GENTECH archive


Social Justice E-Zine #34 (WTO ISSUE) (fwd)

  "This is what democracy looks like." --WTO protestors' chant

                       SOCIAL JUSTICE #34
                        December 5, 1999
                           Kim Goforth
                           Ray Goforth








   Welcome to the latest issue of SOCIAL JUSTICE E-ZINE.  The name Social
Justice encompasses the struggles of people everywhere who work for gender
equality, democratic government, economic opportunity, intellectual
freedom, environmental protection, and human rights. 
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by Ray Goforth

As I write this essay my city is under marshal law.  Being Seattle, they
are too polite to call it marshal law.  Instead, they call it a "state of
civil emergency with a limited curfew."  That limited curfew lasts from
7:00 p.m. until 7:30 a.m in most areas and last 24 hours a day in some
parts of downtown Seattle.  That curfew covers 50 city blocks and police
are acting as if it extends into surrounding residential neighborhoods as
well.  The National Guard has been mobilized and law enforcement from
around the state have descended upon the city.  Emergency laws have been
decreed making it illegal for citizens to own or use gas masks.  Moreover,
it is now a crime to express political dissent within the "no protest
zone" of downtown Seattle.  The sound of sirens and the drum of police
helicopters clearly sets the tone. 

The local television news has served up a diet of shocking images: My
favorite has been the footage of a police officer clad in body armor
walking up to a citizen and kicking him in the testicles, and then
shooting him point blank in the chest with a rubber bullet.  This kicking
of protesters in the testicles appears to be a favorite tactic as there
are numerous photographs of it happening.  Even local politicians weren't
spared the marshal law treatment as Seattle City Councilmember Richard
McIver was dragged out of his car and thrown to the ground, and King
County Councilmember Brian Derdowski was shot in the shoulder with a tear
gas canister. 

Thinking back upon the past couple days, I can still picture a group of
old women gasping from the tear gas and a young man bleeding against an
alley wall as his friend attempts to bandage the rubber bullet wound on
his head.  The police claim only three people were hurt but the fire
department says that they transported over 90 people to the hospital and
an untold number tended their own wounds.  These same firefighters refused
to turn their fire hoses upon the protesters despite repeated requests
from the police.  What has happened to my city? 

Just yesterday morning I was one of 50,000 trade unionists and
environmental activists peacefully marching through the streets of Seattle
demanding that the World Trade Organization incorporate human rights and
environmental protection into future trade agreements.  The WTO was here
in Seattle to set its agenda for the next several years and opponents of
neoliberalism from around the world came to try and influence that agenda. 
Earlier in the morning, several thousand people had formed a human chain
around the WTO meeting place and physically prevented the WTO from coming
into session.  The police used tear gas and pepper spray on the crowd but
it refused to budge.  Eventually the police gave up and let the protesters

Throughout the day a small group of masked protesters caused sporadic
violence (smashing of some windows, overturning newspaper vending
machines, spray-painting on walls, etc.).  Much of this was done in full
view of the police who took no action to arrest them.  While there was the
occasional trash dumpster set on fire, the vast majority (99.9%) of
protesters were peacefully registering their dissent against the WTO. 
Then at about 4:30 p.m. when the sun was setting, the police suddenly
began to attack these protesters with CS-gas, pepper spray, concussion
grenades and rubber bullets.  The effect as you might imagine was chaos. 
What devolved was a series of pitched battles between groups of protesters
and police that lasted for three days.  Peaceful protests also continued
throughout the city including another labor/environmentalist march I
attended three days after the first (this one bringing 10,000 marchers). 

The people who took to the streets of Seattle were a motley coalition of
trade unionists, human rights advocates, environmentalists and social
justice activists.  What they had in common was a coherent critique of the
reigning neoliberal prescription for global economic integration. 

They rejected the WTO notion that a state that keeps labor costs down by
imprisoning and killing trade union activists is doing nothing wrong; 

They rejected the WTO notion that child labor (and even slave labor) is
acceptable and should not be questioned in trade negotiations; 

They rejected the WTO notion that environmental protection laws are unfair
barriers to trade; 

They rejected the WTO notion that states should be punished for violating
patent rights but not for violating human rights; 

They rejected the WTO notion that its proceedings should be held in secret
and shielded from the prying eyes of the working people who must live with
WTO agreements; 

And finally:

They laughed together at the irony when the Mayor of Seattle declared a
"no protest zone" around the Niketown and Nordstrom department stores but
encouraged people to keep shopping there.  The citizens of Seattle were
free to shop for merchandise made in sweatshops, they just couldn't
complain about sweatshops. 

Emerging from this common critique was an understanding that these groups
had a common purpose.  They all agreed that the emergence of the
post-industrial economy should not be allowed to unravel the web of labor,
environmental and human rights protections that common people have
struggled long and hard to achieve. 

When the WTO announced that their Seattle talks had collapsed without a
single agreement, the protesters danced in the streets.  We had won and
our victory was twofold.  We effectively disrupted the work of the WTO,
forcing them to consider our agenda.  Beyond that, we formed alliances
that will carry on beyond the Battle of Seattle.  Looking back on the past
week, I predict that here in Seattle the seeds were planted for
transnational social justice alliances to begin to tame the excesses of
transnational capital.  Fifty years from now, the Battle of Seattle may be
remembered as the turning point where a more just and equitable global
order began.  At the beginning of this essay, I asked what had happened to
my city.  What happened is that common people defied the corporate and
government elites, and won. 



Shouting "No to the WTO," working families from more than 50 unions, 25
states and 144 countries were among the tens of thousands of activists
marching through the streets of Seattle Nov. 30 to demand that
international trade rules be reformed to respect workers' rights and
protect the environment. 

"I believe it's important to be here because working people around the
world should unite. Corporations are growing stronger and stronger,
especially in the industries that our union is involved with." Louis
Rocha, president of Communications Workers Local 9423 in San Jose, Calif. 

"We came from different unions, different countries and different races,
but yesterday we spoke with one voice. I felt proud to be part of the
labor movement." Liz Brown of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild,
TNG-CWA Local 37082. 

Union activists, many arriving in the more than 200 buses hired for the
occasion, began gathering at Memorial Stadium two hours before a 10:30
a.m. rally. An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 participants overflowed the
stadium and spilled into the adjoining parking lot, braving a cold rain.
At the stadium, rally-goers listened to the fair trade message amid
hundreds of colorful banners, signs and costumes, with the Teamsters in
yellow rain ponchos and blue caps, Machinists parade marshals in blue
ponchos and neon orange caps, and environmentalists carrying a huge
inflatable turtle. 

"We're basically putting a human face on the WTO," Teamsters President
James P. Hoffa told the cheering crowd. "It has to consider human rights
and worker rights along with trade." 

Speaking at the rally, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said, "Here in the
United States, we will continue to organize in the Congress and elsewhere
against any trade accords that do not include workers' rights and human
rights and environmental and public health protections. And we will stop
them." AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson, dozens of
leaders of international unions, as well as religious, human rights,
environmental and international leaders told the crowd that free trade
isn't "free" if its costs are child labor and forced labor, poverty wages,
hazardous workplaces and environmental degradation, and that free trade
must be substituted with fair trade. 

"We were trying to send a very clear message to the WTO that we want the
global economy to work for working families and if the WTO won't do it, we
need another organization that will," said Rick Bender, president of the
Washington State Labor Council. 

Dan Thompson, secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO, joined the
rally and march with a union delegation from his state. Thompson said he
was amazed by the diversity of rally participants in Seattle. "If you look
at each group, everyone has an issue," he said, "but it all revolves
around trade." American workers, he said, are mobilized to protest U.S.
trade deals with countries that tolerate rights violations and encourage
the flight of jobs. 

Following the two-hour rally, activists streamed out of the stadium for a
march through the city's center, stopping for a moment of silence outside
the Westin Seattle Hotel, where President Clinton is staying. 

Sweeney voiced agreement with President Clinton's regrets that a few
people had given the protesters a bad name. "We must not let the negative
actions of a few overshadow the accomplishments of more than 30,000
positive and peaceful protesters," Sweeney said. 

In a demonstration of solidarity, the Longshore and Warehouse Union shut
down the Port of Seattle and dozens of ports along the West Coast. "By
taking time out from work to voice our concerns, the ILWU is telling the
transnational corporations that they cannot run the global economy without
the workers of the world,"  said ILWU President Brian McWilliams. 

For More Information Contact:

815 16th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006, USA
Phone: (202) 637-5000
Fax: (202) 637-5058



(New York, December 2, 1999) -- Human Rights Watch today called on Seattle
Mayor Paul Schell and Washington State Governor Gary Locke to appoint an
impartial, independent panel to investigate the response of law
enforcement to this week's protests at the World Trade Organization (WTO)
conference. The panel should investigate allegations that the police used
excessive force and city officials placed unwarranted restrictions on the
rights to free expression and assembly of peaceful protesters in violation
of constitutional and international standards. If the panel finds
wrongdoing, those responsible for such abuses should be held accountable. 

Human Rights Watch also condemned the destruction of property and violent
acts by some protesters. 

Allegations requiring investigation include claims that: 

-police tactics to disperse protests in areas of Seattle outside the "no
demonstration" zone were overly-aggressive. In particular, police actions
on the evening of December 1 in the Capitol Hill area require
investigation. Protesters and residents report that police used tear gas,
concussion bombs, and shot rubber pellets into crowds, without warning, at
a protest unrelated to the WTO conference. The encounter reportedly began
when a police car drove into a group of protesters. 

-the decision by city officials to curtail all protests in the downtown
area, including peaceful ones, may have violated protesters' right to free
expression and assembly. Despite assurances that they could be present in
the area if they did not block traffic, protesters report that they were
not allowed to do so. 

-there were restrictions on detainees' attempting to meet, or speak by
telephone, with public defenders or other legal counsel. 

-CS tear gas was sprayed into the faces of protesters who had chained
themselves to objects or were cornered, and thus could not leave the area
as ordered. 

-police indiscriminately shot rubber pellets, bullets, or other
projectiles into crowds. 

For more information contact:

Mike Jendrzejczyk (240)634-0100, Room 350
Allyson Collins (202) 612-4354
Human Rights Watch
1630 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.,Suite 500
Washington, DC 20009
Tel:(202) 612-4321, Fax:(202) 612-4333


by Ray Goforth

Belying the smug assurances earlier in the week from World Trade
Organization officials that the protesters were a mere inconvenience, the
WTO announced December 3rd that talks had completely collapsed.  The WTO
would be leaving Seattle without an agreement to start a new round of
global trade talks. 

Conference participants later acknowledged that the pressure from the
streets to protect labor and environmental standards exacerbated rifts
between many of the 135 WTO member states. 

Several of the richest states felt strong pressure to defend their
domestic labor and environmental protection laws while many poorer states
professed fears that this was just another form of protectionism. 

"Many developing states have honest concerns about their ability to meet
higher environmental and workplace safety standards.  However, a great
many of these states are playing a cynical game.  They operate neglectful
and often brutal domestic regimes.  Their real fear is that a 'fair trade'
agenda will lead to democratization of their own societies" said one
observer who asked to remain anonymous. 

Developing states steadfastly rejected a United States proposal for a
working group to study how labor standards could be incorporated into
future trade agreements.  Tensions were also high between developed states
as the European Community and the United States clashed over agriculture

WTO supporters almost without fail are quick to pronounce that global
trading integration is inevitable.  While the collapse of the Seattle
round of WTO trade talks does not necessarily negate these pronouncements,
it does indicate that the terms of that integration are still open for


For those who have inquired:  We (Ray and Kim Goforth) grew-up in southern
California where we were active in a wide variety of progressive political
organizing activities.  We moved to Seattle, Washington, USA in 1988 where
we took positions with different social service agencies. In 1995, we
completed undergraduate degrees in political-economy at The Evergreen
State College.  In 1998, we completed law degrees (juris doctor) at the
University of Washington.  Ray works for a labor union and Kim advocates
for victims of domestic violence. 


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