Socialist Worker

Washington shows desire for real change

Issue No. 1694

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Washington shows desire for real change

By Hassan Mahamdallie

THE MAINSTREAM press in the US and Britain were quick to dismiss the protests against the World Bank and the IMF in Washington last week as a failure. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Washington protesters didn't succeed in halting the global capitalist institutions, as in Seattle. But they did score a significant success. Clearly the US ruling class was determined that the nation's capital city would not be closed down.

Riot police and the National Guard poured onto the city's streets. But the trade union leaders also learnt from Seattle. They partly fear their union members' radicalisation which happens when workers meet the political students who make up the bulk of the anti-capitalist movement.

It is also election year in the US and union leaders' efforts are directed at influencing politicians. The trade union leaders endorsed the Washington rally on the Sunday, but they did little to mobilise for it. Instead they organised a separate 15,000-strong rally on the Wednesday before the big protest.It was aimed at not letting China into the World Trade Organisation.

But the Washington protests show that the anti-capitalist mood is growing. In Seattle about 60,000 people protested-some 40,000 organised by trade unions and 20,000 by "anti-capitalists". This time round around 40,000 anti-capitalists mobilised, doubling their numbers from Seattle.

That was why many protesters felt their movement had advanced. They could sense that it was deepening and moving further leftwards. One World Bank official dismissed the protesters for "knowing nothing". In reality the protesters, are experts on the World Bank, the IMF, Third World debt, the environment and exploitation everywhere. Most of them stand for scrapping the free market institutions and for dismantling the whole capitalist system. They also take it as read that US workers are their allies in the fight against global oppression.

This is an important break from the past. Many campaigners regarded US workers as "bought off". So one of the movement's theorists, Anuradha Mittal, has co-edited a book, America Needs Human Rights. She examines the impact of globalisation on US workers and how there is "hunger in the land of plenty".

But the protesters are not just "anti". They are very concerned to project the type of society they desire. In basic terms, it is a socialist society. Seattle and now Washington have articulated and encouraged the awakening of a political mood amongst ordinary people in the US. They are told that everything is rosy economically, but they feel more insecure, more overworked and more powerless than ever before.

As the US Business Week magazine put in its lead article last week, "The protesters have tapped into growing fears that US policies benefit big companies instead of average citizens-of America or any other country." There is growing passive support for the anti-capitalist protesters which in turn feeds their confidence.

This process has shown itself in the massive anti-sweatshops movement that has organised sit-ins on university campuses across the US in recent months. It targets brand firms such as Nike and Adidas for using cheap labour. this mood is matched by a left wing shift in the trade union and workers' movements.

Trade union organisations like "Jobs With Justice" mobilised for Washington. The group campaigns against the US "robber barons". A strike in Los Angeles at the moment shows what is possible when the anti-capitalist mood enters the arena of workers' struggles. Some 8,500 office cleaners or janitors have been on strike over poverty pay. The vast majority of them are immigrants from Central America and Mexico.

They have got not only public sympathy, but active solidarity from other unions. Los Angeles County trade unions organised an 8,000-strong march to "Make Los Angeles County Work for Working Families". LA teachers are now talking about striking too. Janitors in 30 other US cities say they want to strike against "sweatshop pay". This follows the successful Boeing workers' strike in Seattle. The Washington protest confirmed that the Battle of Seattle indeed represented a watershed in US political life.


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Sat 29 Apr 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1694
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