, can change the world for the better replacing the exploitation, inequality and injustice that are all around today with a new world based on socialism and freedom. Anarchism is the idea of a world where there are no classes - the rich having been sent packing. Where society is run and controlled through councils by those who produce the wealth in society, the working class. Where there is absolute freedom of ideas, of movement and of the individual. Anarchism is a society built on the abolition of all tyranny, in society and in the workplace. In the everyday class struggle its aim is to build as much working class unity as possible. It argues for workers to strengthen their organisations and their capacity to take control from the bosses. This starts with taking control of our unions and community organisations at local level.

The inequality and authoritarianism of capitalism is neither acceptable nor necessary. Workers and the poor are constantly being asked to make sacrifices and to tighten their belts for the 'good of the country'. The things we most depend on like housing, health care and education are the very things that are under funded by the Government while all the time the huge wealth and profit of private industry remains relatively untouched by taxes. We are no strangers to this in Ireland.

Anarchists argue that this doesn't happen because we have 'bad' politicians but because it is the way that capitalism works. In a society where a small rich class controls things, it is inevitable that they will exploit and make the poor pay for as much as possible.

Anarchism is a practical way to bring about a society of socialism and freedom. The traditional 'way', in countries like ours, is through the ballot box. It is here that we are told that changes can be brought about if we want to make them. Anarchists don't agree with this and oppose involvement in the parliament for two reasons. Firstly, real power in society doesn't reside there. It is mainly a talking shop. Even if you did get a socialist party elected to Government that stood for the abolition of capitalism (instead of the normal situation where they stand for simply an increase in dole payments or a cut of two pence in the tax rate) they wouldn't be allowed to do it.

But there is also another reason why socialism can't be brought about by electing a socialist government. Anarchists argue that socialism is about the working class running society through workplace and community councils - in other words democracy in all parts of human activity. It is through this that a real equal distribution of wealth can take place. But most socialist parties don't believe in this idea at all. Rather they see socialism as something else. For them it is the idea of their Party which 'represents' the workers interests taking control of the State and 'making it work for the people'.

Anarchists say that no one can actually 'represent' workers interests but workers themselves. Anarchists argue that only all those who suffer inequality and injustice can and will at the end of the day see the fight to end it through to the finish. Anarchists argue that the means used to build socialism and ends achieved are connected. Thus a Party which achieves power believing itself to represent the working class cannot but end up creating a rigid hierarchical society all over again.

Finally then, anarchism is the idea of a free socialist society and how it can be achieved by the direct action and strength of the working class. Anarchists stand uncompromisingly for a new world. It will be organised from the bottom up and production will be to meet peoples' needs, not for the private profit of a few. Every individual will enjoy complete control of her/his life with no limit on their freedom as long as they do not encroach on the freedom of anyone else. That is what the Workers Solidarity Movement is fighting for. We want you to join with us in this fight.

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