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News ::
One Thousand Rally Against the FTAA in Boston as Trade Talks Stall in Miami (english)
22 Nov 2003
Modified: 23 Nov 2003
On November 21, 2003, 500 people joined a march against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), starting at Boylston St. T-station in Boston and wending our way through Boston’s shopping district to arrive in Copley Square at 5:00 to join another 500 people for a final rally.
One Thousand Rally Against the FTAA in Boston as Trade Talks Stall in Miami
by Matthew Williams

At 4:00 on November 21, 2003, 500 people joined a march against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), starting at Boylston St. T-station in Boston and wending our way through Boston’s shopping district to arrive in Copley Square at 5:00 to join another 500 people for a final rally. Our protests were in solidarity with the protests and direct actions in Miami, where the trade representatives of all the countries of the Americas (except Cuba) were meeting to negotiate the FTAA. This so-called free trade agreement would result in devastating job losses for all countries, allow corporations to sue governments to overturn environmental protection and labor laws, and force governments to privatize basic public services. While the activists in Miami faced strong police repression, the talks nonetheless stalled--they were called to a close a day early, with all the difficult issues being sent back to committee unresolved.

As with most global justice rallies, it was a lively, upbeat affair, with chanting in English and Spanish, creative signs, anarchist cheerleaders, drums, giant puppets and--courtesy of Bread and Puppet Theater from Vermont--a marching band. It was also one of the most diverse protests in terms of age, class and race that I have been to in ages (although it should be said, it was predominantly white and Latino--people of other races were less well represented). Matt Borus of BankBusters, a local anti-IMF/World Bank activist group, said of this turn out, “We have at least a thousand people in Boston on a cold November night at a time when supposedly the global justice movement is dead. Compare this to the Boston solidarity protests with Seattle almost four years ago, which were somewhat smaller than this, despite the fact that Seattle is referred to as a more seminal moment. There’s frankly also a much broader coalition here. There’s immigrant groups that have been active in organizing this; there’s been the global justice groups, which are much more mature than they were four years ago; there’s an active labor presence here, including crafts unions like the Carpenters, who you often don’t see at events like this; which just goes to show that people are realizing that across the board, be you a factory worker, an environmentalist, a farmer, a government service worker whose job could get privatized, these kinds of trade agreements don’t help you.”

This specific free trade agreement would extend the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which includes Canada, the US and Mexico, to all of the Americas except Cuba, even though NAFTA has proved disastrous for workers and the environment in all three countries. Such trade agreements as NAFTA and the FTAA are part of a larger power play by corporations, popularly known as globalization and often referred to on the left as neoliberalism. Calling it free trade is a grotesque misnomer, since it is not actually about abolishing regulations, but changing them so that they are more favorable to corporations. Anna Hendricks, an organizer with Boston Fair Trade Action (BoFTA) and Jobs with Justice, said one of her major concerns with the FTAA is “the loss of our ability to make decisions about own lives, as corporations get more and more rights, and our rights get taken away. It’s just another move by the government to give over all the rights that belong to people over to corporations.”

As part of making these connections clear, the march from Boylston St. to Copley Square stopped in front of three major corporations who have engaged in particularly egregious acts--H&M, Shaw’s/Star Supermarket, and Fleet Bank (recently bought out by Bank of America). Large signs resembling parking tickets and reading “VIOLATION” with a list of the corporation’s crimes were held up at each stop as a speaker briefly explained the items on the list. H&M has been taking advantage of neoliberalism to move production from its unionized European factories to sweatshops in the Global South (the Third World). Shaw’s uses genetically engineered (GE) crops in its their store brand products without labeling them as such, even though GE foods potentially contain many unknown health hazards; they have also been engaged in a campaign of union-busting in the Boston area. Finally, Fleet has invested in many environmentally destructive projects and has played an important role in lobbying for the FTAA; they have also engaged in racist discrimination against Arab-Americans and Muslims, terminating their bank accounts without reason since 9-11.

If implemented, the FTAA would likely have three major consequences: 1) it would result in major job losses in all the signatory countries; 2) it would allow corporations to sue to overturn labor and environmental laws that infringed on their profitability (we have already seen the first two of these happen under NAFTA); and 3) it would result in the privatization of basic government services, such as education (a new addition under the FTAA). One of the myths promoted by supporters of neoliberalism in the US is that the global justice movement is a Northern (First World), protectionist movement that is trying to block policies that will benefit poor people in the Global South. The only jobs created in Mexico though were sweatshop jobs, and NAFTA destroyed far more jobs than it created. Hendricks explained, “After NAFTA passed, small Mexican farmers, which are the majority of people in Mexico, had to start competing with US agriculture which is heavily subsidized by the US government and mostly agribusiness, so it’s putting a small farmer directly in competition with agribusiness in Florida and the Midwest, which is enormous, so all these small farmers couldn’t sell their corn any more. They had to sell their farms and move to the cities, where they had no work. At the same time as NAFTA shut down manufacturing jobs in the US, those jobs moved over to Mexico and started paying those same farmers very low wages under horrible conditions. People think NAFTA created jobs because it created sweatshops, but first it destroyed a million farming jobs.”

Borus additionally noted, that even these sweatshop “jobs have mostly left Mexico to seek lower wages elsewhere and we have a global race to the bottom, which is really not going to benefit anyone because at the rate it’s going it’s all going to be prison labor pretty soon.”

There is strong opposition to the FTAA throughout Latin America. Popular social movements in Brazil conducted a poll in which ten million people voted against the FTAA. These sentiments are shared by people who have immigrated from Latin America to the US--indeed, it is the economics of neoliberalism that has driven most such immigrants to the US. Dayanni Lal, an immigrant from Brazil and volunteer with Jobs with Justice, said, “We would be better off if we could stay in our countries and there were opportunities there. But corporations go there and just break people who have small businesses because they cannot compete because of quality and price, mainly price. The corporations go to there to find cheap labor. Here, you pay, what, $20.00 an hour, there you pay $4.00 a day. I’m not against globalization at all, but if you want to have the right to have products go back and forth, you also should respect as well people going back and forth. Of course, you need a limit for that, otherwise everyone will come here. But if you empower the developing countries, you won’t have that many people trying to come here looking for opportunities, because they will be able to find them at home.”

As part of the lead up to the protests against the FTAA across the US, the AFL-CIO (the national federation of labor unions) initiated a campaign to collect ballots against the FTAA, similar to what was done in Brazil. Hendricks helped organize this campaign in the Boston area, along with several unions, students groups and the Unitarian-Universalist Church; all told, they collected 5,000 signatures in Boston against the FTAA (the national figures are not yet in). They also organized a broad range of communities in Boston--students, people of color, immigrants--to press the Boston City Council to pass a resolution to hold a hearing on the potential local impact of the FTAA. Hendricks described some of this potential impact: “The FTAA could cause privatization of public education, furthering the privatization and increase in tuition at UMass. Privatization of water is another huge concern--already in New Hampshire, water is starting to be privatized, so that could move to Boston. Living wage laws that we now have in Boston could be challenged under the FTAA. And then of course job loss in Massachusetts.”

All this organizing seems to have paid off. When the 500-person strong march reached Copley Square, there were another 500 people already gathered there, listening to the beginning of the rally. On the back of a pick-up truck speeches were given, mixed with performances by Bread and Puppet and local hip-hop groups. There was also a large turn out in Miami--with over 20,000 participating in the legal march organized by labor, and thousands more engaging in direct action. They were met with fierce police repression--in the days leading up to the protests, people were arrested simply for leafleting, and during the protests themselves, over 200 activists were arrested, as police fired upon them with rubber-coated bullets, tazers, concussion grenades and chemical weapons such as tear gas and pepper spray. The fact that there were protests throughout the hemisphere, however, was apparently still enough to intimidate the trade ministers. According to an analysis by Lori Wallach of Public Citizen (http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/release.cfm?ID=1594 ), they most likely decided to end the talks a day early in order to avoid a total collapse as happened in Cancun, Mexico during the World Trade Organization meetings in September. Instead, all the provisions of the FTAA that arouse popular opposition were returned to a committee for further debate. As of now, countries will be able to pick and choose which provisions of the trade agreements they want, leading some to dub the agreement FTAA Lite. This also puts the trade ministers behind schedule in their goal of having the FTAA implemented by January 2005, but the FTAA is still far from dead--and it is still a menace.

In terms of future organizing, at the local level, Hendricks said, “We hope to that through the hearing on the FTAA, the City Councilors will pass a resolution against this free trade agreement, which would really set a tone for the next year and unite community groups in Boston against the free trade agreement.”

Borus emphasized the need to deepen the coalitions that have been built and to “do work that can put pressure on legislators--distasteful as some of us may find it, you have to organize where you can find the levers of power. I hope people don’t drift away when they hear, oh no big demo, and that we really can continue to build, because it’s going to take a lot of work over the next year and a half to stop this thing, but I think it can be done.”

****

To get involved with local organizing against the FTAA, contact either Boston Fair Trade Action (http://www.bostonglobalaction.net/ftaa.html ) or Massachusetts Jobs With Justice (http://www.massjwj.net/ ). For more information on the protests in Miami, see the FTAA IMC (http://ftaaimc.org ). For more analysis of the issues, see the websites of either Global Exchange (http://www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/ftaa/ ) or Public Citizen (http://www.citizen.org/trade/ ).
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Breakaway March (english)
23 Nov 2003
While this was a good report, a glaring omission was coverage of the subsequent breakaway march of about 40 some-odd students, mostly black bloc anarchists and medics concerned for their safety.

After the rally, a call was issued to "take the streets," and after a brief takeover of Newbury street, (and being confronted by a belligerent, reckless driver) the protest moved back to the sidewalk.

This led the police to intimidate the protestors -- an estimated 5-10 police officers converged on the sidewalk--and warned them that they faced arrest if they took the street again.

A male student towards of the back of the crowd announced that "[the police] can't do anything if we stay on the sidewalk", but the protestors seemed to lose their zeal after being reemed out by the officer. As a few walked by the cops, some patrolmen proceeded to illegally confiscate buckets and other makeshift drums. When confronted on the matter, one officer told us they were a noise disturbance.

At 6:50 PM on a friday night in Boston. Right. Once the cops swarmed in and thwarted that threat to the peace, Boston residents could finally rest in serene silence.

Further questioning seemed to incense the officer ("I'm just a patrolman, alright?") and he implicitly told us that if we didn't end our inquiry, we would be arrested ("Get out of here before you're arrested" -- humph).

That night, Boston police confiscated two drums, and made several enemies out of high school kids. Is this why we have police? To harass citizens who are exercising their duty as a citizen in a democratic state?

Business as usual...
--Chris Caesar
See also:
whentheygoforward.blogspot.com