S&S conference debates anti-corporate campaign

July 11, 2001


The 2001 Students and Sustainability (S&S) conference, held July 2-6 at the University of Newcastle, attracted more than 500 student environmental activists. Much of the debate at the conference revolved around the significance of the upcoming mobilisations against the Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF) in Melbourne, and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Brisbane, in October.

These debates reflected the growing divide between the radical section of the environment movement — those arguing for combined action to challenge the power of corporations to exploit the world — and the conservative section, which counterpoise such actions to "local" campaigning.

"The importance of CHOGM and CBF is a crucial question for the environment movement", conference attendee and Resistance member Rohan Pearce told Green Left Weekly. Resistance members at the conference argued that student environment collectives should prioritise the worldwide campaign to stop the next round of negotiations of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which is meeting this November in Qatar.

"Protests outside CBF and CHOGM could send a powerful message of opposition to the implementation of the WTO round", Pearce argued. "The WTO intends to enforce pro-corporate rules on agriculture, intellectual property rights, international trade and environmental protection. This will have devastating effects on the environment around the world, and its ramifications will be felt in every single community.

"We could also use the protests to raise issues such as indigenous rights and a treaty, Third World debt, climate change and human rights."

One of the two motions in support of the CBF and CHOGM protests was passed in the conference's final resolution session. "The divisions are still there", said Pearce. "But the left was largely successful in convincing most conference delegates that the struggle to save the environment cannot be isolated from the growing movement against corporate globalisation."

This was illustrated by the enthusiastic reception visiting university and high school students from Papua New Guinea received from the conference. These students had participated in the recent protests against the austerity measures of the World Bank. The conference overwhelmingly passed a motion proposed by Resistance that called for a national day of action on August 16 in support of democracy and human rights in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

Another debate that polarised the conference centred on a workshop organised as a "men's autonomous zone". Resistance members joined other feminists in opposing the workshop, arguing that any workshop that excluded women was an attack on women's rights. The ensuing debate reflected a broader problem of sexism within the environment movement.

The organisers of the "male only space" eventually withdrew their workshop and Resistance helped prepare an alternative workshop on sexism and women's liberation.

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