had the tear gas dispersed from the streets of downtown Seattle before
an acrid struggle broke out as to who should claim the spoils.
still raging. On one side the lib-lab pundits, flacks for John Sweeney
and James Hoffa like the Nation’s Marc Cooper, Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower,
middle-of-the road greens, Michael Moore, a recycle binful of policy wonks
from the Economic Policy Institute and kindred DC think-tanks, Doug Tompkins
(the former czar of sweatshop-made sports clothing who funds the International
Forum on Globalization), Medea Benjamin (empress of Global Exchange). On
the other side: the true heroes of the Battle in Seattle -- the street
warriors, the Ruckus Society, the Anarchists, Earth First!ers, the Direct
Action Media Network (DAMN), radical labor militants such as the folks
at Jobs With Justice, hundreds of Longshoremen, Steelworkers Electrical
Workers and Teamsters who disgustedly abandoned the respectable, police
sanctioned official AFL-CIO parade and joined the street warriors at the
barricades in downtown.
issue here is the liberals’ craving to fortify the quasi-myth of Labor
Revived -- a "progressive coalition" of John Sweeney’s AFL-CIO, Hoffa’s
Teamsters, mainstream greens -- poised and ready to recapture the soul
of the Democratic Party. The way they’re spinning it, the collapse of the
WTO talks in Seattle was a glorious triumph for respectable demonstrators,
achieve despite the pernicious rabble smashing window, harassing the police
and bringing peaceful mainstream protest into disrepute.
to Ivins: "Of those 35,000 people, fewer than l,000 misbehaved by trashing
some local stores. How much more coverage do the l,000 who misbehaved get
than the 34,000 who didn’t? A. 35 times as much? B. 34 times as much? C.
Virtually all the coverage? You are correct: C is the answer. Do the other
34,000 people get any coverage? Yes—they are referred to as "some people
concerned about the turtles"... Meanwhile the violent protesters are interviewed
on national television, identify themselves as anarchists and explain to
us all that owning property is wrong and that none of the earth should
be in private hands."
Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, took a similar tack in an
internal memo to his board of directors: "The Sierra Club was completely
separate from the illegal protest, both violent and non-violent..." Pope
went on to quote Kathleen Casey, one of his staffers, to the effect that
"The new coalition that worked together to thwart the WTO came out a clear
winner. The Sierra Club achieved many of our goals despite the chaos and
unfortunate violence that occurred in some of the actions... Some small
factions engaged in vandalism and provocation, and the police sometimes
over-reacted in kind."
Nation’s Marc Cooper announced tremulously that "the media focus on a few
broken store windows should not distract from the profundity of what has
happened here..." Cooper evoked "a phantasmagorical mix of tens of thousands
of peaceful demonstrators... something not seen since the sixties, but
in [its] totality unimaginable even then." And what this "unimaginable"
thing? "The rough outlines of the much-sought-after progressive coalition
-- an American version of a ‘red-green’ alliance."
the fervid imagination of Michael Moore the union protests in Seattle had
an effect on President Bill Clinton akin to that exercised by Jesus Christ
on St Paul on the Damascus road: "He completely changed his position [he
didn’t] and called on all WTO countries to enact laws prohibiting trade
with nations that use children in sweatshops and do not honor the rights
of all workers to organize a union. Whoa!... So, for Clinton to climb the
space needle (or was he chased up it?) and then declare [he didn’t] that
the human rights of workers were more important than making a buck, well,
this was nothing short of Paul being knocked off his horse [he wasn’t]
and seeing Jesus [he didn’t]!...You could
hear the collective seething of the hundreds of CEOs gathered in Seattle.
Their boy Bill -- the politician they had bought and paid for ... had betrayed
them. You could almost see them reaching for their Palm Pilots to look
up the phone number of the The Jackal." In this blinding curve of balderdash
Moore manages to conflate Christ, Clinton, Paul and JFK, truly a grand
slam of liberal hagiography!
concoct the myth of respectable triumph in Seattle, divorced from dreadlocked
and locked-down Earth First!-ers, turbulent Ruckusites and kindred canaille,
the respectable liberals have been torturing the data and the data confessed.
Here’s how it goes: initial scouting parties of liberal policy wonks arrived
in Seattle over the weekend prior to the WTO assembly and embarked on a
series of sleep-inducing debates and panels, chewing over the minutiae
of proposed WTO rules and regulations.
originally envisaged, these moots were scheduled to last all week, until
by a process of inexorable erosion, like the Colorado river gradually cleaving
its way through the Navajo sandstone to create the
Canyon, the WTO would be transmuted into a wholesome compact between First
World and Third, between mighty corporations and African peasants, Nike
and starving Indonesian workers to the
the liberal fanatasy continues,on Monday battalions of clean-limbed environmentalists
in their turtle necks and turtle costumes moved in disciplined array to
a [police-approved] rallying spot where they were uplifted by the measured
words of that Lenin of mainstream greenery, Carl Pope. After the speechifying,
the battalions redeployed in the Methodist church on Fifth which sheltered
the command and control center of the progressive Non-Governmental Organizations,
aka NGOs. (In foundation-funded political wonkdom the acronym "NGO" is
used constantly, often in conjunction with the phrase "civil society",
to evoke non-profit organizations that mediate the public interest with
governments. Oxfam is an NGO. The Interfaith Council is an NGO. World Wildlife
Fund is an NGO. etc etc.) Down in the basement of the church and indeed
rarely emerging into the light of day was Jim Hightower, the faux-populist
icon of Austin, Radio Nation’s Marc Cooper and other communicators. Upstairs
were the briefing rooms and mock tribunals in more or less permanent session.
hard to continue relating this fantasy version of history with a straight
face, because it’s so divorced from reality, but its official finale was
the great labor march of Tuesday, November 30, when some 25,000 union people
rallied under the indulgent eyes of the Seattle constabulary in old football
stadium, to listen to John Sweeney, James P. Hoffa of the Teamsters and
such labor chieftains as Gerald McEntee of the AFSCME. The divorce of rhetoric
from reality was best represented by McEntee who reiterated Carl Oglesby’s
famous line from the l960s, "We have to name the system". Unlike Oglesby,
who was a genuinely radical SDS leader, McEntee has been among the most
fervent of all Big Labor’s supporters of Clinton-Gore.
the rally was over, Sweeney and Hoffa led their thousands towards Downtown
where at that precise moment the street warriors were desperately but successfully
preventing delegates from entering the Convention Center and Paramount
theater where the opening ceremony was scheduled to taker place. It was
touch and go as cops steadily got rougher and the tear gas got thicker.
Certainly the arrival of thousands of labor marchers on the scene would
have made it much more difficult for the cops to gas, beat and shoot the
activists with wooden dowells and rubber bullets. It would have diminished
the hundreds of serious injuries sustained by the street warriors.
labor marchers approached and then... their own marshals turned them back.
A few rebellious steelworkers, longshoremen, electrical workers and teamsters
did disobey their leaders, push into downtown and join the battle. The
main march withdrew in respectable good order and dispersed peacefully
to their hotels, where Molly Ivins and the other scriveners began composing
their denunciations of the anarcho-trashers who had marred their great
would no doubt be polite to treat this myth-making as contemptible but
harmless self-aggrandisement. But real social movements for change shouldn’t
be built on illusions, and the self-aggrandisement is far from harmless.
Taker Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange, an NGO that has made its name
on the sweatshop issue, dickering with Nike over the pay rates and factory
conditions of its workers in Vietnam, Indonesia and China.
cachet Benjamin might have won by sneaking into a WTO session and being
arrested and briefly addressing the delegates was swiftly squandered by
her subsequent deeds, defending Niketown.
and her Global Exchange cohorts stood on the steps of Niketown and sweatshop
outlets in downtown Seattle to defend to premises against demonstrators.
Benjamin herself proudly described her shameful conduct to the New York
Times: "Here we are protecting Nike, McDonalds, the GAP and all the while
I’m thinking, ‘Where are the police? These anarchists should have been
arrested." On the Nation website one can find an equally disgusting sample
of this ass-kissing of corporate slave drivers. Stephanie Greenwood excitedly
quotes the slogan of a person she describes as "her Nation boss", said
slogan being "Capitalism, no thanks! We’ll burn your fucking banks." But
woe betide any demonstrator who took this slogan seriously, as encouragement
to inflict direct injury on capitalist property. Greenwood goes on to report
outside Levi Strauss where the respectable protesters "brought kids who
had kicked windows in over to the cops and asked them to arrest them."
for the kids, the cops didn’t heed the invitation. Had they done so, these
kids could now be facing up to ten years for "malicious mischief", which
is the charge prosecutors in the North West are bringing against street
activists. And those people turned in by Benjamin and the others did endure
awful treatment in jail. An early report by Amnesty International describes
"systematic cruel treatment was used to coerce or punish violent protesters
for acts of non-compliance such as refusing to give their names in King
person was slammed against a wall, beaten while lying on the floor and
his fingers forced back with a pencil. In another case guards squeezed
a man’s nose, almost suffocating him, when he refused to give out his name...
Also at King county jail, people were allegedly strapped into four-point
restraint chairs as punishment for non-violent resistance or asking for
their lawyers. In one case a man was stripped naked before being strapped
into the chair. One woman was stripped naked by four women guards, while
a male guard outside watched. She further had her arms and legs folded
behind her and was held down on the floor with the full weight of two guards
on top of her."
from the baneful consequences of this on-ground-collusion with the cops,
the larger political agenda of the liberals with their myth-making is far
from benign either. By falsely proclaiming a victory for peaceful pro-cop
protesters, they now can move on under a largely factitious banner of "unity",
and hunker down with the government policy makers to rewrite the WTO treaty
to their satisfaction. This is the core meaning of co-option, and certainly
the writers at the London Economist understand it well enough. In the wake
of Seattle the Economist ran a long article discussing the rising power
of NGOs, which successfully challenged the World Bank, sank the Multilateral
Agreement on Investment and engineered the brilliant anti-landmine campaign.
But, the Economist continued, there’s hope. "Take the case of the World
Bank. The ‘Fifty Years is Enough’ campaign of l994 was a prototype of Seattle
(complete with activists invading the meeting halls). Now the NGOs are
surprisingly quiet about the World Bank. The reason is that the Bank has
made a huge effort to coopt them." The Economist went on to describe how
World Bank president James Wolfensohn had given the NGOs a seat at the
table, and now more than 70 NGO policy wonks now work in the Bank’s offices
world-wide, and half of the bank’s projects have some NGO involvement.
No one should look sat the NGOs without first reading Michel Foucault on
co-option and internalisation of the disciplinary
the myth-making actively demobilizes radical struggles against the two
party status quo, since it pretends that one of the two parties -- naturally,
the Democrats -- can actually be redeemed. Just listen to Michael Moore
proclaiming the redemption and possible martyrdom of Bill Clinton. These
are people who be rallying next year outside the Republican Convention
in Philadelphia but not outside the Democratic convention in Los Angeles,
notwithstanding the fact that there is at least some disagreement between
the Republican presidential aspirants on the WTO, whereas Gore and Bradley
are in harmonious concord on this issue.
of course it’s all a myth, which can be easily popped with a simple question:
if labor’s legions had not shown up in Seattle the direct action protesters
would have at least succeeded in shutting down the opening session on Tuesday,
November 30, and they conceivably could have dominated the agenda of the
entire week, as in fact they did. If the direct action protesters had not
put their bodies on the line throughout that entire week, if the only protest
had been that under official AFL-CIO banners, then there would have been
a 15-second image of a parade on the national news headlines that Tuesday
evening and that would have been it. The WTO would have gone forward with
barely a ripple of discord except for what the African and Caribbean nations
had managed to foment from the inside.
after Tuesday most of the labor people had gone back to work, and the street
warriors were on their own, prompting the Seattle police finally to overreach
and go berserk to such a degree that the people of Seattle and the press
turned against them. People like Moore and Ivins should be taking up the
cause of those protesters still facing charges.
should also be pinning the blame on those who told the cops to take the
gloves off. By Tuesday night both the White House and the US Justice Department
were telling the mayor of Seattle that Clinton would not come if the streets
weren’t cleared. Reno wanted the feds to take over the policing actions,
which almost certainly would have led to a massacre. Contrast the outlook
of Benjamin and the other protectors of corporate property with the attitude
of a 34-year old Oregon farmer who found himself in the midst of the downtown
protest, was arrested and harshly treated in jail: "To break a window in
a retail facility in downtown Seattle is nothing compared to what some
of these CEOs are doing daily."
the last words to Jeff Crosby, the president f a union local of International
Union of Electrical Workers who flew to Seattle with 15 of his fellow union
members from New England. Crosby works at a GE plant, who is about to relocate
in Mexico. After he went home, Crosby put up on the web this open letter:
"The decision by the AFL-CIO not to plan direct action was a mistake. The
literature and petition the AFL-CIO used for Seattle was mostly unreadable
and unusable, with no edge. Despite some heroic efforts by union folks
in Seattle and other places, the AFL-CIO campaign was reminiscent of the
‘old’ AFL-CIO’s campaign against NAFTA -- remember ‘Not This NAFTA’? If
we had run a campaign against the congressional ‘Fast Track’ vote with
‘Not this fast-track’, we would have lost that one too. Did anyone really
try to bring people to Seattle under the slogan, ‘We demand a working group’?
is a period when on certain issues, massive, non-violent direct action
is in order, as the demonstration in Seattle shows. Every member who went
on our trip reports that support for the demonstrations, even with the
disruptions, is overwhelming. And not just from other workers in the shop,
buty family and other friends, regardless of what they do for a living.
‘Since we came home, we’re being treated like conquering heroes,’ marveled
on of our group.
the AFL-CIO was driven by policy advisers in Washington who didn’t understand
how angry people are about this issue... Perhaps they did not want to embarrass
Gore. Perhaps Sweeney had an agreement with Clinton to ask for enforcible
labor standards. Perhaps they thought that most people would be turned
off by civil disobedience, or something else, I don’t know. There were
plenty of people in the labor movement pushing for the labor movement to
join in the Direct Action -- we lost."
the street warriors won.