The Politics of the Anti-FTAA Movement in Canada

by Harold Lavender

People are coming to Quebec City united in their opposition to the FTAA. But they support a diversity of strategies and tactics in the fight against globalization.

Many can see the growing global injustice, social inequality, attacks on
workers' rights and environmental degradation being wrought by "free
trade" pacts like the FTAA. But there are different analyses of the
nature of globalization, its root causes and the solution to it. To put a name to
what we are fighting, socialists and other radicals sometimes use terms
such as capitalist globalization or imperialist globalization. This means the
problem is endemic to the system of global capitalism or imperialism and
can't be resolved thorough tinkering or piecemeal reform.

Fix It or Nix It?

Outside radical youth circles most of the opposition to the FTAA is not
explicitly anti-capitalist. There is lots of anti-corporate, anti-free
trade, pro-global justice, pro-worker sentiment in the movement. But
this does not by itself translate into an anti-capitalist perspective.

Much of the official leadership of the movement limits itself to seeking
reforms to protect the membership of their unions or to promote specific
environmental measures. They clearly oppose the FTAA negotiating process as secretive
and anti-democratic. But this is not the same as outright rejection of
the FTAA.

In Quebec City, the Canadian Labour Congress will participate in The
People's Summit. The first People's Summit was held in Santiago, Chile
and led to the formation of the Hemispheric Social Alliance (HSA). The HSA seeks to
change agreements such as the FTAA to include a social and an
environmental agenda.

To achieve this goal groups such as the CLC use a variety of tactics,
including peaceful demonstrations, negotiations and lobbying. The
president of the Canadian Labour Congress, Ken Georgetti, went so far as
to attend the elite World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland while
radicals struggled to get there and express their opposition.

Labour (and the NDP) are coming to Quebec City to be part of a large
demonstration. But while many labour activists welcome the youth
radicalization, much of the CLC leadership is not comfortable with confrontational direct action and the
political agenda of anti-capitalist youth.

Socialists want the labour movement be a part of the mass opposition to
globalization, as it was in Seattle. But we will put forward an
anti-capitalist analysis which is in opposition to the reformist
orientation of the labour leadership and the NDP. We reject nationalist
solutions. And we oppose the multinational corporations and the Canadian
imperialist state which represents them.

Social Clauses?

Can there be fair trade under imperialism? The labour and environmental
side agreements in NAFTA are totally ineffective. But would we support
social clauses in the FTAA in the highly improbably event they were being seriously
negotiated? Who would they benefit? Could they be manipulated to serve
as a trade barrier to protect Northern workers from "unfair competition"
from the South?

Many activists, particularly in the South, feel they would do nothing
to benefit the vast unorganized majority including women. Instead,
what's needed are the unconditional cancellation of the Third World debt, a complete end to
IMF and World Bank imposed adjustment programs, and a massive transfer of resources to
the south to fight global poverty, and an end to the brutal re-colonization of the
south under the banner of neo-liberalism.

Socialists feel such issues should be openly discussed and debated, both
at the People's Summit (where there are likely to be people from Latin
America with more radical voices than the leaderships of the HSA) and at any other forums
or gatherings at Quebec City.


Anti-capitalist ideas are widely held within the youth radicalization,
which has spawned groups such as CLAC (Convergence of Anti-Capitalist
Struggles) in Montreal and CASA in Quebec City (Welcoming Committee for
the Summit of the Americas). (For more on the movement in Quebec, see
Alain Marcoux's article in this issue.) In Vancouver, a loose grouping
favours the politics of the People's Global Alliance which places itself
in complete opposition to the WTO and the International Monetary Fund.
In Toronto, Anti-Racist Action has initiated a Direct Action Federation.

These groups have an anti-capitalist basis of unity, take an outright
rejectionist position on the FTAA-IMF-WTO and advocate confrontation and
anarchist-influenced direct action (while being respectful of a
diversity of tactics). Their ability to mobilize beyond radical youth
has generally been limited.

There are disagreements within the civil disobedience, direct action
current. CLAC and CASA seek to create sites for direct action
resistance. This is likely to include attempts to shut down the FTAA by
challenging the massive police security zone, very possibly leading to
violent state repression and confrontations. Others believe that such a
frontal confrontation is not a good tactic or focus for civil
disobedience. Some currents advocate non-violent civil disobedience.
Operation Salami takes this view. It is organizing its own non-violent
direct action and will not work with CLAC - unless CLAC pledges itself
to non-violence.

In Toronto, Vancouver and a few other cities there are groups called
Mobilization for Global Justice organizing for Quebec City. They include
members of the
International Socialists, global justice activists, and people in and
around the Council of Canadians. They have a base among students and an
orientation to labour. They have done some broad educational work,
making use of well known speakers such as Naomi Klein and leaders of the
Council of Canadians.

The Mobilization for Global Justice groups are doing useful work, but
seem reluctant to address controversial issues within the movement, such
as the tension between radical youth activists and the labour
leadership, the debate over social clauses, and the question of direct
action (non-violent or otherwise). While rightly not wanting to limit
the movement to those who already identify as anti-capitalist, many of
these organizers do not seek to build an anti-capitalist current in the
broad movement. As a result they have failed to inspire many of those
interested in building an anti-capitalist left.

The divisions in the movement are real. But attitudes have hardened
unnecessarily, particularly on the part of the labour leadership and
Operation Salami. People who venture to Quebec City will have to make
their own tactical choices.

On the Move

Organized labour, especially in southern Ontario is mobilizing for the
mass peaceful march in Quebec City on April 21st. Some local labour
councils, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Canadian Auto
Workers and others are organizing transportation. Participation in other more confrontational activities
is not being encouraged. However some union activists may participate in
spite of this.

South of Vancouver, a joint US-Canadian labour-based demonstration will
be organized at the border by the ad hoc Peace Arch Coalition. This will
be in line with the politics of the People's Summit and the larger march
April 21st in Quebec City. Civil disobedience will be discouraged.

Many have raised the question of the massive national security
preparation for the summit. A key task of those who do not go will be
to defend the civil liberties of those who do go and to sound the alarm on state repression.

Harold Lavender is an editor of NEW SOCIALIST, the magazine of the New
Socialist Group <>

Movement Against Globalisation in Quebec.


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