By Attac Berlin
[This manifesto published on the Attac Austria website is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.attac.at/4616.98html.]
APPEARANCE AND REALITY OF THE G8
High and mighty, Tony Blair proclaimed an “historical resolution” during the last G8 meeting in Gleneagles/ Scotland, the “greatest debt remission of all time” for the countries of the South. Gloating with him, Bob Geldof with his “Live 8-concerts” soared to the media figure of global justice.
Soon the real substance of these promises became very clear. If 18 countries fulfill the strict conditions of the HIPC-initiative, they will be excused $40 billion in the next 40 years. This is only a drop on a hot stone. Altogether the countries of the South owe their creditors in the North $2 trillion and annually pay $300 billion in interests and service charges. This is six times the so-called economic aid currently provided by the G8 governments. In other words, through the most recent debt remission, the South must repay only $1 billion or 0.3% less to the North every year.
The “historic debt remission” turns out to be a successful self-adulation of the G8. This is just as deplorable as the media staging of the G8 as the rescuer of the poor. The approach in the multilateral organizations IMF, World Bank and the WTO was coordinated at the meeting to maintain and expand the neoliberal world economic system. Beside the economic agreements, military and administrative security policy counts for the G8.
While the regular condemnation of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was central in the 1980s, the G8-process has shaped nicely into a very efficient coordinating platform in the times of the so-called war against terrorism. In the meantime, several groups formed that promoted initiatives in combating underground economies (drug-, human and weapons trade), preventing streams of migration and improving secret service cooperation and surveillance. This thematic diversity shows that decisions of the group of the G8 concern a large part of humanity worldwide. Their initiatives are enforced from “above” in the interests of transnational corporations and at the expense of people and the environment. The only thing that empowers the G* is their composite power. They oppose all emancipatory approaches from below and democratization efforts on the global plane and in individual countries. They prevent self-determined life and actions of a large part of the world’s people. No one mandated the G8 to join forces; they are not legitimated by anything. This global club of powerful states lacks democratic legitimation for their world domestic policy.
There are many reasons to protest against the G8. the G8-summit is a manifestation of the global conditions of domination. The G8 summit is a proper place of resistance for everyone who cannot resign to the capitalist pressures and the manifold attacks on a better life. Global social rights must be fought for everyday and in many places. The diversity of resistance must become visible during the meeting of the most powerful heads of state.
NEOLIBERAL GLOBALIZATION AND THE GLOBAL EXPROPRIATION ECONOMY
The free trade doctrine promises the world permanently rising public welfare if the prerequisites for free trade are created. Deregulation of markets and abolition of tariffs are two prerequisites. For decades, free trade has been massively promoted by the Bretton Woods institutions, the IMF and the World Bank, as well as by the WTO founded in 1995 and strongly influenced by the G8. Many countries of the South were forced to open their markets to foreign capital in the course of structural adjustment programs, privatize businesses in public ownership and reduce state deficits. These measures temporarily lower state deficits. As long as $300 billion flows in debt service alone from South to North, the hope for a sustainable improvement of living conditions in the countries of the South is pure illusion. Industrial countries including the G8 subsidize their agriculture and destroy the life foundations of rural operations of the global South by exporting the same goods.
The positional competition reinforced by globalization leads to a narrowing of political discourse. The competitiveness of the location/country becomes increasingly important. As national competitive states, governments entice investors with subsidies and ever lower tax rates. Creating a good investment climate enables survival in the international location-competition. The idea of shareholder value, the perspective of well-to-do shareholders, is the focal point. The possibilities of transnational corporations for playing off states against one another for the best investment conditions massively increase. Parallel to this, deregulation of finance markets leads to a concentration of power in the hands of a few banks and investment funds. The pressure on governments around the globe grows immensely. The states of the G8 have a special role. They pursue a policy of practical necessities. Governments submit to these ideological and media-exaggerated necessities against the interests of the middle- and lower classes in their own societies. People in the global South suffer especially under the manufactured practical necessities of the world market.
Present-day capitalism unfolds its dynamic by expanding to previously non-capitalist areas. The privatization wave and bio-piracy (patenting useful plants and medicinal herbs) by western corporations are the clearest examples of that expansion. Social rights gained by struggle are already sacrificed on the altar of the market. Commodification of nature advances in the course of the uncontrolled exploitation of the environment. Living spaces in the way of the capitalist commercialization logic are destroyed. Expropriation processes are characteristic.
GLOBAL EXPLOITATION AND OPPRESSION
This has catastrophic effects for the people of the countries of the South. Reduction of state spending causes cuts in the education- and social areas. Layoffs on a large scale follow the privatization of services. Prices are increased to raise the profits of the new owners. The privatized operations are often energy suppliers and community waterworks. The higher prices strike poor sectors of the population very immediately.
In 1998, the World Bank gave Bolivia a credit of $25 million under the condition that Cochabamba’s waterworks be privatized without subsidizing the price of water. A subsidiary of the US construction- and water corporation Bechtel received the contract. The water price suddenly rose almost 35%. After massive social protests, the government relented and withdrew from the privatization contract. But Bechtel did not climb down. The global player sued Bolivia, the poorest country of South America, for $40 million in the World Bank’s International Center for Settling Investment Disputes (ICSID).
Privatizations and social cuts have also been characteristics of the North’s development in the last decades. An increasing precarity of living- and working conditions goes along with that. The evaporation of social security is flanked by heightened pressure on the growing number of unemployed through the Hartz legislation (new onerous German law reducing income support). Social exclusion, increasing discrimination against migrants and a climate of rivalry between employees and the unemployed are the consequences. A free solidarian society is deliberately made impossible by the conditions of precarity set by the law.
GLOBAL SOCIAL RIGHTS
Our demand for global social rights counters the expropriation economy with its catastrophic social and ecological consequences.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also contains social rights alongside liberal and political rights. However social rights are largely ignored while liberal freedom rights are thematicized again and again in international politics.
Global social rights include the right to proper living standards. This means access to food, clothing and housing, the right to physical and mental health, the right to education and the right to participate in social life. These rights should be in effect for every person, irrespective of gender, age, skin complexion, citizenship, nationality or output. Demanding rights means legitimating needs. The questions “What are our rights?” and “What rights can we exercise?” are central in the struggle for rights. Rights are not bestowed by states but granted by people to each other. In this context, global means both worldwide and comprehensive.
The idea of global social rights also includes the demand to take seriously the declarations of intent for social rights and convert them into reality. Global social rights go beyond the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The demand for global social rights is raised again and again in the struggles of social movements. This becomes a political force that can either be ignored or satisfied through more declarations of intent. Global social rights are binding because they are gained by struggle daily and worldwide. These are battles around dignity. A multitude of prerequisites must be fulfilled in enforcing global social rights. These prerequisites are not firmly defined from the start but develop in the conflicts.
STRUGGLES FOR RIGHTS
Since time immemorial, struggles for social rights have been waged globally, collectively and individually. These struggles occur in an organized way or as individual survival strategies. These are conflicts over global social rights because every struggle for social rights in global capitalism is a global struggle. The struggles against privatization of water in Bolivia are not only battles around water in Bolivia but are also a global battle against selling off our natural foundations of life. The daily battles of thousands of refugees to breakthrough the fences of fortress Europe as in Ceuta and Melilia are battles around naked survival and also battles for the right to personal freedom and world citizenship for everyone. The protests against Hartz IV and the strikes against longer working hours are also struggles against the increasing deprivation of rights and denial of self-determined secure life.
Each of these battles is different, stands for itself and cannot be equated with other struggles. Nevertheless they have one thing in common: they respond to global problems with the demand for social rights. The 2007 summit protests in Heiligendamm should be a place where these different struggles become visible because the policy of the G8 is in basic opposition to the demand for global social rights.
PREREQUISITES OF GLOBAL JUSTICE
For the worldwide enforcement of global social rights, the inequalities both within societies and also between the highly industrialized countries and the countries of the global South must be reduced. A breach with the free trade doctrine, the cancellation of illegitimate and unpayable debts and an end of the ideology of location-competition are necessary (through the introduction of universal minimum standards, internationally binding taxes and social standards).
On this background, migration can be understood as an appropriation- movement directed against the global hierarchies. As globalization critics, we resolutely oppose the screening off of the richest states represented by the G8 against undesired immigration. In the protests against the G8, the demand for open borders, personal freedom and equal rights for everyone everywhere have central importance.
In addition, measures intensifying the social inequality of people within societies – like Agenda 2000 or the European Union guideline on liberalization of services (Bolkestein) – should be opposed.
To secure the foundations of life for people particularly in the South, natural diversity should be preserved according to the principle of sustainability and left accessible to all people. Bio-piracy should be prevented because in its consequence patents for useful plants and medicinal herbs are awarded to a few and thus withdrawn from general use, especially from indigenous groups of the population.
Universally valid global social rights also oppose the effects of global warming caused by humans. The disastrous effects of environmental catastrophes especially affect people and areas already at the lower end of the global hierarchies more than those who draw short-term profits and are mainly responsible. Ecological rights are integral elements of global social rights. The growth ideology of the current world economy prevents the development of ecologically sustainable economies and ways of life.
Global social rights everywhere stand for a self-determined life in dignity for everyone. This self-determined life is only possible through the guaranteed assurance of material needs, that is through independence from the pressure to estranged work. On the way there, an unconditional basic income could be a central instrument for honoring global social rights.
The right of all people to a life free from hunger and poverty is the most elementary step. The concept of food sovereignty that liberates farmers from the pressures of the world market and the dispossessions by transnational corporations and makes possible self-determined and sustainable production is crucial.
Preservation and development of a social infrastructure is necessary for conversion of global social rights: public goods that people need to live self-determined, as for example a functioning health- and educational system accessible for everyone and a secure water supply. The concrete stamp of this structure is different according to the situation.
Autonomous appropriation ignoring the prevailing law plays a great role for enforcing global social rights. On one side, rights can be generalized and assured by laws. However their enforcement constantly occurs through criticism and breach of prevailing laws.
In addition, the idea of an “equal right for all” includes the equal participation of all in the global wealth and in social life. Thus the enforcement of global social rights leads to a new order within societies and between societies that points to a radical solidarian rearrangement of world society – starting from an expanded understanding of self-determination and human rights.
The conversion of global social rights cannot wait. Social struggles are marked by the desire for a life in dignity. The success of our struggle for global social rights does not depend on the “charity” of the G8. Rights are results of social struggles: the appropriation movements of land, goods and freedom, the conquest of the political public and the practice of self-determined organizing everywhere everyday.
The dynamic of political protest that asks about another world and the legitimacy of global institutions like the G8, the WTO, IMF and the World Bank is in crisis. The summit protests of the movement of movements, the experiments with new forms of political organization as in the Intergalactic Villages, Social Forums and in the autonomous government of the Zapatistas are impulses for a comprehensive democratization of world society. While the concrete form of a global democracy is as unpredictable and diverse as the struggles of people, global democracy is still oriented in clear principles: opening and decentralizing processes of political decisions and sharing and multiplying sovereignty. Only in this way can the voices of the excluded be heard as equal and the necessary free space preserved for the self-empowerment and self-determination of people.
The G8 is illegitimate. Still we do not relieve G8 states of responsibility as long as they determine our life. Their policy influences the life of all people; they may not simply ignore their demands and desires for another world. In the 2007 G8 summit, the global elite will meet in the luxurious ambience of the Kempinski Hotel in Heiligendamm, in the German territory with the highest unemployment and the lowest prosperity. Let us give the G8 no possibility for staging themselves in the media as the rescuers of the poor. Let us make unmistakably clear through our protest and the demand for global social rights that we will not endure their rule any more.
[This text published 6/25/2006 is the product of a long substantive discussion in the Global Social Rights study group of Attac Berlin. More about the Global Social Rights study group can be found at www.globale-soziale-rechte.org..]