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Seething In Seattle

Saturday, January 1, 2000

The main demands of the tens of thousands of protesters at the third WTO Ministerial Conference, or the so-called “Millennium Round,” were imposing of worldwide standards for labor conditions (including child labor and sweatshop conditions), environmental concerns and basically stirring up visceral reaction against globalization in all forms. Activists from diverse groups and movements from around the world strongly reacted to what they thought would be the further escalation of the exploitation of our planet and its people by the global capitalist system.

The unlikely array of protesters included nihilists, animal rights activists, students, seniors, demonstrators dressed up as sea-turtles (or monarch butterflies to protest genetically modified crops) and, ironically, even many wearing clothes and shoes made with sweatshop labor that they had come to protest. The common war cry and purpose of the demonstration was “Shut down the WTO,” the trade body viewed as an ominous tool of big business.

WTO: A Brief History

The successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) established in the wake of World War II, the World Trade Organization came into being in 1995. Although the WTO is relatively young, the multilateral trading system that was originally set up under GATT is more than 50 years old. The trading system was developed through a series of trade negotiations, or rounds, held under GATT. The initial rounds dealt mainly with tariff reductions but later negotiations included other areas such as anti-dumping and non-tariff measures.

The WTO’s objective is to help trade flow smoothly, freely, fairly and predictably — although critics of the organization are unanimous in their assessment that that is just what the organization does not do. To them, the organization is a global government represented by the most powerful nations of the world that uses solidarity between the rich to crush workers’ rights, social well-being and important environmental resources.

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