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News ::
Janitors and Global Justice Activists Take Action (english)
27 Sep 2002
200 people rallied, and 7 were arrested in an act of civil disobedience, in Copley Square in support of the upcoming janitors' strike for higher wages. A smaller group continued on in a protest in solidarity with the anti-IMF-World Bank protests in DC this weekend.
Janitors Commit Civil Disobedience for Better Working Conditions; Global Justice Activists March on Fleet Bank in Solidarity with DC anti-IMF/World Bank Protests

by Matthew Williams, with additional reporting by Katie K.

Sept. 26, 2002; Boston, MA--Downtown Boston saw a flurry of activism today. Local global justice activists, joined by labor activists from the national Communication Workers of America (CWA) conference, gathered in front of the Park Plaza Hotel and marched one hundred strong to Copley Square at 5:00. There they met up with another one hundred people, members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and their supporters, rallying in support of Boston’s janitors as they prepared for their upcoming strike against the city’s major cleaning contractor, Unicco, for higher wages and healthcare coverage. Seven were arrested, after committing civil disobedience by blocking the road. A smaller group continued on afterwards in a protest against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in solidarity with the protests happening in Washington DC this weekend. The local target was a branch of Fleet Bank, picked for this honor because of their role in the destruction of Argentina’s economy in collusion with the IMF and World Bank.

Alex of BankBusters, a local anti-IMF/World Bank group, explained the connection between the janitors’ struggle and that against the IMF and World Bank, “Many of these workers are immigrants. They are fleeing countries whose economies were destroyed by the IMF and World Bank. They have found themselves pushed into a global flexible labor pool as part of a race to the bottom,” a term commonly used to describe the downward spiral in working and environmental conditions in all countries as they struggle to attract corporate investment by having the fewest regulations. When the IMF and World Bank loan money to desperately poor countries, these loans come with conditions known as “structural adjustment programs” that typically require the countries to privatize all publicly own companies; to eliminate laws protecting the environment, unions and workers’ safety; and to cut basic welfare programs such as education. These measures are supposed to attract investment by transnational corporations and promote economic growth. Argentina was considered a star pupil of the IMF and World Bank when its economy collapsed in December 2001.

The global justice activists and CWA members from across the country assembled in front of the Park Plaza Hotel, home of the Brazilian consulate, chosen because Brazil may soon be facing an economic collapse similar to Argentina’s. They held signs and banners with such messages as “Globalize justice not greed--Resist the World Bank, IMF and WTO”. As they marched towards Copley, they chanted “World Bank, Fleet, Unicco! Corporate greed has got to go!” and “Si, se puede!” (Spanish for “Yes, we can do it!”).

Alex explained the way in which the IMF and World Bank work with major corporations, using Fleet Bank as an example. “The IMF and World Bank are global financial institutions that operate all over the world, setting a lot of the ground rules. Fleet Bank comes in and helps to set the agenda that the IMF and World Bank promote. In the case of Argentina, the IMF wielded its influence to restructure the economy in an incredibly destructive way in order to protect Fleet Bank’s interests--a lot of the financial debt owed by Argentina was owed to Fleet Bank.”

Mark Poirier described the details of the Fleet and the IMF’s involvement in Argentina: “One of the stipulations of the loans to Argentina was to make the currency one-to-one, one peso to one dollar. The result is that Argentina has to pay back its loans in dollars, which have a really high mark up--every year it adds up to $27 million in debt repayments and the loan itself was originally $26 million. The major lenders to Argentina were Fleet and Citibank.”

Once in Copley, the marchers met up with the SEIU rally. People there held up signs reading, “$39 is not enough” and “Healthcare for our families.” Both these refer to some of the grievances that are leading janitors to strike on Monday, September 30 if their demands are not met by Unicco. Many janitors make as little as $39 a day, forcing them to work multiple jobs to support their families. Only 25% of janitors have healthcare coverage, leaving them and their families vulnerable to illness and accidents. As a result of a long campaign involving the threat of a strike and civil disobedience, most of Boston’s major corporations have come around to supporting the janitors’ demands and Unicco is the last major holdout.

Noting the similarities between the IMF and Unicco’s policies, Alex said, “We see the same model at work domestically--using the power of a major corporation or institution to take from people at the bottom, in this case janitors who work for subcontractors and who get terrible wages in order to maximize profits.”

After a few speakers, including messages of support from telephone workers from Mexico and France attending the CWA conference, the two hundred people took to the streets at the intersection of Dartmouth and Huntington, where they set up a walking picket in the road. With loud chanting, drums and whistles, there was an intense atmosphere. Police set up barricades, blocking off the roads. After several circuits, most of the protesters returned to the sidewalk while seven, in SEIU T-shirts, sat down in the middle of the road in an act of civil disobedience. Three times as many cops moved in to arrest them. As they were loaded into paddy wagons, the nearby protesters roared, “We see it, we feel it! The union is here!”

After this, some activists moved on to confront Fleet Bank; unfortunately, the group was only thirty strong, indicating that some work in terms of coalition-building and tying the various issues together in people’s minds remains to be done. It was nonetheless a lively march, with giant puppets, drums and whistles.

Alex explained that the IMF and World Bank can get away with their disastrous policies because of the undemocratic structures: “Their whole structure is problematic. They’re dominated by wealthy, global north (first world) nations--it’s one dollar, one vote; not one person, one vote. The US government has enough votes to have effective veto power. Those with access are those who already have power and money like multinational corporations. It’s a collusion between these folks and the local elite in global south (third world) countries, who are already quite wealthy and stand to gain from these policies.”

Helen Matthews of Boston Ecofeminist Action expressed the broader philosophical concerns that drive many in the global justice movement: “I believe in community control and governance at the face-to-face level. The consolidation of power in transnational institutions like the IMF and World Bank is by definition an attack on people’s right to participatory democracy.”

A walking picket was set up in front of the Fleet Bank branch, as a few people spoke and played music. The protest ended at about 6:30 and people gradually dispersed. The organizers went on to a meeting to finalize the details for the next day’s bus trip down to DC for the weekend-long national protests against the IMF and World Bank.

****

For more information on the janitor’s campaign, see Jobs with Justice website: http://www.massjwj.net. For more information on BankBusters, see http://www.bankbusters.org. For more information on the IMF, World Bank and globalization see Fifty Years is Enough’s website http://www.50years.org or ZNet’s global economics page http://www.zmag.org/CrisesCurEvts/Globalism/GlobalEcon.htm. More information on Argentina is also available at ZNet, at http://www.zmag.org/argentina_watch.htm. For coverage of the protests in DC, see DC Indy Media at http://dc.indymedia.org.
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