The 'privatisation of everything'

Issue 

BY SEAN HEALY

SYDNEY — Having already enunciated the doctrine of "trade uber alles", the world's business and political leaders are preparing for a new "assault on the commons" and the "privatisation of everything", Canadian activist and author Maude Barlow told a packed lecture theatre at the University of Sydney on June 27.

Barlow is an important figure in the international movement against corporate globalisation, one of the few non-government organisation representatives to be allowed into the hall for the World Trade Organisation's Seattle ministerial meeting and one of the first to publicise the impact of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, the "transnational corporations' bill of rights" which was shelved in 1998 after worldwide protest.

In a wide-ranging speech, Barlow described the world that the CEOs and prime ministers have planned: a "global consumer monoculture" which "strip mines culture and diversity", leaves Mexican babies drinking Coke instead of breast milk, will destroy half the world's languages by the end of the century, reduces farmers to "indentured slaves of Monsanto" and so pollutes rivers that the water can strip the paint off pencils.

"Even areas which were once sacred are now up for sale", she told her audience of 150, listing seeds, social security, water, education, health, even living organisms.

"Global free trade is not inevitable", Barlow argued. "It is a political project, and so can be responded to."

She argued against putting any faith in convincing politicians to change their ways or in reforming institutions like the WTO, including by asking them to add concern for labour and environmental standards into their agreements. "I used to believe that the politicians were well intentioned but ill informed", she confessed. "Now, through all my work, I've realised they're actually very well informed — and thoroughly ill intentioned."

Barlow argued that the massive demonstrations in Seattle and all over the world have shown that "the world cannot be the realm of power-brokers, trade bureaucrats and unelected elites".

"Rather than going up, to government", she said, "we should be going down". Her goal, she said, is the development of "an international civil society movement" which can "bring the rule of law to global capital" and "render to Caesar that which is his and render to us that which is common".

Barlow's meeting was sponsored by three groups which are part of the emerging international movement against corporate globalisation in Australia: the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, Aid/Watch, which monitors and campaigns against the commercial uses of Australian government aid, and the anti-corporate activist group CACTUS.

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