Corporate crooks' 'future' rejected

September 7, 2005

Alison Dellit, Sydney

Around 1500 protesters descended on the Sydney Opera House on August 30 to protest one of the grossest international gatherings of corporate crooks: the Forbes Global CEO Conference.

Delegates to the Forbes conference paid more than $6000 each to mix with the likes of former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, PM John Howard and chief executives of companies including BHP Billiton, BMW, Lloyds, Orix Corp and UPS.

At the heart of the conference is billionaire Steve Forbes. Through his magazine, Forbes articulates his vision for the future world: "rebuilding" Iraq through privatisation, low taxes, free trade, business promotion and a currency linked to the US dollar; US intervention into Syria, Lebanon and North Korea; an end to government regulation of banking and investment; using competition policy to destroy trade unions; an end to environmental regulations (including arguing there is no greenhouse effect and that the pesticide DDT is safe); full privatisation of health and transport services; a ban on litigation against corporations; and government support for big corporations that improve "productivity" by mass job shedding.

Protesters nearby put forward a very different vision of the future. In welcoming the protesters to Aboriginal country, Indigenous activist Ray Jackson praised those who were prepared to challenge the direction of government and corporate policy. He described some of the recent attacks: the massively increased and hostile policing that cost the life of TJ Hickey, attacks on student organisations and the federal government's attempts to destroy union solidarity.

These themes were picked up by Warren Smith, assistant secretary of the NSW Maritime Union of Australia, who urged protesters to show their solidarity and unity in the face of corporate greed. The theme of unity was expressed by Cate Faehrmann from the Nature Conservation Council, who condemned Forbes' position on environmental protection.

Katelyn Mountford, a Resistance member who had just returned from a solidarity brigade to Venezuela, inspired the crowd with a vision of what a different world could be like. Contrasting the actions of the Venezuelan revolutionary government, which is supporting workers' control of factories is promoting community-run projects, with those of Western neoliberal governments, she declared, "A different world is possible, and I've seen it".

The protesters then marched towards the Opera House. The NSW Labor government had barricaded the forecourt and the Botanic Gardens to prevent public access during Forbes' three-day shindig. One thousand police were brought into Sydney for the duration of the conference, giving the city the feel of a militarised zone for the week. After managing to pull a section of the fence down, protesters dispersed, content to that they had made their point.

The following day, several hundred protesters challenged the police's paranoid clampdown in the city by staging a lengthy, vibrant march through the city, punctuated by intermittent sit-downs in the streets and in corporate offices, including an occupation of the offices of Xstrata, one of the world's major fuellers of climate change.

Charmaine Enright, a member of the 30A collective and the chairperson of the August 30 rally, told Green Left Weekly that the protest had been important. "These kinds of gatherings have been happening for years", she said, "now protests have sparked a public discussion about their legitimacy. Who wants our city shut down for three days for some of the world's biggest bastards? Every time we protest, we make it harder for them."

From Green Left Weekly, September 7, 2005.
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