|Issue No 107||17 August 2001|
Ryan Heath – Why Protest CHOGM?
In the lead up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Brisbane in October, the 'anti-globalisation' movement will again be preparing to protest. Unfortunately for the protesters, the fact that most actually support globalisation will not be well known.
Broadly speaking, it is absurd to oppose globalisation. Far from being an economic policy invented 20 years ago, globalisation in fact describes a process of human interaction that has gone on for at least 5,000 years.
From the time humans first crossed continents, to the building of colonial empires, almost all recorded human history is a narrative describing globalisation. Through globalisation we have raised living standards, bridged cultural divides and taken our knowledge of ourselves and our world to new planes of understanding.
The point of protesting at meetings where the rich and powerful gather is, therefore, not to turn back the clock, but to redefine what we as a society want from this thing called globalisation.
Far from the ideals of international understanding, rather than nationalism, that gave rise to the United Nations in 1945, we are now entrenched in a system of corporate globalisation.
By this I mean the mostly unelected elite who are responsible for maintaining the conditions of the world's three billion people who live on less than $2 a day.
This elite includes the big, bad multinational. For a lucky few in the shareholder societies of the US, Australia and other OECD nations, these companies spread their ever increasing profits amongst shareholders.
These groups sit at the top of a very obvious pyramid of power in our society. The unelected elite several thousand decision-makers rank first. The benefits of their decisions flow to the shareholders - roughly 5% of the world's population. And beneath them, respectively, are the increasingly powerless citizenry of first through to third world nations.
The powerless are right on our doorstep. Look beyond Asian sweatshops, and you will see 330,000 Australians working for less than $2 an hour as fashion outworkers as evidence of this.
While it maybe easy to dismiss such statistics, it is far harder to ignore people willing to physically mobilise to protest around these issues.
What's more, protests 'against globalisation' aren't just an indulgence of middle class guilt by students with time on their hands. Increasingly, the people at s11, m1 and Genoa style protests are those who are direct victims of corporate globalisation, or ordinary people sick of being dictated to by powerful people who act like they know best.
My parents for instance, don't know how to use an automatic teller machine. It's not because they're stupid, they simply don't like the idea of being told that they must change yet another aspect of their lives because it suits someone else's bottom line. My parent's attitude probably make's their life harder, but it is their democratic and symbolic response to an ideology that doesn't make room for them and doesn't care about their ideas on how the world should work.
The genius of capitalism is that thus far it has proven democratic when under threat. It has demonstrated an ability to constantly change and re-configure to accommodate the disaffected just enough to buy their approval or silence.
Corporate globalisation is by its nature, undemocratic. It can't take into account what the little people on the ground think or want. Sometimes it can't even take into account the thoughts of world political leaders. And that will be its downfall.
It's time for democratic globalisation.
The cynics no doubt want to see protesters detailed alternatives rather than slogans, conjured from the comfort of first world lifestyles.
The simple response to this is there are no simple answers. It will be a long time before you see alternative visions for the world being served up in sound bites.
It also is unclear how these protestors, who come from diverse backgrounds, could present such a vision when they are uniformly and automatically labelled 'anti-globalisation'. And judged accordingly.
What is clear, however, is the first step to addressing the concerns of those disaffected by corporate globalisation is to recognise the problem - its lack of democracy.
Ryan Heath is the NSW President of the National Union of Students
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Labor's IR spokesman Arch Bevis explains how a Beazley Government will rebuild our broken system.
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Industrial: Into the 21st Century
ACTU President Sharan Burrow looks at the landmark deal delivering workers 12 months paid maternity leave.
Unions: The Black Hole
Jim Marr goes inside Stellar to discover the human cost of a management philosophy that says: you are on your own.
History: The Age of Dissent
The Sydney Branch of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History has organised a Conference on Social Protest Movements and the Labour Movement, 1965-1975.
Media: ABC and the Knowledge Nation
Tony Moore looks at how the national broadcaster's fortunes are closely linked to the Knowledge Nation Agenda
International: Brazil´s C.U.T. - When Big Is Beautiful
The CFMEU´s Phil Davey drops in on Brazil´s equivalent to the ACTU, the Central Unica Dos Trabalhadores (CUT).
Satire: Bracks Disputes Cabramatta tag
Victorian Premier Steve Bracks has called for a national council to decide on a location for Australia's drug capital.
Review: Globalisation Is Globalisation
In an extract from his book, Christopher Shiel argues that the official Australian perspective on globalisation is strikingly narrow.
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