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Susan George on the Worldwide Citizens’ Movement

May 27th, 2005 · No Comments

0412_susan_george_1.jpgSUSAN GEORGE is Associate Director of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam, a decentralised fellowship of scholars living throughout the world whose work is intended to contribute to social justice.

Susan spoke at the Sydney Writer’s Festival on 26 May, 2005. These notes provide a general overview of Susan’s perspective on the “worldwide citizen’s movement” (sometimes referred to as the alter-globalisation movement).
Susan opened her presentation with a question:

Can this movement be something in the 21st Century that takes the role that Marx gave to the Proletariat?

…Although I’m not a Marxist, I do think that you ought to have read Marx and other philosophers to get a sense of themes and patterns in history…

Analysing the nuts and bolts of the movement:

  • We are internationalists
  • We recognise that we ‘can’t hold back the tide’ of globalisation. What we want is a different kind of globalisation.
  • We see ourselves as part of an historical movement toward human dignity and emancipation
  • Our structure is non-hierarchical, with moral leaders, not bosses. This has strengths and weaknesses.

Excerpt from 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Article 25:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

Yes, it’s sexist, but the general principles remain worthwhile.

There are three kinds of people:

  1. Those who make things happen. Everyone ought to be part of this…
  2. Those who watch things happen. For example, so called “objective scholars”
  3. Those who never knew what hit them.

What we object to:

  • Continual tax-free currency trading
  • Commodification of all aspects of human existence in the marketplace
  • Neoliberalism

Continual tax-free currency trading

  • $US28,000,000,000,000 ($28 trillion) in liquid assets (i.e. money) is owned by 7.7 million people according to Merryl Lynch.
  • Our money is taxed. Thanks to tax havens (so called “Fiscal Paradises”) theirs isn’t.

Is democracy something to come to an end? It doesn’t exist at a supra-national level.

Commodification of all aspects of human existence in the marketplace
As aspects of human lives are moved from the public spere into the private sphere, with power held in the marketplace, the organizations that control so many aspects of our lives are undemocratic. One dollar equals one vote, and with most companies having a controlling minority interest from the US, an over-representation of American power.

The thinking that permeates the IMF and World Bank is a form of “Primitive Darwinism” – a survival of the fittest mentality that sees little role for cooperation.

We need a debate: What’s In the marketplace and what’s out?
Here’s what might be considered ‘too important for the market’
Public services provide a degree of equity and represent a social wage.
Health care if fully privatised represents an annual industry worth $3 trillion.
if fully privatised represents an annual industry worth $2.5 trillion.
Water Indespensible to life. Scarce and becoming scarce
Life Genes, seeds, scientific research

We have a great many demands:

  • A state of the Common Good
  • We are not anarchists, we want rules, not these rules.
  • ‘Futures’ should be considered plural: decision making should involve the people concerned.
  • Keynesian state, worldwide
  • International taxation
  • Drop the debt on the least developed countries
  • No tax havens: fair share of the common burden

Where ought the movement head now?
Yes, the movement is most visible when it takes to the streets… because there’s no where else to go… No other forum.

…But: serious work needs to be done: lobbying inside and outside formal political organizations.

The movement is made up of world social forums. There is no one single campaign, but we are linked by binding principles.

Most importantly, a campaign demanding a moratorium to ask the big question: what should be in the market and what should not? (This case is made in Susan’s latest book, “Another World is Possible… If…”)

An example of one campaign for moratorium…

The campaign against the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) – French Example:

  • GATS ultimately moves education, health, culture and water into the market.
  • With little action against GATS at a federal level, campaigners contacted local governments and soon established “100 Local Governments Against GATS and For a Moratorium” (the number has since swelled to 700)… that’s the local government areas covering 75% of the French population.

Strong alliances are required betweent political parties, trade unions, the peace movement, community groups and others.

Finally, Susan commented on a journalist’s question about why the movement has begun to grow now… Her response? “Because the bastards have gone too far!”

, Susan commented on why she was voting ‘NO’ to the EU Constitution:

  • 800+ pages: too complicated and lengthy for many citizens to comprehend
  • Becoming further and further removed from ordinary people
  • Enshrines Neoliberalism into a body of law that is incredibly difficult to repeal.
  • Susan reminded audience that to many politicians, ignorance is a great national resource.

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Category: Peace between people

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