A Two-day carnival-like event took place in Montpellier, southern France, last week. It was a 15,000-strong protest against globalisation that saw people pack into meetings on everything from how to fight the multinationals to the threat to privatise public services under the planned GATS trade agreement. There was also an inspiring march, with students, peasants and trade unionists chanting what has become the slogan of the movement: ‘The world is not for sale!’
They had all come to support the left wing French peasants’ leader José Bové. He and nine others faced a series of court cases centring on a protest Bové led two years ago in Millau, in the south of France. That had seen people dismantle a McDonald’s outlet in protest at the US and World Trade Organisation (WTO) sanctions on France’s Roquefort cheese. The sanctions threatened farmers’ livelihoods.
The protesters turned the court cases into a trial of globalisation and the neo-liberal policies pushed by the WTO, International Monetary Fund and World Bank. ‘We are all José Bové!’ chanted the crowd outside the court. Bové gave an inspiring speech to the thousands who gathered to launch the march. He stressed the links between this protest and other struggles which have erupted in France recently-most notably the recent wave of mass workers’ demonstrations and strikes against bosses’ attacks on pensions: ‘Our fight is for the transformation of society. ‘We stand in solidarity with those fighting for public services like health and education.’
Bové argued for solidarity with the ‘sans papiers’ (immigrants made illegal by French laws). He said, ‘For us the struggle of the sans papiers is important. ‘They are people chased from their homelands by the policies of the World Trade Organisation, the IMF, the World Bank. And when they arrive here our duty is to support their fight for rights.
‘Our slogan should be ‘Globalise the struggle! Globalise hope!’ That spirit of wanting to link the different struggles into a fight against the whole system could be found throughout the march and the debates. Many people shared the sense that the protest in Seattle in 1999 that shut down the WTO marked a turning point. ‘Seattle was a spark for many people like me. It has created a global reaction,’ said Fabien Thubert, one of the many young people from Montpellier who joined the protest.
Members of the ATTAC anti-globalisation organisation formed one of the liveliest contingents on the march. Young people held a mock trial and execution of a plastic life-size Ronald McDonald, the food multinational’s trademark. Judgements in the court cases are due to be handed out on 22 March. Further protests are planned, including Bové’s announcement of an international day of action on 17 April against genetically modified products.
People across the continent are eagerly planning for what looks likely to be the biggest demonstration Europe has ever seen against the bankers and politicians who suck the Third World dry. The leaders of the eight richest countries in the world will meet in Genoa, Italy, from 20 to 22 July at the G8 summit. They will face a wave of protest from debt campaigners, environmentalists, anti-capitalists, trade unions and others. Major trade union federations in France, Italy, Spain and Germany are already discussing support for the demonstrations.
Drop the Debt, the movement focused on Genoa that came out of the Jubilee 2000 campaign, is preparing a protest on 21 July. Debt still causes the death of 19,000 children a day. At the end of last year chancellor Gordon Brown pledged to write off the debts owed to Britain by 41 of the poorest countries in the world. Their total debt to Britain is around £1.5 billion. But these same countries owe £32 billion to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.
The leaders of the richest nations have the power to tell the IMF and World Bank to write off these debts. But they refuse because they want to retain power over the poor countries’ economies.
Last weekend finance officials and bankers from the G8 countries met in Palermo, Sicily, to prepare the agenda for Genoa. These gangsters said they would discuss ‘reform’ of the World Bank. But they also want to use Genoa to push forward ‘further trade liberalisation and the next steps in the process that was stalled at Seattle in 1999’. Everyone who can should be preparing now to mobilise for the Genoa protests.
Top World Bank official, Isac Diwan, has revealed that debt reduction has been a fraud. He told a meeting recently that, even when debt is cancelled, a complex series of financial manoeuvres mean that poor countries only benefit from 40 percent of the money written off.
Contact Drop the Debt on 020 7922 1111, www.dropthedebt.org or Globalise Resistance.
Solidarity with women workers around the world on International Women’s Day THURSDAY 8 MARCH, 1-7PM, GAP, 376 OXFORD STREET, LONDON
Plus protests around the country
Target GlaxoSmithKline The drug firm that profits from AIDS in Africa MONDAY 5 MARCH, 8-10AM, GLAXOSMITHKLINE, GREAT WEST ROAD, BRENTFORD, MIDDLESEX
Nearest station Syon Lane, regular trains from Waterloo
Supported by disability activists DAN and Outrage!’s Peter Tatchell
Strikes at 68 universities
Agency workers would be paid more
A racist Tory bill
Many people are already missing bill payments