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  Issue No 94 Official Organ of LaborNet 04 May 2001  




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The G-Word

ACTU President Sharan Burrow asks if there's a better way forward for global trade.



Globalisation has become such a broad concept that it's now being used as a general term of abuse for the excesses of economic rationalism. At the same time, the spruikers of new technology businesses are employing it as a cutting edge promotional slogan.

But if globalisation's economic meaning is understood simply as the rapid growth in international trade and investment flows, and a corresponding rise in the influence of multinational corporations, then governments must develop clear policies to ensure the benefits of growth are shared by all in our communities.

Unions internationally have been responding to the negative aspects of trade liberalisation by calling for fairer global rules to protect people. A consensus based on four policy requirements would guarantee core labour standards, environmental protections, the sovereign role of national governments, and public and consultative negotiations on international agreements. These measures should underpin bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, including WTO rules.

The corporate argument against such measures - that they would threaten economic growth - is plain wrong. Perfect competition rarely exists in the real world; pure free markets are only a theory. The corporate community demands rules to protect its own interests. All trade and national economies are regulated to achieve outcomes that the market alone cannot deliver.

For national governments, the union-backed guarantees have the political advantage of addressing the concerns of working people and the legitimate concerns about globalisation being expressed across communities more generally.

At the protest-marred third Summit of the Americas in Quebec City last month, unions from across the continent united to lobby for these guarantees as a pre-condition for the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

The Quebec summit came on the heels of Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile's visit to Washington where he talked up the prospect of a bilateral Australian-US Free Trade Agreement. The promise of vastly increased markets for Australian exports makes a good news story, but our lamb and sugar farmers are hard-headed enough to know that the real chance of a fair go from their competitors in those States that elected George W. Bush is virtually zero.

The ACTU and our American union counterparts two weeks ago reached agreement on guarantees for inclusion in any Australian-US trade deal. The union proposals are not radical or new. Western governments have been legislating to protect national interests and individual rights from business excesses since at least the 1830s, with the English legal origins of such controls stretching back to the organisation of the court system under Henry II in the 12th Century. Unions have been working for basic employee protections for more than a century.

What is new is the way powerful vested interests have been able to use the so-called free trade rules adopted by the WTO and in bilateral or regional agreements over the last decade in order to ratchet up pressure on national governments to minimise such controls. This is the real threat of globalisation. The fact that the same vested interests are tirelessly seeking government intervention to minimise entrepreneurial risk and maximise corporate profits is conveniently absent from their free trade rhetoric. The millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded subsidies granted by Australian governments this year to multinational companies is just the most recent example.

Federal Treasurer Peter Costello's contortions in trying to explain why he blocked Shell's takeover of Woodside Petroleum on national interest grounds last week demonstrated just how difficult it is for our elected leaders to manage these issues without transparency.

The Business Council of Australia two months ago issued a paper calling for more corporate tax breaks and a watering-down of consumer protection and competition legislation in a campaign dressed up in patriotic concern about the threat of Australia becoming a "branch office" economy. When business leaders talk about economic reform, we can be assured that they are considering profits before people.

The highly successful business campaign to de-regulate world trade and investment has provided a perverse incentive for governments to abandon commitments to the rights of people and sacrifice their natural environments.

The lauded "trickle down" benefits for the poor have been exposed as a myth. The ACTU and unions around the world propose a fairer set of global rules that protect people, the environment, and our democracies.


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*   Issue 94 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Global Action
The CFMEU has been a world leader in fighting the war on global corporations. John Maitland has been one of the generals.
*  Unions: Sisters United
In her May Day address, Bus Union state president Pat Ryan looks at the role women have played in the labour movement.
*  Politics: M1 and the Trade Unions
Phil Davey was one of the forces behind S11 but chose to sit out M1. He looks at this week's action.
*  History: Il Duce Roberto?
His modern-day fan club might not like it, but Rowan Cahill argues wartime PM Robert Menzies sailed close to the winds of Fascism.
*  International: Cuban Call for Global Labour Rights
An international meeting of union representatives in Cuba has vowed to start a campaign to defend workers rights from the effects of globalisation.
*  Economics: The G-Word
ACTU President Sharan Burrow asks if there's a better way forward for global trade.
*  Media: Birth Of A Nation
East Timor's young journalists are struggling with language barriers and technical difficulties most Australian media professionals wouldn't be able to comprehend. But they're keen and eager to learn.
*  Review: The Tremulous Hopes of the Fifties
Behind the the good times mythology of the 1950s was a desperate quest for the ordinary.
*  Satire: Teen Angst Poems a “Danger”
The Teen Angst Gun Massacre Affair has broadened, with staff at the NSW Department of Education revealing that “gangs of conspirators” have been found operating out of high school poetry competitions.

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»  The Soapbox
»  The Locker Room
»  Trades Hall
»  Tool Shed

Letters to the editor
»  And Macca Replies to Lee ...
»  What About the Workers?

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