‘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
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
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
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
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
UE News - 05/01