for Presentation to Wasserlos Conference, Innsbruck, Austria May 14, 2003

By Theresa Wolfwood

The following presentations was given at  a confererence in Innsbruck, Austria where there was also a number of international speakers. An inspiring story of how Nicaraguans saved their water and defeated a privatization attempt was given by Bente Madeira. See:

I would like to start my contribution to this discussion of GATS and resistance in Canada with the words of a beautiful song, usually sung with one line of Spanish, followed by the English. I give the beginning only in Spanish.

Bente Madeira at Innsbruck Conference.   Banner in background by Theresa Wolfwood.

Somos  el barco,  somos el mar,

We are the boat, we are the sea,
you sail in me,
I sail in you,
The stream sings to the river,
The river sings to the sea,
the sea sings to the boat that carries you and me,
The boat we are sailing on
was built by many hands,
the sea we are sailing on
touches every sand……

This song for me expresses everything that we are about today and all that we care about in our lives of committed activism. That life is water is more than a metaphor; it is our leitmotiv in our daily work.

We come into the world in water, our first home in the womb – as 80% water, and even as adults we are 60% water. We are surrounded by water, within, and without – around us, below us and above us. Water is the gift of life.

If water is stolen from the commons – it will the theft of life.

I come to you from a land of water, the province of British Columbia (BC) in Canada ; it looks a lot like Austria . Mountains, rivers, lakes and an ocean on one side.

BC also has an extreme rightwing government which won 77 of 79 seats in our parliament – therefore it says whatever it does is democracy in action. Our Premier Campbell has joined the great robber barons of our time – he is privatizing all our commons and assets as fast as he can – and he has another two years to go. Our water, already partly committed to the USA under NAFTA for electricity – we light up Seattle and New York – is now up for grabs. We used to say: the USA drinks “Canada Dry”. It’s coming true literally.

Who are all these robber barons and were did they get their power?

At the end of World War II when the USA emerged as the great winner, they and their friends set up institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to subjugate and exploit the majority world. The so-called Cold War against the Soviet Union provided the opportunity for the western military industry and governments to expand armament and weapons development rather than disarm as is usual after a war. This arms race also had the desired effect of bankrupting the Soviet Union and its allies.

At the same time a truly “Public-Private Partnership”  developed in the industrial world – made up of  governments supported by the corporations that got wealthy on government contracts, policy advisors and corporate leaders – who move between industry and government , the revolving door of power.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and all its resources up for grabs by global capital and corporations, what was left by the 90s? Capital by its very nature must constantly expand. Most of the world was under the economic domination of capitalism, soon including China and India , all facilitated by new agreements under the World Trade Organization. No new frontiers to conquer (except outer space, and that is happening now with the Ballistic Missile Defense, “Star Wars”).

What was left was our commons and they want them. Our treasures that we though were ours forever – nature, knowledge, our history of shared community and caring, our public services and all the structures our taxes pay to construct to serve society.

So the Robber Barons spend their profits electing parties and people who would serve them as collaborators in global pillage. These governments reduced the taxes of corporation over the years. In the USA the corporate tax portion of companies went from 25% to 9% in 30 years. Then they had governments made permanent structures to make the robbery legal and permanent – so we got WTO, TRIPS, NAFTA, the attempted MAI and now the GATS to take what left.

These great Robber Barons of our time include well-known names like Thatcher, Reagan, Mulroney and now BC’s Campbell – you can add your own politicians. These are the public faces, behind them were many who we never know. Ralph Nader calls them “the permanent government” while the politicians are “the provisional government”.

In the permanent government are people like the Bush family and Dick Cheney, Sam Walton, Bill Gates and many more – because corporations are people and we must hold them responsible, even if they have cooked to laws in order not to be.

Let me tell you about one Canadian family that fits that category. The Bronfmans started their fortune as international smugglers – bootlegging liquor into the USA with the help of the Mafia during prohibition there. They build an empire based on Seagram’s whiskey. Recently they were bought out by Vivendi, the water giant which only goes to show that in today’s world water is more valuable than whiskey. That left the Bronfmans free to invest in banking and armaments in Israel .

How can the corporations afford this takeover of the world? First of all, their taxes everywhere decreased, thanks to their elected buddies, so then their profits increased. They bought up Eastern Europe for a song and use cheap labour to manufacture in Asia . Then they decry the lack of balanced budgets in our governments – the rallying cry of neoliberalism. So then governments cut our services and sell off our commons to balance their budgets (and pay those private banks exorbitant interest payments.) If they can’t buy an election, the USA and its friends with their military power invade a country or organize an overthrow of “unfriendly” governments. William Blum has a list of them – from Chile to Iran to Uzbekistan . The German militarist, Clausiwitz, said that war is the continuation of business by other means. It is nothing new. Only the scale and extent are new to us.

We elect or select the governments that destroy our commons. Soon we will have the corporate ideal – skeleton governments that only administer military and internal policing and facilitate trade and financial agreements.

In spite of years of social activism we have WTO, GATS, NAFTA, the emerging FTAA (Free Trade of the Americas ) NATO and many other deals. We in Canada have not clearly identified the latest attack on our society with the GATS. We are so busy trying to save our water, our health care, and our social services that we have not had time to analyze the forces behind the great commons robbery. I come from the city that began the resistance to the MAI and I think we must identify and publicize the dangers of GATS – something I will work on when I return. This is particularly important for Canada as we have already seen under NAFTA the destruction of much sovereignty in Canada and Mexico as we become integrated into USA economy and culture, and NAFTA is the model for FTAA and GATS: a model where everything, including human lives, nature and our commons are all commodities to be used up.

Another source of the Robber Barons’ wealth is the global trade that is not included in any agreements – three of the largest trades are excluded from agreements, but they are related to each other. Look at military industries, specifically exempt from regulation in agreements and the source of great profit in unscrutinized sales and exports as well as vast government contracts, subsidies and assistance.

The illegal drug trade dominates the economy of countries from Burma to Colombia to Afghanistan ; all are countries that depend on the military to oppress their people and use drugs to buy arms. ( USA is world’s #1 arms seller). The drug trade is often linked to the sex trade, both conducted by the same mafias and their buddies.

There is a vast and unexposed global trade in human life. The sex trade, domestic labours, sweatshop workers, temporary labourers, illegal migrants fund many countries’ foreign currency needs. Most of these workers and movers across borders are women, the most vulnerable and exploited who have the added burden of supporting impoverished families who have lost land and employment. The elite governments of the source of these trades need arms to conduct their dirty business and suppress opposition at home. Altogether they cause environmental devastation, society breakdown and more poverty. The only thing that can be worse is the global trade in human body parts.

The result of these unregulated and secret trade networks is the dispossession of millions of people, dislocated, humiliated, oppressed and lost to their own cultures. Home becomes a dangerous or lost place; many lose their families, communities, self- worth and even their lives. These vast empires of illegal trade create great wealth for the robber barons which they can use to further destroy societies in “legal” ways.

My son-in-law, an academic expert on human migrations, says that not only is the vast unregulated movement of people a result of the force of globalization, but is vital to it. There is a floating population of desperate people willing to do anything, including killing, in order to scrape together a livelihood. Globalization is the palace where all the robbers, rulers and their international institutions and agreements live together – the 5000 or so who participate in the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland .

In Canada our resistance to the more public manifestations of globalization and the implications of GATS has rallied around the concerns about our universal public healthcare system. In every poll, health care is shown to be the #1 issue of concern of Canadian citizens. So while politicians made noises about the sanctity of our health, privatization comes in the back door, much the same way as Sarah Sexton described it happening it the UK, at the Cologne conference. There are staff cuts, hospital closures, beds lost, privatization of support services from cleaning to X-rays. Levels of service decline and patients have long waits. This makes the public system appear unattractive and we are told private care is the answer. What about private care? Corporations need to make a profit, so costs increase and care decreases in privatization. In the USA which has only private health care, 14% of the economy is spend on health care, in Canada with a public system it is 9%. The 5% represents billions of dollars in profit so we can see why USA companies want to break our health system.

I have just learned the Salvation Army in Victoria which operates a long term care home has just fired all its employees and has contracted out the operation of its facility. A charitable, religious, non-profit group is unaware that charity begins at home!

In education we have the same story. Schools are closed, classes get bigger, budgets are cut, and the teaching of “frills” like art, music and life skills is attacked. With privatization creeping into education, our whole system becomes vulnerable to GATS. And students are no longer prepared for citizenship but a life of consumerism and flexible labour.

Our convicted drunk driver Premier Campbell while closing schools across BC has privatized liquor sales – a good source of income to the province. Now many small shops can sell alcohol because as he says: a man should not have to drive 20 km. to buy a bottle of whiskey. But it is OK for children to travel to school 50 km every day in rural BC. And Ronald MacDonald comes to schools to teach traffic safety. (maybe how to avoid drunk politicians?)

In universities, the corporate and military funding of research and teaching leads to the privatization of knowledge and a loss of diversity in pure knowledge research. Universities raise student fees, making it more and more difficult for any but wealthy students to attend. And there are always a few dollars to be make by selling franchises to Coke or Pepsi – I saw that in Germany too. Advertisements appear in toilets and rooms and buildings are named after corporate donors. The province of Ontario is considering corporate universities, a first for Canada . Any contract or private involvement in education as for health, make the whole system open for GATS attack.

In Ontario and BC there have been massive mobilizations of citizens against the neoliberal agendas. In BC we call them “Days of Defiance.” Workers, unions, the unemployed, the retired, and a range of social organization participate –with little success. It is important that we continue to make the private and secret, public and open for all to see what is happening to our society and in Ontario citizen groups have stopped the privatization of their electricity. In BC one-third of the jobs in our public electricity utility have been given to Accenture, a multinational corporation, making the whole utility vulnerable to GATS. We are exhausted in BC – trying to save our forests, water, fish, ferries, and public services – everything, even our highways are threatened with privatization. Others will talk about saving our water at this meeting so I will not elaborate on this most important of issues today; we must organize now to save it.

I do not want to be unkind to Austria, but BC is bidding for 2010 Olympic Games (or “Gains”) as is Salzburg . It will be held in a resort, Whistler, where Davos 2004 may be held. Our Premier has promised $60 million for starters for a new highway – and there will be more, we know, stolen from our taxes for services. A senior citizen group has started a campaign called: Healthcare before Olympics and thousands of us have stickers with that slogan on our cycles, cars and windows. So no ill feelings –but I hope you get the bid for corporate gain in 2010!

We are also exhausted from trying to stop the USA-UK war on Iraq. This war is the greatest victory of globalization of the new millennium. The country’s infrastructure is being rebuilt on a $680M contract to Bechtel – the company that peasants chased out of Bolivia when it tried to steal its water. In the home of agriculture, the original wheat cultivation, agriculture is now in the hands of Cargill, the world’s largest food company and education, in the land where writing, literature and science began, is being reorganized by a private USA education company!

Because this was a war for brutal economic control and no other reason, it calls for an economic response from us as well as our political and moral response. This is why “BOYCOTT USA ” is so important. This movement has spread around the world, and as the war of occupation begins in Iraq , it is vital that people let the USA suffer economically, send it a message and make it harder to start another war. We do not buy USA products, we don’t shop at USA chains, we don’t go there and we join another ‘macro-boycott’ that is less well known – we divest any money we have in USA , as are large foreign companies and even governments. That is a reason for the high value of the Euro. And it is important to our thinking that we boycott corporate USA media – magazines, papers, TV and movies. We can shop less, shop locally, and support our own independent media.

Although we did not stop that war we have built a new global movement that has learned much about the connection between militarization and globalization and much about organizing movements. We have learned that there cannot be a one war peace movement, a one river environmental movement or a one trade agreement democracy movement. We know now that all struggles are part of a whole, we are globally together, that even as we in our rich diversity focus on one issue in one place, in our own way, we are in solidarity with the movement everywhere. Resistance gives meaning and richness to our lives, a sense of community as we work creatively together to overcome injustice as the poet T. S. Eliot said: there is no life, except that in community. We are a community. We have reached a state of collective consciousness that cannot be commodified.

A study by the University of Sussex has concluded that social activists are physically healthier as they are mentally healthier. Activism in causes greater than the individual gives a sense of empowerment and happiness. And individualism is one of the destructive forces of a globalized world. A young friend at our Small World Social Forum in Victoria added that activists have better sex lives too! I don’t know if that is what Alice Walker meant when she said: Resistance is the Secret of Joy! But it sounds right to me.

One my great heroes, Rosalie Bertell, says that we can and must change the core values of our life and society, as we have changed our values on many beliefs from homosexuality to animal rights. We can change our values of materialism and militarism to values of justice, peace and cooperation.

Our movements are occupied with trying to change the policies of our elite governments. Sometimes we make it too expensive in terms of votes, support or costs to pursue a policy. But I am asking myself and you – is that all we want to do? Do we not want to construct as well as deconstruct? Do we not have to get the power to make social change ourselves? I think we have to get rid of the collaborator governments that rule us. How? Can we think of forming new political parties or transforming and taking over existing ones? I know many of us have felt betrayed by opportunistic politicians. They think we are flakey and unaccountable…but, can social movements form alliances with political parties as have been done in Brazil and Venezuela ? We need a political base. I don’t have the answers – we need to work on this next stage of global social change. Maybe the answer was given by my friend, the late Canadian activist, Kay Macpherson who said: when in doubt, do both.

This conference has been one of a myriad of positive acts of resistance. I thank Claudia, Verena, Inez, Veronika, Ursula, Egger, and all of you who worked so hard to bring us together. And a happy birthday to Claudia! And as Kay Macpherson also said: Every meeting a party; every party, a meeting!

I close with the last stanza of “Somos El Barco”

………so with our hopes we raise the sails,

to face the wind once more,

and with our hearts we chart the waters,

never sailed before

( “Somos El Barco”  composed by Lorre Wyatt, taken from HARP recording, 1985, Redwood Records, USA, sung by Pete Seeger – one of the greatest USA citizens


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Desfor G. et al. Just Doing It: popular collective action in the Americas . Black Rose Books, Montreal , Canada
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