Monday 30 November 2009

Talking Seattle, ten years on

Looking at this article from ten years ago reminded me just how exciting and inspiring Seattle and the birth of global anti-capitalist movement was. It occurs to me that there’s a lot for the left in general, and the climate justice and eco-socialist movements in particular to learn / remember about how the Seattle protests and the subsequent global movement nited a diverse range of activists – notably the ‘Teamster Turtle Alliance’ of trade unionists and environmentalists – who recognised neo-liberal capitalism as the common enemy. So I’ll be kicking off a discussion / workshop at Climate Camp on the topic: “Ten years after the ‘Battle of Seattle’, what can the Climate Justice activists learn from the Global Anti-Capitalist Movement?” Hope to see you there.
by John Charlton from International Socialism Journal, Issue 86, Spring 2000 Only a couple of months after the event the word ‘Seattle’ has acquired a new meaning. It is where ‘we’ kicked the system. The word pops up in India when power and port workers come out on mass strike against privatisation. ‘Is it the Seattle effect?’ asks a newspaper. The internet is replete with articles analysing its meaning. I posted a questionnaire on the internet between November 1999 and January 2000. The responses I received, along with personal testimonies and articles, became the basis of this piece.[1] That a turning point in the struggle against the excesses of world capitalism should take place in Seattle is not without its ironies. Seattle has been lauded as a hub of the burgeoning economies of the Pacific Rim. A boom town of the 20th century’s last quarter, ‘Seattle’ is almost a metaphor for high-tech consumption. It is the home of Boeing, of Microsoft, and those symbols of galloping consumerism, the Starbucks coffee shop empire and Nike, just down the road. A place to live in grace and comfort. All this explains why the Clinton administration wanted to take the World Trade Organisation to Seattle. Yet there is a downside. In the liberalisation of the global economy US domination may have may have increased, but millions of American workers have been victims of the shrinkage of basic industry, its relocation and the intensification of exploitation in the workplace. For some time the cynical and corrupt leaders of the labour unions have been under pressure from their members to organise a fightback. They chose Seattle because their public profiles would be enhanced in the glare of the international media circus surrounding the WTO meeting. There is another twist which should not be lost. The new millennium was being ushered in by the system’s leaders and its media on an extravagant tide of hype. Millions of new shopping opportunities were being heralded via the cyber-supermarket. But their party was ruined in the virtual home of e-commerce. A fightback starting in Seattle has yet another lovely resonance. The city was the location of the only general strike in US history so far. In 1919, in the crisis following the end of the First World War with the US government attempting to smash the Russian Revolution, Seattle workers struck. Jeremy Brecher wrote:
Anger, hope and militance grew as in a pressure cooker. Nowhere did this radicalisation go further than in Seattle. The radical IWW and the AFL Metal Trades Council co-operated in sponsoring a Soldiers’, Sailors’ and Workingmen’s Council, taking the soviets of the recent Russian Revolution as their model.[2]
This forms a nice backcloth to the events of November and December 1999.
‘Think the WTO is bad?... Wait till you hear about capitalism!’ – placard
Seattle hit the international media on Tuesday 30 November, but events were moving in the previous week. Mitchel C wrote, ‘No matter where you turn, rallies, teach-ins and other events are exploding out of the pavement. I went to the International Forum on Globalisation that occurred Friday and Saturday... Tickets were sold by Ticketron. Around 2,500 people participated, the huge auditorium filled to capacity for two days, 9am to 9pm... Sunday, 1,500 people took to the streets in a wonderfully colourful and peaceful (if raucous) procession, hundreds of giant puppets and mass performance theatre against genetic engineering and the WTO, drummers beating on makeshift instruments, an army of genetically engineered corn, another “army of forested trees, fighting against the evil soldiers of the New World Order”.’ Damon, Pittsburgh: I got on a Greyhound bus in Pittsburgh at 3am the morning after Thanksgiving and travelled two and a half days to Seattle to join the protests against the World Trade Organisation. I arrived to see tens of thousands of activists from the widest range of causes I’ve ever seen in one place, united around a common concern – their desire to have a say in the decisions that affect their lives, otherwise known as democracy.
‘The senators who ratified the WTO treaty should be tried for treason’ – placard

No comments: