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Interview with French anti-capitalist Jose Bove: ‘Globalise hope for a future’

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Jose Bove is one of the best known figures of the anti-globalisation movement which has spread across the globe since the great protest against the World Trade Organisation in Seattle in November 1999. He is in Britain this week, along with Francois Dufour, a fellow leader of the radical French small farmers' organisation. They are speaking at meetings to push a message of resistance to the corporations and governments which do their bidding: 'The world is not for sale!' That is also the title of their book which appears in English this month
Issue 1753
The cover of The World is Not for Sale

WHAT IS your book about?

THE BOOK is about the experience we had in France with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and agriculture. It begins with the story of how we dismantled the McDonald’s fast food outlet in the town of Millau in France in 1999. This action was in protest at the decision of the WTO to impose sanctions against Europe, because Europe refused to allow the import of US hormone-treated beef. That was a very important movement in France because people understood that these sanctions signalled that the WTO was going to go into every area of life. The book goes on to explain that this battle takes place inside of a bigger battle for another kind of farming, another kind of agriculture. Then we to try to show that our fight as small farmers is the same as the other social movements.

IN THE book you talk of the Seattle demonstration as a “turning point in history”. Why?

WHAT HAPPENED in Seattle was an important victory-a symbolic victory, but a victory. It was the first time we had movements coming from all over the earth coming together in that way. It was farmers, workers, environmentalists, but also consumers, people from countries in the North and South. The coming together of all those people, and also the governments from the South, in Seattle meant that the WTO could not agree a new round of trade rules. It was the beginning of a new kind of resistance against neo-liberalism all over the earth.

YOU WERE in Seattle. Since then you have been at the protests in Millau last summer, Porto Alegre in Brazil, and more recently in Quebec City, Canada. How have you seen the movement develop?

I THINK that over the last two years more and more people are beginning to understand what is happening in the world and want to do something about it. Now none of the major international institutions are able to have their meetings anywhere without there being protesters. What is especially new since the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre earlier this year is that the movement is now trying to find answers to globalisation, to work out what our alternative is.

This for me is very interesting because it is a new kind of democracy, one where people want to decide about their lives, and what is happening to the world and to them.

HOW IMPORTANT do you think the demonstration at the G8 richest countries summit planned in Genoa next month is?

THIS IS going to be a very important demonstration. It will see huge numbers of people coming together from many countries. They will unite to say to the rulers of the richest countries that they do not agree with their project of imposing their kind of government, their rule all over the world. It is also a chance for workers from all over the world to come together. We have to make it a gigantic demonstration. It is important that people come to Genoa.

IN MILLAU last year, and in your speeches since, you emphasised two points. One was that there was no such thing as a “more or less important struggle. All struggles are vital.” The second was to stress the links between your fight, and those of workers and of people like the sans papiers “illegal” immigrants. Why do you stress these points?

ALL FIGHTS, whether big fights or little fights, are important. You can’t have the big fights without the little fights. If you don’t have the little fights you won’t have the big fights. Also, you get all these people pushed into struggles, whether as workers, farmers or people who have had to leave their countries to make a life in the Northern countries, and then find they have no rights. All these fights are linked.

Together they mean a fight to say that the economy should be for people, not reducing people to slaves for the economy. So I think that we have to link all those struggles, and say we have to work and fight together, not just as farmers, workers or immigrants, but to make the connections between the issues.

SOME PEOPLE say that to oppose neo-liberalism and globalisation is to retreat to a kind of nationalism or protectionism. What do you say to that?

WE ARE fighting for new rights for people all over the world, not only in one country. Retreating within national frontiers or looking to nationalism is not the issue or the answer. We need more rights-economic, social and cultural rights. These rights should come first and not be subordinated to the market. We want trade to be subject to these kinds of rules and rights. We need to have international rules first and say to the big corporations that you are not able to ignore these rules if you want to operate.

This means we oppose all kinds of “dumping”-social dumping, economic dumping, environmental dumping. The big transnational firms don’t care about what’s going to happen to the people or to the world in the years ahead.

YOU HAVE repeatedly defied the law and courts in your own struggles. Why?

WHEN LAWS are against the interests of people you have to put those interests first and act accordingly regardless of the law. Laws are made by people. They can be changed if people fight. When the fight is important, I think you have to be prepared to defy the laws to win the struggle.

IN BRITAIN there is a lot of debate about food and farming after mad cow disease and now foot and mouth. What do you think the lessons are from these? 

WHAT HAS happened in Britain is not an accident. It flows from the logic of neo-liberalism, which was pursued all through the Thatcher years. You have seen the destruction of agriculture. There are less and less small farmers in Britain.

If the same happens in other countries, you will get the same problems. The problem is the particular model of intensive industrial farming that leads to these kind of diseases.

YOU talk about challenging the corporations. Do you think we can win that fight?

THE ONLY thing I always say is that we have to fight, we have no choice. And we have to win. I also say that I hate to lose, so we have to win for that reason too! The point is that if we globalise the struggle, we can globalise hope for the future.

The World Is Not For Sale by Jose Bove and Francois Dufour. Published by Verso. Special offer from Bookmarks £13.99 (normally £16). Phone 020 7637 1848

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