Socialist Worker

Rage at the heart of the beast

Issue No. 1693

Protests shake IMF and World Bank

Rage at the heart of the beast

HASSAN MAHAMDALLIE reports from the anti-capitalist protests in Washington

"THIS IS what democracy looks like." That was the chant that rippled through the tens of thousands of protesters who took over the streets of Washington DC on Sunday. Organisers estimated that 35,000 people took part in two protests which converged in the centre of the city.

The Washington Post said some delegates to the IMF/World Bank meeting had to get to it through the grounds of the White House. "I love all this. Everyone is united to fight for the cause," said Pittsburgh receptionist and trade unionist Robin Pearson, as the march against the World Bank and the IMF began.

The anti-capitalist protesters were young and old, trade unionists, steel workers, machinists, environmentalists and students. They had been out blocking off the major roads and intersections around the World Bank Headquarters from 4am. The police were also out in force in their "robocop" gear. They deployed armoured vans, teargas and pepper gas, billy-clubs and guns. Police cars escorted the 2,000-plus finance ministers and free market economists into the World Bank building.

They eventually succeeded in starting the meeting a few hours behind schedule. As protest organiser Han Shan said, "We have put their institutions under siege. "They had to militarise the capital city of the USA to get those delegates through. This just shows what the IMF and the World Bank are like. They choose to partner with the police and the military across the world. Against the masses."

Protesters blocked the roads well into the day. Police waded in with clubs and pepper spray against the peaceful protesters. The previous evening police had carried out a mass arrest of 600 protesters. They raided the protesters' "convergence centre"-the organising hub of the anti-capitalist protest.

None of this dissuaded the tens of thousands who took over the city on Sunday. They forced street democracy onto the capitalist "heart of the beast". All the main symbols of capitalist and corporate tyranny were targeted-the World Bank, the IMF, the Bank of America and the US Treasury. The route to the White House was cordoned off. It was a carnival of revolt against the rule of capital.

On the streets at 7am was steel worker Carol Ford-Duncan. Carol told Socialist Worker, "I'm very proud of all these people," pointing to direct action protesters chained together on Pennsylvania Avenue.

"It's our future that's at stake. Too many people are dying because of the World Bank and corporate rule. The drive of the capitalist system is taking us back to the 19th century. It has got to stop. "There are no borders when it comes to this. I'm with my brothers and sisters everywhere. "We have got a goal now. We're all anti-capitalist." Protester Don McIntosh said, "We don't believe we can reform this system. It's like a cancerous tumour-the only thing you can do is remove it." As a young woman student said, "The world is becoming more corporate. We've got to keep doing stuff like today."

Questioning the system

PROTESTS, TEACH-INS, rallies and demonstrations took place every day in the week running up to the main demonstration against the IMF and World Bank on Sunday. 

HASSAN MAHAMDALLIE asked protesters what had brought them to Washington.

"This US government cannot be changed," said school student Chris, who was thrown out of school for putting up a pro-choice poster. "All these institutions-the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO-they're all laughing in the face of humanity."

People flooded into Washington from across the US. The umbrella group Mobilisation for Global Justice encompasses hundreds of organisations, many of which flowered in the aftermath of last year's protest in Seattle. Volunteers worked tirelessly to organise the events. One of them was Bob Hamburg, from a small town in West Virginia: "I was a young man in 1968, but I didn't really get involved in the anti Vietnam War movement, apart from burning my draft card. Recently I decided to get active. I became part of a concerned citizens' group to stop the building of pulp mills in my area. We sent two people to Seattle. They came back enthused. Now I'm getting involved in direct action."

On Thursday demonstrators targeted high street shopping chains that exploit workers. The chief executive of Gap clothing, Millard Drexler, made $47 million in 1998-$24,000 an hour. Workers turning out his goods in Third World countries are paid as little as 50 cents an hour. Chie Abad represents sweatshop workers on an island in the Pacific. He said, "We have no right to organise. We work 12 hours a day, seven days a week. We live in squalid, insanitary barracks, surrounded by barbed wire. "Women get fired if they are pregnant. We have no ventilation inside the factory. We have to drink rainwater. "

Neal Gorfinkle from the SEIU public sector union in New Jersey was also on the picket. Neal stayed for the week's protests after he attended a rally called by trade union leaders against the entry of China into the World Trade Organisation. Workers in the US fear that their jobs will move to China as the multinationals open up China's markets.

Neal told Socialist Worker, "It was a big rally. The focus unfortunately was China-bashing, which I'm against. I have nothing against workers in China. It's the multinational corporations I hate. But I think the motion of the labour movement is generally in the right direction. The union federation, the AFL-CIO, endorsed Sunday's rally against the IMF and World Bank. Seattle was a shot of adrenaline into the labour movement."

Some 1,500 people listened to 23 speakers at a massive 13 hour teach-in on Friday. International student activist Colin Rajah told the audience, "The World Bank oppresses the masses for an elite of powerful people. "We can feel it in the USA and around the world. It is race and class based, and reinforced by the military and the police. California spends more on prisons than young people's education. Indonesia spends more on the military than education. We are struggling to redefine the social and economic structure."

There were academics and activists from all over the world at the teach-in, which was held in the church where Bill Clinton goes to repent.

Njoki Njoroge Njehu from Kenya told the teach-in, "The consensus is that the IMF and World Bank cannot be reformed. They have to be abolished. "The oppression is global-the resistance and solidarity has to be global. The enemy is not fellow workers around the world. The enemy are the owners of capital."

Chris Crews, from the Student Alliance to Reform Corporations, argued that the protests against capitalism had to deepen. He said, "We are calling into question the system-capitalism. Free market economics has failed us. We feel that students and workers have lost control over the means of production to corporate control. We want to reach workers, but we don't know how. Some people want to stop at reforms. I think you get to the point where if you're going for revolution you have to go further forward."

'We must demonstrate if we want democracy'

TRADE unionists mingled at a "permitted" legal rally in the Ellipse Park next to the White House. Black steel worker Abe Adams listened intently to the environmentalists and union leaders who spoke from the rally platform. "The way these corporate powers operate today reminds me when I was oppressed as I was growing up in Alabama in the 1950s and 1960s. When I was sent to Vietnam I was told it was for democracy. What democracy do you see today? If we want democracy, this is what we must do. We've got to start by scrapping the World Bank and the IMF. I'm with the students on that."

As Abe spoke the secretary of the AFL/CIO union federation was addressing a cheering crowd. Richard Trumka announced, "Brothers and sisters, it will soon be time for us to stop talking and start walking, and let the IMF and the WTO and the World Bank know that we are together and we mean business." The sheer colour and inventiveness of the mass demonstration struck onlookers. Trade unionists and sweatshop workers, students and environmentalists held the lead banner.

Behind them were a myriad of homemade placards, and puppets of Clinton and the World Bank leaders. Trade unionists chanted, "The people united will never be defeated." Students chanted, "The workers united will never be defeated," and, "Whose streets? Our streets!"

The fat cats and the corporate suits are likely to feel the anti-capitalist heat wherever they meet to cut their dirty deals. As machinist union member Tom Dunne said, "This is working America waking up. People are starting to realise this is a class war-an understanding we haven't had for a long time."

Times are changing

"THE BEST thing is that the whole movement is moving to the left again. All this is brand new. I hope it keeps growing. Trade unionists in the US didn't really take part in the struggles of the 1960s, but we're here now. This is going to change the US. I can feel it."

  • Locked out steel worker DON KEGLEY

Police defend multinationals

POLICE AND National Guardsmen cordoned off the main streets of Washington DC on Monday to make sure delegates to the World Bank and the IMF met. Police officers took their revenge on the protesters. They arrested over 600. That put the total arrest figure for the week's protests at about 1,200. The police used tear gas and pepper spray.

Medical volunteers washed blood and tear gas off clothes and told of police brutality. One protester was pepper sprayed and then hit full in the face with a baton. "Will this dissuade us? No. It makes our point more apparent," said student protester Joanna Hellmuth.

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Article information

Fri 21 Apr 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1693
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