The Business of Protesting
IPN Opinion article
Wall Street Journal Europe
Sweeping up the broken glass in Genoa, merchants must have asked themselves: Who paid for this riot? After all, an army of activists doesn't just descend on a city without some leadership -- and some money to pay organizers, rent meeting places, print posters and so on. So let's follow the money.
Antiglobalization protests have become a big business that involves millions of dollars, trans-national organizations and a global agenda. Don't be too surprised. Even Greenpeace -- a global enterprise with offices in London, Buenos Aires, Washington and Tokyo -- has a chief financial officer these days. Indeed, the antiglobalization movement seems like corporate dystopia, a mirror image of the business world complete with trade associations, venture capitalists, management recruiting and marketing campaigns. Instead of selling T-shirts or toothpaste, the agitators are selling limits on cross-border trade.
Let's start with holding companies. The Genoa Social Forum, a constellation of nonprofits that organized a "counter-summit" that gave the protesters a patina of intellectual respectability, served as a central coordinating hub. The Italian government provided $1.3 million to pay for conference facilities and translation services, Genoa Social Forum organizer Carlo Schenone told the press. Playing the role of "business roundtable" of the antiglobalization movement is the International Forum on Globalization, which is composed of antiglobalization groups around the world. One of the forum's associates in Genoa was Susan George, who is also vice-president of Paris-based Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Help of Citizens, known as ATTAC.
Joining Ms. George in Genoa were forum members: Kevin Danaher of San Francisco's Global Exchange, Vandana Shiva of the Delhi-based Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology and Walden Bello of the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South. Another forum member, Jose Bove -- who is famous for driving his tractor through a McDonald's in France -- of a French farmers' union, Confederacion Paysanne, also turned up in Genoa.
These people meet regularly under the forum's auspices. The forum is funded largely by the Foundation for Deep Ecology, a San Francisco-based philanthropic foundation that was endowed with the fortune of Esprit Clothing Company magnate Douglas Tompkins. With assets of over $150 million in 2000, the foundation serves as a kind of venture-capital fund for the movement by providing seed money to groups around the world.
Through the forum, the foundation has helped energize groups like ATTAC, which was a major player in Genoa. ATTAC itself is a kind of holding company of international nonprofits and trade unions who believe that economic globalization "only expresses the interests of multinational corporations and financial markets."
While ATTAC is largely focused on lobbying for a tax on international capital transactions, it spends much of its time building coalitions with nonprofits focused on other issues -- such as AIDS, the environment, human rights and organic farming -- to combat globalization on all fronts. These opportunistic organizations help the movement look like a genuine grass-roots uprising and swell its numbers.
This strategy is not unlike the alliances that firms sometimes form to crack new markets. Like all big businesses in Europe, the antiglobalization movement works closely with labor unions. In Genoa, the bulk of the marchers came from two Italian trade unions, the Confederazione General Italiano del Lavoro and the Confederazione Italiana Sindicati Lavoratori.
These unions were brought together with the help of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, a Brussels-based network of international unions. And the unions also supply a lot of the money. The Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, a group of Dutch trade unions, and other European unions have created "international solidarity funds" partly to fund antiglobalization groups. This ensures a bumper crop of protesters and a steady stream of press releases.
These solidarity funds are, in turn, funded by European governments. According to a report by Labour and Society International, a British group that works with trade unions and nonprofit groups, the Dutch unions' Department for International Cooperation received $6.75 million in 1997 from the Dutch government. That same year, the German government provided about $50 million to the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a foundation that carries out an antiglobalization agenda with trade unions and political parties. In Sweden and Norway, the governments contribute 80% of the money that makes up the union solidarity funds, which also ends up promoting the antiglobalization movement.
Canadian social-justice funds, set up by Canada's major trade unions, are similar. The Canadian International Development Agency, a government entity, matches union contributions by a ratio of three-to-one. In short, much of the money that fuels the antiglobalization protests against intergovernmental meetings is provided by many of those same governments.
At its heart, the antiglobalization business is a foundation-, union- and government-funded coalition of convenience. That's why when reporters wade into the crowds at antiglobalization demonstrations they quickly learn that there is no overarching philosophy, no shared ideology. If the press probed more deeply they might learn that a shared interest holds the protest industry together -- a fear of a borderless, dynamic world. In that world, a shopper in Malmo or Manchester would be as free to buy sugar from Martinique as from the European Union.
Yet the vision from the left is ideologically opposed to free trade. Why? This philosophy requires a vast number of regulations on everything from factory emissions to working hours. If these regulations are not simultaneously imposed across the globe, then some nations' businesses will benefit from a lighter regulatory touch. Businessmen are quick to object when their overseas rivals have a competitive advantage and can either relocate to enjoy lower costs or lobby government officials to reduce the cost of these supposedly "costless" edicts.
Either way, political resistance to regulation grows. So would-be regulators need some way to keep out goods from nations unburdened by questionable regulations. And that leads them into the arms of trade unions, which are looking for protectionist barriers to save uncompetitive jobs in dying industries. Perhaps the EU's truth-in-advertising laws should require the antiglobalization movement to change its name to the "protectionist caucus."
So if you are a European taxpayer or union member, chances are you are also a passive investor in the ventures that wrecked Goteborg, Genoa, Seattle, and the rest. The protesters hope that you enjoyed the show, but now want you to go back to work and pay your taxes. There are more international meetings coming up this autumn and the activists could use another round of financing.