Over 5,000 people marched through London last Saturday in protest at the way the world trade system works against poor people and the environment. The demonstration was young-about half were under 30 and a significant number under 20. It was also very lively and angry. Sara Henderson, a 17 year old from Walthamstow in London, told Socialist Worker:
'I'm here because I can see a few people have all the money and all the power, while children in Africa die from basic diseases. Why should these companies control so much? The world's resources should be for all of us to use.'
The protest was called by 19 organisations grouped in the Trade Justice Movement, in the lead-up to the WTO meeting this week in Qatar. The organisations involved are often viewed as the 'respectable' face of protest. They include Christian Aid, Oxfam, the National Federation of Women's Institutes, Save the Children, and Traidcraft.
But almost every section of the march had anti-capitalist slogans. Hundreds of mainly young people had spent many hours producing powerful symbols of their hatred of inequality and business greed. Save the Children's float was led by a group of young people with posters on their backs such as 'Children before profit', 'Our health before profit' and 'Clean water before profit'.
World Development Movement members had made a 'GATS monster' to symbolise the international drive to open up public services to private firms through the General Agreement on Trade in Services.
The People & Planet student group had a brilliant float with a giant orange-furred fat cat whose fangs were devouring the poor. Everyone agreed that World Trade Organisation policies were disastrous, and that governments such as the US unfairly dominated the world. There was near universal disdain for New Labour, and especially international development secretary Clare Short.
Mike Pocock from Bristol said, 'The government says it cares about international justice but it has played the worst possible role in the IMF and World Bank meetings, at the UN summit on racism and now in the negotiations for Qatar. I judge them by their actions, not by their words, and their actions stink.'
The march was not about the war, and none of the speakers at the rally in Trafalgar Square-Naomi Klein, Ed Sweeney from the TUC international development group, and Sergio Cobo from Mexico-mentioned it directly. Many marchers were against the war, and keen to make links with the issues of poverty and multinational power.
Ann Meredith, a sixth form student from Bexhill, said, 'I'm marching this Saturday and I'll be marching again on 18 November. The war is rooted in the questions of injustice that we are highlighting today, and it is being fought by George W Bush and Tony Blair to continue the system which we have to change.'
'The sky is the limit if we unite with workers'
SOME 1,500 people filled Westminster Central Hall after the Trade Justice parade for 'Free trade: trick or treat for the world's poor?' organised by the World Development Movement (WDM).
The most enthusiastic response was for an angry speech by Trevor Ngwane from the South Africa Anti-Privatisation Forum, who was expelled by the ANC for fighting privatisation. He laid into the neo-liberal policies of the World Bank, IMF and WTO. 'Seven years ago we got rid of apartheid. Since then apartheid based on race has been replaced by apartheid based on class. The rich have got richer and the poor poorer,' he said.
He described the defiant and militant campaign in South Africa against privatisation, and spoke about direct action, including reconnecting people whose electricity has been cut off.
Of the general strike against privatisation last August, he said, 'The waking of organised labour is changing the balance of forces in South Africa. Workers produce the wealth, and they have the power to change the system in a real way. 'The day will soon come when the social movements combine with the labour movement, and then the sky is the limit.'
A large section of the audience stood and cheered Trevor, and his message to fight against capitalism and for 'a new kind of socialism which meets the needs of the people'. None of the platform speakers had directly spoken about the war on Afghanistan, but there was clearly an anti-war mood.
There was big applause for Chris Nineham from Globalise Resistance when he said, 'We cannot talk about fighting neo-liberalism without talking about fighting imperialism and Bush's war.'