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 You are in: Special Report: 1999: 11: 99: Battle for Free Trade
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Wednesday, 1 December, 1999, 13:20 GMT
Analysis: Who's afraid of the WTO?
Green groups Green groups take their concerns to Seattle

They might not have much in common, but the groups taking their protest onto the streets of Seattle are united by a common dislike for a process and institution they believe is inherently unfair.

The battle for free trade
The estimated 30,000 protesters who descended on the American West Coast and the thousands who have demonstrated in other cities around the world represent a broad swathe of interests and causes.

All of them agree that the World Trade Organisation is a body that puts profit and the good of the world's mega-corporations before the interests of people and the planet.

In Seattle they gathered for the largest protest in the US since the Vietnam War.

Who are the protesters?
Animal rights activists
Labour unions
Church groups
Consumer groups
Human rights bodies
Free Tibet campaigners stood alongside opponents of genetically modified foods; environmental and animal rights activists beside supporters of Mexico's Zapatista rebels.

Also there in large numbers were representatives of American labour unions.

They object to President Clinton's proposals for lower trade barriers around the world - a move they say will flood the country with low cost imports and cost thousands of US jobs. The deal struck with Beijing two weeks ago paving the way for China's entry to the WTO is a particular cause of their anger.

All the groups see the WTO as in some way or another a frustration to their cause - an organisation that does not listen to the concerns to ordinary people and is designed only to concentrate even more power in the hands of rich countries and corporations.

Common cause

For the first time students, people of faith, environmentalists, labour leaders and working families came together to send the message that the WTO does not protect workers or the environment
Carl Pope
Director, Sierra Club
The banners on the streets expressed their frustrations even more clearly. Amongst the "China out of Tibet" and "Fair Trade Not Free Trade" slogans were banners labelling the WTO the "World Takeover Organisation" or "Way Too Orwellian."

The Seattle protest had been planned for months, much of it orchestrated using that most global tool, of the modern era, the internet.

For these groups and their supporters around the world, the web has transformed popular protest, enabling activists across the world to work together in a way they were never able to before.

Violent hardcore

Protester Protesters say the WTO is designed only to benefit rich countries and corporations
The mainstream organisers of the Seattle protest insist they would never condone violence to bring attention to their cause.

But, as was demonstrated on Tuesday, that is no deterrent to a small hardcore intent on turning what had been billed as a peaceful "carnival against capitalism" into a violent showdown with the authorities.

For these protesters violence is a justified response to what they see as the damage caused by the rush for corporate profit, which they blame for death and environmental destruction.

"Capital is violence 24 hours a day" one activist told the BBC in a recent interview. " People are killed, environments are destroyed for growth, for competition, for profit - for us, that's violent."
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See also:
30 Nov 99 |  Business
Technocrats versus Turtles
01 Dec 99 |  Americas
Trade protesters spark emergency
01 Dec 99 |  Business
WTO boss: Protesters harm the poor
30 Nov 99 |  Americas
In pictures: The WTO protests
23 Nov 99 |  Battle for Free Trade
Free trade flashpoints
28 Nov 99 |  Battle for Free Trade
Global hopes, global fears

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