Global Policy Forum

Strength in Numbers for Globalization's Critics


By Christine Elsaesser

Deutsche Welle
May 30, 2007

Environmentalists, churches, trade unions -- globalization's opponents have many faces. But they have one thing in common: They want to limit the power of corporations and make sure people have a greater say.

Maria Mies was in Seattle in 1999 as ten thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets chanting the slogans "No globalization without participation" and "The world is not for sale." Trade unions, church groups, environmentalists, women's movements and third world groups protested against a new round of liberalization of world trade. A retired sociology professor and member of the organization Attac, which is critical of globalization, Mies said she was aware of the many faces of the anti-globalization movement. "There were also poor people, farmers and (blue-collar) workers who took part spontaneously," she said. "There were indeed different groups, but they all were fed up and knew what they didn't want anymore."

The movement considers the promise that globalization will bring the world peace, equality, freedom and prosperity to be a lie. They believe that poor countries in particular suffer from corporations' pursuit of growth and are forced into poverty and dependency. Opponents of globalization say companies scale down social achievements, such as minimum wages and occupational health and safety, using the argument that they must remain internationally competitive. Opposition groups demand guarantees for people's right to self-determination and for minimum of social standards and want to change international trade agreements to favor developing countries.

More say for the people

Mies said democracy is globalization's first victim, adding that the movement's central demand for people to become more involved in political decisions has remained unchanged. "That's no longer possible in a globalized world controlled by multinational corporations," said Mies. "National laws cannot simply be tossed aside when a few companies lobby Brussels."

Political scientist Claus Leggewie said those opposed to globalization could be divided into five groups. In his book "Die Globalisierung und ihre Gegner" (Globalization and its Critics), he separated the groups into five subsets: Leftists and radical leftists are interested in social justice and want to develop a different societal system; the academic left has taken up some ideas from the ecological movement and engages in a certain amount of Marxist criticism; reformers from the business world favor employing a social democratic approach to tame capitalism; globalization critics grounded in religion link to the churches' traditions of social reform; and right-wing opponents to globalization put the stress on the nation state

Heterogeneity has advantages

In addition to large organizations, such as Attac, Greenpeace, trade unions and churches, innumerable smaller local and regional groups are also part of the struggle, but the varying currents united by one movement isn't problematic, according to Leggewie. "A movement is characterized precisely by a high level of heterogeneity and loose connections," he said, adding that it allows the movement to distribute various tasks. The groups aiming for reform had their target audiences just as the radical and militant groups that organize protests did.

Churches made opponents of globalization capable of action by providing financing, infrastructure and organizational skills needed by a movement low on resources before trade unions or political parties get involved, Leggewie said. Despite their different perspectives, the groups must see their work as being interrelated, according to Mies. No progress could be made if economic factors are viewed as being unconnected to the environment issues, she said. Leggewie, however, said the movement could already chalk up a huge success. "Worldwide, there's no one anymore who pursues globalization as it was in the 1990s," he said. "All of the criticism that is warranted is mainstream today -- such as criticism of the ecological consequences of unfettered globalization."

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