Globalisation: Anti-global protest fights on a new front

Anti-globalisation is so yesterday, remarked one wag. One of the most dramatic casualties of 11 September was the protest movement which had besieged world leaders at summits in Prague, Seattle, Gothenburg and Genoa. That was the received wisdom, anyway.

Anti-globalisation is so yesterday, remarked one wag. One of the most dramatic casualties of 11 September was the protest movement which had besieged world leaders at summits in Prague, Seattle, Gothenburg and Genoa. That was the received wisdom, anyway.

The idealists and anarchists forgot about corporate greed and world domination in their rush to jump on the anti-Afghan war bandwagon. Or else they cancelled demos designed for the meetings of the World Bank and the IMF because, after the attacks on the USA, they were too embarrassed to be seen rocking the boat when a more immediate danger threatened the civilised world.

"You are either with us, or you are with the terrorists," George Bush said. Suddenly the anti-capitalist, anti-American tone of street demonstrations against McDonald's seemed in rather bad taste.

Yet this idea is only partly true. The "anti-globalisation" movement was always a ragbag alliance. It was made up of environmentalists, aid agencies, trade unions, revolutionary socialists, Reclaim the Streets activists and various other beardies and weirdies. Each group had a slightly different agenda which temporarily found common cause, but whose unity was never likely to last.

The protestors divided into two groups. The rejectionists had a political or cultural hatred of modern capitalism and the transnational corporations which increasingly dominate the world economy. The reformists, however, were not so much "anti" globalisation as wanting it to take a softer, more human form.

This second group, by far the majority, accept a role for the market, but believe it must be better regulated and managed to offset current social injustices and unsustainable environmental practices. For the World Social Forum scheduled for Porto Alegre next month its slogan is "Another World is Possible".

Though anti-globalisation protest has vanished from the streets there is evidence that the gradualist campaigners for change are growing stronger. Leaders of the reformers had already decided that there were diminishing returns in summit street demos, especially since violence had by Genoa, where a protestor was killed, become the main focus of media interest.

Instead the reformers' impetus has shifted behind the scenes and direct to the Third World – despite Clare Short's disparaging remarks about "misguided, white middle-class activists" in the North, the largest protests over the WTO have been in India and Brazil.

It is beginning to bite. In Doha at the WTO ministerial meeting, African countries showed a new strength and sophistication which forced the US and the EU to make concessions to secure agreement.

This push is being aided by lobbyists in the West who are blitzing politicians with mass mail protests, and targeting companies and investors, and working through trade union and political party structures. They also feed the media with critiques of government policies and trade rules, and expose violations of democracy and eco-systems in the Third World.

The approach is producing dividends, with a new readiness from national and international policy makers to listen to moderate voices.

And if that does not work then, as the post-11 September mood gradually fades, both sides know a return to the streets is always possible.

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