On Jan. 31, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney warned the World Economic Forum (WEF) that working people had come to the group’s annual meeting, held Jan. 31 to Feb. 4, to “challenge Enron economics at home and abroad” and warned that the anti-globalization movement is not going to go away.

“We are building an even bigger consensus,” he told the AFL-CIO’s Working Families Economic Forum. “In the end, we will win, not simply because of the power of our numbers, or the persuasion of peaceful protest, but because of the moral imperative of our cause.”

Pointing to the fact that now “the global economy does not work for working people,” Sweeney said, “Another world is possible. A world that is free from hunger. A world where human rights come first. Where children go to school, not to work.”

While we may not agree with everything Sweeney said, on balance his speech is an indictment of transnational capitalism and a call for a massive people’s movement to fight it. We are reprinting the speech on these pages.

We meet here on a rainy day in New York as a storm is gathering around our nation. Our country is being battered by waves of war and recession, our world by an economic slowdown.

Here in the United States, over two million workers have lost their jobs in the last year alone.

An estimated 30 million will soon lose their jobs across the world. Tens of millions more face cutbacks of wages, hours and benefits.

Today, the workers who were heroes on Sept. 11 are celebrated in special ceremonies across our country.

But in the everyday policies of leaders and governments, workers and their families are treated with indifference at best. The Enron scandal magnifies this clearly.

Enron’s 29 leading executives cashed in over $1 billion in stock, while thousands of company workers lost their jobs and their life savings.

Big investors were told the score and made returns up to 200 percent in six months. Small investors were kept in the dark and they lost big time.

That is wrong. But what is really wrong with Enron is not how it fell, but how it rose.

Enron’s executives used money and political clout to rewrite the rules. They rigged the markets and freed themselves from all accountability. Then they used that freedom to fleece consumers, investors and even their own colleagues.

They pushed deregulation of basic necessities like energy and water. They peddled privatization and preferred speculation over investment, trading over production. Deceit and manipulation are what Enron economics is all about.

Enron economics isn’t an aberration, it’s an ideology. It’s not about lawlessness, it’s about power. Some Enron executives may go to jail, but the real outrage isn’t that Enron violated the rules. The real outrage is that Enron made the rules.

Enron economics isn’t limited to Houston, or to energy. It was in play immediately after Sept. 11 when Congress gave the airlines a $15 billion bailout and did nothing for the 100,000 workers who had been laid off. That, brothers and sisters, is wrong.

Enron economics is at the center of the debate over how to get our economy going again. Help for workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own used to be a bipartisan reflex. But now 60 percent of the workers who are unemployed don’t even get unemployment insurance.

Many have exhausted their benefits, and no family can afford to pay for health care on an unemployment check. Yet, in the Congress, House Republicans passed an Enron stimulus plan on a party-line vote. It doles out permanent tax breaks for big business, while scorning health care and unemployment benefits for workers.

They even voted to repeal the minimum tax on corporations – permanently. Retroactive – going back 16 years. If it were law, Enron would receive a rebate of $254 million even though Enron paid no taxes in four of the last five years. It would mean $7 billion in taxpayer money to 16 companies up front, short-changing hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers.

Those tax cuts won’t help get the economy going. They aren’t linked to providing new jobs or making new investments. They are just another corporate giveaway – and that is wrong, wrong, wrong.

W hy talk about a U.S. company like Enron in a forum on the global economy? Because Enron economics is just another name for what is being forced down the throats of working people across the world.

Over two decades ago, the global corporations and banks set out to create a new global market. They made the rules, so it’s no mystery why those rules defend property rights, but ignore workers’ rights. Capital is protected; the environment is not. Private speculators are liberated; governments are locked in an economic straitjacket.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank tell developing countries: export or starve; attract foreign capital; sell off your assets; open your markets; cut services.

“There is no alternative,” they are told. This is Enron economics on a global scale – deregulation, privatization, speculation over investment, trading over production – rules that benefit the few and not the many. Poor countries are burdened with debts that can never be repaid. The global system protects foreign creditors over citizens.

The global bankers demand water systems and power plants be auctioned off, schools and hospitals closed, food crops uprooted for export crops – orchids instead of wheat.

The AIDS pandemic devastates sub-Saharan Africa – but the global trading system protects patents over patients – the drug companies keep desperate countries from getting the medicine they need for their people.

We have seen the tragic results of corporate globalization; after 20 years, the returns are in. Its celebrators said the sacrifices would produce faster growth, rising incomes, democratic development, but reality mocks their claims.

Look around the world and you see slower growth, widening inequality, increasing instability. It’s what Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz calls a “boom in busts.” Between 1988 and 1993, the poorest 60 percent of the world’s population actually lost income.

We also know with certainty that despite the promises of unregulated free trade, 2.8 billion people around the world still eke out a desperate existence on less than $2 a day.

They live hungry, without decent shelter, with no doctor to treat them when they are sick, no teacher to help them learn to read, and no job to help them lift themselves up.

When they do find work, it is often under forced-labor, child-labor and slave-labor conditions, living in cramped quarters, working 12-18 hours a day, seven days a week in unhealthy working conditions, subject to discrimination, harassment and sexual abuse.

When they try to join and form unions, they are fired from their jobs, or worse – imprisoned, tortured, murdered. For instance, last year, more than 160 trade unionists were murdered in Colombia by paramilitary groups associated with the government.

The country of Burma continues to engage in the systematic and widespread use of forced labor, according to the International Labor Organization, with rape, torture and murder common.

China – with the fastest growing economy in the world – does not tolerate independent trade unions. China has consistently subordinated the rights of its own citizens to the convenience of foreign investors who are bound by no international human rights or workers’ rights standards.

Of course, here in the United States, while the economic gains over the last decade were historic, the chasm between the rich and the poor also widened.

In our land of extraordinary riches, 35 million of our fellow citizens remain ill-housed, ill-clothed, poorly fed and living diminished lives in the shadows of society.

Since the 1970s and the advent of the free-market institutions and policies we now call globalization, poor Americans have fallen further below the poverty line. Working Americans were just beginning to recover from 20 years of wage stagnation when our economy slid into recession.

W hat happens when global economic institutions step in and try to aid a country with economic problems? These days, being the poster child for the IMF is like being on the cover of Sports Illustrated – a virtual guarantee of disaster.

First came Russia. The IMF “shock therapy” turned Russia into a wasteland. It lost half of its national income. Workers struggle to survive without pay for months at a time; it’s a country reduced to barter.

Then came the Asian tigers. They were pressured to open up their financial markets, deregulate their banks and float their currencies. The resulting financial crisis erased in months what had taken years to build, and millions of workers were thrust back into poverty overnight.

Now it is Argentina, where the government swallowed the IMF prescription whole. Argentina opened its markets, cut back public welfare, disciplined labor, hardened its currency.

Now Argentina is suffering a crippling depression, $140 billion in debt, banks and utilities in foreign hands, its middle class ruined, its workers desperate and its prospects grim. Mexico could be next, [Former] President Zedillo walked off a rich man, but the Mexican workers have not fared so well. Yes, investment and jobs flowed to plants in its export zones, but wages fell and poverty spread. Now, the maquiladoras are leaking jobs to China, and Mexico is headed into another crisis.

The global economy does not work for working people, and that is why we are here in New York to challenge Enron economics at home and abroad. We have to change the rules that were made by and for corporations, and it will be no easy or short-term task.

So, we are here to strengthen and deepen the spirit and solidarity that were born in Seattle and changed the direction of the debate over globalization.

We are here to up the ante in the fight to include workers’ rights and human rights and a livable environment in every trade agreement and to make them a part of the fiber of every world financial institution.

We’re here to bring pressure on governments in the United States and around the world to make new rules and to enforce those rules. We’re here to add meaning and clarity to our message and to make education of consumers, taxpayers, workers and elected officials a priority.

We’re also here – and we’ll be in the streets – to speak truth to power and to move our message. We do it through nonviolent confrontation, using the collective strength of our bodies in peaceful protest to gain the respect it takes to lift our movement over mountains of disrespect.

We must also broaden our goals and demand corporate accountability – not just in the name of workers, but in the interest of taxpayers, investors and citizens who’ve all been victimized by corporate irresponsibility.

Towards that goal, this year we are bringing the first global shareholders’ action against a global corporate criminal. Worker and church pension funds are uniting to call on the directors of Unocal Corporation to direct the company to comply with the International Labor Organization core labor standards. Unocal is a shameless exploiter of slave labor in Burma – their wrongs are massive and we’re going to right those wrongs.

We’re also here in New York to recharge the coalition that brought our message so forcefully to Seattle, to Washington and to Davos, Switzerland.

We are joining with doctors and human rights groups to confront “Big Pharma” and the drug companies – to demand people be valued over patents, that poor countries have the right to use affordable generic drugs in the treatment of AIDS.

We are joining with church activists, led by the Jubilee 2000 campaign, to put debt relief for impoverished countries on the agenda of every industrial nation.

We are joining workers and citizens of conscience across the world to demand that the World Bank invest in basic needs like health care and education as it stops demanding privatization and cutbacks of basic services.

We are joining students across our country to challenge Nike, the Gap and other sweatshop companies. Now they’re scrambling for cover, and while sweatshops continue to spread, so does the campaign against them. Make no mistake, our campaign is winning. When the President of the United States has to put his entire administration to work twisting arms and rolling out billions of dollars in pork to win a one-vote “fast track” victory, it is a victory with a huge, hollow ring.

Here is the message we will take into the suites of the World Economic Forum: we aren’t going away. We are building an even bigger consensus, and making the global economy work for working families is becoming a reality.

In the end, we will win, not simply because of the power of our numbers, or the persuasion of peaceful protest, but because of the moral imperative of our cause.

Another world is possible. A world that is free from hunger. A world where human rights come first; where children go to school, not to work; where women are respected, not repressed; where workers are empowered and corporations are held accountable.

The challenge is great. But the imperative is greater.

Another world is possible. It may take years of unceasing efforts, but we have changed the world before against impossible odds.

We saw it in our struggles for the eight-hour day. We saw it in Gdansk. We saw it in Soweto. We saw it in the civil rights movement, and the women’s rights movement and the environmental movement.

And we will see it in our movement, confident, as Dr. King taught us, that the moral arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.


CONTRIBUTOR

Comments

comments

MOST POPULAR