On 21 May, at ‘People vs Corporations’, a public hearing at Euston, London, activists from the Inter-Continental Caravan (ICC) and from other people’s movements from India and Nepal came together with campaigners in Britain.
The Punjabi and Gujurati Farmers’ Unions and two representatives of INHURED (International Institute for Human Rights, Environment and Development) from Nepal, joined forces with British grassroots groups such as the Hillingdon hospital strikers, the South Asian Solidarity Forum, Corporate Watch and Friends of the Earth.
The message from the Third World groups was clear. Global capital and the commodification of seeds and crops are destroying their livelihoods. The fightback must come from peoples’ action co-ordinated internationally. ‘We know that it is not easy to fight the nations that rule the world,’ says Jorge, a Brazilian activist. ‘But we also know that the only alternative is to mobilise those peoples of the world who still show resistance to imperialism and who will not surrender. We, peoples from different continents, who are all part of this caravan, have started a fight. We have understood that there are no borders for capital.’
Gopal Siwakoti ‘Chintan’ from INHURED spoke on the disastrous effect the water company ENRON and other corporations have on Nepal’s water reserves, the treatment of workers and the destruction of the environment. His colleague Neeru Shrestha highlighted the exploitation of women and their flight from poverty into prostitution, with an increasing number of young girls being sold to India and the risk of HIV infection rising. Common to all talks was the fundamental rejection of ‘development projects’, structural adjustment programmes and genetically modified crops, as well as the surprise to find support from European activists. Speakers from Britain made parallels between struggles on both continents, especially concerning the exploitation of black workers in Britain, as the reorganisation of industry relies on institutionalised racism in the labour market to discard redundant workers.
Addressing corporate rule
After the public hearing, the desire for common action and solidarity was put into effect in the form of a spontaneous demonstration at the Nuffield Council for Bioethics, which had, with the blessing of the prime minister, published a report on the same day claiming that GM foods were not only harmless but that the West had a ‘compelling moral imperative’ to research and produce them as it was the only way to feed the world’s poorest. At the Nuffield offices, five representatives of the Indian farming unions held a 45-minute meeting with the director and assistant director, explaining to them that it is not failures in the production of food, but its distribution which causes Third World hunger.
The idea for the Inter-Continental Caravan for Solidarity and Resistance originated from Indian grassroots movements and was developed further at a meeting in Geneva in August 1998, discussing joint actions against the World Trade Organisation (WTO), ‘free trade’ and corporate rule. 500 activists from India and other countries from the South arrived in Europe as part of the ICC, travelling through Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Germany and the UK. Apart from the Indian farmers’ movements and INHURED, the ICC includes Bangladeshi and Brazilian (Movimiento Sem Terra) landless movements, Mexican Zapatista supporters, the Colombian Black Community Movement, and several other people’s movements from all around the world.
Now, the ICC is preparing for the WTO Millennium Round. It is important to seize the time and opportunity to build on these newly emerging forms of protest. The realisation that capital knows no limits or borders should inform the nature of the struggle for justice and against global capitalism. International solidarity belongs back on the agenda.