Time to Regroup

Genoa's chaos may hasten compromise by the free-traders on globalization issues

David Zirin, a third-grade teacher in a Washington (D.C.) elementary school, was outraged at the violence that marred the Group of Eight gathering in Genoa on July 22 and 23. But Zirin, who went to Italy as a member of a protest group called the Mobilization for Global Justice, blames the Italian police as much as the extremists who provoked them. If anything, he claims, the chaos in Genoa will only serve to galvanize the anti-globalization push. "It'll have a chilling effect if by chilling you mean people are more serious and understand the stakes," says Zirin, 27, who vows to get right back out on the streets when the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank convene in Washington in late September. "If chilling means it'll cool off the movement, absolutely not."

The movement, no doubt, will go on. Despite the ugly scenes from Genoa, governments are forging ahead with their planned round of upcoming meetings beginning with Washington. Just as fervently, demonstrators are gearing up for more noisy confrontation over the perceived ills of globalization. U.S. groups are organizing to bring tens of thousands of people to the capital. Protesters also are planning actions in Western capitals to coincide with the November meeting of the World Trade Organization in the small Arabic country of Qatar. Bruno Cassen, director of ATTAC France, a French anti-globalization group, says his members will meet to review their methods after the Genoa violence. "But that doesn't mean at all that we will stop demonstrating."

STILL MARCHING. Meanwhile, protest groups intend to keep up their activities against specific companies, from garment makers to drug manufacturers. "We have a commitment to talk about corporate globalization in the U.S. and around the world," says Fred Azcarate, the head of Jobs with Justice, a grassroots labor group in Washington that, along with churches and environmentalists, plans to protest September's meetings.

Still, the bloodshed in Genoa has prompted plenty of soul-searching all around. The death of a protester amid swirling riots led some groups to question the value of peaceful protests when they get hijacked by those bent on wreaking havoc. In the wake of that death, many moderate groups boycotted the remainder of the Genoa demonstrations. Political leaders, as well, were left groping for a way to hold such meetings without seeming to withdraw into a bunker, as was the case in Genoa.

In the long run, it will be progress on issues that will blunt the backlash against unfettered globalization. Surprisingly, when all the smoke and tear gas clears in Genoa, a meeting of minds on many issues is not as farfetched as it seems. "The demonstrators this past week were sometimes strident--and we must condemn violence--but there are underlying concerns about globalization that are serious and need to be addressed," Citigroup Inc. (C ) Co-Chairman Robert E. Rubin told the Senate Banking Committee on July 25. Corporate and government leaders are already responding to some of the concerns that brought out the crowds. The G-8 leaders endorsed debt relief and agreed to pay an initial $1.3 billion to combat AIDS and other diseases in poor countries. And on July 22, the G-8, with the exception of the U.S., agreed to the Kyoto global warming pact.

Some companies are looking for new approaches, too. Early this year, Boeing (BA ), Caterpillar (CAT ), and other big U.S. exporters began reconsidering their implacable opposition to linking environmental and labor rights to world trade rules. Both the Business Roundtable and a corporate group called the Emergency Committee for Trade began casting about for a new tack. The initial idea: Instead of the trade sanctions business abhors, the WTO could fine companies that violate labor rights or damage the environment. For now, though, the Bush Administration and House GOP leaders have rejected such an approach. Instead, House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R.-Tex.) is trying to muscle a fast-track trade bill through Congress to give the President authority to sign pacts without tough labor or environmental rules. Armey and other House leaders hope to line up enough support to call a vote by early August.

If they succeed, the upshot is yet another trade battle that's sure to inflame protesters rather than tame them. On July 25, the AFL-CIO began running TV ads against the vote in 19 Congressional districts. "If they pass fast-track with a pretext of labor and environmental rules, it would create a huge amount of ill will and push us to redouble our efforts," says AFL-CIO trade expert Thea M. Lea.

MOON SHOT. The WTO powwow poses more of a challenge because Qatar is a small, closed country with few accommodations. Still, protest groups, as well as the AFL-CIO and European unions, plan to mount rallies and work stoppages in their home countries during the meeting. "They can go to the moon, and we'll be there one way or the other until they make the policy changes we are demanding," says Lori Wallach, head of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch.

Large corporations will continue to feel the heat right along with governments. That's misguided, many business leaders insist. "People focus a lot of pent-up frustration about a lot of issues on a single concept called globalization--a concept that is much more complicated than some of the people who talk about it want to admit," says McDonald's Corp. (MCD ) CEO Jack M. Greenberg.

Others add that the stepped up public pressures risk being counterproductive. Although Occidental Petroleum Corp. (OXY ) Communications Vice-President Lawrence P. Meriage says the company talks regularly with groups such as Human Rights Watch and the World Wildlife Fund, "you can't have serious discussion with people taking to the streets."

Nonetheless, critics have new attacks in the works against corporations, including some linked to the larger anti-globalization efforts. Oxfam UK, a British group, plans to step up its battle to get Pfizer (PFE ) and other drug manufacturers to provide free or low-cost drugs to poor countries, says spokesman Arup Biswas. It's also pressuring companies to oppose WTO rules on drug patents that keep prices high in developing countries. UNITE, the U.S. garment workers union, soon will launch a campaign, tied to the September IMF/World Bank meetings, against large retailers that buy goods made in sweatshops. And on July 24, a few dozen people picketed Exxon Mobil Corp.'s (XOM ) London offices to protest the "watered down" Kyoto pact.

Yet violent images from Genoa aside, mainstream protesters and business and political leaders remain hopeful they'll work out their differences, at least someday. But until marchers are convinced that the issues they feel so passionate about get a fair hearing, they'll go right on making life difficult for governments and companies alike.

By Aaron Bernstein with Lorraine Woellert and Paul Magnusson in Washington, David Fairlamb in Genoa, Christina White in Paris, and Michael Arndt in Chicago, and bureau reports

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