FT defends capitalism

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Tue May 1 07:36:26 PDT 2001

Financial Times - May 1, 2001


Today's planned demonstration in London against global capitalism is part of a pattern. It follows mass protests, marred by violence, over the past 18 months in Seattle, Washington, Prague, Melbourne and Quebec City. What inspires these events and what should be done about them?

For the police, the priority must be to steer a fine line between preserving order and overkill. Those who break the law should be subjected to its full rigour. However, care must be taken that over-zealous security tactics do not, as has sometimes happened, unnecessarily incite violence.

How governments and businesses should react is another question. Many protesters appear to have peaceful intentions and to view today's event as an opportunity to promote causes from the environment and animal welfare to human rights and world poverty.

They are entitled to state their case. The problem is how to respond to their widely diverse demands. Some campaigners have played a positive role in issues such as landmines and debt relief or have exposed corporate malpractices. But many offer no realistic proposals and espouse incoherent and mutually contradictory aims. Their only common ground is hostility to globalisation and capitalism.

Their protests are partly a reaction by the left to a world in which old ideological battles have been rendered obsolete by the rejection of Marxism in favour of free-market orthodoxy. However, they also reflect wider public unease, induced by the end of the cold war and the rise of global markets.

Old certainties about the nation state have been replaced by a vision of a lawless world beyond individuals' control, in which profit-seeking corporations trample freely over local cultures. While few people seem prepared to sacrifice capitalism's advantages, many yearn somehow to put up the shutters.

But yielding to foes of global capitalism by restricting trade and investment would not end popular anxieties, many of which stem from technological change and other sources unrelated to globalisation. The only result would be impoverishment, above all of struggling economies, whose prospects hinge on improved access to world markets and foreign capital.

No superior alternative to capitalism and an open global economy is on offer. But business needs to do more to demonstrate the benefits, by actions as well as by argument. Governments must defend globalisation more vigorously and challenge untruths peddled by its opponents. Otherwise, the latter may win the battle for public opinion.


May Day Monopoly could see many go directly to jail FT.com site; May 1, 2001 BY CENTRAL LONDON IS TUESDAY'S TARGET FOR ANTI-CAPITALIST PROTESTERS. DAVID WHITE REPORTS

London is expecting to become the main focus for anti-capitalist protests on Tuesday, with a series of actions aimed at disrupting business in Europe's leading financial centre.

The protests, called by a disparate coalition of organisations from anarchist groups to anti-car campaigners and animal rights activists, coincide with May Day rallies and demonstrations across Europe.

The protest is being loosely organised around a giant "Mayday Monopoly", using the street locations on the London version of the board game.

More than 300 targets around the Monopoly board, published on the internet, include stores, restaurants, banks, government buildings, embassies, courts, prisons, employment agencies, hotels, theatres, car showrooms, newspapers, broadcasters and gentlemen's clubs.

London's Savoy Hotel, is listed as "where rich and famous scum stay." The UK's inland revenue tax authority is singled out for "oiling the wheels of capitalism, subsidising ethnic cleansing and the arms trade."

The website defines capitalism as "a system in which a few rich control and exploit the rest of us" and proposes the abolition of money and property. While Tuesday is a holiday in most other European countries, Latin America, most of Africa and some Asian nations, it is a normal working day in the UK.

The demonstrators hope their tactic of many scattered protests will stretch the resources of London's police. All police leave has been cancelled and 6,000 officers will be deployed on the streets.

The security operation also involves special precautions at many businesses, government offices and other likely targets.

But in the build-up both police authorities and the British media have been accused of provoking confrontation by over-reaction. It is thought that the well-publicised risk of violence may deter many would-be protesters.

Up to 10,000 demonstrators are expected to take part, and police believe about 1,000 could potentially become involved in violent attacks. Under a "zero tolerance" policy, police have orders to arrest anyone suspected of violent intent.

Lord Harris, chairman of London's Metropolitan Police Authority, said contingency plans included using plastic baton rounds, or "rubber bullets", but only in dire emergencies. Their use in Northern Ireland, the only UK area where they have been fired, caused heated controversy.

The protests are expected to culminate during the afternoon in the Oxford Street shopping district of London's West End, in an event billed as "The Sale of the Century".

Earlier, organisers plan demonstrations at railway stations and a large riverside gathering near the central squares where protests a year ago were mostly concentrated.

A statue of Britain's wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square has been boxed in to prevent it being defaced again as it was during last year's protests.

In the two years that have seen regular anti-globalisation protests at international economic meetings - in Seattle, Washington, Melbourne, Davos, and most recently Naples and Quebec - this kind of action has developed into an annual London event.

The most serious so far was a "Stop the City" protest in June 1999, which caused an estimated GBP2m ($3m) in damage and 50 serious injuries.

Last year, when May Day coincided with a UK public holiday, violence was more contained but nonetheless brought clashes and 95 arrests. Ken Livingstone, London's left-wing mayor, who supported numerous protest actions in the past, was due for close police protection on Tuesday after warning that the event's organisers had no interest in keeping it peaceful.

The "anti-capitalist" banner acts as a catch-all for a variety of causes, and police describe the demonstrators as "pacifists and activists".

Much of the protest is planned in a carnival spirit - such as one group intent on breaking a local edict and feeding Trafalgar Square's pigeons.

But a hard core is expected to attack stores and occupy buildings. Police have published photographs of known agitators and attempted to trace members of foreign groups, including German-based Turkish communists.

One of the main action groups, inspired by the Italian revolutionary organisation Ya Basta! and its trademark uniform of white overalls and heavy padding, dubs itself the Wombles, after puppets ina children's TV series.

It stands for White Overall Movement Building Libertarian Effective Struggles.

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list