Northwesterners Demonstrate Against the WTO Again, 10 Years After the Historic “Battle in Seattle”

by Arthur Stamoulis

photo by Bette Lee

Over 2,000 people across the Pacific Northwest converged in downtown Portland on Saturday to voice their opposition to new attempts to expand the World Trade Organization (WTO), an international body that negotiates and enforces global economic agreements for the benefit of large corporations. More than 75 labor, environmental, immigrant rights and social justice organizations participated in the march and rally, coordinated by the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign. The demonstration was one of hundreds around the globe in recent weeks, and comes on the 10-year anniversary of the historic “Battle in Seattle” WTO protests.

“What’s needed in response to the economic crisis are good-paying jobs, comprehensive banking regulations and a social safety net that Americans can count on when times get hard. WTO policies continue to pose a serious threat to all those things,” said Tom Chamberlain, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO. “We said it ten years ago, and we’ll keep on saying it until the message is heard: we need to end the WTO’s failed policies. Business-as-usual trade agreements are no longer acceptable.”

photo by Pete Shaw

On November 30, 1999, tens of thousands of people from throughout the world converged in Seattle to demonstrate against a meeting of the WTO. The massive protests made headlines around the world for shutting down the opening of the WTO’s conference and helping to derail its internal negotiations. Last year, the protests were even made the subject of a Hollywood movie.

Ten years later, the WTO is trying to jumpstart its stalled expansion plans once again. Last week in Geneva, Switzerland, the WTO held its biggest meeting in many years. In response, global justice activists held large demonstrations in multiple cities and towns throughout the world. The Portland march was the largest such demonstration in the United States, and attracted demonstrators from as far south as Ashland and as far north as Seattle.

“The Seattle ’99 protests represented a ‘movement of movements,’ with environmentalists, trade unionists, family farmers and others demanding that decisions that affect the economic and ecological well-being of our communities be made in the interests of people over profits,” said Wes Kempfer, interim Trade Justice Coordinator for the Oregon Sierra Club. “The notion that ‘increased trade volumes trump everything else’ is perverse, and should be eliminated for a wide range of reasons.”

Event organizers say that the WTO’s proposed “Doha Round” expansion would:

· Cause further offshoring of Oregon jobs;

· Prohibit new banking regulations designed to prevent the next financial crisis;

· Force future climate change policies to conform with restrictive commercial agreements;

· Expand agricultural practices that push small farmers off their land and force migration; and

· Require countries to accept imported foods and consumer items that fail to meet local safety standards.

“The WTO negotiations in Geneva didn’t make much progress, but the threat of the same corporate agenda being advanced through regional and bilateral trade agreements is still very real. It’s offensive that President Obama, who entered the White House on a fair trade platform, still seems to be using the Bush free trade agenda as his default position on these matters,” said Andrea Townsend, organizer with the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign. “The good news is that there is legislation that would start to turn around our broken trade policies. We want the President and Congress to support progressive trade policies like the TRADE Act.”

The TRADE Act, a bill currently cosponsored by 131 Members in the House and additional members in the Senate, would require review and renegotiation of the WTO and numerous other free trade agreements. It is supported by a wide range of labor, environmental, family farm, consumer and human rights groups.

Participants in the anti-WTO demonstration began gathering at noon along the waterfront in downtown Portland under the Hawthorne Bridge, then marched with colorful banners and large puppets through downtown. They were led by a contingent of “Teamsters and Turtles,” and passed street theater performed at the World Trade Center, Federal Building and Wells Fargo Center. The march was followed by an indoor rally and concert at Portland State University, which included speeches by Lori Wallach of Global Trade Watch, Francisco Lopez of CAUSA, Brent Foster of the Oregon Department of Justice, Barbara Byrd of the Oregon Apollo Alliance and Ken Allen of AFSCME Council 75.

Arthur Stamoulis is director of the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign.

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One Response

  1. […] Above photo: By Bette Lee at TalkingUnion […]

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