Québec Activists Fight the FTAA

By Alain Marcoux

Stimulated by the mobilizations in Seattle and the up-coming Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in April 2001, the "anti-neoliberal" movement has, over the past year, considerably evolved. The preparations for the mobilizations against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) have given rise to a new layer of activism in Quebec, especially among the youth. The currents and tendencies that are developing reflect the on-going rebuilding process of the social and political left in Quebec.

To begin with, let's discuss those who the media in Quebec refer to as
the "official" opposition to the Summit of the Americas and its FTAA
agenda. We are talking here about the upper echelons of the labour
movement and some large non-governmental organizations (NGOs) gathered
together in the Réseau québécois sur l'intégration continentale (RQIC),
itself part of the Alliance sociale continentale (ASC) which is
organizing the People's Summit which will be held during the days
preceding the Summit of the Americas. Until now, this current remains
restricted to a reformist approach to the FTAA, and its politics
confined to the adding of social clauses to the future agreement. This
perspective has been expressed by Marc Laviolette, president of the
Centrale des syndicats nationaux (CSN) at a press conference that took
place in Quebec last January: "We are not against free-trade, what we
want is the addition to these agreements of social clauses protecting
the rights of the workers and the environment". Such is the current for
a globalization with a human face. The latter relies on a strategy
based on lobbying for a voice in the negotiation process of the FTAA.

But new organizations have emerged against capitalist globalization.
Other currents have developed to the left of the RQIC and which reject
its reformist stand. This left is itself divided into more or less
defined anti-neoliberal and anti-capitalist tendencies.

The first bloc encompasses different regional coalitions comprised of
individuals and groups (student associations, political organisations,
NGOs, union locals, etc.), the most notable being the Montreal-based
Groupe des opposants à la mondialisation des marchés (GOMM) and the
Quebec City-based Opération Québec printemps 2001 (OQP 2001). The
approach of these coalitions is based on a rejection of the FTAA agenda
and of the strategies that seek to reform it. These are thus broad
coalitions that are regrouping anti-capitalist activists and social
democrats as well as groups that are also part of the RQIC due to their
affiliation at the national level. Their perspective advocates a common
front which seeks to avoid divisions that might arise from raising the
question of anti-capitalism, but which dissociatse itself from
reformist approaches centred on social clauses.

The second bloc is constituted of the Convergence des luttes
anti-capitalistes (CLAC), which initiated the G-20 Welcoming Committee
last Fall in Montreal, and of the Quebec City-based Comité d'Accueil
des Amériques (CASA). These are the two groups who called for a
"consulta" of anti-FTAA activists last January in Quebec. The approach of these
groups is based on a rejection of capitalism, patriarchy, reformist
alternatives and on the acceptance of the diversity of tactics (violent
versus non violent ones). CLAC and CASA encompass individuals, mainly
young ones with strong libertarian-anarchist leanings. Together they
have made a common appeal for the anti-capitalist Day of Action
scheduled for April 20th and which aims at organizing civil
disobedience actions and protests against the FTAA.

One cannot ignore the role of the Table de convergence in the building
up of the mass demonstration to be held April 21st. The former brings
together groups such as SalAmi, OQP 2001, the Syndicat de la fonction
publique du Québec (SFPQ), the Fédération des infirmières et infirmiers
du Québec (FIITQ), and many other labour organisations and NGOs. It is
within the Table de convergence that all the preparing and coordinating
for the demonstration is taking place. The number of protesters is
anticipated to be 10,000 to 20,000 strong. The size of the labour
mobilization will therefore make all the difference. It is also worth
keeping in mind the important role the Quebec women's movement could
play which, following the World Women's March, has decided to carry on
its fight against the FTAA project. This movement has succeeded in
mobilizing 30,000 people for the Montreal gathering.

The goal for the anti-FTAA activists to the left of the RQIC is to
make sure the demonstration of April 21st takes place under the
watchword "No to the FTAA", as will be the case for the demonstration of the 6th
and 7th of April at Buenos Aires, Argentina, during the meeting of the
Trade Ministers of the Americas. The closer the Summit gets, the more
the debates turn on the question of social clauses and the possibility
of reforming these agreements. Many labour and international solidarity
organizations activists realize the ambiguity of the RQIC positions
which swing from an explicit denunciation of the impacts of NAFTA to
the proposition of including social clauses in the free-trade deals.

Important debates are occuring within the labour movement regarding
the FTAA in relation to the RQIC stance against NAFTA in 1994. Splits
are already developing within the RQIC. Members of Alternatives (an
international solidarity organization that assumes the position of
secretariat within the RQIC) have voted at their general assembly in
February for the watchword "No to the FTAA", despite the despair of the
organization's leadership. The proposition was put forward by Paul
Cliche with the support of the members of the Parti de la Democratie

The Quebec Summit in April 2001 will be an important event for the
permanent struggle against capitalist globalization. The combination of
diverse tactics and actions will contribute to the success of the
popular mobilization against the FTAA agenda. Participation in the Days
of Action on the 20th and the 21st of April should enable a meeting of
the new anti-globalization movements with the traditional working class
organizations. This unity is necessary to thwart the FTAA.

Alain Marcoux is a member of Gauche Socialiste, the Quebec section of
the Fourth International, and is a member of the national executive of
the Parti de la Democratie Socialiste.

Article courtesy of New Socialist magazine

The Politics of the FTAA


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