The Guardian December 8, 1999

"Democracy" in Seattle

"This is American democracy" said American leaders to the world as the 
anti-WTO demonstrators first appeared on Seattle streets, in Washington 
state, last week. But the word "democracy" was heard no more when the 
demonstrators surrounded the WTO meeting place and prevented delegations 
from attending what was to have been the opening session.

At this point the real face of capitalist class rule came onto the streets 
in the form of riot police dressed in black from head to foot, with gas-
masks, batons, pepper spray and other weapons. Special army units which had 
been trained in crowd control, were called in.

Capitalist slogans of freedom and democracy are first and foremost the 
right and freedom of capital to rule and to exploit the people. This is 
what is sacred for capital. Over the years some democratic rights have been 
wrenched from the reluctant ruling class but these rights are always 
qualified and limited.

Whenever the interests of capital become seriously threatened the forces of 
the state  police, army, state troopers, national guard, etc  which 
have been created to protect the rule of the capitalist class, are brought 
out in full force. This is what happened in Seattle.

Though the many contradictions which arose at this conference are yet to be 
examined in detail it is apparent that the US, which tried to use it to 
advance the interests of its big corporations and the US objective of world 
domination, did not get their way.

One of these contradictions was revealed when US President Clinton, in an 
act of breath-taking hypocrisy, signed a declaration against the use of 
child labour in the knowledge that it is the US TNCs who have moved their 
operations to a number of third world countries to take advantage of cheap 
labour, including child labour.

Nike is one example of a US transnational that uses cheap labour in a 
number of countries for its high-priced footwear.

This contradiction revealed itself further when US negotiators, supported 
by the Australian representatives at the conference, sought to introduce a 
so-called "social clause" by which to regulate labour conditions.

On the surface this appears to be a highly desirable objective but its real 
intent is to provide western governments with another means to increase 
their domination. WTO rules allow for sanctions to be imposed against those 
countries which do not carry out WTO edicts.

The way to truly address labour conditions and rights is to improve the 
economic situation facing nearly all developing nations. They were made 
poor when they were colonial countries and they have been kept poor ever 
since through the economic domination of the Western imperialist powers.

Consistently, the decisions taken by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) 
and, before that, under the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) 
have made it extremely difficult for developing countries to improve their 

People's Democracy (28/11/99) the newspaper of the Communist Party 
of India (Marxist) writes:

"Starting from a position of subordination, developing countries appeared 
to have offered more in the nature of concessions with regard to market 
access than the developed countries.

"The developing countries began to give virtually immediately after the 
Uruguay round negotiations were complete [in April 1994],... but they are 
yet to begin to receive much by way of benefits [from the developed 
countries] in areas which matter to them from an export point of view."

Rejecting the call for a new round of trade negotiations People's 
Democracy says that "It has been only five years since the Uruguay 
round treaty and the WTO has been in place. During those years there is 
little indication that the wholly unequal world trading order has changed 

In addition to the strong opposition of developing countries, differences 
between the US, the European Union and Japan, contributed to the fact that 
the Seattle conference did not capitulate to American dictation.

The failure of the Seattle conference together with the defeat for the 
Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) last year are significant 
setbacks for the TNCs and their compliant governments. They are important 
victories for the people of the world.
Back to index page