Genoa G8 PDF Print E-mail
Andy Rowell, July 2001

Article originally appeared on Mao Magazine and can be accessed at Andy Rowell's Website

Genoa G8
Andrew Rowell reports on the preparations behind the G8 summit in Genoa. Who are the real bad guys and who are the real bad guys hanging out with...

The ancient streets of Genoa in Italy will this week be the latest flash point for a hundred thousand anti-globalisation campaigners demonstrating against the annual summit of the G8, the eight most powerful nations on Earth. International activists demonstrating against further trade liberalisation and the corporate take-over of their lives see it as a fight against capitalism itself. To many it is the defining issue of our time.

Genoa will soon be a city split in two. In the "Red Zone" - a four kilometre section including the famous Piazza de Ferrari - G8 leaders will be cocooned by unprecedented security. The men in summer suits will be protected from the protestors by a ring of steel, some 15,000 police and a missile defence shield. Strategically, the Red Zone includes the port area, where the world's leaders will sleep safely aboard a luxury ship.

Surrounding the Red Zone is the "Yellow Zone". Here residents of the narrow old city streets of Genoa will witness a massive demonstration bringing together diverse groups and peoples from around the world under the banner of "civil society".

Thousands of demonstrators will again raise the alarm to elected leaders about the environment, cancelling the Third World debt, genetic engineering, star wars and the increasing monoculture of society. Democracy is failing the North and South as corporations hijack the political process and globalisation, they say, has gone too far. Unconfirmed press reports suggest there will be an attempt to storm the Red Zone to disrupt this weekend's meeting.

The activists also want to stop the powerful multinational institutions such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), which they see as unaccountable and providing multinational companies with the economic legitimacy to increase their power.

"There is a battle of legitimacy and the stakes are getting higher every day as civil society grows. The legitimacy of the WTO and IMF and even the state is as its weakest point as it has been for a number of years", says John Jordan, a leading anti-capitalist activist from London.

The anti-globalisation movement has mushroomed world-wide over the last five years, with grass-roots campaigners holding protests against globalisation from Brazil to Bern, Seattle to South Asia and Prague to the Pacific. Already this summer, tens of thousands have taken to the streets in a carnival of resistance against capitalism.

Only last month thousands protested at the annual EU Summit in Gothenburg, Sweden when three demonstrators were shot and injured. A further three students were shot dead, also in June, on the Pacific island of Papua New Guinea while protesting against economic reforms backed by the IMF and the World Bank.

Earlier this month, thousands more took to the streets against the World Economic Forum in Salzburg, Austria. Worried about protests, the World Bank cancelled its annual meeting on Development Economics, which had been scheduled to meet last month in Barcelona.

Genoa will not be the only city humming with protestors this week. Bonn is also the venue for the latest talks for the United Nations International Framework on Climate Change, which was galvanised by President Bush's rejection of the "Kyoto Agreement" to stabilise greenhouse emissions. Delegates in Bonn will also be met by demonstrations, street theatre, "critical mass" cycle rides and music. Protesters plan to build a huge boat and deliver it to the delegates, a symbol of a slowly drowning world.

Leading the charge will be activists from the Rising Tide coalition, an anti-capitalist network, which is calling for emissions of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, to be reduced world-wide by at least 60%. "The ideas of globalisation as put forward by neoliberalism cannot be squared with the aim to protect the global climate. The global climate change cannot be stopped by mechanisms of the free market," says Rising Tide.

However it is the Italian authorities turn to deal with what could be one of the biggest anti-capitalist demonstrations yet. Major protests, parties and counter conferences will happen throughout the week. By all accounts things might get ugly. In May the Italian authorities announced that they would use the army if necessary to stop the protestors. This was condemned by one of the most controversial, yet colourful anti- globalisation groups, the Italian collective called Ya Basta.

Ya Basta (Spanish for enough is enough) is famous for its activists dressed in protective shields, crash helmets, inner tubes and padding underneath distinctive white overalls. They started in the mid-nineties with the dual purpose of supporting the Zapatista peasant uprising in Mexico and spreading the anti-globalisation message across Europe. "In your Genoa meeting you want to impose a world that is exclusive, a world where the only ideology is that of money, profit, market, goods and bodies. Your world is an empire, you are the emperors and billions of people are simply your subjects", say Ya Basta. "From the outskirts of this empire, from the several worlds that resist and grow dreaming of a better life for all, today, we, rebel subjects, formally declare war on you".

The language heats up

Though the language heats up on both sides, it is the protestors who are being labelled as violent, even though the majority of the violence is likely to come from the Italian authorities. It is a line often repeated by corporate news organisations. "Violent protests are expected by European anarchists and anti-globalisation forces", says Associated Press TV in its forward planing briefing.

Frank van Shaik, from Amsterdam based Action for Solidarity, Equality, Environment, and Development, does not believe this is just media laziness. "I think there is a deliberate attempt to criminalise the most active and visible part of the movement. The people in power are having a harder time justifying what they are doing and more and more there is increasing criticism of the whole neo-liberal way of thinking especially in the South where privatisation and deregulation are having a major effect. So what they are doing is trying to focus attention on the 'outlaws' in the streets".

As the more radical groups are portrayed as violent it becomes more tolerable to use violence against them and exclude them from the debate. Van Shaik adds: "The powers that be are really moving towards driving a wedge between the movements, to separate the sensible NGOs from what they call the riot makers and nasty unaccountable people in the streets. So Genoa is waiting for the people throwing stones. That is the image that is happening".

As the anti-capitalist protestors become criminalsed, governments and companies are increasingly "driving a wedge" between the more radical grass-roots groups. And they are doing it in what appears to be a very simple and benign way: by talking.

Corporations and governments are increasingly making offers of dialogue to try and prevent protests at key international meetings coming up over the next year. "Attempts by business to reach out to some of the NGOs is a response to the challenges thrown up by the grassroot activists," says Olivier Hoedeman from CEO, a European-based research and campaign group targeting threats to democracy, equity, social justice and the environment. "In the last few years we've seen business and governments using dialogue with NGOs as a strategy to prevent confrontational campaigning and to split different parts of the environmental movement, and very often they are successful" he says.

Earlier this year the Italian authorities came to London to discuss how "civil society" and developing nations might participate in the G8 meeting. "At the forefront of their minds," says Sara Parkin, chair of the Real World Coalition, which represents 25 UK-based campaigning groups, "was the Italians' desire to avoid another punch-up between international uncivil society and the local police".

Dialogue is certainly the strategy that PR professionals are getting very rich on. Clients are being offered a number of ways to outwit their "civil society" opposition. Global PR company Edelman for example advises it clients that "governments and corporations will only succeed by establishing working relationships with NGOs that are not adversarial". To help assist its "stakeholder dialogue " efforts Edelman recently employed Jonathan Wootliff, ex head of Greenpeace International's communications division.

Meanwhile in the UK, the Institute of Public Relations has recently published a book on "Managing Activism" and how companies can "deal" with activists and pressure groups, who "represent a growing threat to organisations around the globe". Its author, Denise Deegan argues that for business the way forward is "proactive dialogue, negotiation and conflict resolution". Or in PR jargon, "two-way symmetrical communications" which offers "a way forward where the company does not have to give in to activists."

A very similar approach is adopted in Germany. A leaked paper from the powerful Association of German Industries highlights the benefits of 'dialogue' to evade conflicts and without business "giving up" its "own points of view". Other benefits include "taking the wind out of the sails of their opponents."

Stop disruptions

One of the major counter operations deep in the corridors of power is to stop further disruptions of the next major international meeting of the WTO in November in Dohar, Qatar.

The WTO has for many come to symbolise everything campaigners believe is evil about the global economy. "What is wrong with the WTO is that it is totally representative of the interests of corporations and money and the richest one tenth of one per cent of people on the planet", says David Korten, author of the best-selling book, When Corporations Rule the World. "In that sense it is contrary to life, to the principles of life and everything we need to get a world that works for both people and planet."

The protests against the WTO in Seattle in late 1999 took the authorities totally by surprise. Since then many in the business community have been plotting a major counter-offensive. The first tactic was the choice of venue, Qatar, where most NGOs cannot get to or will be forbidden from entering. The delegates will be able to prevaricate in peace.

There will a new series of talks on further trade liberalisation in the run up to the Qatar WTO meeting. The European Commission has held a whole series of dialogue meetings between NGOs, business and commission staff. Olivier Hoedeman from CEO says the authorities learned from their experiences over the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) which was stopped due to a "united front" of international NGOs. So the European Commission set up a dialogue initiative, where NGOs were invited to Brussels to explain what they wanted from the New Trade Round.

This had two effects, says Hoedeman. Firstly, NGOs "supported the Commission's proposal for a new WTO round" because they were invited into the decision making process. Secondly, "it was an excellent forum of intelligence gathering for Commission staff and business" to find out more about the NGOs and their positions. The result, according to Hoedeman, "has split the NGO coalition that was united over the MAI, and allowed business and the Commission to develop this new sophisticated greenwash language around which the new WTO round is based."

This sucessful PR tactic is being used elsewhere. Next year is "Rio Plus Ten" where, ten years after the groundbreaking Earth Summit in Rio, the world will descend on the South African city of Johannesburg for the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Governments are eager to push NGOs into the pre-conference process. However, funding is only available if groups take part in stakeholder dialogue initiatives. The main business lobby group trying to co-opt "Rio Plus 10" is the Swiss-based World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which has also stepped up its use of "stakeholder dialogues". The Council's senior members are controversial companies like chemical giants, Du Pont and Dow, big oil companies BP and Shell, biotech giant Aventis and mining monoliths WMC and Rio Tinto.

"The ability of companies to manage and contribute to multi-stakeholder partnerships is a new business asset," says the Council's chairman Björn Stigson. "Now the time has come to move beyond talking to one another to acting together for the purpose of sustainable development," says a new WBCSD report called Sustainability through the Market. So business wants to enter into "partnerships" with the NGOs. But just as the pressure is coming from governments and business to engage, so it is coming from the NGO movement itself. "That NGOs will have to interact with companies is not in doubt; how they will interact is the question," says Simon Heap of Intrac, the International NGO Training and Research Centre.

"The challenge of environmentalism and the corporate world in the New Millennium is to embrace the new opportunities, to caste off the old fears and prejudices and invigorate new relationships for the common good of Planet Earth", argues David Haigh, from James Cook University in Australia.

Ecological controversy

In the UK the pro-dialogue and partnership perspective is being forwarded by groups such as the Environment Council, and SustainAbility. "A fruitful and mutually rewarding dialogue with stakeholders is possible", suggests the Environment Council's chief executive, Steve Robinson. At a recent conference it organised last month in London, senior members of the UK's environmental community courted some of the world's most ecologically controversial companies under the banner - "Getting Engaged".

Andrea Spencer-Cooke, former editor of the Stockholm-based Tomorrow Magazine, the glossy for green business, spoke at the conference. She said the business response to environmental activism should be to "include, listen, co-operate, emulate, re-invent and match any market campaigning with corporate activism".

Undoubtedly the Environment Council will continue in its efforts to bring business and NGOs together. Its next seminar this September, entitled "Environmental Reputation in Business Strategy", will see Shell, BP, nuclear company BNFL and the world's largest PR company, Burson-Marsteller, discuss issues of "reputation management" with the likes of Greenpeace, SustainAbility, and one of the UK's leading social- ethical investors, Henderson.

While the business community woos the NGO community on the one hand, it has also moved to undermine their authority and question their legitimacy. In one business conference after Seattle called "Restoring Momentum in the WTO", delegates discussed issues such as "How can we de- legitimise NGOs?"

The Director General of the WTO, Mike Moore, took this idea further earlier this month during an international dialogue meeting with NGOs. He mooted the idea of a code of conduct for NGOs, which they would need to sign before receiving funding from foundations or governments. The code would include NGOs rejecting violence and being transparent about their membership, finances, and rules of decision-making.

"It would strengthen the hand of those who seek change if NGOs distance themselves from masked stone-throwers who claim to want more transparency, anti-globalisation dot.com-types who trot out slogans that are trite, shallow and superficial. This will not do as a substitute for civilised discourse," said Moore.

Some businesses have now started to try and stop the funding of environmental groups. US logging company Boise Cascade Corp, which had been targeted by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) to stop logging in old-growth forests, started to question RAN's tax exempt status and lobbied its funders to cut off the campaigning group's money.

Another tactic has been to criminalise campaigning groups using existing legislation. Reclaim the Streets, a grass-roots group involved in many of the anti-capitalist protests across Europe and America, for example has recently been labelled a terrorist organisation in the US. So too has the "Carnival Against Capitalism", although it is an event not a group.

"They still have the notion of some centrally organised 'terrorist' cell, which has some international secretariat and is very centralised" says anti-capitalist activist, John Jordan. "It shows their weakness and their inability to understand the way we work".

Already a parcel bomb that exploded on Monday in Genoa injuring a policeman was attributed by the Italian Interior Minister as "traceable to a minority fringe of protestors," according to press reports. This was followed by counter claims that the hidden right wing hand of the Italian state was behind the explosion as part of a "strategy of tension" not seen in Italy since the Cold War.

If anti-globalisation protestors are not careful on the streets of Genoa they will easily be portrayed as terrorists, leading to a loss of public support and a move by the large NGO's to distance themselves from their grassroots colleagues. Last week Friends of the Earth issued a press release calling for "peaceful protest." The media interpreted this as FoE distancing itself from the protests.

Moreover the mainstream campaigning groups could find themselves losing grassroots support if they become too close to business. "What the environmental movement has not grasped is that there is absolutely no way that sitting down with companies - who are the major shakers of the globalisation process - there is no way that it is compatible with achieving the environmental goals that they want", says Green Party advisor Colin Hines, who is author of the book 'Localisation - A Global Manifesto'.

Localisation is the opposite trend to globalisation. "There is no gain at all in imagining you can come to some cozy agreement to make globalisation a little kinder and a little greener, it is about exactly the opposite" adds Hines. "What is emerging out of all these protests and counter conferences is a call to basically protect and revitalise local economies and the local environment and that means completely reversing the direction of globalisation."

These are sentiments reiterated by John Jordan. "If you look at the systemic problem, which many people are doing, it is not so much about business, it's about an entire system the enables business to operate in the way it does. You can't have ethical capitalism. There is a naïve belief that capital can somehow reign in its desire for profit and growth and suddenly its raison d'être is to be humanitarian and sustainable, it's a non sequitur." Localisation, he says, is the key. " Answers are local and they are diverse. So we talk about many worlds in one world and that is exactly what we are looking at".