Lalit member, Lindsey Collen, gave a Public Lecture on “WTO: Threat on Social Services” on Saturday, 23rd August at the Mother Earth Hall in Gran Rivyer Nord Wes, Port Louis. She spoke on the way that the General Agreement on Trade in Services (part of the WTO) represents a danger to the democratic rights as well as social and economic rights gained over hundreds of years of struggle. In particular, she explained how GATS is an instrument that unites the private sector and “its” government in different WTO member-countries for the “governance” (the non-democratic rule that replaces the rule by parliaments and the governments within nation states) of cross-border movements of different kinds of money and different classes of people. .
Under GATS, it is the private sector and Governments that together plan things. They do much of their planning “confidentially”, which means secretly. Our democratic rights are thus constantly threatened.
She explained how all the social services are under threat. These are in fact our basic human rights, fought for by our grand-parents and those before them: pensions, water, education, telecommunications, electricity, health services can all be offered up for their provision to be accorded to multinational corporations. Then the multinational automatically gets the same treatment as the “most favoured nation”. This, of course, prevents regional “solidarity”, in terms of taxes, subsidies, permits. And in the long run the pressure is then immediately on: for the multinational to get the same treatment as any organism in the country already (the WTO calls this “national treatment”, meaning “national treatment” is not allowed).
In the case of education, any country that offers tertiary education, then has to give, say, an Australian Company doing business in tertiary education, the same subsidy as the University of Mauritius or the University of Cape Town, depending on the country concerned. Since Government will say it has not got enough money, subsidy would then be stopped. Why? Because it is producing a non-level playing field.
Lindsey Collen put emphasis on the fact that this push through GATS (and the rest of the WTO, together with continuing pressure from IMF, World Bank, the AGOA law, commitments made under NEPAD) is part of the struggle over how to share out the gains from the massive new leap in levels of productivity. Over the past 10 – 15 years, productivity of labour has increased by leaps and bounds. One sugar labourer can cut and load between 10 and 100 times that of his predecessor from the 1970’s. One textile worker doing cutting can cut out 10’s or 100’s times more pairs of jeans. And so on.
Who has and will benefit from this?
Here she quoted George Soros, the famous finance capitalist speculator, who says accurately that, so far, globalization means capitalist taking away part of Labour’s share, in the first instance, and finance capital taking away part of productive capital’s share, in the second instance.
That is why world-wide, Lindsey Collen explained, there is a need for the kind of demonstrations being prepared around the Cancun Ministerial meeting in Mexico on 10th September.
Here in Mauritius, she said, there will be a Day of Protest.
During questions and answers, there was 40 minutes of intense discussions, which showed a new and deep understanding of the issues facing the struggle for working people world-wide. One key question was “Can the WTO be reformed or improved or is it a hopeless case?” The fact that the private sector is, virus-like, already part of the WTO negotiations, and that negotiations are, by commercial defnintion, in secret, means that it is, in fact, impossible to reform or improve the thing. In addition, the WTO is concerned with the “rights” (new meaning of the word) of the owners of property. It is not concerned with any human rights. Only with the rights of property ownership. The WTO needs to be scrapped. Then replaced by a more democratic organization.