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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

VIEW FROM AMERICA: Post-'60s Rebels Join Global Fight for Rules




It is easy to dismiss the protesters at last week's World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle as radicals with '60s envy. The truth, however, is that the protesters in Seattle have been bitten by the globalization bug as surely as the trade lawyers inside the Seattle hotels - though by globalization of a different sort. The confusion about the protesters' political goals is understandable: This is the first movement born of the pathways of the Internet. There is no top-down hierarchy, and nobody knows what is going to happen next.


This protest movement is anti-corporate rather than anti-globalist, and its roots are in the anti-sweatshop campaigns taking aim at Nike, the human rights campaign focusing on Royal Dutch/Shell in Nigeria and the backlash against Monsanto's genetically engineered foods in Europe.


At any time, one huge multinational company may be involved in several disputes - on labor, human rights and environmental issues, for example. Activists learn of one another as they aim at the same corporate target. Inadvertently, individual corporations have become symbols of the global economy in miniature, ultimately providing activists with name-brand entry points to the arcane world of the WTO.


This makes for the most internationally minded, globally linked movement the world has ever seen. When protesters shout about the evils of globalization, most are not calling for a return to narrow nationalism, but for the borders of globalization to be expanded, for trade to be linked to democratic reform, higher wages, labor rights and environmental protections. This is what sets the young protesters in Seattle apart from their '60s predecessors.


In the age of Woodstock, refusing to play by state and school rules was regarded as a political act in itself. Now, opponents of the WTO are outraged about a lack of rules and authority. They are demanding that national governments be free to exercise their authority without interference from the WTO.


Everyone claims to be all for rules, from President Bill Clinton to Microsoft's chairman, Bill Gates. In an odd turn of events, the need for "rules-based trade" has become the mantra of the era of deregulation. But deregulation is by definition about the removal of rules. The WTO is only concerned with rules that regulate the removal of rules.


It has consistently sought to sever trade from everything and everyone affected by it: workers, the environment, culture. The face-off is not between globalizers and protectionists, but between two radically different visions of globalization. One has had a monopoly for the last 10 years. The other just had its coming-out party.


Naomi Klein, author of the forthcoming "No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies," contributed this to The New York Times.