"Why did 50,000 people protest the World Trade Organization in Seattle?"
January 2000

Two days after the first day of protests of the World Trade Organization in Seattle, on Dec. 1, about 75 people rallied on the corner of University and 13th street in Gainesville to demonstrate support for the Seattle protests and to tell people that they can get involved in opposition to the WTO in Gainesville. What follows is the flier produced distributed in Gainesville at the protest:

Why are 50,000 people protesting against the World Trade Organization in Seattle? The protesters are trade unionists, environmentalists, feminists, human rights and consumer rights advocates from the U.S. and around the world. They are in Seattle this week to express their outrage and frustration at the blatantly anti-democratic practices of the World Trade Organization.

Millions of people around the world have seen that the WTO's policies place profit before all other concerns, and are hurting the environment, democratic rights and quality of life for everyone. The WTO's record of rulings on trade disputes shows that it represents the economic and political interests of giant global corporations first and foremost, and that the citizens affected by those rulings have been excluded from the decision-making process.

What is the WTO?
The WTO was created in 1994 to promote "free trade" in the growing global economy. It consists of delegates from 135 countries who meet regularly to negotiate international trade policies, and an anonymous three-person trade court decides international trade disputes. WTO member nations have agreed to abide by the decision of the secret court, including punishment in the form of trade sanctions and monetary fines for countries that pose "barriers" to trade. On the surface this international forum might seem like a good idea--a way to get equal market rights for all the member nations and hold them all to the same standards. However ....

Free Trade is Not Free
The bottom line is that the 134 member countries of the WTO are under incredible pressure ... from companies whose operations span the globe. Their goal is to ensure that the WTO toes the corporate bottom line: profit.

In the Third World, the accelerating global economy and "free trade" schemes like WTO and NAFTA have meant the destruction of traditional ways of life and the rape of natural resources, and multinational companies and tiny local elites enrich themselves at the expense of the great masses of the displaced poor. As these former peasants and artisans flock in desperation to the filthy slums and sweatshops of urban "free trade zones" such as the Maquiladora in Mexico, the fat cats have the gall to tout the "opportunities" they are "offering" to the people.

In the industrialized nations, the reduction of domestic trade barriers and the "free trade" assault on unions, the environment, agriculture, and consumer standards has meant loss of jobs and falling living standards for working people. On both sides of the fence, the global market is generally characterized by a flood of cheap, pacifying consumer goods and services, and the concentration of economic power in the hands of fewer and fewer people as the corporations merge and increase their power.

The WTO's policies discourage or overrule local legislation that supports local business and measures to protect people, animals, and ecosystems. Not even health care and education have guaranteed protection from these profit-motivated attacks. The nameless, faceless three-person tribunal of unelected bureaucrats who make the final call on trade disputes has so far ensured that the corporate agenda is upheld in every case. Here is a sample of some of the WTO tribunal's rulings:

The WTO ruled that Venezuelan oil companies could force gasoline that contains ingredients banned by the U.S.'s Clean Air Act into U.S. markets, costing U.S. citizens a piece of hard-won environmental legislation and lowering the quality of our air.

When the U.S. challenged a European Union bad on hormone-treated beef, the WTO ruled in favor of the American beef industry, despite European concerns about the health risks of the meat.

In other rulings, the WTO has struck down a U.S. law protecting endangered sea turtles (part of our Endangered Species Act); a British rule that favored small-scale banana farmers in the Caribbean, challenged by American giant Chiquita; and a request for union organizing rights from Canadian mail workers.

Why should we stand together to oppose the expanding power of the World Trade Organization? Because with its sweeping power to knock down the laws of sovereign nations and force radical changes that threaten the lives and livelihood of people all over the planet, the WTO has become the closes this to a de facto world government that we have yet seen. And it is far from being a government of, by and for "we the people" unless "we" happen to be ultra-rich corporate CEOs, board members and high-stakes shareholders who benefit the most from the profits made by its policies.

The WTO is one-world government of, by and for the multinational corporate elite, and any expansion of its powers can only mean the loss of more of the democratic rights that we, the people, have struggled for and won. With the aid of the high technology that has helped to build the global economy, people around the world are organizing to establish networks of "fair trade" that promote economic cooperation and environmental harmony while preserving traditional ways of life. The choice is there for all of us: a global corporate mono-culture that is destroying the earth and keeping millions economically enslaved, or a sustainable, democratically determined future based on freedom and human dignity.

It's time to say enough is enough! Educate yourself and join the fight against corporate power!

Gainesville organizations that stand up against corporate rule:
Student Peace Action (call Aris, 376-0700) or email: uf_spa@hotmail.com
Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice, 468-2609, email: fcpj@afn.org
Civic Media Center: 1021 W. University Ave., 373-0010.

Other resources for information on the WTO and "Free Trade":
Global Exchange: www.globalexchange.org
Public Citizen: www.tradewatch.org

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