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People’s Summit vs. Corporate Summit —
Protests Slam
‘Free-Trade’ Scheme


'You don’t want a police state, do you?' ...

‘You don’t want a police state, do you?’ Quebec protestors left that challenge on the barricade set up by police to separate the people from corporate bigshots and politicians scheming to extend NAFTA throughout the western hemisphere. Police were aggressive in using rubber bullets and teargas against peaceful protestors.

The heads of state of 34 nations in the Western Hemisphere (all except Cuba) gathered here April 20-22 for the third Summit of the Americas. President George W. Bush and other leaders renewed their commitment to establish a Free Trade Area of the Americas by 2005.

Tens of thousands of union members, environmentalists and concerned citizens from Canada, the United States, Mexico and beyond came to denounce the secret negotiations aimed at extending NAFTA to the entire hemisphere. UE members were among the protestors insisting on jobs and democracy.

Quebec opened its doors to visiting government leaders but the historic walled city abandoned its famed hospitality for grassroots visitors. Security measures, involving the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Armed Forces, provincial Sureté du Québec and municipal forces, were among the most extensive in Canadian history.

The official summit occupied the hotels and buildings in the city’s hilltop center, which authorities surrounded with miles of 10-foot-high chain-link fencing on top of cement barricades. Contingents of police in riot gear guarded the barricades. In creating a fortified zone, the authorities gave dramatic visual expression to the differing views of those in power who controlled the heights, and the people in the streets below.

The People’s Summit took place in less distinguished buildings and in a large tent at the bottom of the hill.

Like most activists arriving in Canada from the U.S., the UE members were detained and interrogated by Canadian customs officials in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. After two hours of interrogation in the Ottawa airport, Robin Alexander, the union’s director of international labor affairs, was finally allowed to enter Canada, but given a special permit that imposed several restrictions on her stay. Other activists were denied entry altogether. Jeff Crosby, president of the IUE/ CWA GE local in Lynn, Mass., was among those who gained entry only after Jobs With Justice arranged for hundreds of people to call and complain to the Canadian consulate. He was finally able to purchase "diplomatic immunity" for $200.

As delegates for the Alliance for Responsible Trade to the People’s Summit, an alternative conference of activists opposed to the FTAA, Donna Cramer and Sue Smock from Local 506, and Tom Dunne from Local 1172 attended educational forums related to trade issues, as well as street demonstrations that took place during the course of the week.

The UE members met with trade unionists from Canada, France and Mexico as well as Quebec, representing labor organizations with whom UE has a relationship. At a forum organized by the Canadian Steelworkers, workers from sister shops in Mexico, Brazil, Peru and Chile described their experiences, while their Canadian counterparts spoke movingly about the critical importance of international solidarity. One of the main panels in the labor forum brought together AFL-CIO Pres. John Sweeney and a UE ally, Benedicto Martinez, a national coordinator of Mexico’s Authentic Labor Front (FAT).

The People’s Summit heard critical analysis of U.S. negotiating positions and alternatives to those positions. Despite media misrepresentation of opponents to FTAA as being "anti-globalization" or "anti-trade" activists consistently stated that they favored "fair trade" that upheld labor rights, human rights and environmental standards.


Sue Smock and Donna Cramer of Local 506 with members of their union's ally, Mexico's FAT Tom Dunne of Local 1172

Sue Smock and Donna Cramer of Local 506 with members of their union's ally, Mexico's FAT; Tom Dunne of Local 1172. Local 221 Vice Pres. Jonathan Kissam, Field Org. Heather Reimer and Int'l. Rep. Kimberly Lawson also attended the Quebec protest.

And there is every indication that FTAA, much like its predecessor, NAFTA, would undermine those standards by favoring the rights of investors over regulatory laws.

During the week, the draft text of a FTAA chapter was leaked, and most experts agreed that its content was even worse than previously thought. This chapter contains provisions that would allow corporations to sue governments for the loss of profits or anticipated profits. Another section would allow for increased privatization of services, and resources such as water. A similar section in NAFTA, referred to as Chapter 11, has already resulted in the assessment of millions of dollars in suits against Canada, the U.S. and Mexico for alleged losses in profits stemming from the implementation of environmental protections.

The FTAA negotiations have been cloaked in secrecy, with the full draft text available in the State Dept. reading room only to individuals with security clearance. When questioned during the UE Political Action Conference in March, many Members of Congress admitted they had not seen the text and did not know what it contained.

The Alliance for Responsible Trade delegates, which included representatives of a diverse range of organizations opposed to the FTAA, met during the week and discussed strategies for fighting the FTAA, and more immediately, "fast track" authority, which would give President Bush the right to push trade legislation through Congress without any debate.


Despite an acrid haze of teargas wafting through the streets of Quebec City, tens of thousands of people turned out for two days of direct action and peaceful demonstrations. On April 20, thousands of union members and students participated in a direct action march to the "Wall of Shame."

Along the way, participants sang songs of solidarity. Once the march reached the summit, demonstrators, including a number of senior citizens, handicapped, and parents with children, were attacked by police in riot gear, who launched a barrage of teargas canisters over the fence. Several people were hurt as the crowd retreated from the noxious fumes.

Later that evening, hundreds of anarchist youth battled police in areas where they had successfully knocked down the wall.


The following day, an estimated 60,000 people joined in a peaceful march organized by the Canadian Labor Congress and the Quebec Federation of Labor. Although the majority were union members — the unionization rate in Quebec at 40 percent is the highest in North America — massive numbers of students and other young people participated. Women’s, faith-based and environmental organizations also organized for the march.

The march had a truly international flavor, with chants in English, Spanish and especially in French, with all contingents chanting, "so, so solidarite!"

The demonstration in Quebec City was the focal point of an International Day of Solidarity, which throughout the hemisphere, included protests and actions against the FTAA and the corporate vision of globalization. (See the article above.) The Quebec City march led demonstrators to a park away from the Wall of Shame site, and to a rally that featured speakers representing labor unions throughout North and South America. Busloads of students, trade unionists and others from around the northeastern U.S., organized by Jobs with Justice, arrived for the rally. Jobs with Justice also had a role in organizing rallies in U.S. cities.

As evening fell, the UE members attempted to return to the wall to place a rose on it as well as a sign they had made as a memorial to late Local 893 Pres. Dan Kelley. But thick clouds of teargas blanketed the heights of Quebec City as far away as two blocks from the wall, so the memorial was placed near other banners and signs on a bridge nearby.

As in Seattle in 1999, the U.S. media focused on the violence by a relatively small number of people. The Canadian media, by contrast, appeared to have more extensive and balanced coverage. Perhaps as a result, many Canadians were shocked by the aggressiveness of the police and were skeptical of the rhetoric of "democracy" issuing from the heights of Quebec City.

UE News - 05/01

Home -> UE News -> 2001 Archives -> Article

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