Thousands rally in capital against war and greed

WASHINGTON – For four days last week, the capital echoed with marching feet and chants of “corporate greed has got to go” and “No war for oil!”

For good reason, it was called a “convergence;” it brought together, in one venue or another, the AFL-CIO, Jobs With Justice, United Students Against Sweatshops, the National Organization for Women, Jubilee USA Network, ACT-UP, Peace Action and a hundred other grassroots organizations.

The occasion was the annual meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which have become a lightning rod for protests against giant globalized banks and corporations that drive billions of people into poverty to bankroll the lifestyle of the super-rich. This year, as in the past, hundreds of young people were arrested on charges of “failure to obey” police orders. Many were clubbed, maced and at least 646 were jailed.

Attorney General John Ashcroft assembled an enormous police force from across the country. Grim-faced tactical police in black SWAT uniforms and German-style helmets lined every march route.

Looming over this year’s protest was George W. Bush’s fanatical drive for a war on Iraq. It brought into clear focus the links between corporate greed, the exploitive policies of the World Bank-IMF and the Bush-Cheney war for oil against Iraq. In the chants – and in many interviews – the protesters warned that curbing corporate globalism means stopping the Bush-Cheney war machine, the military enforcer of U.S.-based transnational capitalism.

It is an election year and many warned that Bush is beating the war drums to divert attention from the plunging stock market, growing unemployment and poverty, the lack of a prescription drug plan, the crisis in public education and to drown out the Bush-Cheney role in the corporate crime wave.

There is, for example, their crony ties to Enron and El Paso Natural Gas, which robbed California electric ratepayers of $30 billion in a fraudulent “energy crisis” last year.

Yet the marchers also warned Democratic House and Senate candidates against voting for Bush’s blank check resolution for war against Iraq with the illusion that they can then “change the subject” back to corporate crime. Bush responded to Daschle’s retreat by accusing the Democrats of posing a risk to “homeland security.”

Eric Swanson, a staff worker with Peace Action, put it simply. He was marching with several thousand others Sunday, Sept. 29, to Vice President Richard Cheney’s mansion on Massachusetts Ave., chanting “Whose war? Dick’s war.”

“The American people are ahead of Congress,” Swanson said. “There is no public groundswell for a war against Iraq.”

He chided Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) for promising to give Bush his war resolution before the Nov. 5 election. “If these candidates craft their message well, they will tap into the real message the American public is sending: ‘No unilateral U.S. military action against Iraq.’ The Democratic leadership needs to understand how deeply the American public feels about this and stand up to the warmongers.”

Courage in opposing the war is a winning strategy for candidates in the Nov. 5 elections, he said. We offer, in this centerspread, reports on several of the mass marches and rallies.

Workers Forum blasts ‘global corporate crime’

From South Africa, Brazil, El Salvador and the United States, victims of what AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called a “corporate crime wave” came to AFL-CIO headquarters Sept. 26 to tell of being robbed of their jobs, health care and pensions by Halliburton, WorldCom, Gap and other corporations.

Several hundred trade unionists gathered in the AFL-CIO headquarters for the Global Workers Forum and applauded as the workers described their determined fightback.

Dan Pedroza of DeSoto, Tex., a member of United Steelworkers of America Local 6580, worked at Dresser Industries until Halliburton, then under CEO Richard Cheney, bought the plant in 1998. “I was employed by Dresser for 30 years and planned to retire there,” Pedroza told the crowd. “The decision was made by Cheney to shut our plant down. We lost everything, 300 jobs, our health care and pensions. But Cheney made $18.5 million when he sold off his Halliburton stocks.” Loud boos greeted this.

“All these CEOs should be held accountable for the crimes they commit. They should be put in jail!” Pedroza cried as the crowd cheered.

Cara Alcantar of Phoenix, Ariz., said she worked four years for WorldCom. “My 401(k) stocks are worthless,” she said. “Corporate greed not only eliminated the company but also 17,000 workers lost their jobs when WorldCom folded”

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson, chair of the forum, asked Alcantar what she would tell the WorldCom CEO if she met him face to face. “I would say: ‘How dare you imply that your lives are more important than our lives! You take these huge severance packages while we have nothing! How can you sleep at night!’” Again the crowd erupted in applause.

Cristina Alves Campelo, a telephone company worker from Recife, Brazil, said WorldCom came in when her telephone company was privatized. “I believe we should unite internationally. The management of the multinational corporations meet to make decisions that cause so much hardship for workers. They are concerned only for their profits. We must end that. No more business as usual.”

Nyameka Mafani, a community health nurse from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, said the hospitals are overwhelmed with victims of AIDS, cholera and other infectious diseases. “The greed of the pharmaceutical companies makes drugs unavailable to the victims of AIDS. We are saying, ‘Enough is enough. We demand a national health care system.’ Comrades, I am saying if we unite, we can win this fight.”

Rose Sommer, a cardiac intensive care nurse from Los Angeles, was one of 18 nurses fired in May 2002 for protesting short-staffing of the wards at hospitals owned by Tenet Healthcare Corporation, which reported $2 billion in profits last year. Sommer won reinstatement when the hospital staff voted overwhelmingly to join the Service Employees International Union.

“Why the problem?” she demanded. “Because the CEO of Tenet, [Jeffrey C.] Barbakow, took in $116 million in salary and stock options last year. He makes 1,500 times what I make. It is clear that Tenet Corporation has chosen profits and executive salaries over patient care. Turning healthcare into a for-profit business is a very dangerous proposition.”

Raquel Salazar Hernandez has worked 10 years in El Salvador’s garment industry for Gap, Ann Taylor and other fashion names. She was fired when management found out she was pregnant. She led a campaign that brought the union into the shop. Gap responded by closing the plant down last April. Workers, she said, are struggling to change the government to make it sympathetic to workers’ rights. “The only political party that supports our program without fail is the FMLN,”she said, referring to the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front, which the Reagan administration tried to exterminate in the 1980s by smugglng arms to Roberto D’Aubbison and his Arena death squad party.

The forum ended and the crowd marched in a heavy rain to the Ritz Carlton where a “CEO Summit” was meeting on the eve of the World Bank-IMF meeting. As she marched, Cristina Alves Campelo told the World she is a member of Brazil’s Workers Party campaigning to elect Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silvo in Brazil’s upcoming presidential election. “Recent polls put him at 41 percent. We believe Lula and the Workers Party offer a solution. There is total rejection by the Brazilians of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, over 90 percent in a recent referendum,” she said.

Robert Blatt, a cellist with the Washington Symphony Orchestra and vice president of the Washington local of the Musicians Union, told the World he is opposed to Bush’s plan to attack Iraq. “The claim that Saddam Hussein is a clear and present danger is hype,” he said. “This war is the personal agenda of the Bush family. However much we dislike Hussein, he is the leader of a sovereign nation. Why do we feel we have a unilateral right to remove him?”

Sweeney told the rain-drenched picketline in front of the Ritz that they had come to deliver “pink slips” to the CEOs meeting inside. “We are here to ask: What are you doing to combat corporate greed and stem the tide of corporate crime? Stop rewarding yourselves with obscene salaries and stock options. Stop hiding your profits in offshore tax havens. Stop the slave labor and child labor around the world. Brothers and sisters, when they violate the laws and violate the trust of their workers they deserve to get these pink slips.”

10, 000 march against Iraq war, corporate rule

Under a sea of banners and signs denouncing ExxonMobil and Enron profit greed, thousands of protesters marched here to demand an end to World Bank-IMF policies that have forced four billion people into poverty and unemployment around the world.

“More world, less bank,” the crowd chanted as they streamed up 15th St. toward the World Bank-International Monetary Fund, then holding an annual meeting at its headquarters near the White House.

The Bread & Puppet Theater marched with towering papier mache figures depicting the faceless corporate CEOs who dominate the global economy. A man wearing a grinning rubber mask of George W. Bush held a placard, “Hi, I’m oil!”

Among the demands of the Mobilization for Global Justice were cancellation of a trillion dollars in Third World debt, termination of so-called “structural adjustment” policies that require poor nations to slash or privatize industries and services, and opening of all World Bank-IMF meetings to the media and the public.

Jesse Coleman, a senior English major from New York University, told the World he came with five busloads of New York City students. “About 30 of our people got cornered by the police Friday and were arrested,” he said. “It was trumped up.” The World Bank-IMF, he charged, “force poverty stricken countries to privatize everything, even the water. They cut wages and pensions and break the unions to create a more exploitable work force. They push through trade agreements that supercede the laws of sovereign states.” As for Iraq, “It’s a war for oil,” he said.

Russell Wood, a member of ACT-UP in Philadelphia held a sign, “8,000 People with AIDS killed today. Drop the debt now! Don’t bomb Iraq.” Said Wood, “Bush Senior never talked about AIDS and Bush Junior doesn’t talk about AIDS. He’s ready to go to war instead of putting money into AIDS research.”

Towering over the crowd was Debbie Davis of Milwaukee dressed as the Statue of Liberty and holding a book titled “Not in our name.” She told the World, “I’m here to stand against the World Bank, the IMF and a war against Iraq at the expense of our social wellbeing here at home,”

Rita Jankowska-Bradley came to the protest from Missoula, Montana, with other members of the Jubilee Network. “The World Bank-IMF are killing people all over the world because they force these countries to pay so much for debt service there is no money for human needs. If Bush wants to fight terrorism, let him close the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, which we call the School of Assassins.”

At a rally earlier in the Sylvan Theater near the Washington Monument, Carola Kinshasa of Tanzania denounced the World Bank-IMF for ramrodding privatization, including corporate takeover of water, which will be too expensive for 70 percent of the population. “Water was given by God. It should not belong to anybody,” she said. “This is a global war against the great majority of the people of the world. We don’t want the IMF. We want them out of our country. There is an alternative. Julius Nyerere, who led our country, introduced African socialism, which ruled for 24 years despite the isolation from the West. Because we refused to say ‘Yes,’ they marginalized us. But our government was able to give free education, free health care.”

Since the takeover by a “free market” regime, she said, “the people are forced to pay for their childrens’ education. Our literacy has fallen from 80 percent to 45 percent. That is why we are saying ‘No!’ to the IMF.”

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com