Ray O. Light
December 1999

From the Belly of the Beast


On November 30th, 1999, for the first time in 50 years, a significant section of organized labor in the USA demonstrated opposition to important international policies of the US ruling class. The occasion was the scheduled first day of the new "Clinton round" of negotiations of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The US President had initiated the convening of government officials from 135 countries with the largest ever gathering of corporate executives. The site was Seattle, Washington. (80 years earlier, the city of Seattle had been the site of the first of only two general strikes in the twentieth century in the USA.) On November 30th, perhaps 35,000 members of the Steelworkers, Teamsters, UNITE (garment and textile union), Machinists, and other AFL-CIO unions took over the streets of Seattle along with newfound allies among the environmentalists, anarchist youth, anti-imperialists, and trade unionists from countries all over the world. As a result the representatives of the world's elite were unable to meet that day!!

Clinton and the international finance capitalists had thought that the working class and the masses would provide no obstacle to the growing domination of their new world order. After all, a panel of three corporate honchos has the power to overthrow the laws of any country if such laws are found to be in restraint of "free trade"! This is how, for example, recently, the US government, on behalf of the US meatpacking and beef industries, was able to compel the European Union countries to accept US beef (with all the growth hormones they contain) into the markets of Europe and into the bodies of the European peoples, despite the EU's effort to bar such beef. This was also how Venezuela, whose powerful oil industry opposed the US Clean Air Act with its mandate for cleaner gas from their refineries, brought this US law before the WTO which decided that the US law did indeed impede free trade. The US Environmental Protection Agency was forced to back off to where they admit there is "potential for adverse environmental impact." While on the surface this latter example seems to represent another country finally getting the better of the US imperialists, in reality, international finance capital, with the US in the lead, is quite content to have such US laws overthrown in the interests of maximum profits for the "free traders" of WTO.

In the 12-27-99 issue of The Nation, William Grieder observes that, " In Seattle developing countries were blamed for the rejection of labor rights and environmental protections..." Grieder points out that the media "ignored the plain truth that India, Brazil, and Pakistan could not prevail alone but were joined in opposition by the largest multinationals." Nominally "independent" governments of oppressed nations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America which are in reality puppet regimes for US led international capital have played the "villain" role on labor and environmental rights, allowing Clinton and US imperialism to play the "good guys", "trying to do the right thing". As the Wall Street Journal admitted, "behind the scenes the US runs the show along with its sidekick the European Union."

This Seattle meeting was intended "to launch the second round of WTO negotiations with the aim of further liberalizing global commerce" as the Wall Street Journal described it on the eve of the Seattle meeting. The previous round of negotiations had taken seven years to complete, though they were anticipating completing this round in three years. Certainly, the contradictions among the rival imperialist powers, banking and financial groups, etc. make any "liberalizing" of global commerce a difficult process even when conducted secretly and in the absence of working class and anti-imperialist opposition. The mass opposition in Seattle guaranteed that nothing tangible would be achieved by international imperialism at the Clinton initiated Seattle summit meeting of WTO. So the Clinton round was launched with a big thud!

Among the significant positive developments for the world proletariat and the world-wide anti-imperialist movement were the following:

1. "The cat is out of the bag." The World Trade Organization which was unknown to most of the international working class, has become a household word thanks to the Seattle protesters.

2. The AFL-CIO members who protested in Seattle may have come there with great nation-chauvinist and protectionist prejudices. Yet they applauded the many militant speakers they heard representing the working class of the oppressed nations of Asia, Latin America, and South Africa as well as of Canada, Europe and Japan. For most of these US workers it was their first glimpse of the power and greatness of proletarian internationalism as well as the burning need for it.

3. The political strike of the members of the International Longshoremen's Union (ILWU) shutting down the Seattle docks (and docks up and down the West Coast of the USA) was the highlight of the powerful anti-monopolist demonstration in Seattle.

4. The gauntlet has been thrown down by US led international capital. US imperialism was forced to take off its gloves to deal with these (mostly) US workers. Once the protesters seized control of Seattle, the only way that the US imperialist bourgeoisie was able to regain control of the city and attempt to begin the WTO meeting was through brutal police violence -- the violence of the US state apparatus. This experience provides a real opportunity for the vanguard elements in the US working class as well as elsewhere in the world to begin to draw correct revolutionary lessons about the need to prepare for dealing with the state violence of US capital.

5. What had formerly seemed to be so overwhelming in its power that it seemed to be inevitable; namely, the expansion and encroachment of the absolute power of international finance capital into every nook and cranny of the world economy was shown to have feet of clay. (As Dorothy begins to understand, the "Great and Powerful" Wizard of Oz commands her to "ignore the little man behind the curtain.") A barely organized band of perhaps 50,000 people, under the half-hearted and seriously compromised leadership of John Sweeney and the AFL-CIO took over Seattle and stopped the imperialist rulers and their international henchmen in their tracks! Sweeney himself who had only days earlier manipulated the AFL-CIO to endorse Gore for President, and had opposed those in the labor movement who wanted to fight against WTO in Seattle, after the fact, echoed the new sentiment of Clinton in the new reality. Sweeney actually said he was glad that WTO had been a failure in Seattle!! Workers -- beware such new friends as Clinton-Sweeney! But recognize how much they were forced to change their tune in order to keep control of the orchestra!!

6. This also demonstrates the power of the working class when it begins to struggle against its real enemies. And there is no doubt that the organized section of the US working class which has tragically been broken away from the rest of the international working class for the past half century and has been allied instead with its own imperialist bourgeoisie has begun, at long last, with the anti-WTO struggle in Seattle, to break with its own bourgeoisie and make links once again with the rest of the international working class.

7. This still relatively privileged section of the US working class has discovered allies among environmentalists, anarchist youth, anti-imperialist national minority workers, and representatives of trade unions from other countries whom they cheered and marched with. Now that their eyes have begun to open, the task of the workers vanguard in the USA is to help deepen all these alliances while concentrating on solidarity among the international working class as the focal point of the alliance. For the WTO represents in the first place, the effort of the international capitalist class to exercise dictatorship over the international working class. And the international working class must answer with its own international struggle for power.

The question then arises -- will the international proletariat take up the fight in proletarian internationalist unity. As Marx taught, where the capitalists are better organized and united than the working class, they win. Where the working class is more united and organized than the capitalists-we win. Whatever the zigs and zags of the struggle, henceforth any sell-out trade union leaders,- in the USA, Europe, Japan, or anywhere else - will have much greater difficulty openly opposing and red-baiting those of us in the trade union movement who agitate and organize around proletarian internationalism. Concrete trade union links, along the lines pushed by the KMU, the leading trade union movement in the Philippines, are on the order of the day.


In conclusion, the struggle continues-on both sides. There is no doubt that US led international capital will continue to negotiate among themselves as best they can with all their internal contradictions to try to achieve maximum unity of the exploiters over the exploited. They will continue to use and try to expand the WTO. They have the IMF and the World Bank. They have not given up NATO, the EU, the UNO, NAFTA, APEC, etc. Nor have they disbanded the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bildeberg Group, the Cecil Rhodes Group, et al.

On our side, the international communist movement will have to struggle for maximum unity of the international working class and for working class unity with the oppressed peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. For the proletarian revolutionary cause one significant question is, will the working class of the USA be won back to the side of Clinton and US imperialism on the basis of protectionism, legalism, and great-nation chauvinism? Or will the US workers continue the journey, only just begun, away from the fatal embrace of their own imperialists and into the arms of their brothers and sisters of all lands-the international proletariat? Or will they be stalled half-way by the vacillation of petty bourgeois leaders of organized labor (Sweeney et al), "the labor lieutenants of the capitalist class", and the petty bourgeois milieu of the environmental movement?

Whatever the ultimate answer to these questions, there is no doubt that the US section of the international working class has made its first significant positive contribution to the class in many years by opposing and exposing WTO in Seattle and there is no doubt that the cause of international capital was dealt a blow in Seattle in the Fall of 1999.

Finally, on the eve of the twenty-first century and the new millennium, the exposure of the WTO in Seattle has revealed the following truths:

1. Henceforth, national sovereignty which originally arose with the rising bourgeoisie in the period of nascent capitalism will be threatened everywhere by moribund international finance capitalism in the global capitalist (imperialist) economy of the present and future!

2. Henceforth, also, national sovereignty will be inextricably linked with the struggle for proletarian power against international capital. And such proletarian power will only be victorious to the extent that it is fought for on a proletarian internationalist basis!



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