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October 2003   

Interview: No Ifs, No Butts
Rugby League Professionals Association president Tony Butterfield on his battle to deliver a collective agreement for NRL players.

Unions: National Focus
In this month’s national wrap: Noel Hester meets a heavy hitter talking up open source unionism, truckies front the suits at Boral’s AGM, tales of corporate bastardry and Medicare birthday revelry.

Industrial: Fools Gold
Unions have thrashed out a string of protocols with the NSW Labor Government. Some, now, are questioning whether they are worth the cheap, imported paper they are written on, reports Jim Marr.

Bad Boss: Bones of Contention
Byron Bay chicken boners have nominated thier boss for a Tony after seeing their entitlements plucked.

History: The Gong Show
In late September the South Coast Labour Council (SCLC) celebrated 75 unbroken years championing the rights of workers in the coastal Illawarra region 80 kilometres south of Sydney, writes Rowan Cahill.

Politics: The Hawke Legacy
The election of the Hawke Labor government twenty years ago holds some salient lessons for today’s Labor Party, writes Troy Bramston.

International: Sick Nation
As Australia celebrates 20 years of Medicare’s universal health coverage the crisis facing American workers in need of medical care is a useful reminder of what we’ve got – and what we stand, writes Andrew Casey.

Economics: Closed Minds
Philip Mendes looks at the political influence of right-wing think tanks, their financial backing and asks why the left hasn’t been able to get its ideas out there.

Review: Mixing Pop and Politics
He's had relations, with girls from many nations... but Billy Bragg seems to like us Aussies as much or even more than any of the others, writes Pádraig Collins.

Poetry: One Size Fits All
There once was a man from the Lodge - Who tried hard, our poems, to dodge... Resident bard David Peetz is back!


North By Northwest
Phil Doyle returns from up north, where he survived on nothing but goodwill, good people and a great big orange bus.

The Soapbox
The $140 Million Patriot
It would be hard to imagine a steeper slide from hero to zero than the experience of Richard Grasso, the now-deposed head of the New York Stock Exchange. writes Jim Stanford.

Bush's Bad News Blues
The Bush Administration is cooking up a new campaign 'to shine light on progress made in Iraq', writes Bill Berkowitz.

The Locker Room
A Tale Of One City
Phil Doyle gazes into the crystal ball for signs of life, and finds that somewhere the horses are running in the wrong direction.

With Banners Furled
There is no better account of the glory that was the annual Labour Day marches than that given by Kylie Tennant in Foveaux, her fictional account of life in inner Sydney in 1912, the year she was born.

The Westie Wing
Our favourite Macquarie Street MP, Ian West MLC, reports on the world of NSW politics.

The Cancun Wash-Up
The dramatic collapse of the World Trade Organisation Ministerial Meeting in Cancun, Mexico, last month has been followed by a deafening quiet from Geneva, Brussels and Washington, writes Peter Murphy.


The Monk Off Our Back
It should come as no surprise that Tony Abbott has been dragged from his workplace relations portfolio just as his $60 million assault on the CFMEU finally unravels.


 Concrete Boot for Democracy

 Picketers Get Blue Ribbon Result

 ICAC Call at Mudgee Abattoir

 Telstra on Charges

 Unis Walk Over Federal Bullying

 IRC Shoots Rooster that Quacked

 Ugly Australian Riles Timorese

 Medicare Gets Abbott For Birthday

 Business Council Opposes Salary Vote

 Rail Workers Call For Self Defence

 ACT Leads On Industrial Manslaughter

 Thumbs-Up for Awards Binding Subbies

 Entitlements Crash into Hangar

 Blackouts on NSW Horizon

 State Govt Told To Clean Up Contracts

 Would-be Presidents Face Union Probe

 Activists Notebook

 A Hard Act To Follow
 Which Boss?
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The Cancun Wash-Up

The dramatic collapse of the World Trade Organisation Ministerial Meeting in Cancun, Mexico, last month has been followed by a deafening quiet from Geneva, Brussels and Washington, writes Peter Murphy.


The ghastly faces of WTO Executive Director Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi, EU Chief Negotiator Pascal Lamy, and US Trade Representative Ambassador Bob Zoellick on the evening of September 14 said it all - they didn't expect it, and they don't know what to do.

Only Zoellick could manage a truculent show of arrogance, with repeated reference to the US' capacity to forge bilateral free trade agreements where the WTO had failed on the multilateral front. But Zoellick did not try to hide his rage against and disdain for the developing countries and their 'seventies' rhetoric.

While the US may yet sign Free Trade Agreements with Australia and Morocco and Israel, these hardly rate in the world trade game. Its big target is the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), but it is precisely the Latin American countries which formed a solid bloc of resistance to the neo-liberal agenda at Cancun.

Cancun is Seattle revisited, except that this time the developing country bloc consciously linked up to a better organised network of union, small farmer, environment aid and other civil society organisations. In particular, Australia's Fair Trade and Investment Network, Oxfam-CAA, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, joined in effectively with the Our World Is Not For Sale network and their global bodies, and with the farmers' Via Campesina, the Third World Network and Focus on the Global South.

The corporate global free market agenda remains paralysed. As time passes with no results for the corporates, and bad results for masses of people, it is increasingly discredited, and even increasingly ineffective for the giant corporations which push it.

The self-sacrifice of Korean farmers' leader Lee Kyung-hae was an extraordinary event at Cancun, perplexing the local people, shocking the other protesters, and casting the WTO leaders in the blazing glare of the impact of their policies.

Recriminations began in the aftermath of the collapse. The G22 group of developing countries blamed the rich countries - the European Union, the USA, Canada and Japan - for rejecting their proposals on freeing up agricultural trade in a fair way. Some European delegations blamed their chief negotiator Pascal Lamy for failing to negotiate properly, others from Europe blamed the Mexican Foreign Minister Derbez for closing the conference too abruptly. The USA blamed everybody else. Pascal Lamy blamed no one. Derbez and Supachai, on the other hand, said everybody had behaved very well! Derbez - in deep denial - argued that future talks in Geneva could resolve all the issues. Supachai - in deep depression - could barely answer the journalists' questions.

The actual dramatics of the collapse did not involve agriculture at all, but the huge conflict between the EU and over 90 developing countries about the EU insistence on a package of new formal WTO agreements on investment, competition policy, government procurement and trade facilitation.

Some of the poorest countries, most vulnerable to pressure from the US government through the IMF, the World Bank, aid and trade deals, refused point blank from start to finish to go into talks on these 'new issues' or 'Singapore issues'. The EU and Canada in the foreground, and the USA in the background, really put the pressure on to get these much wider powers into the WTO, and really expected opposition to crumble. When the EU relented a little on the last day, and dropped investment and competition policy from the list, the developing countries still said no. That's when Minister Derbez closed it down.

The fact that both the G90 and the G22 stayed together and even grew stronger during Cancun has demonstrated that Seattle was not an aberration, but that a new dynamic has entered world affairs. While ever the WTO has to operate by consensus, and claim to be 'pro-development', it will not be able to advance without genuinely shifting resources to the world's poorer nations and peoples.


The Australian delegation supported the G22 proposals for freer agricultural trade that would benefit developing countries, but behind the scenes told anyone willing to listen that the G22 could not last the week, because Brazil and India had such different agendas. In this view, the G22 was a good ginger group and may help advance the more dogmatic free trade line pushed by the Cairns Group of agricultural exporters. This stance annoyed the US delegation, but it basically supported the US approach, which was to split the G22. While the Australian delegation stated that it was not interested in the 'Singapore issues' because agriculture was the only real issue, Australia came out in support of the EU and the US and pushed the extremist proposals on investment and government procurement.

By acting in this way, the Australian government made itself irrelevant to the new blocs which have demonstrated their appreciable power in the WTO, and failed to achieve anything for the Australian agricultural sector.

This posture in the global trade debate - trading off anything to gain greater access for Australian agricultural exports - continues to endanger Australia's manufacturing and services sectors, which together employ the bulk of Australian workers.

Now that Cancun has failed to deliver for the Howard government, and for the US, we must expect that even more pressure will be applied by both Howard and Bush to force through the unpopular Australia-US Free Trade Agreement by the end of the year.

The emerging forces

The G22 started as the G17 a few weeks before Cancun. The leading countries are Brazil, India, South Africa, and China, with Argentina, Ecuador and Costa Rica also prominent from Latin America, and Malaysia and even the Philippines playing a strong role from Asia. When the US poured on the pressure, including calls from President Bush, only tiny El Salvador pulled out of the G22 and Uganda pulled out of the G90. But Egypt, Nigeria and Turkey joined the G22. The G22 met every morning throughout the Ministerial. Brazil and India held separate briefings for non-government organisations on September 12, carefully explaining their views in a pro-free trade and pro-WTO context, but calling on NGOs to put on maximum pressure that day. As the Brazilian Agriculture Minister said, "We need all your authority, all your integrity today to keep open the possibility that our proposals will be considered." However, he also said, "Though it is undiplomatic language, we must admit that in this situation no deal is better than a bad deal".

The G90 and G22 overlapped, and Brazil in particular was totally loyal to the G90 opposition to the proposed investment agreement. However, G22 had only two sub-Saharan African members, whereas G90 was build around the African Pacific Caribbean (APC) group which are mostly small and poorer countries linked to the British and French economies. These smaller and even Least Developed Countries clearly stated that they had not done well out of the WTO since its inception in 1995, and that they could not cope with the proposed 'Singapore issues' let alone the pressure for more market concessions in agriculture, industrial goods and services from the USA and Europe. A delegate from Swaziland told me said how happy she was at the solidarity of the poor countries against the 'Singapore issues', and how they would not have stuck together without the support of the media and the NGOs throughout the Ministerial.

A group of four African cotton exporting countries directly called on the US to drop its massive subsidies to US cotton producers. The US delegation revealed its narrow self-interest when it replied that the entire global garment and textile industry had to be reviewed before it would consider the cotton production subsidies. This hardened the views of the APC group.

Terms of the debate

Although the Cancun Ministerial had high drama, the 'inside' debate was contained within a very narrow framework. The developing countries pitted themselves against the rich over the terms of the current global division of labour. While not simply accepting a role of supplier of agricultural products, minerals and assembly services to the rich, and pushing for some internal economic development options, the developing countries were saying that they mainly wanted to export to Europe and North America and they mainly wanted to export the low-value added products they have been allocated during the colonial era.

It is hard to see that this is a viable economic strategy, and one able to reduce global political, social and military tensions.

The 'outside' debate was much sharper - the WTO kills farmers, agriculture can't be just a trade issue, ultra free markets only weaken the position of workers and most societies, the WTO is obsolete and needs to be replaced by a fairer framework.

The startling development at Cancun was the great warmth of relations between the 'inside' and the 'outside' progressive groups and networks. The left of centre government in Brazil was best able to articulate this attitude of solidarity. Its low key, steady pro-free trade tone in the Ministerial worked to position the rich countries as the spoilers, while not alienating the 'outside' because it still challenged the global power relations.

The labour movement at Cancun

The International Confederation of Trade Unions and a German social democratic foundation, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, ran some seminars and media conferences at Cancun, mainly to assert that free trade, without associated social and environmental polices, would not work for most people. When the talks collapsed, the ICFTU and the Australian Council of Trade Unions President Sharan Burrow, blamed the absence of a social content at the heart of the WTO.

Since agriculture and the 'Singapore issues' were the big debates at Cancun, and the unions failed to make a strong alliance with the small farmers and the poorer nations, the labour movement concerns about trade and core labour standards were unfortunately marginalised.

Peter Murphy

October 3, 2003


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