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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
Whatever happened to globalisation?
Anti-capitalism protesters in London, 2001
Protesting takes all sorts
Remember globalisation? Not so long ago it was the cause every campaigner seemed to care about. As protesters converge once again in cities around the world for May Day, have the remarkable events of the past year changed things?

Rewind 12 months, and globalisation was everywhere.

In every part of the world, it seemed, demonstrations were held protesting against the increasing influence of businesses, international bodies, and world trade.

For people wanting to protest against globalisation, there was no shortage of issues beneath its umbrella. They ranged from the rise of global brands, the impact on movements of capital, multinationals, third world debt, environmentalism, genetically modified crops - all the way to anarchism.

Starbucks, Seattle
Well-known symbol of protest
Starbucks and Gap had joined the protesters' traditional bogeyman, McDonald's, as symbols of the spread of capitalism.

Any and every meeting of international bodies such as the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank seemed to be the spark for demos.

Even as late as last August, the rioting at the G8 meeting in Genoa was the scene for more fighting. One protester was killed.

And yet since 11 September, the issue of globalisation has been knocked sideways from the news agenda.

Transformed landscape

Even Naomi Klein, the Boadicea of the anti-globalisation movement, remarked a month after the attacks on the World Trade Center: "Post-September 11, tactics that rely on attacking - even peacefully - powerful symbols of capitalism find themselves in an utterly transformed semiotic landscape."

Genoa rioting
Some of the fiercest fighting was in Italy last year
So what has happened since then, both to the forces of globalisation, and to the movement which opposes them?

Well, globalisation didn't stop.

"It is notoriously difficult to define," says Professor Wyn Grant of the University of Warwick. "Some people focus on the financial aspects, others on the cultural, others on the economic. But the process itself has not been halted."

Globalisation, so far from being the cause of poverty and other social ills, offers the best hope of overcoming them

Kofi Annan
The international financial markets are still operating, he says. The global agencies like the WTO and IMF are still there. The multi-nationals haven't gone away.

The free movement of capital is still going on, he says, even though political forces are attempting to restrict the free movement of labour more. "Labour, if anything, is certainly not freeing up - it's more likely to be restricted."

Impact of 11 Sept

Professor David Greenaway of the University of Nottingham believes 11 September may well have encouraged the industrialised countries to go further with globalisation, agreeing at the world trade talks in Doha in November to make a point of increasing trade with developing countries.

Carlo Giuliani, who died in Genoa
The protester who died in Genoa last year
For anti-globalisation protesters, many of whom would claim that the problems of the developing countries are the result of globalisation, this might be expected to be like a red rag to a bull.

But it's a view which gets little sympathy from Mr Greenaway, who believes globalisation has helped countries out of poverty.

Nor does it get support from figures such as UN secretary general Kofi Annan, who told the WEF meeting: "Globalisation, so far from being the cause of poverty and other social ills, offers the best hope of overcoming them."

Momentum

But one change which has occurred, says Wyn Grant, is that a lot of the momentum has gone out of the protest movement.

This is partly down to splits in the anti-globalisation "umbrella", where some factions are willing to engage with bodies such as the IMF, while using conventional campaigning methods. Other factions believe any sort of engagement is useless and want a more anarchist style of protest.

Post-September 11, tactics that rely on attacking - even peacefully - powerful symbols of capitalism find themselves in an utterly transformed semiotic landscape.

Naomi Klein
David Greenaway, who was in Washington just before the demonstration ahead of last week's meeting of the IMF and World Bank, at which there was a noted absence of confrontation.

There was however no shortage of protesters, backing several of the traditional causes such as environmentalism, world governance, and poverty. Others were protesting about civil rights and US national security.

But Mr Greenaway noted: "It's become more diffuse. Post 11 September, there's less public anxiety about some of these issues."

The May Day demonstrations are perhaps the first test of the continuing strength of the anti-globalisation movement post-11 September and the War on Terror.

Eyes from both sides of the fence, and in all parts of the world, will be watching.


Has your concern about globalisation issues waned since September 11? Add your comments using the form below.

Your comments so far:

No. Since September 11th, and the intensive media coverage my concerns have risen. It has shown how many pies the US and many of the international companies have got fingers in. Some multinationals may be good for developing countries, but others such as the large oil companies and many large pharmaceuticals (with their patenting of idigenous plant species to many 3rd world countries), are hindering development in the poorer nations.
Chris Kitley, UK

I think the worry should not be about globalisation per se, but in how trade with poorer economies is managed/enforced. For example, Windward Island bananas had until recently a protected market in Europe, but now they have been virtually forced out of most countries in Europe following legal action by the US.
Dr Mark Bailey, UK

Whether I have kept the concept of globalisation to the forefront of my mind consciously or not I still believe that first world countries must reduce their standard of living while those in less well of countries experience an increase in these standards. This would seem to be the way things must go if the world is to live together.
I Nimmo, UK

September 11 has perhaps made many Western protesters more wary of confrontation, but the negative effects of globalisation, including the depredation of the environment, the break-up of traditional communities, the increase in the power of the corporations and the homogenisation of culture will continue to fuel protest all over the world.
David, UK

11 September has shown us the need to speed up globalisation so the third world can escape poverty. All trade barriers need to be removed especially by the first world.
Stephen Thoms, New Zealand

The point is not so much that capitalism is bad or wrong, but that capitalism has developed into a sort of capitalist totalitarianism where the large multinationals make extreme profits and thus destroy fair competition. Which is totally against the true concept of capitalism.
Peter Gordon, UK

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