Tenth International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns - Brussels, Belgium 2004

Part Two: Plenaries

The movement for a global justice ‘Another World is Possible’ and the peace movement

By John Van Daele (Belgium)

2.1 (pdf version in A4 format)

I. Who is in this movement?

Let me start in Seattle at the end of 1999, which is the moment when the movement, that existed already, really came on the global scene because the media perceived it as a global movement which seemed to have one message, which seem to be united. Who were there?

First of all: trade-union members,

from the USA in the first place, because people from the country where the movement is taking place are most numerous. Why were they there? People who have to earn a living from working, feel rather more powerless than 20 years ago in their relation with capital (than people who live from capital). They feel that capital is now free to move around the world to other countries and that they are loosing their jobs. They want to question this. The another thing is that they had the feeling that commercial rules in the world are very well protected, but not the social rules, e.g. the right to form a union or an association, which is a basic human right. E.g. in China, which is becoming a world production factory, (I was there three months ago) it is not possible to start a trade-union. If you work in a factory with 200 people you are in a stronger position if you can unite in a union. These two reasons (loosing jobs in their country and the denial of union rights) made that trade-unionists in Seattle and later in all other manifestations wanted to put these questions on the agenda

A second group are the farmers.

I was in Cancun last year at the 5th ministerial meeting of the WTO (World Trade Organization), and there was a farmers' leader of South-Korea who was in a manifestation: he took a knife, put it in his belly and he died. Very often in these kind of manifestations the most emotional people are farmers; they want to say: we have the feeling that because of the globalisation of trade in agricultural products only the most efficient farmers can survive. E.g. in the case of that South-Korean farmer: in South-Korea there are mainly small farmers; they can not have these big services so they feel they will disappear if you organize free trade. In Cancun many farmers had the same stories: we are not efficient enough as farmers and because of the free trade and we are disappearing. This is true for Belgium too. The question is: will Belgium still have farmers in 10 or 20 years?

NGOs working on development (north-south NGOs).

An important example at that time the Jubilee 2000, a coalition of more than 1000 NGOs from all over the world who were working on debt relief. They linked themselves to the old biblical tradition of debt relief every 50 years; at the beginning of a new millennium they felt it would be a good idea to free poor countries from the shackles of their debts. Also other development NGOs have been very active in this movement because they feel that the IMF, WTO and the World Bank are too much organizing the world in favor of the rich countries.

Fourth, the environment NGOs.

Small and big NGOs feel that their environment is being destroyed: green house problems, loss of biodiversity, and many other may be more local problems.

Fifth, the organizations of indigenous peoples.

In Cancun you very often heard the same story. Indigenous people usually are not very well linked to government: they are a minority, have to some extent another culture, may speak another language, don't know the tradition of policy making in their country, and very often their own government is making deals with multinational companies giving them the right to exploit a mine which destroys their habitat, pollute the rivers from which they live, ...  They generally are in a weak position in their own country and their government doesn't take enough into account their interests. Very often they are being sacrificed on the altar of globalisation.

The sixth element are the direct action people.

Very often they are young people and during manifestations they have developed action techniques. E.g. in Seattle they had techniques to block in a more or less peaceful manner the entrance to the conference hall: ministers on the first day could not enter and, because anything happening in the USA gets anyway more attention than elsewhere, if they could do it in Seattle with all those cameras there, it was a very good PR technique. That's what they have repeated in the years after because it proved to be a good way to play with the media society we know. If in a place with cameras you do something catchy, sexy, which can be shown on TV, it is a good way of raising some question. Of course there is the problem that TV's only show these so-called fights to block an entrance, because this is what can be shown, and often the content of the manifestation often is lost. That is the other side of this technique. In general these action people are a little bit younger than all the other ones I mentioned.

Of course there are other parts in this movement but these are the important ones. If you go to the world social forums, you will also see parliamentarians, you will see many local people. E.g. the last social forum in India was very Indian. My colleague told me that the flavor of the whole Forum in India was very different from the one in Brazil, just because of the place.

So, it is a very diverse movement both for objectives/content and for the geographical spread.

One could say that Europe is over-represented: unions, NGOs, etc. have more money to send people. North-America is there, but not so strongly represented as Europe. Latin America is strong also, because of the first forum and the strong tradition of trade unionists. If you think of the 3 billion people living in Asia, you cannot say that they as well represented as Europe. If you look at China... The last time I was there I was amazed that China has so many NGOs but hey are local, and the government does not allow them to organize on a national level. Usually they don't have the resources to go abroad, although in Mumbai there were Chinese too. Africa is also underrepresented mainly because of money, I would say.

II. What is this movement?

A. Ideology

It is a little bit a cliché, but you could say that they are questioning the neoliberal economics.

What does this mean? I mentioned already the movement of money. If money can move, it is stronger than labor which stays in the same place. If one has capital to invest one can look for the cheapest place. If your labor is expensive, one goes somewhere else. That is the power of capital: it is free to move. This has consequences: not only in the social field there is a tendency of the spiral downwards, the same holds for ecological rules: if a country put too many ecological rules, the company goes elsewhere. This is the equation the movement is questioning.

This equation also has as consequence the trend toward uniformity:

if you produce soft drinks and you are already working on this for hundred years and you have a very famous brand and you have the right to enter any country, then you will destroy many small local soft drink producers. The diversity of products is being lost. The same with bakers. In Belgium we still have many bakers and there is a big diversity of bread. But the question is: how long will they survive if they have to compete with big supermarkets? Loss of diversity is a consequence of the large scale organization of the economy. In commercialization many values are being used as a means to sell products: e.g. I talked to someone in the publicity sector who was studying the markets in Kenya, Iran, and Brazil for Fanta. She had to discover in these countries which kind of symbols were linked to optimism, so that in selling Fanta they could link those symbols with that product. A big section in the movement is questioning this way of operating, this way of using traditions and values of people which have been developed and used for centuries, to sell products.

The movement also questions the fact that democracy is put under pressure.

First of all, national governments have lost ground: in a global economy it is no longer easy for a government to say: we are organizing ourselves socially in such and such a way; because if they are too social, investors will go to another country with less social rules. The liberty of parliaments to legislate on social policy is diminished. Also on the international level the functioning of international organizations like the IMF or the WTO is questioned by the movement. Belgium for instance has one of the 24 directors on the board of the IMF, but I and Belgians in general do not know what this man is telling there in the name of Belgium. For instance, off the record some official told me that when Chile was starting to talk about a minimum wage, the Belgian representative very strongly criticized Chile's move for a minimum wage, while in Belgium for social protection we have had minimum wages for several years. So one can wonder in whose name that Belgian representative is saying that this minimum wage is a very bad idea for Chile. So the lack of transparency of these global institutions is a big problem for democracy and is therefore criticized by the movement.

Another issue that is very much on the agenda is the inequality in the world.

We know how big it is and the movement is pointing the finger to neoliberal globalization saying it does not really help to make inequality smaller.

B. Inside these major basic trends/ideas there are three streams about the question What could be the answer to this?

The first one is Small is beautiful, so let's withdraw to our national or local society. Also economy should be more local again. The second one is ‘reform’: we should reform the world, there should be more social and ecological rules, there should be more redistribution of the wealth in the world, e.g.  through taxes. The third answer/strategy is that we should have a different economy: a post-capitalist economy, but there is no agreement on what this really means. It is a rather vague idea that there should be another kind of economy.

C. When you look at these different basis answers/strategies you also see different action methods, which more or less correspond to these basic strategies.

The more anarchistic tendency will welcome local alternatives, of course, and also they will also have more destructive ways of taking action, although this is not the case for all people who are involved in this strategy, but some of them do.

Some post-capitalists are just in fact old communists, well they have that past but they prefer to call themselves post-capitalist: they are not much interested, for the time being, in reform.

The third basic strategy I mentioned was the reformists, and they really believe in talking with or within the global institutions. E.g. the international trade union organizations do not hesitate to dialogue with people of the IMF. Reformists also believe in elections and influencing global policy through national, and in our case, through European elections. They believe in influencing programs of political parties and in working though national policy in order to change global policy.

But very often it is recognized that different strategies can reinforce each other. Many say: while we are negotiating inside it is good that people are shouting outside. It makes our position stronger.

D. Spirituality of the movement.

It is very diverse: you have Christians, socialists, either socio-democratic or of a more communist tendency, you have greens, you have Buddhists (although I haven't seen so much of them). It is a very broad and diverse movement in this regards.

E. Organisation

There are the World Social Forums (WSF). In the beginning this started as an answer to Davos, which has a World Economic Forum, but it grew and no one would have expected that in three years you would have hundred thousand people on the WSF. That's why people said we should have a European, and an African, and an Asian SF, so that when people come together it is already a bit more organized. In Belgium we have had several Belgian Social Forums with the same basic movements, but I should say that in Belgium it was not a big success: it were mainly the professionals of the NGOs and trade-unions who were there. You cannot say that it was a popular event.

At the WSF it is often difficult to have a common declaration at the end. The movement is so diverse that it is difficult to agree on common words and common sentences. That does not mean that it has not been able to organize anything. When I look at the manifestations on February 20, 2003, I think that has been the biggest peace manifestation on the planet and the WSF played a role in that protest against the war in Iraq. It was first proposed on the European SF in Firenze in November 2002, it was reinforced in the WSF of January 2003. That was the basic organizational structure that made it possible to have this big manifestation on the same day. This is the  biggest practical realization of the movement against the war in Iraq.

In Belgium we have a Fiscal Action Network (FAN) which is a consequence of this movement. It is working on the Tobin Tax, on the shift from tax on labor to tax on pollution; it is also saying that tax after all is not such a bad thing: in neoliberal thinking tax is like a sin, while in Belgium people get very much in return: our health system and education system is very good and it is thanks to taxes. Participants in SF are the trade-unions, environmental NGOs, north-south NGOs, Attac, and Netwerk Vlaanderen. This Network Flanders is working on the conscientious/ethical use of money: what is the bank doing with your money? They had a campaign on the use of people's money for bank investments in armament companies. Two or three months ago they found out that some banks are still investing in landmines, while Belgium has been very active in the fight against landmines. Network Flanders discovered this and there has been a little uproar: banks were annoyed about it.

III. Money

One of the organizations in this SF is Attac, an organization which has been started in France in 1997. This brings us to money aspect of the movement. The word ‘Attac’ is an abbreviation of Association pour une taxe sur les transactions pour l’aide aux citoyens. It wants to charge a tax on the exchange of currency, a very small tax on money transfers abroad to be used for social objectives in the world. Why in 1997? Well, in that year we had the big financial crisis in Asia: Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, South-Korea, countries that saw the value of their currency being halved or worse. The consequence is that the debt of these countries has been doubled, many companies disappeared because they also saw their debt doubled and/or went bankrupt; many people lost their job. The criticism of Attac was that people and companies are playing and speculating with their money all the time by changing it from the Thai bath to the dollar to the yen and so on. Sometimes they made money from these speculative operations, but we also saw the financial crises. Therefore we thought that by taxing the exchanges of money a little bit we would be able to temper this speculative behavior. This was the basic idea of James Tobin who got the Nobel prize in 1981. Then Ignacio Ramonet, a director of Le monde diplomatique who started Attac in December 1997.

More generally Attac believes that the power of money in the world has become too big: the free movement of money can bring to much pressure on labor and the environmental rules, and it also gives more power to multinational organizations, including the power to stimulate a certain consumption model. We have a green house problem and at the same time people are bombarded to consume the whole time. All this was part of the ideology of Attac, one of the youngest associations of the movement for a global justice. As it started in France, it had more success in French speaking countries: Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, some North-African countries, but in the mean time it has spread to other places too.

Some of their ideas is that there should be global rules for money, that the income from capital should be taxed more. That would also offer some possibilities to lower taxes on labor. 

IV. Link between the movement for a global justice and your organizations

There is an evident link between the global movement and the peace movement, as mentioned earlier in connection with the world-wide manifestations of February 20, 2003. Furthermore, war is a very strong way of using power, the strongest way of using power on the international level. This movement is about power and the use of power. It is very obvious that organizations that question the phenomenon of power, almost naturally form a part of the movement for a global justice.

If we look more specifically at the question of taxation for weapon production, and the financing of war/defense, it is very useful that several organizations try to follow what is going on in the world of weapons, that there is information on this, what is the link with the weapons industry in politics, is there really a corruption of politics through weapons industry? It is very good that organizations look very closely at this link.

Another obvious link between your organizations and this global movement is that this movement is looking for more transparency of government policies, be it on the national or international level: what happens with people's tax money? This is also a natural question for the movement for a global justice itself. I do not know your organisations very well, but it obvious to me that what you are working on is almost naturally part of this global movement.

(Transcribed and edited from a tape recording by Dirk Panhuis)