Ronda Hauben on 15 Sep 2000 05:34:28 -0000

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RE: <nettime> draft article on WTO

>From!owner-nettime-l Thu Sep 14 13:00:26 2000
From: "Robbins, Mark" <>
To: "'nettime-l'" <>
Subject: RE: <nettime> draft article on WTO
"Robbins, Mark" <> writes:

>I think this discussion is a wonderful microcosm for the
>anti-globalisation movements as a whole.  The discussion starts from
>something simple: i.e. slave labor in China.  Before anyone has a chance
>to say anything substanative it balloons into an issue that is bigger than
>anyone could possibly hold on to.  Not to say that these discussions
>aren't terribly necessary, but its very hard to form any sort of tangible
>movement with a chimera as a foundation.

But the discussion helps to broaden how people look at the problem
and to stimulate others to think more fully about it. So I find
the discussion that has developed on nettime on this issue very

Actually the problem with what has happened with the corporate
takeover of the US government is that not only is it a blight
on people in the US and around the world, but also it is
contrary to the US constitution.

I knew an old timer who had helped to bring the UAW and industrial
unionism to the auto industry. 

He had been born in the 1890's and yet when I spoke with him
in the 1980's he said that this was the worst time he had
ever lived through. (He had lived through depressions, wars,
sat in in the auto factories when one was risking ones life to
do so, etc.)

He said the reason it was the worst time now was that it was
a constitutional crisis. That the corporations were usurping
power that was not provided for.

In the 1930's he and other auto workers had taken on to form
industrial unions to try to check the power of corporations
like General Motors and Ford etc.

These unions were helpful for many years, but by the 1950s the
union officials had usurped power from the rank and file and were
making it difficult for them to fight against the corporations.

The sitdowners had realized the importance of having local union
newspapers that would tell the truth about the bad conditions in
the factory, and would even criticize the union officials when
they didn't maintain the fight for workers' demands. 

By the 1950's the UAW International Union censored
these local union newspapers, muzzling the rank and file.

But in their time these were very effective means of fighting 
against corporate abuse and shinning a "searchlight" on it.
(The Searchlight was the name of one of the most important of 
these local union newspapers. There is a paper about what happened
with the Searchlight, if people are interested.  I have to look for
the URL.)

>The easiest way to hurt the war effort was to expose it
>for the lie that it was. Protests, sit ins, teach ins, and the like served
>very well to this effect. 

It wasn't quite the easiest way - it took lots of people's efforts
and many dedicated their lives during the time of the anti war
movement to making the truth about what was happening available to
the public.

That took underground newspapers, people going around to neighborhoods
and talking with people, all kind of demonstrations etc. There were
people who put on street theater in neighborhoods and public places
about the war and why it was right to protest. There were newsreal
films that were made and sent around the country. Groups arranged
showings and discussions. 

>A corporations goal is profit, which is a fine
>one, but profit is not the only motivation of most human beings.  As
>corporations control more and more of the systems which are not inherantly
>profit motivated (health care, government, child care...)  those systems
>become unresponsive to the people, while the very rich get much richer.  

This is but some of the problem, but it is good to see it described.

An important part of the problem, at least in the US, is that the 
government has become the agent for the largest corporations, and 
for the short term interest that those corporations define as the goal
of their activities.

In the past it has been realized that there is a need for government
to regulate the corporations or they will devastate the population.

Examples of such regulation include shorter hours regulation like
the 10 hour or 8 hour laws in England and the US (and other countries)
the National Labor Relations Act in the US (which grew up after Congress
had hearings investigating the elaborate spy systems the corporations
had set up to keep out unions. (called the LaFollette hearings)

Now when one talks to Congressfolk, all they are interested in is the 
interests of certain corporations.

An important piece of the problem today, at least in the US, is that
the government isn't doing anything to oversee or regulate the

So the arrow that I have seen, as for example in the problem with
the creation of ICANN, is that the US government (and other governments?)
have gone along with the corporate grab fest.

How to get the US government (and other governments?) to challenge
what the corporations are being allowed to do and to limit it,
and to uphold the rights of the public? That is the problem that
the corporate power grab seems to pose to the citizens of countries
around the world.

An EU conference held in Finland in December 1999 (
took up this problem and at least noted it was a problem. The 
seminar I had been invited to speak as part of was interesting.
It was on how the Internet could help in citizens having more say
in the decisions made by governments. One of the problems that was
revealed at the seminar was that elected officials feel they are
elected to represent the people and so they don't see any reason
to hear from their constituents. (There was a journalism researcher
at the seminar saying why she was frustrated that the govenrment
officials won't listen to the people, and there was a government
officials there from the same city - from Tampere. )

The seminar  was valuable because it tried to understand the 
problem, and the mere fact that a government official and a
researcher who was having trouble with the govenrment official were
at the same seminar was an important achievement.
(I couldn't imagine that being possible in the US. For example,
that anyone would fund researchers who are allowed to critique
government activities or that a government official involved
in activities a researcher was studying would be willing to 
be at the same seminar as the researcher. This is all much
more advanced than what happens in the US.)

The Internet has been built to be interactive, to make it possible
for people to offer input into the rocesses as they develop. For 
a while (until the privatization was carrried out) there was 
encouragement to participate in decisions in various online forums. 

However, there now seem to be efforts to create a new architecture, a
framework where the Internet (or the Commercenet) will be based on 
protecting content so it can be only for pay. This is a different
kind of architecture and one that corporations would seem to feel
would be more appropriate to their nature.

Instead of those designing the next generation of Internet architecture
learning from the Internet that continual feedback is needed to
make decisions that will serve human purposes(an open system model), 
the corporate closed system model is being presented as the vision 
for the future for the Internet.

But the experience of building an interactive Internet, of an 
Internet that welcomed discussion and feedback, that expereince
shows that this open system is a superior system to the kind of closed 
system of corporations and increasingly of governments like the US.

So I see the problem as the fact that governments like the US government
encourage  and aid corporate abuse, rather than that governments are 
challenging and prohibiting that abuse. 

Perhaps this means that there needs to be more oversight of government and 
a light shone on what government is doing and a way found to have
government bring the needed restraints to corporations.

This perhaps takes research into what is the problem  and what
will help to solve the problem. The EU conference in Finland
(it was a conference of NGO's) was a beginning of at least 
raising the problem.

And it is interesting that the conference started the day after
the WTO protests in Seattle ended.

(chapter 18 is about the historical need of a press in
overseeing and shining a light on government. This too is
some of what has now broken down, at least in the US, as
the press is the mouthpiece for the government, not a watchdog 
over government.)

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