Since the close of the Cold War, apologists for corporate arrogance and irresponsibility have argued that the world has reached an “end of history” moment when there can no longer be any debate about the superiority of cut-throat competition and business-defined “free markets.” The rigid orthodoxy of the corporatists has played out in the form of free trade agreements such as NAFTA, which are crafted to allow corporations to easily relocate production facilities in order to avoid laws, rules and regulations that protect workers, consumers and the environment, and in the strengthening of “global governance” groups such as the World Trade Organization, which were created to take away the ability of communities, regions and nation states to hold corporations accountable.
The initiative has been advanced by conservative and centrist politicians such as George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, and by most of the global media conglomerates, which stand to benefit from the deconstruction of laws that require broadcasters and publishers to display at least a small measure of concern for the civic and democratic health of the nations where they operate.
But, despite the pressure from the politicians and the constant spin campaign from the media, the people have begun to notice that the free-market emperor has no clothes. Street protests in Seattle in 1999 prevented the WTO from advancing the free-trade agenda into new sectors of the economy, saving millions of farmers around the world from being overrun by the agribusiness conglomerates and slowing the rush to privatize education, transportation and communications services.
After Seattle, the question was whether the great mass of people who believe that this is not the end of history, and that another better world is possible, would eventually flex their muscles at the ballot box. The late US Senator Paul Wellstone, D-Minnesota, tried unsuccessfully to get the Democratic Party in the US to take up the issues raised by the labor, farm and environmental groups that had banded together to oppose corporate globalization. Unfortunately for the Democrats, they failed to take Wellstone’s advice and ended up campaigning in successive national election campaigns on the issues that the Bush Administration and its corporate allies chose to discuss.
There have been better results outside the US. Last year, in India, a militantly corporatist government that united religious extremists and business interests was swept out of power when the poorest voters in the world’s largest democracy revolted against the false claim that the free-market policies that benefitted the richest Indians were good for the vast majority of citizens. After the election, one of the leaders of the ousted government, Deputy Premier LK Advani, admitted, “In retrospect, it seems that the fruits of development did not equitably reach all sections of our society.”
Now comes an even clearer, and blunter, challenge to the free-market mantra of the “end of history” crowd.
France’s overwhelming rejection of the new European Union Constitution, which would have locked in free-market policies that coddle corporations while creating pressure to cut pay, benefits and social-welfare protections for workers in western Europe, sent a powerful signal that citizens are waking up to the threats posed by an unbridled free market to their livelihoods, their communities and their democracies.
While most of the French political and media establishment urged a “yes” vote on the Constitution — which must be approved by the EU’s 25 member states before it is implemented — opponents such as former Socialist Party head Henri Emmanuelli built a grassroots campaign that warned the Constitution would pit workers from different countries against one another in a “race to the bottom” that would benefit only powerful corporations. “I’m not fighting against Europe,” said Emmanuelli, as he explained that a “no” vote should not be seen as a rejection of cooperation between European states. “But Europe was not created so that we could set the poor against the poor. That’s economic warfare.”
Veterans of the Seattle protests of 1999, such as peasant leader Jose Bove, were key players in the campaign for a “no” vote, arguing that the Constitution would impose an economic model based on the demands of big business, rather than the needs of workers and farmers.
They were joined by the group Attac, one of the most effective of the growing number of anti-corporate globalization groups that are forming an international infrastructure of opposition to the push for corporate-defined markets and privatization. Attac’s campaign urged a “no” vote, but it was not negative. Rather, it suggested that the constitution be rewritten to support development of “a Europe that is truly European, democratic, social, environmental.”Attac’s posters promised, “Another Europe is Possible!”
But why stop at Europe? Why not counter the big lie of the “end of history” fanatics with the big truth: Another World is Possible?