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I have recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to try to raise money to support my efforts to finish the first book of what will likely be a series on ‘Power Politics and the Empire of Economics’.
What I am asking of my readers is not only to consider donating to the project, but more importantly, to share and promote it through social media, by sending it to others who you think may be interested, and to help get the word out in any way you can!
Every bit helps, and a great deal of help is needed if this is to be successful!
I have collected below links to the campaign, as well as a video I made to promote it, and links to the sample introduction chapter that I published online so that potential patrons could read the kind of material that they would be supporting.
About the Project:
This book will tell the stories of the rich and powerful oligarchs and family dynasties who collectively rule our world: the global Mafiocracy, operating behind-the-scenes playing their games of power politics, globalization’s Game of Thrones where rich and influential families play their games, balancing collusion and cooperation with fierce competition to rule the world Empire of Economics.
In 1975, Henry Kissinger told President Ford: “The trick in the world now is to use economics to build a world political structure.”
This book is that story.
A small network of banks and other financial institutions dominate the global economy, its wealth and resources. This small network of corporate power functions as a global financial Mafia, complete with excessive criminal behaviour in laundering drug money, funding terrorists, rigging interest rates and manipulating markets.
Name a nation, and there are rich dynasties that rule behind the scenes. The Rockefellers in the United States, the Rothschilds in France and Britain, the Agnelli family in Italy, the Wallenbergs in Sweden, the Tata family of India and Oppenheimers of South Africa, the Koc and Sabanci families of Turkey, the Gulf Arab monarchs and the rich industrial families of Germany with dark Nazi pasts.
Germany once again rules Europe, with the European Union’s institutions of unelected technocrats undertaking a process of internal colonization as they impose their economic empire upon Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus. Finance ministers and central bankers are the agents of empire, cooperating closely with bankers, oligarchs and dynasties to create a world which best serves their interests. The global financial Mafia mingles with political leaders at forums and secret meetings like the Bilderberg group, the Trilateral Commission and the World Economic Forum.
From the streets of Athens, to Egypt, Turkey, Brazil, Spain, China, South Africa, Chile, Canada, and in the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore, people are rising up against exploitation, repression and domination.
This book is not simply a collection of stories of the ruling Mafiocracy; it is designed to encourage strategy among popular and revolutionary movements capable of creating something altogether new. It is time to do away with a world ruled by oligarchs, and save the species from itself. But first, we must know our world better.
Help me to complete the first book in a series on ‘Power Politics and the Empire of Economics’. For four years I have been doing my own research, scouring the archives of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, government documents, official reports and corporate strategies, studying the world of power and empire, translating the political language of ‘economics’ into plain and simple English.
I have been published in multiple news sources, online and in print, interviewed by radio and television networks, and now I am asking for your help to raise $10,000 so that I can finish the first book in this series, to expose the Empire for all to see, its strengths as well as the weaknesses left exposed for us to exploit. Let us bring true democracy and an end to Mafiocracy. Help me to write this book, and together, let’s help each other to end the Empire.
Donate today. Thank you.
Andrew Gavin Marshall
The Global Mafiocracy and the Empire of Economics
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
26 March 2015
I am aiming to raise $500 in order to complete and publish for all to view and read a sample introduction chapter to my book about the Global Mafiocracy and the Empire of Economics. The chapter would provide a sampling of the subject matter, style and approach to discussing these complex issues in a way that is understandable and approachable to as wide an audience as possible. The sample chapter would be completed relatively soon (in the next week or two), so long as the funding objective is reached so that I can afford to put in the time to complete the draft.
So what is the subject matter and focus of the book?
– Translating the world of Economics and Finance into basic English, dismantling the ‘technical’ language of ‘experts’ into a more direct and honest dialectic
– An introduction to the Global Mafiocracy: the banks, corporations, asset management firms, sovereign wealth funds, insurance companies and holding companies that collectively own each other and the wider network of global corporate and financial institutions, manifesting as a relatively small cartel of roughly 150 large financial institutions that wield unparalleled financial power in the modern world. How did the cartel evolve? What institutions are dominant within it? Who are the individuals and groups that lead these organizations? How is the cartel’s wealth and power accumulated and exercised? What role does the cartel play in the world of global finance, economic and politics?
– Behind the major corporate and financial institutions are individuals and families, smaller units of concentrated power who own the largest shares and steer the operations of the global cartel. These individual oligarchs and family dynasties – from the Rockefellers in the US, to the Wallenbergs in Sweden, Agnellis in Italy, Desmarais’ in Canada, to the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia, Oppenheimer in South Africa, among others – control and.or influence large percentages of wealth within their respective nations and in the world of globalized financial and corporate networks. How did these dynasties and oligarchs emerge? What do they own and control? How is their wealth and power organized and exercised? What are their ideologies, beliefs, objectives?
– Empire and Economics: When people think of Empire, they often imagine the old European colonial powers venturing off to Africa, Latin America and Asia where they would militarily occupy and colonize foreign lands, regions and peoples for their own imperial benefit. While formal colonialism is largely an historical anachronism, unjustifiable and increasingly untenable in the modern world, Empire itself has never vanished. While the military and overtly political components of empire and imperialism remain relevant in the modern world (think: U.S. military, CIA, State Department, NATO, etc.) the most effective and evolved means of imperialism in the world are exercised through the economic and financial spheres. In these realms, empire is more effective because its ideology, objectives, actions and effects are hidden behind vague and obscure language, the “expertise” of economists, finance ministers, central bankers and other technocrats who claim to be separate of politics and only interested in economics. Empire is more evolved in these spheres because it has become the vanguard of the global Mafiocracy and imperial system, leading the political and often military apparatus of empire, far more institutionalized and advanced on a global scale than any parallel in political and military spheres.
– Global Financial Diplomacy and Governance: What are the institutions that manage and shape the imperial economic order? In the world of financial diplomacy and governance, those institutions which wield incredible (and increasingly expanding) power and authority remain largely unknown or misunderstood to the general public. The book will examine some of the origins, evolution and character of many of these institutions, including: the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, Bank for International Settlements (BIS), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), World Trade Organization (WTO), central banks and finance ministries, among others. What are the specific roles, functions and objectives of these institutions? How do they wield power? In whose interest do they operate? Who leads them?
– State Power: The institutions that make up the world of financial diplomacy and governance rely principally upon state power for legitimacy and political might. Whether it’s a central bank, a finance ministry, the IMF or other agencies, the role of powerful nation states such as the United States and other rich nations is central to the system and structures of the global Empire of Economics. The centrality of state power is made all the more apparent through an examination of the origins and evolution of less formal groupings of nations, such as the Group of Seven (G7), the Group of Five (G5), the Group of Ten (G10) and the Group of Twenty (G20), the principal political forums for the system of global governance and empire. Who attends these forums? What institutions are represented? What are the ideologies and competing interests? What effect do they have? What is the role of the ’emerging market’ nations of China, Russia, Brazil, India, Turkey and South Africa within this system?
– The Global Financial Mafia: What is the relationship and interaction between state power, the various Groups of nations, international institutions, finance ministries and central banks with the global cartel of banks and corporations, and the oligarchs and family dynasties that control the cartel? In what forums do the individuals who lead these various institutions interact, cooperate, communicate, socialize and organize? At various global and national think tanks, foundations, forums, conferences and social events, politicians, finance ministers, central bankers and top technocrats meet, often in secret, with the heads of banks and corporations, patriarchs and matriarchs of powerful family dynasties and other oligarchs. Among such events and forums are: the Bilderberg Group, International Monetary Conference (IMC), World Economic Forum (WEF), the Trilateral Commission, the Institute of International Finance (IIF), and the Group of 30, among others. These forums and events provide political leaders and the heads of influential institutions with a private forum where they are able to have off-the-record, often secretive discussions on important issues of global importance to the populations of their respective nations and the planet as a whole. Collectively, this group, and the institutions which dominate it, compose the Global Mafiocracy: a global political, social and economic system dominated by relatively few nations and institutions that operate largely in the interests of a small, criminal cartel of banks and corporations, a global financial Mafia.
– Top-Down: These institutions, individuals and ideologies will be examined and discussed not as a dry, historical account, but in terms of telling a series of stories. I want to try to present this information and analysis in the same way in which it appeals most to me, a fantastic, interesting, often horrifying and shocking tale of intrigue, empire, power politics, petty tyrants, in-fighting, domination, destruction and empire. I want the people who lead and participate in this system to become as familiar to the reader as they are to me, to see an image and read stories about the personalities and complexities of those who rule and wield power. What emerges is a story, or series of stories, worthy of the the intrigue and interest in historical and fictional accounts of imperial families and ancient empires, of mythical worlds, fantasy tales and science fiction societies. Get a view of our world from the top-down.
– Bottom-Up: In parallel to the institutions, individuals and ideologies that dominate and shape our world from the top-down, there are also processes, people, protests and mass movements or revolutions that shape and re-create and re-imagine the world from the bottom up. While Europe’s finance ministers meet in secret, off the record conversations in distant castles located in Luxembourg, deciding the fate of Europe and its citizens, mass protests and demonstrations and riots take place on the streets of Athens, Madrid, Lisbon, Rome and Frankfurt, in which the populations oppose and reject the decisions being made in far-off places by largely unelected technocrats who do not serve their interests. What role do protests and popular movements have in shaping and changing the modern world? How do the dominant institutions and individuals view and respond to such events and processes? Do they fear the potential of the people? What is that potential, or what could it be? What is the bottom-up story of the Global Mafiocracy and Empire of Economics?
– A Series of Stories: History, its chief actors, institutions and evolution is best understood when told as a story, with characters that readers and observers can relate to, understand, find an interest in, to be intrigued and even horrified. It would seem that the best way to explain the overly and unnecessarily complicated world of economics and finance is to explain it not as one would read in a textbook or industry publication, nor reportage in the financial press, nor through the dry and deceptively dull language and rhetoric of economics, academics, finance ministers, central bankers, technocrats and politicians. No, this is a world best understood through the stories, characters, challenges, triumphs, disasters and wars waged by the personalities and people who have shaped and changed this world. A system of human ‘civilization’ is, after all, ultimately a product of humans, and is, therefore, as deeply flawed, complex, conflicted and intriguing as are most human tales of the rise and fall of kings, queens, emperors, dictators, or the triumphs and tribulations of the ‘common person’, those on the streets, in the schools, bustling around the cities, towns and in the urban slums. Human beings understand human struggles and human stories. Thus, this book is not a history of economics and finance, it is a story of human beings, struggle, suffering, success and complexity. In short, it is a story like any other.
I need your help to write these stories and complete this book, what will be the first in a series. For now, my objective is to write a sample chapter, drawing from the many thousands of pages of research I have done in recent months and years. This chapter would be made available online for all to read, to truly gain a better understanding of the focus, approach and objectives of this book. To do this, I need your help. If this is something you would be interested in reading, please consider donating or sharing and promoting this through social media and other avenues.
My objective is to raise $500 in the short-term. If that goal is reached, the sample chapter will be completed (in rough form) and published online for all to read in April of 2015.
Thank you very much for all the support and encouragement.
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Globalization’s ‘Game of Thrones’, Part 1: Dynastic Power in the Modern World
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
7 May 2014
Think of any period in human history when empires and imperialism were common features of society, whether from ancient Egypt, Rome, China, to the Ottomans and the rise of the European and Japanese empires. There is an institution that – with few exceptions – was prevalent across most imperial societies: the family dynasty.
In a world dominated by institutions – organized hierarchically and embedded with their own functions and ideologies – the ‘family unit’ is very often the first and most important institution in the development of individuals. For the rich and powerful, the family unit has been the principal institution through which power is accumulated, preserved and propagated, precisely because the interest is multi-generational, requiring long-term planning and strategy.
In powerful states and empires, families have been essential in the process of constructing and governing the major institutions within those societies, as well as in the direct control of the imperial or state structure itself. Whether emperors, kings, queens or sultans, family dynasties have very often exerted direct political control of society. This has been the case for much of human history, at least so long as empires and states have been consistent features. And yet, in the modern era, we imagine our societies to be free of dynastic rule – an archaic feature of a world long past, not consistent with the ideals and functions of democracy, capitalism or modernity. We might imagine this to be true, but we would, in fact, be wrong.
Dynastic power not only remains, but it evolves and adapts, and in the present world of ‘globalization’ – with the growth of the modern nation-states, with the development of state capitalist societies, the banking and financial systems, the monetary-central banking system, industrialization and the multinational corporation – in a world largely dominated by a single state, the United States, acting as the international imperial arbiter on behalf of powerful corporate and financial interests, dynastic power remains a central institution in the global system.
There are, however, notable differences from past era of imperial and royal families. Today, most – but certainly not all – dynasties do not hold formal or direct political authority. The world’s most economically and politically powerful countries are no longer governed by kings and queens or emperors. Instead, modern dynastic power is largely a development that emerged with the decline in the authority of monarchs, and with the rise in parliamentary democracy and capitalism.
As the political and economic spheres began to be opened up, new structures emerged to quickly centralize power within those spheres. As kings and queens handed over the ultimate authority to issue coin to other institutions, merchants and financiers stepped in to increase their influence over the new institutions of a changing world order. Out of these monumental social transformations came new dynasties, embedded within the financial, industrial and corporate oligarchies. Their power was not in direct control of the political apparatus, but in their concentration of control over the financial, economic and industrial spheres. With that power, inevitably, came both the desire and the ability to influence and pressure the political sphere.
Today, it is the industrial, financial and corporate dynasties that have risen to unparalleled positions of authority in the age of globalization. And yet, while some of their names ring familiar to the ears of many, they are frequently thought of as relics of past centuries rather than titans of today, or their names are altogether unfamiliar, as is their positions and influence within our societies. We see power – typically – in terms of those who hold political office: prime ministers and presidents who we elect, as is consistent with our belief that we live in democracies. We see competing factions of political parties vying for office, with us – the people – as the ultimate arbiters of who gets to hold power. The influence of globalization’s dynasties remains unseen, or, misunderstood.
When one hears the concept of relatively few families exerting unparalleled influence over the modern world, the immediate reaction or insinuation is that of a ‘conspiracy theory’. Images of smoke-filled back rooms and mentions of ‘thirteen families’ sitting around a table deciding world events permeate the perceptions of those who question or are confronted with the question of the role of powerful families in the modern world. And yet, the concept of dynastic rule – of families competing, cooperating, and indeed, conspiring with and against each other for control and domination – are prevalent and popular within our culture.
A perfect example of this is with the immense popularity of both the books and the television show, ‘Game of Thrones.’ Set in a mythical world, yet largely based upon the historical rivalries of the ‘War of the Roses’, we witness the characters evolve and events unfold as several families and dynasties battle each other, conspire, compete and cooperate for control of the known world. They are frequently ruthless, cunning and deceitful, often surrounded by ‘yes men’ or the poison-tongued advisers who rose to their positions not by virtue of birth and name, but by their individual capacities for manipulation and cunning. It is a world in perpetual war, engrossing poverty, with the privileged few sending the poor to fight their battles for them, to die and suffer while the rich few propagate and prosper. With no lack of conspiracies, the greatest threat to individual members of dynasties typically comes from their own or comparatively powerful families. Issues of patriarchy, incest, blood-lust, and secession – to the head of the family or the head of the throne – are consistent throughout.
Indeed, the world of ‘Game of Thrones’ – so popular in our culture – is not so far from the reality of our culture, itself. In the world of globalization, families cooperate, compete, and perhaps even conspire against and with each other or themselves. They keep the politics of dynastic power from being understood or contemplated by the masses. We are distracted with sports, entertainment, ‘royal weddings’, a fear of foreigners and terrorism, and are blinded and manipulated by a deeply embedded propaganda system. Our celebrity culture celebrates banality and irrelevance: we tune in to the latest Kim Kar-crash-ian disaster of a human being that plasters the tabloids, while we tune out to the rivalries and repercussions of ‘Globalization’s Game of Thrones’.
While modern dynasties share many characteristics of past ruling families, they have their major distinctions, largely derived from the fact that most of them do not hold formal political or absolute authority. Past dynasties typically held absolute authority over their local regions, states or kingdoms. That type of authority does not exist at the major state, regional or global levels today, with few exceptions, such as the ruling monarchs of the Gulf Arab dictatorships. Yet, while the mechanism of authority is less centralized or formalized in the modern world, the scope and reach of authority – or influence – has expanded exponentially. In short, while in past eras, a single family may have exerted absolute authority over a comparably small region or empire, today, the indirect influence of a dynastic family may reach across the globe, though it remains far from absolute.
Thus, we should not mistake modern dynasties as replications of previous ruling families. They are adaptations to the modern era. With the emergence and prevalence of globalization, multinational corporations, banks, financial markets, philanthropic foundations, think tanks, media conglomerates, educational institutions, public relations and the advertising industries, financial and industrial oligarchs and dynasties have come to be integrated with the nation-state structure. Families that have established modern dynasties typically rose to prominence through their concentration of power and wealth in financial, industrial and corporate spheres. From these positions, political power and influence became a necessity, or else the loss of economic power would be an inevitability.
Such dynasties would frequently establish a ‘family office’ – a private corporate entity – which would handle all of the investments, interests and finances of a dynasty; they would create new universities which would focus on producing knowledge and intellectuals capable of managing changes within and protecting the social order, instead of intellectual talents or pursuits being channeled into areas that challenge the prevailing order. Dynastic families establish ‘philanthropic foundations’ to serve a dual purpose of justifying their wealth and influence (by being perceived as ‘giving back’), but which, in actuality, provide concentrations of wealth managed for the purpose of ‘strategic giving’: to undertake social engineering projects with an ultimate objective of maintaining social control. While appearing to be ‘charitable’ institutions, the major foundations are predominantly interested in the process of long-term social engineering. Notably among such foundations are the Rockefeller Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, Ford Foundation, Open Society Institute, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among many others.
Not unrelated – as they are frequently established and funded by foundations – think tanks are created with the intent to bring elite interests together from a wide array of institutions: financial, industrial, corporate, academic/intellectual, media, cultural, foreign policy and political spheres. In think tanks, top officials from these sectors are gathered in a single institution where they work together to plan strategies for economic and foreign policies, for establishing consensus between elites, and to serve as training and recruitment grounds for officials to enter the political and foreign policy establishment, where they are capable of enacting the very policies developed within the think tanks. Notable think tanks with immense influence – specifically in the United States – include the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution, the Carnegie Endowment, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Larger, international think tanks have been increasingly common during the era of globalization, uniting respective elites from across the powerful western industrial states, instead of simply the elites within each respective state. Notable among these institutions are the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group and the World Economic Forum.
The prevalence of financial, industrial and corporate dynasties within these institutions has ensured that such families have significant political influence, and have – moreover – played pivotal roles in the construction and evolution of our modern state-capitalist society. Not coincidentally, with the preservation and propagation of modern dynastic power has come the preservation and propagation of modern imperialism, no longer established as a formal colonial system of control. Instead, it is represented as a complex inter-dependency and interaction of institutions and ideologies that manifest as a system of globalized ‘informal imperialism’, with the United States at the center.
Some of the names of these dynasties are better known than others, like Rothschild and Rockefeller, while others are better known within their own countries or barely known at all, like Agnelli (in Italy), Wallenberg (in Sweden) and Desmarais (in Canada). Each family dynasty has their own unique history, with power concentrated in particular companies or family offices. Many, if not most, of these families also have significant connections with each other, acting as joint shareholders in various companies, sitting on the same boards and mingling in the same social circles. They cooperate and they compete with each other for influence in Globalization’s ‘Game of Thrones’.
This series aims to bring to light some of the stories, players and structures of the world’s dominant dynasties. The research included in this series has been undertaken through The People’s Book Project, a crowd-funded initiative to produce a series of books examining the ideas, institutions and individuals of power, as well as the methods and movements of resistance in the modern world.
For this research to continue, the People’s Book Project needs your support. Please consider donating today, and keep an eye out for future installments of the series, ‘Globalization’s Game of Thrones’.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 27-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
An Anarchistic Understanding of the Social Order: Environmental Degradation, Indigenous Resistance, and a Place for the Sciences
An Anarchistic Understanding of the Social Order: Environmental Degradation, Indigenous Resistance, and a Place for the Sciences
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
FOR ROUGHLY FIVE HUNDRED YEARS, INDIGENOUS peoples have been struggling against the dominant institutions of society, against imperialism, colonialism, exploitation, impoverishment, segregation, racism, and genocide. The struggle continues today under the present world social order and against the dominant institutions of ‘neoliberalism’ and globalization: the state, corporations, financial institutions and international organizations. Indigenous communities continue to struggle to preserve their cultural identities, languages, histories, and the continuing theft and exploitation of their land. Indigenous resistance against environmental degradation and resource extraction represents the most direct source of resistance against a global environmental crisis which threatens to lead the species to extinction. It is here that many in the scientific community have also taken up the cause of resistance against the destruction of the global environment. While Indigenous and scientific activism share similar objectives in relation to environmental issues, there is a serious lack of convergence between the two groups in terms of sharing knowledge, organization, and activism.
Indigenous groups are often on the front lines of the global environmental crisis – at the point of interaction (or extraction) – they resist against the immediate process of resource extraction and the environmental devastation it causes to their communities and society as a whole. The continued repression, exploitation and discrimination against Indigenous peoples have made the struggle – and the potential consequences of failure – significantly more problematic. This struggle has been ongoing for centuries, and as the species heads toward extinction – as it is along our current trajectory – Indigenous peoples will be on the front lines of that process. Many in the scientific community have been struggling for decades to address major environmental issues. Here, the focus is largely on the issue of climate change, and the approach has largely been to work through institutions in order to create enough pressure to reform. Yet, after decades of organizing through academic and environmental organizations, lobbying governments, corporations and international organizations, progress has been slow and often ineffectual, with major international conferences being hyped up but with little concrete results. Indigenous peoples continue to struggle against the dominant institutions while many in the scientific community continue to struggle within the dominant institutions, though their objectives remain similar.
A major problem and disparity becomes clear: Indigenous peoples – among the most repressed and exploited in the world – are left to struggle directly against the most powerful institutions in the world (states and transnational corporations), while many in the sciences – an area of knowledge which has and continues to hold enormous potential to advance the species – attempt to convince those powerful institutions to profit less at exactly the point in history when they have never profited more. Indigenous communities remain largely impoverished, and the scientific community remains largely dependent for funding upon the very institutions which are destroying the environment: states, corporations and international organizations. Major barriers to scientific inquiry and research can thus be established if the institutions feel threatened, if they choose to steer the sciences into areas exclusively designed to produce ‘profitable’ forms of knowledge and technology. As humanity enters a critical stage – perhaps the most critical we have ever faced as a species – it is important to begin to acknowledge, question, and change the institutional contradictions and constraints of our society.
It seems only logical that a convergence between Indigenous and scientific activism, organization, and the sharing of knowledge should be encouraged and facilitated. Indeed, the future of the species may depend upon it. This paper aims to encourage such a convergence by applying an anarchistic analysis of the social order as it relates to environmental degradation, specifically at the point of interaction with the environment (the source of extraction). In classifying this as an anarchistic analysis, I simply mean that it employs a highly critical perspective of hierarchically organized institutions. This paper does not intend to discuss in any detail the issue of climate change, since that issue is largely a symptom of the problem, which at its source is how the human social order interacts directly with the environment: extraction, pollution, degradation, exploitation and destruction at the point of interaction.
This analysis will seek to critically assess the actions and functions of states, corporations, international organizations, financial institutions, trade agreements and markets in how they affect the environment, primarily at the point of interaction. It is also at this point where Indigenous peoples are taking up the struggle against environmental degradation and human extinction. Through an anarchistic analysis of Indigenous repression and resistance at the point of interaction between the modern social order and the environment (focusing primarily on examples from Canada), this paper hopes to provide encouragement to those in the scientific community seeking to address environmental issues to increase their efforts in working with and for the direct benefit of Indigenous peoples. There exists a historical injustice which can and must be rectified: the most oppressed and exploited peoples over the past five hundred years of a Western-dominated world are on the front lines of struggling for the survival of the species as a whole. Modern science – which has done so much to advance Western ‘civilization’ – can and should make Indigenous issues a priority, not only for their sake, but for the species as a whole. Indeed, it is a matter of survival for the sciences themselves, for they will perish with the species. An anarchistic analysis of the social order hopes to encourage a convergence between Indigenous and scientific knowledge and activism as it relates to resolving the global environmental crisis we now face.
GLOBAL CORPORATE POWER
Corporations are among the most powerful institutions in the world. Of the top 150 economies in 2010, 58% were corporations, with companies like Wal-Mart, Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, and BP topping the charts. According to Fortune’s Global 500 list published in 2012, the top ten corporations in the world were: Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, Wal-Mart, BP, Sinopec Group, China National Petroleum, State Grid, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Toyota Motor. The Global 500 corporations posted record revenues for 2011 at USD 29.5 trillion, up 13.2% from the previous year. Eight of the top ten conglomerates were in the energy sector, with the oil industry alone generating USD 5 trillion in sales, approximately 17% of the total sales of the Global 500. The second largest sector represented in the Global 500 was commercial banks, followed by the auto industry.
A scientific study conducted by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich analyzed the ‘network of control’ wielded through 43,000 transnational corporations (TNCs), identifying “a relatively small group of companies, mainly banks, with disproportionate power over the global economy.” The researchers identified a ‘core’ of 1,318 companies which owned roughly 80% of the global revenues for the entire network of 43,000 TNCs. Above the core, the researchers identified a ‘super-entity’ of 147 tightly-knit corporations – primarily banks and financial institutions – collectively owning each other’s shares and 40% of the wealth in the total network. One researcher commented, “In effect, less than 1 per cent of the companies were able to control 40 percent of the entire network.”
Writing in the Financial Times, a former US Treasury Department official, Robert Altman, referred to financial markets as “a global supra-government,” explaining:
They oust entrenched regimes where normal political processes could not do so. They force austerity, banking bail-outs and other major policy changes. Their influence dwarfs multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. Indeed, leaving aside unusable nuclear weapons, they have become the most powerful force on earth.
The “global supra-government” of financial markets push countries around the world into imposing austerity measures and structural reforms, which have the result of benefiting the “super-entity” of global corporate power. The power and wealth of these institutions have rapidly accelerated in the past three decades of neoliberal ‘reforms’ promoting austerity, liberalization, deregulation, privatization and financialization. Neoliberal ideology was politically championed by Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain, but was largely imposed upon the so-called ‘Third World’ (Latin America, Asia, and Africa) through major international organizations like the World Bank and the IMF. The results of this massive transfer of wealth and power to an increasingly connected and small fraction of the world’s population have been devastating for humanity and the world as a whole. This process guided by neoliberal dogma has been most often referred to as ‘globalization.’
As the 1980s debt crisis gripped the ‘Third World,’ the IMF and World Bank came to the ‘rescue’ with newly designed loan agreements called ‘Structural Adjustment Programs’ (SAPs). In return for a loan from these institutions, countries would have to adhere to a set of rigid conditions and reforms, including austerity measures (cutting public spending), the liberalization of trade, privatization, deregulation, and currency devaluation. The United States controls the majority shares of both the World Bank and IMF, while the US Treasury Department and Federal Reserve work very closely with the IMF and its staff. If countries did not adhere to IMF and World Bank ‘conditions,’ they would be cut off from international markets, since this process was facilitated by “unprecedented co-operation between banks from various countries under the aegis of the IMF.” The conditions essentially opened up the borrowing countries to economic imperialism by the IMF, World Bank, and transnational corporations and financial institutions, which were able to gain access and control over the resources and labour markets of poor countries. Thus, the 1980s has been known as the “lost decade of development,” as many ‘Third World’ countries became poorer between 1980 and 1990. Joseph Stiglitz, a former chief economist at the World Bank, wrote that, “such conditions were seen as the intrusion by the new colonial power on the country’s own sovereignty.”
The structural adjustment programs imposed upon the Third World devastated the poor and middle classes of the borrowing countries, often resulting in mass protests against austerity. In fact, between 1976 and 1992, there were 146 protests against IMF- sponsored austerity measures in 39 different countries, including demonstrations, strikes and riots. The governments, in response, would often violently repress protests. The government elites were often more integrated with and allied to the powerful institutions of the global economy, and would often act as domestic enforcers for the demands of international banks and corporations. For many countries imposing structural adjustment programs around the world, authoritarian governments were common. The IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programs also led to the massive growth of slums around the world, to the point where there are now over a billion people living in urban slums (approximately one out of every seven people on earth).
Further, the nations of the Third World became increasingly indebted to the powerful financial institutions and states of the industrial world with the more loans they took. The wealthy elites within the Third World plunder the domestic wealth of their countries in cooperation with global elites, and send their money into Western banking institutions (as ‘capital flight’) as their domestic populations suffer in poverty. The IMF and World Bank programs helped facilitate capital flight through the deregulation and ‘liberalization’ of markets, as well as through the opening up of the economies to unhindered exploitation. Some researchers recently compared the amount of money in the form of aid and loans going into Africa compared to that coming leaving Africa in the form of capital flight, and found that “sub-Saharan Africa is a net creditor to the rest of the world by a substantial margin.” The external debt owed by 33 sub-Saharan African countries to the rest of the world in 2008 stood at USD 177 billion. Between 1970 and 2008, capital flight from those same 33 African countries amounted to USD 944 billion. Thus, “the rest of the world owes more to these African countries than they owe to the rest of the world.”
The neoliberal ideology of ‘profit before people’ – enforced by the dominant states, corporations, banks and international organizations – has led to a world of extreme inequality, previously established by centuries of empire and colonialism, and rapidly accelerated in the past three decades. As of 2004, one in every three human deaths was due to poverty-related causes. In the twenty years following the end of the Cold War, there were approximately 360 million preventable deaths caused by poverty-related issues. Billions of people go hungry, lack access to safe drinking water, adequate shelter, medicine, and electricity. Nearly half of humanity – approximately 3.1 billion people as of 2010 – live below the USD 2.50/day poverty line. It would take roughly USD 500 billion – approximately 1.13% of world income (or two-thirds of the US military budget) – to lift these 3.1 billion people out of extreme poverty. The top 1% own 40% of the world’s wealth, while the bottom 60% hold less than 2% of the world’s wealth. As Thomas Pogge wrote, “we are now at the point where the world is easily rich enough in aggregate to abolish all poverty,” but we are “choosing to prioritize other ends instead.” Roughly 18 million people die from poverty-related causes every year, half of whom are children under the age of five. Pogge places significant blame for these circumstances upon the “global institutional arrangements that foreseeably and avoidably increase the socioeconomic inequalities that cause poverty to persist […] [policies which] are designed by the more powerful governments for the benefit of their most powerful industries, corporations, and citizens.”
In 2013, Oxfam reported that the fortunes made by the richest 100 people in the world over the course of 2012 (USD 240 billion) would have been enough to lift the world’s poorest people out of poverty four times over. An Oxfam executive, Barbara Stocking, noted that this type of extreme wealth – which saw the world’s richest 1% increase their income by 60% in the previous twenty years – is “economically inefficient, politically corrosive, socially divisive and environmentally destructive […] We can no longer pretend that the creation of wealth for few will inevitably benefit the many – too often the reverse is true.” A study by the Tax Justice Network in 2012 found that the world’s superrich had hidden between USD 21 and 32 trillion in offshore tax havens, meaning that inequality was “much, much worse than official statistic show,” and that “for three decades extraordinary wealth has been cascading into the offshore accounts of a tiny number of superrich,” with the top 92,000 of the world’s superrich holding at least USD 10 trillion in offshore accounts.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF INEQUALITY
The human social order – dominated by states, corporations, banks and international organizations – has facilitated and maintained enormous inequality and poverty around the world, allowing so few to control so much, while the many are left with little. This global social and economic crisis is exacerbated by the global environmental crisis, in which the same institutions that dominate the global social order are simultaneously devastating the global environment to the point where the future of the species hangs in the balance.
Just as the dominant institutions put ‘profit before people,’ so too do they put profit before the environment, predicating human social interaction with the environment on the ideology of ‘markets’: that what is good for corporations will ultimately be good for the environment. Thus, the pursuit of ‘economic growth’ can continue unhindered – and in fact, should be accelerated – even though it results in massive environmental degradation through the processes of resource extraction, transportation, production and consumption.
Trading arrangements between the powerful rich nations and the ‘periphery’ poor nations allow for the dominant institutions to exploit their economic and political influence over weaker states, taking much more than they give. These trading relationships effectively allow the rich countries to offshore (or export) their environmental degradation to poor countries, treating them as exploitable resource extraction sources. As the resources of poor nations are extracted and exported to the rich nations, the countries are kept in poverty (with the exception of their elites who collude with the powerful countries and corporations), and the environmental costs associated with the high consumption societies of the industrial world are ultimately off-shored to the poor countries, at the point of interaction. Thus, international trade separates the societies of consumption from the effects of extraction and production, while the poor nations are dependent upon exports and exploiting their cheap labour forces. This process has been termed ecological unequal exchange.
Between the mid-1970s and mid-1990s, the majority of the world’s non-renewable resources were transferred from poor to rich nations, accelerating in volume over time (due to technological advancements), while decreasing in costs (to the powerful nations). Thus, between 1980 and 2002, the costs of resource extraction declined by 25% while the volume of resource extraction increased by more than 30%. Environmentally destructive processes of resource extraction in mining and energy sectors have rapidly accelerated over the past few decades, resulting in increased contamination of soils, watersheds and the atmosphere. Negative health effects for local populations accelerate, primarily affecting Indigenous, poor and/or migrant populations, who are subjected to excessive pollutants and industrial waste at nearly every part of the process of extraction, production and transportation of resources and goods.
In an examination of 65 countries between 1960 and 2003, researchers found that the rich countries “externalized” the environmentally destructive consequences of resource over-use to poor, periphery nations and populations, thus “assimilating” the environments of the less-developed nations into the economies of the powerful states, disempowering local populations from having a say in how their resources and environments are treated. Rich societies consume more than can be sustained from their own internal resource wealth, and thus, they must “appropriate” resource wealth from abroad by ‘withdrawing’ the resources in environmentally destructive (and thus, more economically ‘efficient’) ways. Apart from ecologically destructive ‘withdrawals,’ the rich nations also facilitate ecologically destructive ‘additions,’ in the form of pollution and waste which cause environmental and health hazards for the poor societies. This is facilitated through various trading arrangements (such as the development of Export Processing Zones), consisting of minimal to no environmental regulations, cheap labour and minimal restrictions on corporate activities.
While Japan and Western Europe were able to reduce the amount of pollutants and ‘environmental additions’ they made within their own societies between 1976 and 1994, they accelerated their ‘additions’ in waste and pollutants to the poor countries with which they traded, “suggesting a progressive off-shoring over the period onto those peripheral countries” not only of labour exploitation, but of environmental degradation. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) by transnational corporations has been linked to extensive environmental hazards within the countries in which they are ‘investing,’ including growth in water pollution, infant mortality, pesticide use, and the use of chemicals which are often banned in the rich nations due to high toxicity levels and dangers to health and the environment, and greater levels of carbon dioxide emissions. Indeed, between 1980 and 2000, the total anthropogenic CO2 emissions from the rich countries increased by 21%, while over the same period of time in the poor countries it more than doubled. While forested areas in the rich nations increased by less than 1% between 1990 and 2005, they declined by 6% over the same period of time in poor countries, contributing to soil erosion, desertification, climate change and the destruction of local and regional ecosystems.
According to an analysis of 268 case studies of tropical forest change between 1970 and 2000, researchers found that deforestation had shifted from being directed by states to being directed and implemented by corporations and ‘economic’ interests across much of Latin America, Africa, and Asia. This was largely facilitated by the IMF and World Bank agreements which forced countries to reduce their public spending, and allowed for private economic interests to obtain unprecedented access to resources and markets. The rate of deforestation continued, it simply shifted from being state-led to “enterprise driven.”
Using a sample of some sixty nations, researchers found that IMF and World Bank Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) were associated with higher levels of deforestation than in countries which did not sign the SAP agreements, as they allowed rich nations and corporations to “externalize their forest loss” to poor nations. Further, “economic growth” as defined by the World Bank and IMF was related to increased levels of deforestation, leading the researchers to acknowledge that, “economic growth adversely impacts the natural environment.” World Bank development loans to countries (as separate from structural adjustment loans) have also been linked to increased rates of deforestation in poor nations, notably higher rates than those which exist in countries not receiving World Bank loans.
Military institutions and armed warfare also have significant environmental impacts, not simply by engaging in wars, but simply by the energy and resources required for the maintenance of large military structures. As one US military official stated in the early 1990s, “We are in the business of protecting the nation, not the environment.” While the United States is the largest consumer of energy among nations in the world, the Pentagon is “the world’s largest [institutional] consumer of energy.” The combination of US tanks, planes and ships consume roughly 340,000 barrels of oil per day (as of 2007). Most of the oil is consumed by the Air Force, as jet fuel accounted for roughly 71% of the entire military’s oil consumption.
Nations with large militaries also use their violent capabilities “to gain disproportionate access to natural resources.” Thus, while the US military may be the largest single purchaser and consumer of energy in the world, one of its primary functions is to secure access to and control over energy resources. In an interview with two McKinsey & Company consultants, the Pentagon’s first-ever assistant secretary of defense for operational energy and programs, Sharon E. Burke, stated bluntly that, “My role is to promote the energy security of our military operations,” including by increasing the “security of supply.”
In a study of natural resource extraction and armed violence, researchers found that, “armed violence is associated with the extraction of many critical and noncritical natural resources, suggesting quite strongly that the natural resource base upon which industrial societies stand is constructed in large part through the use and threatened use of armed violence.” Further, when such armed violence is used in relation to gaining access to and control over natural resources, “it is often employed in response to popular protest or rebellion against these activities.” Most of this violence is carried out by the governments of poor nations, or by mercenaries or rebels, which allows for distancing between the rich nations and corporations which profit from the plundering of resources from the violent means of gaining access to them. After all, the researcher noted, “other key drivers of natural resource exploitation, such as the IMF, World Bank, WTO, and global marketplace, cannot, on their own, guarantee core nation access to and control over vital natural resources.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the United States – and other powerful nations – and the major arms companies within them are the largest arms dealers in the world.
It is clear that for scientists – and anyone else – interested in addressing major environmental issues, the source of the problem lies in the very structure and function of our dominant modern institutions, at the point of interaction. In short: through states, armed violence, banks and corporations, international organizations, trade agreements and global ‘markets,’ the environment has become a primary target of exploitation and destruction. Resources fuel the wealth and power of the very institutions that dominate the world, and to maintain that power, they engage in incredibly destructive activities with negative consequences for the environment and the human species as a whole. The global environmental crisis is intimately related to the global social and economic crises of wealth inequality and poverty, labour exploitation, and ‘economic growth.’ To address the environmental crisis in a meaningful way, this reality must first be acknowledged. This is how an anarchistic understanding of the environmental crisis facing the world and humanity can contribute to advancing how we deal with these profound issues. For the sciences, the implications are grave: their sources of funding and direction for research are dependent upon the very institutions which are destroying the environment and leading humanity to inevitable extinction (if we do not change course). Advancing an anarchistic approach to understanding issues related to Indigenous repression and resistance to environmental degradation can help provide a framework through which those in the scientific community – and elsewhere – can find new avenues for achieving similar goals: the preservation of the environment and the species.
INDIGENOUS REPRESSION AND RESISTANCE
Indigenous peoples in the Americas have been struggling against colonialism, exploitation, segregation, repression and even genocide for over 500 years. While the age of formal colonial empires has passed, the struggle has not. Today, Indigenous peoples struggle against far more powerful states than ever before existed, transnational corporations and financial institutions, international organizations, so-called “free trade” agreements and the global ‘marketplace.’ In an increasingly interconnected and globalized world, the struggle for Indigenous peoples to maintain their identity and indeed, even their existence itself, has been increasingly globalizing, but has also been driven by localized actions and movements.
Focusing upon Indigenous peoples in Canada, I hope to briefly analyze how Indigenous groups are repressed, segregated and exploited by the dominant institutions of an incredibly wealthy, developed, resource-rich and ‘democratic’ nation with a comparably ‘good’ international reputation. Further, by examining Indigenous resistance within Canada to the destruction of the natural environment, I hope to encourage scientists and other activists and segments of society who are interested in environmental protection to reach out to Indigenous communities, to share knowledge, organizing, activism, and objectives.
A LEGACY OF COLONIALISM
Historically, the Canadian government pursued a policy of ‘assimilation’ of Indigenous peoples for over a century through ‘Indian residential schools,’ in what ultimately amounted to an effective policy of “cultural genocide.” In 1920, Canada’s Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs Duncan Campbell Scott bluntly explained: “I want to get rid of the Indian problem […] Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politics and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department.”
The segregation, repression and exploitation of Indigenous communities within Canada is not a mere historical reality, it continues to present day. Part of the institutional repression of Indigenous peoples is the prevalence of what could be described as ‘Third World’ conditions within a ‘First World’ nation. Indigenous communities within Canada lack access to safe drinking water at a much higher rate than the general population. Indigenous people and communities in Canada also face much higher levels of food insecurity, poverty, unemployment, poor housing and infant mortality than the rest of the population. Accounting for roughly 4% of the population of Canada (approximately 1.2 million people as of 2006), Indigenous peoples also face higher rates of substance abuse, addiction, and suicide.
Indigenous people – and especially women – make up a disproportionate percentage of the prison population. Further, as Amnesty International noted, “Indigenous women [in Canada] are five to seven times more likely than other women to die as a result of violence.” The Native Women’s Association of Canada has documented roughly 600 cases of missing or murdered indigenous women in Canada, more than half of which have occurred since 2000, while Human Rights Watch reported that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in northern British Columbia had “failed to properly investigate the disappearance and apparent murders of [indigenous] women and girls in their jurisdiction.”
RESOURCE EXTRACTION, ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION, AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
Industries seeking to develop land and extract resources are increasingly turning to Indigenous territories to develop and seek profits on the land and environment upon which such communities are so often dependent for survival. At the point of interaction with the environment, Indigenous peoples are left to struggle with the damaging environmental and health consequences caused by state and corporate interests extracting resources and wealth from the land and environment.
The Alberta tar sands (or oil sands) is a primary example of this process. Many environmental, indigenous and human rights organizations consider the tar sands development as perhaps “the most destructive industrial project on earth.” The United Nations Environmental Programme identified the project as “one of the world’s top 100 hotspots of environmental degradation.” The dense oil in the tar sands (diluted bitumen) has to be extracted through strip mining, and requires enormous amounts of resources and energy simply to extract the reserves. It has been documented that for every one barrel of oil processed, three barrels of water are used, resulting in the creation of small lakes (called ‘tailing ponds’), where “over 480 million gallons of contaminated toxic waste water are dumped daily.” These lakes collectively “cover more than 50 square kilometres (12,000 acres) and are so extensive that they can be seen from space.” The processing of the oil sands creates 37% more greenhouse gas emissions than the extraction and processing of conventional oil.
While the United States consumes more oil than anywhere else on earth, Canada is the main supplier of foreign oil to the United States, exporting roughly 1.5 million barrels per day to the US (in 2005), approximately 7% of the daily consumption of oil in the US. The crude bitumen contained in the tar sands has been estimated at 1.7 trillion barrels, lying underneath an area within Alberta which is larger than the entire state of Florida and contains over 140,000 square km of boreal forest. In 2003, the United States Department of Energy officially acknowledged the reserves of crude bitumen in the Alberta tar sands, and elevated Canada’s standing in world oil markets from the 21st most oil-rich nation on earth to the 2nd, with only Saudi Arabia surpassing.
Alberta’s tar sands have attracted the largest oil companies on earth, including Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, BP, and Total S.A. Local indigenous communities thus not only have to struggle against the devastating environmental, health and social consequences caused by the tar sands development, but they also have to struggle against the federal and provincial governments, and the largest corporations on earth. The Athabasca River (located near the tar sands development) has been depleted and polluted to significant degrees, transforming the region “from a pristine environment rich in cultural and biological diversity to a landscape resembling a war zone marked with 200-foot-deep pits and thousands of acres of destroyed boreal forests.” Indigenous peoples have been raising concerns over this project for years.
Disproportionate levels of cancers and other deadly diseases have been discovered among a local Indigenous band, the Fort Chipewyan in Athabasca. These high levels of cancers and diseases are largely the result of the enormous amounts of land, air, and water pollution caused by the tar sands mining. One Indigenous leader in Fort Chipewyan has referred to the tar sands development as a “slow industrial genocide.” As pipelines are planned to be expanded across Canada and the United States to carry tar sands oil, this will have devastating impacts for “indigenous communities not only in Canada, but across the continent.”
Between 2002 and 2010, the pipeline network through Alberta experienced a rate of oil spills roughly sixteen times higher than in the United States, likely the result of transporting diluted bitumen (DilBit), which has not been commonly transported through the pipelines until recent years. In spite of the greater risks associated with transporting DilBit, the US agency responsible for overseeing the country’s pipelines decided – in October of 2009 – to relax safety regulations regarding the strength of pipelines. In July of 2010, a ruptured Enbridge pipeline in Michigan spilled 800,000 gallons of DilBit, devastating the local communities in what the government referred to as the “worst oil spill in Midwestern history.” In July of 2011, an Exxon pipeline spilled 42,000 gallons of DilBit into the Yellowstone River in Montana.
IDLE NO MORE: THE RISE OF INDIGENOUS RESISTANCE
In 2009, the Canadian Ministry of Indian Affairs and Northern Development announced the Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development which sought to “improve the participation” of Indigenous people “in the Canadian economy,” primarily by seeking “to unlock the full economic potential of Aboriginal Canadians, their communities, and their businesses.” An updated report on the Framework in 2012 reaffirmed the intent “to modernize the lands and resource management regimes on reserve land in order to increase and unlock the value of Aboriginal assets.” As John Ibbitson wrote in the Globe and Mail, “businesses that want to unlock the potential of reserves, from real estate development to forestry and mining, need the legal certainty that a property regime makes possible.”
In late 2012, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party introduced an omnibus Budget Bill (C-45) which amended several aspects of the Indian Act (without proper consultations with Indigenous groups). Bill C-45 also moved forward to “unlock” barriers to resource extraction, environmental degradation, and corporate profits with an amendment to the Navigable Waters Act, which dramatically reduced the number of protected lakes and rivers in Canada from 40,000 to 97 lakes, and from 2.5 million to 63 rivers.
Following the introduction of Bill C-45 to the Canadian Parliament, a group of four Indigenous women in the province of Saskatchewan held a “teach-in” to help increase awareness about the Bill, quickly followed by a series of rallies, protests and flash mobs where Indigenous activists and supporters engaged in ‘round dances’ in shopping malls, organized through social media networks like Twitter and Facebook. This sparked what became known as the ‘Idle No More’ movement, and on December 10, 2012, a National Day of Action took place, holding multiple rallies across the country. The immediate objectives of the Idle No More movement were to have the government “repeal all legislation that violates treaties [with Indigenous peoples], including those that affect environmental regulations,” such as Bill C-45 and the previous omnibus Bill C-38. The longer-term objectives of the movement were to “educate and revitalize aboriginal peoples, empower them and regain sovereignty and independence.”
Pamela Palmater, a spokesperson for Idle No More and a Ryerson University professor noted that Indigenous people in Canada were opposing Bill C-45 “not just because it impacts their rights, but also because we know that it impacts the future generations of both treaty partners,” referring to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. “The question,” she added, “really should be whether Canadians will rise to protect their children’s futures alongside First Nations.”
Theresa Spence, an Indigenous chief from a northern Ontario community (Attawapiskat) went on a hunger strike for 44 days to support Idle No More and raise awareness about a serious housing crisis in her community. Spence only ended her hunger strike upon being hospitalized and placed on an IV drip. Her community of Attawapiskat had been experiencing a major housing crisis for a number of years, and in 2011, a state of emergency was declared in response to the fact that for over two years, many of the community’s 1,800 residents were “living in makeshift tents and shacks without heat, electricity or indoor plumbing.” James Anaya, a United Nations human rights expert expressed his “deep concern about the dire social and economic condition” of the Attawapiskat community to the Canadian government, which reflected a situation “akin to third world conditions.” The Conservative government of Stephen Harper (which came to power in 2006) blamed the crisis on the internal handling of funds within Attawapiskat, claiming that the government provided CAD 90 million in funding for the community since 2006. However, analysis of the funds revealed that only CAD 5.8 million in funding had gone toward housing over the course of five years. Meanwhile, estimates put the necessary funds to resolve the housing crisis alone at CAD 84 million. The former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs acknowledged that the government had known about the housing crisis for years, saying that it “has been a slow-moving train wreck for a long time.”
In 2005, the community of Attawapiskat had signed a contract with the international mining conglomerate De Beers to develop a diamond mine 90 km near their community. The mine officially opened in 2008, projecting a 12-year contribution to the Ontario economy of CAD 6.7 billion. In 2005, De Beers dumped its sewage sludge into the Attawapiskat community’s lift station, causing a sewage backup which flooded many homes and exacerbated an already-developing housing crisis, followed by another sewage backup potentially caused by De Beers in 2008. Afterward, the company donated trailers to the community to serve as “short-term emergency shelters,” yet they remained in place even four years later.
As the Idle No More movement took off in late 2012 and early 2013, members of the Attawapiskat community undertook road blockades leading to the De Beers mine. The company sought a legal injunction against the protesters, and the blockade was ended just as a large number of police were headed to the community to “remove the barricades.” After successfully blocking the mine from properly functioning for nearly twenty days, the company announced that it was considering taking legal action against the protesters.
The Idle No More mission statement called “on all people to join in a revolution which honors and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water […] Colonization continues through attacks to Indigenous rights and damage to the land and water. We must repair these violations, live the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship, work towards justice in action, and protect Mother Earth.” The movement’s manifesto further declared that, “the state of Canada has become one of the wealthiest countries in the world by using the land and resources. Canadian mining, logging, oil and fishing companies are the most powerful in the world due to land and resources. Some of the poorest First Nations communities (such as Attawapiskat) have mines or other developments on their land but do not get a share of the profit.” As Pamela Palmater noted, Idle No More was unique, “because it is purposefully distances from political and corporate influence. There is no elected leader, no paid Executive Director, and no bureaucracy or hierarchy which determines what any person or First Nation can and can’t do […] This movement is inclusive of all our peoples.”
The Athabasca Chipewyan Indigenous band which had been struggling for years against the tar sands development were further mobilized with the eruption of Idle No More onto the national scene, including by establishing a blockade on Highway 63 leading to the tar sands development. As Chipewyan chief Allan Adam noted, “The way I look at it, the First Nations people are going to cripple this country if things don’t turn out […] Industry is going to be the target.” He also added: “We know for a fact that industry was the one that lobbied government to make this regulatory reform.” Indeed, this was no hyperbole.
THE STATE IN SERVICE TO CORPORATIONS
Greenpeace obtained – through access to information laws – a letter sent to the Canadian government’s Environment minister and Natural Resources minister dated December of 2011, written by a group called the Energy Framework Initiative (EFI), representing the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, the Canadian Fuels Association, and the Canadian Gas Association. The letter sought “to address regulatory reform for major energy industries in Canada” in order to advance “both economic growth and environmental performance.” It specifically referenced six laws that it wanted amended, including the National Energy Board Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, Migratory Birds Convention Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Referring to many of these laws as “outdated,” the letter criticized environmental legislation as “almost entirely focused on preventing bad things from happening rather than enabling responsible outcomes.”
Less than a month after receiving the letter, the Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver lashed out at activists opposing the construction of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline shipping oil from Alberta’s tar sands to the B.C. coast for shipment to Asia, stating, “Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade… Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.” Oliver went on, saying that such “radical groups” were threatening “to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda,” and accused them of using funding from “foreign special interest groups.”
Documents from the energy industry revealed that big corporations advised the Harper government not to amend the many environmentally related acts separately, but to employ “a more strategic omnibus legislative approach,” which resulted in the two omnibus bills over 2012, Bills C-38 and C-45, which included “hundreds of pages of changes to environmental protection laws […] weakening rules that protect water and species at risk, introducing new tools to authorize water pollution, as well as restricting public participation in environmental hearings and eliminating thousands of reviews to examine and mitigate environmental impacts of industrial projects.” The energy industry got virtually everything it asked for in the two omnibus bills, including – as their letter to the Harper government suggested – reforming “issues associated with Aboriginal consultation.”
Documents from Environment Canada showed how the minister informed a group of energy industry representatives that the development of pipelines were “top-of-mind” as the government pursued “the modernization of our regulatory system.” When the new legislation passed, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency announced that it has cancelled roughly 3,000 environmental assessments, including 250 reviews related to pipeline projects. Other documents showed that at the same time the minister was informing energy corporations that he was serving their interests, he was to inform Indigenous leaders that any “changes to the government’s environmental assessment or project approvals regime” were “speculative at this point” and that they would “respect our duties toward Aboriginal peoples.”
As the Harper government became the primary lobbyist for the Alberta tar sands, documents showed how the government compiled a list of “allies” and “adversaries” in its public relations campaign, referring to energy companies, Environment Canada and the National Energy Board as “allies,” and the media, environmental and Indigenous groups as “adversaries.” The Canadian government even ran an “outreach program” where diplomats would attempt to secure support among American journalists for the Keystone XL pipeline project – taking oil from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf Coast in the United States.
As the Canadian government revised its anti-terrorism strategy in early 2012, it listed “eco-extremists” alongside white supremacists as a threat to national security. A review of Canadian security documents from the national police force (RCMP) and the Canadian intelligence agency (CSIS) revealed that the government saw environmental activism such as blockades of roads or buildings as “forms of attack” and “national security threats.” Greenpeace was identified as “potentially violent,” as it had become “the new normal now for Canada’s security agencies to watch the activities of environmental organizations,” noted one analyst.
IDLE NO MORE AND OIL PIPELINES
The government of Canada acknowledged in early 2013 that it expected – over the following decade – that there would be “a huge boom in Canadian natural resource projects,” potentially worth CAD 600 billion, which is foreseen to be taking place “on or near” Indigenous lands. One Indigenous chief in Manitoba warned that the Idle No More movement “can stop Prime Minister Harper’s resource development plan and his billion-dollar plan to develop resources on our ancestral territory. We have the warriors that are standing up now, that are willing to go that far.”
In an official meeting between the Harper government and the Assembly of First Nations in January of 2013, Indigenous ‘leaders’ presented a list of demands which included ensuring there was a school in every indigenous community, a public inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women, as well as several other very ‘moderate’ reforms. For the government, the objectives were much more specific, as internal documents revealed, written in preparation for Harper’s meeting with Indigenous leaders. As one briefing memo stated, the government was working towards “removing obstacles to major economic development opportunities.”
For the Idle No More movement, which does not consider itself to be ‘represented’ by the Assembly of First Nations leaders, the objective is largely “to put more obstacles up,” as Martin Lukacs wrote in the Guardian. Indigenous peoples, he noted, “are the best and last defense against this fossil fuel scramble,” specifically in mobilizing opposition to “the three-fold expansion of one of the world’s most carbon-intensive projects, the Alberta tar sands.”
In March of 2013, an alliance of Indigenous leaders from across Canada and the United States announced that they were “preparing to fight proposed new pipelines in the courts and through unspecified direct action,” specifically referring to the Northern Gateway, Keystone XL and Kinder Morgan pipeline projects. One Indigenous leader at the formation of the alliance warned, “We’re going to stop these pipelines one way or another.” Another Indigenous leader commented: “We, as a nation, have to wake up […] We have to wake up to the crazy decision that this government’s making to change the world in a negative way.”
The territories of the ten allied Indigenous groups “are either in the crude-rich tar sands or on the proposed pipeline routes.” One Indigenous leader from northern British Columbia referred to the Canadian government, stating, “They’ve been stealing from us for the last 200 years […] now they’re going to destroy our land? We’re not going to let that happen […] If we have to go to court, if we have to stand in front of any of their machines that are going to take the oil through, we are going to do that. We’re up against a wall here. We have nowhere else to go.”
Roughly one week after the Indigenous alliance was formed, an ExxonMobil pipeline carrying Alberta tar sands oil through the United States ruptured in the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, spilling thousands of barrels of oil into residential neighbourhoods and the surrounding environment. Exxon quickly moved in with roughly 600 workers to manage the cleanup and sign checks “to try to win over the townsfolk and seek to limit the fallout.” The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) put in place a “no fly zone” over Mayflower, Arkansas, within days following the oil spill. The ‘no fly zone’ was being overseen by ExxonMobil itself, thus, as Steven Horn commented, “any media or independent observers who want to witness the tar sands spill disaster have to ask Exxon’s permission.”
Between March 11 and April 9 of 2013 (in a span of roughly thirty days), there were 13 reported oil spills on three separate continents, with more than a million gallons of oil and other toxic chemicals spilled in North and South America alone. The oil spills included an Enbridge pipeline leak in the Northwest Territories in Canada (March 19), a tar sands ‘tailing pond’ belonging to Suncor leaking into the Athabasca River in Alberta (March 25), a Canadian Pacific Railway train derailment spilling tar sands oil in Minnesota (March 27), the Exxon spill in Mayflower (March 29), oil-based hydraulic fluid spilling into the Grand River from a power plant in Michigan (March 31), a CN Rail train derailment in Ontario (April 3), a drilling leak in Newfoundland (April 3), the Shell pipeline leak in Texas (April 3), a condensate spill at an Exxon refinery in Louisiana (April 4), and a pump station ‘error’ in Alaska (April 9). Another spill took place in June on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline in British Columbia, one of the pipeline extensions being opposed by Indigenous groups.
Meanwhile, Stephen Harper was in New York in May, speaking to the highly influential US think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, where he explained that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline “absolutely needs to go ahead,” adding that it was “an enormous benefit to the US in terms of long-term energy security.” TransCanada, the company aiming to build the Keystone XL pipeline, along with the government of Alberta, hired a team of lobbyists with connections to the Obama administration and Secretary of State John Kerry in particular to pressure the US government to approve the pipeline. In late April, the president of the American Petroleum Institute confidently declared, “When it’s all said and done, the president will approve the pipeline.” In late May, the CEO of TransCanada said, “I remain extremely confident that we’ll get the green light to build this pipeline.”
Leaders from 11 different Indigenous bands in the United States “stormed out” of a meeting in May being held with federal government officials in South Dakota in protest against the Keystone XL pipeline. The leaders criticized both the project and the Obama administration, with one leader commenting, “We find ourselves victims of another form of genocide, and it’s environmental genocide, and it’s caused by extractive industries.” Another Indigenous leader who walked out of the meeting warned, “What the State Department, what President Obama needs to hear from us, is that we are going to be taking direct action.” TransCanada has even been supplying US police agencies with information about environmental activists and recommendations to pursue charges of “terrorism” against them, noting that the company feared such “potential security concerns” as protests, blockades, court challenges, and even “public meetings.”
While Indigenous communities in Canada and elsewhere are among the most repressed and exploited within our society, they are also on the front lines of resistance against environmentally destructive practices undertaken by the most powerful institutions in the world. As such, Indigenous groups are not only standing up for environmental issues, but for the future of the species as a whole. With the rapidly accelerating ‘development’ of the tar sands, and the increasing environmental danger of huge new pipelines projects, resistance to how our modern society treats the environment is reaching new heights. Indigenous organizing – much of which is done along anarchistic ideas (such as with the Idle No More movement) – is presenting an unprecedented challenge to institutional power structures. Thus, there is an increased need for environmentalists, scientists, and others who are interested in joining forces with Indigenous groups in the struggle against environmental degradation and the potential extinction of the species. In Canada, there is an even greater impetus for scientists to join forces with Indigenous communities, for there is a state-sponsored assault upon environmental sciences that threaten to devastate the scientific community in the very near term.
THE CANADIAN GOVERNMENT’S ATTACK ON ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE
Since Stephen Harper’s Conservative government came to power in 2006, there has been a steady attack upon the sciences, particularly those related to environmental issues, as the government cut funding for major programs and implemented layoffs. One major facet of this attack has been the ‘muzzling’ of Canadian scientists at international conferences, discussions with the media, and the publication of research. At one conference hosted in Canada, scientists working for Environment Canada were forced to direct all media inquiries through the public relations department in an effort “to intimidate government scientists.” Under new government guidelines, scientists working for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) cannot publish material until it is reviewed by the department “for any concerns/impacts to DFO policy.” The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) expressed in a letter to Stephen Harper their “deep dismay and anger at your government’s attack on the independence, integrity and academic freedom of scientific researchers.” Hundreds of Canadian scientists marched on Parliament Hill in July of 2012 in what they called a “funeral procession” against the government’s “systematic attack on science.”
One of the world’s leading science journals, Nature, published an editorial in March of 2012 calling on the Canadian government to stop muzzling and “set its scientists free.” Journalists requesting interviews with Canadian government scientists on issues related to the Arctic or climate change have had to go through public relations officials, provide questions in advance, adhere to “boundaries for what subjects the interview could touch upon,” and have a PR staffer “listen in on the interviews.”
Dozens of government agencies and programs related to environmental sciences have had their budgets slashed, scientists fired, or were discontinued altogether. The Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria lodged a formal complaint with Canada’s Federal Information Commissioner about the muzzling of scientists, outlining multiple examples “of taxpayer-funded science being suppressed or limited to prepackaged media lines across six different government departments and agencies.” Natural Resources Canada now requires “pre-approval” from the government before any scientists give interviews on topics such as “climate change” or the “oilsands.”
The attack upon the sciences is part of the Harper government’s 2007 strategy, Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage, which directed “a major shift away from scientific goals to economic and labour-market priorities,” aiming to focus on science and research which would be directly useful to industry and for commercial purposes. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) has been steered by the government “toward industry-related research and away from environmental science.” The government’s minister of state for science and technology noted that the focus for research was to be on “getting those ideas out to our factory floors, if you will, making the product or process or somehow putting that into the marketplace and creating jobs.” Further, the National Research Council (NRC) was “to focus more on practical, commercial science and less on fundamental science” which wouldn’t be as beneficial to corporate interests. The minister of state for science and technology, Gary Goodyear, announced it as “an exciting, new journey – a re-direction that will strengthen Canada’s research and innovation ecosystem for many years to come.” The president of the NRC noted that, “We have shifted the primary focus of our work at NRC from the traditional emphasis of basic research and discovery science in favour of a more targeted approach to research and development.”
As Stephen Harper said, “Science powers commerce,” but apparently to Harper, that is all it should do, even though many scientists and academics disagree. The implications should be obvious: just as society’s interaction with the environment is unsustainable, so too is the dependency of the sciences upon those institutions which are destroying the environment.
Regardless of one’s position in society – as a member of an Indigenous group, an activist group, or within the scientific community – all of human society is facing the threat of extinction, accelerated by our destruction of the environment sourced at the point of interaction (the location of extraction) between the dominant institutions of our world and the natural world itself. Roughly half the world’s population lives in extreme poverty, with billions living in hunger, with poor access to safe drinking water, medicine and shelter, monumental disparities in wealth and inequality, the production and maintenance of unprecedented weapons of death and destruction, we are witnessing an exponentially accelerating plundering of resources and destruction of the environment upon which all life on Earth depends. If there has ever been a time in human history to begin asking big questions about the nature of our society and the legitimacy of the institutions and ideologies which dominate it, this is it.
An anarchistic understanding of the institutions and ideologies which control the world order reveals a society blinded by apathy as it nears extinction. The institutions which dictate the political, economic and social direction of our world are the very same ones destroying the environment to such an extent that the fate of the species is put at extreme risk. To not only continue – but to accelerate – down this path is no longer an acceptable course of action for humanity. It is time that socially segregated populations begin reaching out and working together, to share knowledge, organizational capacity, and engage in mutual action for shared objectives. With that in mind, it would appear to be beneficial not only for those involved – but for humanity as a whole – if Indigenous peoples and segments of the scientific community pursued the objective of protecting the environment together. Acknowledging this is easy enough, the hard part is figuring out the means and methods of turning that acknowledgement into action.
This is again where anarchist principles can become useful, emphasizing the creative capacity of many to contribute new ideas and undertake new initiatives working together as free individuals in collective organizations to achieve shared objectives. This is not an easy task, but it is a necessary one. The very future of humanity may depend upon it.
For notes and sources, download the paper here.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com‘s Global Power Pro-ject, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
Meet the Next Country That Might Explode into Protests Against Corporate Plunder and Slave Labor Working Conditions
Meet the Next Country That Might Explode into Protests Against Corporate Plunder and Slave Labor Working Conditions
Will the wave of global unrest crash on Indonesia next?
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally published on AlterNet
Indonesia – a Southeast Asian archipelago that is home to the largest Muslim population on Earth – is a key global hot spot for corporate plundering, worker exploitation, land grabs and environmental devastation. Simultaneously, the country is becoming a tinderbox for militant labour unrest, peasant rebellion and indigenous resistance. After 500 years of domination by imperial powers, the population of Indonesia is organizing and resisting the ‘new order’ of global corporate colonization. Much like Brazil and Turkey, Indonesia has been praised by the imperial powers as a “model democracy” and the IMF hails its progress as an “emerging economy.” The illusions of Turkish and Brazilian state-capitalist ‘democracy’ have been revealed by massive urban uprisings. The conditions are present for Indonesia to become home to its own national uprising, the only question may be: what will be the spark?
Indonesia: A “Model Democracy” and “Emerging Economy”
Indonesia has been roundly praised by the major imperial powers as a “model democracy” – assuming they have any legitimacy to judge what that may be, with former World Bank president and Pentagon official in the Bush administration, Paul Wolfowitz, having written that Indonesia was “an example for other aspiring democracies,” having shown a “remarkable” achievement in “building democratic institutions.” Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the “great transformation” of Indonesia since the dictatorship of Suharto, stating: “If you want to know if Islam, democracy, modernity and women’s rights can coexist, go to Indonesia.”
President Obama even praised Indonesia’s “extraordinary democratic transformation” which demonstrated “that democracy and development reinforce one another.” British Prime Minister David Cameron proclaimed that Indonesia could “inspire” young Muslims around the world “to choose democracy as their future.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Germans “view Indonesia as a model of peaceful and tolerant development,” and even suggested that the way in which Indonesia tackled its debt was “an example of what can be achieved and what Europe has to achieve.” Perhaps, Greece and Spain – in time – could become what Merkel views as “model democracies” along the lines of Indonesia.
Indonesia is the largest economy in Southeast Asia and one of the top 20 economies in the world – listed among the major “emerging economies” – with one of the cheapest labour forces in Asia, which the New York Times explained was “a main reason [corporations] are attracted to Indonesia.” In 2013, Indonesia was listed as the world’s 12th largest exporter of textile products, with the minimum wage averaging $80-160 per month (as determined by local governments), compared with $75 in Cambodia and $37 in Bangladesh.
In a country of 240 million people, roughly 120 million live on less than $2 per day, though the government maintains that only 12% of the population – 30 million – live in poverty (which it defines as less than 86 cents U.S. per day), while 40% of children under the age of five suffer from moderate to severe ‘stunting’ due to malnutrition.
Despite the mass poverty and increasing growth of slums, a small section of Indonesian society has witnessed a remarkable growth in wealth, with the explosion of shopping malls, luxury cars and goods, and high-rise buildings. For Indonesia, “wealth and poverty are both on the rise.” The combined wealth of the country’s 40 richest individuals equaled that of its 60 million poorest citizens. Standard Chartered Bank noted that, “despite the rhetoric about middle classes contributing to growth in Indonesia, 82 percent of the population is living on less than four dollars a day.” Further, most of the economic ‘growth’ was experienced only by the consumer elite within the country.
A Pew Research Poll released in 2013 noted that only 37% of Indonesians felt their economy was “doing well,” with the number one concern needing to be addressed was that of rising prices, ranked above economic disparity, unemployment and sovereign debt. Roughly 75% of Indonesians felt that the economic system “generally favors the wealthy,” with 60% saying inequality had increased in recent years.
A Human Rights Watch researcher noted that with the “routine” trampling of rights for religious and ethnic minorities in Indonesia, along with brutal repression of peaceful protests, the imprisoning of political prisoners, along with torture and denial of medical care for prisoners, “the country is by no means a bastion of tolerance.” A former Indonesian economic minister recently noted that “the outlook for Indonesia becoming a well-functioning democracy is fast deteriorating,” with a tiny elite controlling the country while most people “have few prospects for improving their lives.” A former Indonesian foreign minister suggested that the country was fast in need of “a second wave of democratic reforms,” as when economic conditions worsen, “we will have a reaction on the street” since there existed within the country, a “dissatisfaction at a deeper level with the current state of democracy.” Even the Wall Street Journal noted that with the country’s continuous economic growth, “underneath lies a restlessness for real change that would affect the common person.”
But let’s not let facts get in the way of further praise; the IMF certainly doesn’t.
The Rising “Restlessness” from “Underneath”
The IMF has written in glowing terms of the success of Indonesia’s “structural reforms” which have led to “healthy” balance sheets for corporations and financial institutions. Growth forecasts remained above 6%, though more work could be done, noted the IMF: ending fuel subsidies, investing in infrastructure (meeting the demands of corporations), and to continue with “reforms” to labour laws, allowing for reduced wages, less benefits and protections for workers, and thus, attracting “foreign investment.”
In April of 2013, the IMF warned that “emerging Asia” needed to be careful about asset bubbles – like those that helped plunge the U.S. economy into crisis – and recommended the countries of the region “liberalize rigid labour and product markets,” thus allowing for cheaper labour in what is already a region for some of the cheapest labour on Earth.
Being the 12th largest exporter of textile products in the world, Indonesia is home to a significant sweatshop economy, marred by pervasive exploitation of labour. One Taiwanese-owned sweatshop employs nearly 10,000 people, mostly women, who work for 50 cents per hour making shoes for Nike, where the employees were verbally and physically abused. Indonesia is home to Nike’s third largest manufacturing base, following China and Vietnam, exploiting roughly 140,000 workers.
Indonesia’s ‘labour law’ – which was passed several years earlier – provided for slightly increased wages and severance pay in the event that a company decides to ‘downsize’ its workforce. Corporations have gotten around this law by hiring labour as ‘contract workers’ and firing them without benefits (what Indonesians call “outsourcing”). While corporations have been able to find legal loopholes – or simply ignore the law altogether – they have been facing increased pressure from labour unrest in recent years, and not merely in the textiles sector.
As the economy boomed in recent years, the labour force wanted a greater share of the benefits. Strikes had been increasing with demands for higher wages by mine workers, supermarket clerks, pilots and others who have “disrupted business operations – and could potentially deter foreign dollars.” The country had 53 strikes in the first seven months of 2010 alone, and they were continuing through subsequent years.
A strike took place at a plant owned by the French retail giant Carrefour in 2011 in protests against the company’s avoidance of adhering to Indonesia’s labour laws and in demand of higher wages. The strike was organized by one of the country’s largest trade unions – Kasbi – which represents 130,000 workers and has as its slogan, “Young, brave, militant.” Increasingly, labour organizers and workers have been connecting through social media, gaining access to more information than ever before and facilitating new ways to organize.
During the strike wave of 2011, Indonesia’s investment chief complained about the labour unrest in his country in an interview with the New York Timeswhere he expressed his fears that it would “reduce profit margins and competitiveness,” adding: “My concern is this will trigger a domino effect … it may trigger pressure for a rise in wages that not all companies can afford.” In May of 2013, Basri would go on to be appointed as the country’s finance minister.
In early 2012, Nike paid a $1 million out-of-court settlement for not having paid 4,500 workers at a factory for over 600,000 hours of overtime over the course of two years. The chairman of Indonesia’s trade union Serikat Pekerja National noted, “This has the potential to send shockwaves through the Indonesian labour movement… We have only just begun.”
In October of 2012, roughly 2.8 million factory workers across the country went on a one-day strike supported by several unions in 24 cities. In the capital of Jakarta, more than 700 companies were shut down for the day, while the government deployed 11,000 police officers and 4,000 military personnel to “secure” the rallies throughout the city. The mass protests were in opposition to companies hiring labour as “contract workers” and in demand of higher wages. Rallies were held across Jakarta and the country, where trade union leaders gave what the Financial Times referred to as “fiery speeches,” while the managing director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Indonesia complained that corporations viewed the existing labour laws as “counter-productive.”
The mass protests continued into November, at which point the government announced it was considering a minimum wage increase of up to 50%, though corporations were warning they would move their factories elsewhere. Following continued agitation over the course of the month, which saw demonstrators entering factories, urging workers to join them and shutting down production, the new governor of Jakarta approved a 44% increase in the province’s minimum wage. Tens of thousands of workers continued to protest, while business leaders complained that, “the minimum wage should be lower.” As the protests threatened the President’s major infrastructure development plans, one large corporate group warned: “The frequent protests are obstructive… They are getting to be too much and must be stopped.”
As the Asian Development Bank (ADB) warned earlier in 2012, while many governments in Asia had been experiencing rapid economic growth, rising inequality had become a major problem that could lead to social unrest and create “pressure to take on populist policies that are economically not very wise.” It advised Asian countries “to do something about it.”
In December, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (commonly known as SBY) declared an end to the “era of cheap labour,” noting that wages were set to increase in a few provinces, though added that the government could not tolerate “disturbances in the production process.” A government economic minister stated in a speech that, “We should also take sides with businesses. Companies unable to comply with the minimum wage increases should immediately file a report with the government to demand a wage freeze. We will definitely facilitate them.” The threat of unrest and resistance had prompted several Asian countries – including Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and China – to begin increasing their minimum wages by the end of the year.
As 2013 arrived and the wage increases were set to take effect, companies were finding their way around the new laws. Several Nike plants hired police and military officials to intimidate workers into signing away their rights to higher wages. Even before the New Year, roughly a thousand companies were seeking exemptions from the government in paying the higher wages. By mid-January, 941 companies had sought exemptions, by which time the government had granted 47. Thousands of workers took to the streets in protest, often met with police brutality or violence from “organized thugs.”
By early February, the government announced that of the total of 941 companies wanting exemptions, “we will grant about 80 percent of them.” Instead, 500 companies were given a “delay” in paying higher wages, with more expected. Labour groups were increasingly threatening action and agitation in response. Tens of thousands of workers continued to take to the streets in protest, demanding companies adhere to the law, that the government enforce it, and requesting a health insurance and pension system. Business groups were threatening to layoff up to a million workers and close 1,300 factories if they were forced to follow the law. One business group complained that companies were “facing tough times.”
On May 1 – the international labour day known as ‘May Day’ – tens of thousands of workers in Jakarta went on a one-day strike and march, bringing the city to a “standstill.” Roughly 50,000 people protested outside the Presidential Palace, not only demanding better wages and conditions, but also opposing the government’s new plan to raise fuel prices (by cutting subsidies). The Indonesia press reported that roughly 135,000 workers joined the May Day marches, as business groups complained such protests were a threat to “economic growth.”
Like any good state-capitalist ‘democracy,’ Indonesia went on to ignore the will of the people and bow to the will of the IMF. Following the advice of the IMF and World Bank, the government of Indonesia passed a law in mid-June to reduce fuel subsidies and increase the cost of fuel by 44% over the coming weeks. Thousands of protesters took to the streets over several days, met with tens of thousands of police and security personnel. Students and other groups joined demonstrations across the country, noting that increased costs of fuel raise the prices of other goods and services, such as food, clothing and public transportation. The cut to subsidies was designed to “ease investor concerns” about Indonesia’s finances. During the protests, the police used excessive force – as well as hiring “local thugs” – to attack protesters, and arrested 229 students in 62 cities, with roughly 118 students injured during protests, often by being fired upon with rubber bullets.
Can it really be said that Indonesia is a “model democracy” when so much of its economic “growth” is built on the backs of the mass exploitation of workers, and for the benefit of undemocratic global corporations? Indonesia is a model, perhaps, but not of democracy: it is a model for the global corporate plutocracy.
Though it has been fifteen years since the end of dictatorship, Indonesia’s transition to democracy has barely begun. The democratic aspirations of Indonesians are not seen in the luxury cars, shopping malls or high-rises that span the cityscapes – as the idolatries of economic ‘growth’ – but rather, it is seen in the workers who emerge from the factory sweatshops and take to the streets en masse, demanding the promises of democracy and economic growth be realized at long last.
Extractive Industries and Exploited Communities
Suharto’s ‘New Order’ witnessed the carving up of much of Indonesia’s wealth for American, British, French, German, Japanese and other corporations from the powerful countries of the world. The neoliberal era – from the 1980s onward – witnessed an exponential increase in corporate colonization, a process that accelerated with Indonesia’s transition from dictatorship to ‘democracy.’
In the early 1970s, the American oil company Mobil Oil discovered one of the world’s largest natural gas fields at Arun, located in Aceh province. For three decades, the Indonesian military waged a battle against the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which sought autonomy from the country, leaving 10-30,000 people killed. When Mobil merged with Exxon in 1999, it retained control of the Arun project, and the military continued to attack local villages with the direct support of ExxonMobil. A lawsuit against Exxon alleges that the company “supervised, controlled and directed” military personnel who committed major human rights abuses between 1999 and 2001.
The region of West Papua was not part of Indonesia, but was a separate Dutch colony struggling for independence in the early 1960s. The U.S. and U.N. negotiated an agreement in 1962 where West Papua would be under the “interim control” of Indonesia for six years, at which point the country would vote for independence or to be part of Indonesia. When Suharto took full power in 1967, he negotiated an agreement with Freeport to grant a mining concession in the region. When the election in 1969 saw overwhelming support for independence, Suharto declared the area “a military operation zone” and sent in the military to crush the people’s local movement. Repression was rampant for decades, with up to 100,000 West Papuans having been murdered since 1969 in what some have referred to as a “slow-motion genocide.” Despite the region’s immense natural wealth, it remains as Indonesia’s poorest province. The Freeport mine itself has created “irreversible ecological devastation” to the region, with hundreds of thousands of tons of waste dumped into waterways and valleys daily.
The U.S.-based Freeport mine in West Papua – the largest copper and gold reserves in the world – experienced a three-month strike in 2011, where workers were demanding higher wages. Workers were paid as low as $1.50 per hour, while the mine made the company $5 billion in 2010 alone. Eventually, after a great deal of violence and injuries, including one death, the workers agreed to a 37% wage increase (far from their demands for a five-fold increase), but one union official noted, “This is not the end of our struggle.” Freeport had been paying millions of dollars directly to the police which guard its facilities, who had – on occasion – opened fire on the workers as they were protesting against the mine. In the ten years between 2001 and 2011, Freeport had given $79.1 million to Indonesian police and military forces.
As Amnesty International has noted, the police and security forces in Indonesia were often implicated in “torture, excessive use of force and unlawful killings.” Freeport’s chairman in 2005 explained: “There is no alternative to our reliance on the Indonesian military and police… The need for this security… as well as the decisions regarding our relationships with the Indonesian government and its security institutions, are ordinary business activities.”
Tin mining on the Indonesian island of Bangka has been popular among imperialists since the Dutch colonized the country in the early 19th century. Combined with the neighbouring island, Belitung, tin mining on these islands accounts for 90% of Indonesia’s tin, with the country being the second-largest exporter of tin in the world, used largely for consumer electronics. Indonesia supplies companies such as Samsung, Foxconn, Apple, Sony and LG with tin from these islands. The miners get paid low wages and workplace injuries (and deaths) have been on the rise in recent years. Further, the “lucrative but destructive trade… has scarred the island’s landscape, bulldozed its farms and forests, [and] killed off its fish stocks and coral reefs.” This destruction has often resulted in protests, some numbering over tens of thousands of locals.
In November of 2012, the U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sanchez, stated that the United States hoped to “double its trade with Indonesia over the next five years,” as U.S. corporations were getting “excited about the opportunities” in the country for ‘growth.’ Sanchez traveled to Indonesia to encourage more trade between the countries, and he was accompanied by a delegation of corporate leaders from Cisco Systems, General Electric, and Honeywell International, among others.
Among the “opportunities” for growth – inspiring the ‘excitement’ of multinational corporate plunderers – is the profit that can be extracted from partaking in major land grabs and the destruction of the environment, with the added bonus of displacing thousands of peasant and indigenous communities in the process.
Land Grabs Lay Waste to Indonesia
Massive land grabs have been accelerating around the world since 2009, driving Indigenous peoples and farming communities off the land as foreign investors lay waste to the environment and create cash crops for export to rich countries. Oxfam noted in 2011 that the global land grabs were “already leading to conflict, hunger and human rights abuses,” since the ‘investment’ deals ignore the rights of those who live on the land, “leaving them homeless and without land to grow enough food to eat and make a living.” Land grabbing has been encouraged by the World Bank and IMF, most aggressively in Africa, but have spread across the world, from Central America to Indonesia.
In April of 2013, a Canadian mining company – East Asia Minerals Corporation – announced that it was working with the Indonesian government to “re-zone” nearly 2 million hectares of protected forest in Aceh for “industrial activities,” including mining, logging, and palm oil plantations. The company announced in a press release that they were working with the government to reclassify zones from “protected forest” to “production forest.”
Environmental groups warned that the reclassification could put biodiversity at risk, including endangered rhinos, elephants, orangutans, and tigers. Scientists from the Asia chapter of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation released a declaration stating: “Aceh forests are essential for food security, regulating water flows in both the monsoon and drought seasons to irrigate rice fields and other cash crops… Forest disruption in Aceh’s upland areas will increase the risk of destructive flooding for people living downstream in the coastal lowlands.” Despite opposition from environmental groups, scientists, human rights groups and local communities, the “model democracy” government said it hoped to approve the plan “as soon as possible,” which the mining company said was “positive news.”
This “positive news” has the effect of not only destroying what’s left of the third largest rainforest on Earth – and causing irreversible harm to its biodiversity – but it is also displacing the Indigenous and small farmer communities that live off the land and forests, most of whom are not compensated and forced to either migrate to urban slums or work for minimal wages at the companies that stole their land. Many communities resist, but are met with the “heavy-handed security and paramilitary forces.” In the previous ten years, more than 10 million hectares of land was “given away and converted to plantations,” destroying thousands of communities and laying waste to the environment in the process.
Over 600 conflicts over land in Indonesia were reported in 2011, including 22 deaths and hundreds of injuries. A national human rights commission in Indonesia reported over 5,000 human rights violations in 2012, largely linked to companies involved in deforestation. The founder of the Indonesian Peasant Union – with a membership of 700,000 – noted that the rapid expansion of palm oil plantations “has spawned a new poverty and is triggering a crisis of landlessness and hunger,” marred by forced evictions, violence, torture and even death.
A director of Friends of the Earth in Indonesia noted: “Who controls the land in Indonesia controls the politics. Corruption is massive around natural resources. We are seeing a new corporate colonialism. In the Suharto era you were sent to prison for talking about the government. Now you can be sent there for talking about corporations.” The police presence around plantations has been increasing, as has violent repression as the government “is trying to clamp down on mass protests.”
In the span of thirty years, global agribusiness, pulp and paper companies have turned the islands of Sumatra and Borneo – the third and sixth largest islands in the world – into near wastelands, threatening the incredible biodiversity – including endangered tigers, rhinos and elephants – to develop biofuels, vegetable oil and toilet paper. Scientists and environmentalists recently warned that “one of the 21st century’s greatest ecological disasters is rapidly unfolding.” In a matter of years, more than half of the third largest rainforest on Earth has been destroyed, and 70% of what remains is marked for “transition” into plantations. Nearly one million hectares of rainforest are destroyed every year in Indonesia, with scientists suggesting the endangered wildlife on the region will be extinct within a couple decades.
One Greenpeace official in Indonesia explained: “This is the fastest, most comprehensive transformation of an entire landscape that has ever taken place anywhere in the world including the Amazon. If it continues at this rate all that will be left in 20 years is a few fragmented areas of natural forest surrounded by huge manmade plantations. There will be increased floods, fires and droughts but no animals.” A director of Indonesia’s largest environmental group, Walhi, noted, “The legacy of deforestation has been conflict, increased poverty, migration to the cities and erosion of habitat for animals. As the forests come down, social conflicts are exploding everywhere.” Coal, copper, and gold mining companies are moving into Sumatra and Kalimantan, causing widespread deforestation and violent conflicts with local communities. The rare of deforestation is also increasing rapidly in the poorest province of West Papua.
In May of 2013, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) reported that Indonesia – with the third largest tropical forest coverage in the world – was “not doing enough to protect its forests.” While Indonesia passed a moratorium on deforestation in May of 2013, a number of loopholes make it almost meaningless.
Due to its rapid rate of deforestation and the draining of peatlands, Indonesia is one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gasses, ahead of Saudi Arabia, Australia, Brazil and France. The large paper company – APRIL (Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings) – has come into conflict with multiple villages in Sumatra as it undertakes a project to destroy 450,000 hectares of rainforest, an area which holds roughly 1.5 billion tons of carbon. A local village leader noted: “We would die for this [forest] if necessary. This is a matter of life and death. The forest is our life. We depend on it when we want to build our houses or boats. We protect it. The permits were handed out illegally, but now we have no option but to work for the companies or hire ourselves out for pitiful wages.”
The devastation to rainforests has not merely been confined to Indonesia, but has spread at an alarming rate across much of Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Burma, largely being driven by export-led growth, monoculture plantations, and the construction of dams and other large-scale infrastructure projects. The increasing rates of deforestation are exacerbated by the global explosion in land grabs, with the World Bank and other financial institutions like Deutsche Bank funding land grabs across Southeast Asia in which Indigenous people “are bearing the brunt of the seizures.”
In late June, fires started on or near major palm oil plantations owned by large companies became so large that the pollution spread across Malaysia and Singapore, causing a “hazardous” pollution warning in Singapore in the “worst haze” the country ever faced. Soon after, the Indonesian government announced it was investigating eight companies that might have started the fires on Sumatra, though the companies immediately blamed small landholders. An official from the Rainforest Action Network noted, “This recent smog is just the most visible part of the serious deforestation and human rights crisis sweeping Indonesia… Widespread, illegal burning to clear rainforests and peatlands for palm oil and pulp and paper plantation expansion is unfortunately a well-established yearly ritual in Sumatra.”
Farmers, workers, Indigenous people, women, youth, students and NGOs have been forming groups in which they pledged “resistance” in an “alliance against land grabbing” by the government and international corporations. Police have been using excessive force against protesters and Indigenous communities, and several peaceful activists have been imprisoned for opposing land grabs, deforestation and the construction of plantations.
The Indonesian People’s Alliance (IPA) formed in 2013 as an alliance of dozens of civil society groups, seeking to unite forces across Indonesia and internationally to oppose trade “liberalization” and respect national sovereignty. An IPA coordinator declared: “We have been told to preserve our forests, but large industry continues to wreck our environment and marginalize our own people. We cannot continue washing their dirty laundry.”
In June, a “militant peasant organization” – the Alliance of Agrarian Reform Movement (AGRA) – protested in the thousands against land grabbing in Indonesia, stating that the land “needs to be distributed back to the peasantry through genuine agrarian reform.” An official from the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) – a regional Asian alliance of peasant organizations – noted that resistance was growing not only within Indonesia, but across much of Asia, where peasants were working to launch an “anti land grabbing campaign.”
Is an Indonesian Revolution in the Making?
The circumstances certainly exist – with 120 million people living on less than $2 per day, mass exploitation of workers, labour unrest, violent state repression, land grabs and corporate plundering, peasant and indigenous resistance, environmental devastation, and political corruption – for Indonesia to potentially witness a mass uprising. Workers are organizing across the cities against labour exploitation, while peasants and indigenous communities are organizing across the countryside against land grabs and environmental degradation, and increasingly, they are organizing and working together.
While the leaders of the imperial powers and institutions of the world praise Indonesia as an “emerging economy” and “model democracy,” the population of Indonesia is rising up against the corrupt, plutocratic elites, violent repression, environmental devastation, widespread exploitation and plundering that comes with those buzzwords. In short, the people of Indonesia are struggling to turn their country into a real model for democracy, and for the economy to emerge in respect of that ideal, not against it.
The demolition of a park in Istanbul sparked the urban uprising in Turkey, and the plan to raise bus fare sparked the urban uprising in Brazil. So perhaps the question is not ifIndonesia will experience similar circumstances, but rather: when, and what will be the spark?
Only time will tell, and no doubt, the Indonesians will let us know when it has happened.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, the research director of Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and has a weekly podcast with BoilingFrogsPost.
Large Corporations Seek U.S.–European ‘Free Trade Agreement’ to Further Global Dominance
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is the latest plan of conglomerates to strengthen their grip over the planet.
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at: AlterNet
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is the latest corporate-driven agenda in what is commonly called a “free trade agreement,” but which really amounts to ‘cosmopolitical corporate consolidation’: large corporations dictating and directing the policies of states – both nationally and internationally – into constructing structures which facilitate regional and global consolidation of financial, economic, and political power into the hands of relatively few large corporations.
Such agreements have little to do with actual ‘trade,’ and everything to do with expanding the rights and powers of large corporations. Corporations have become powerful economic and political entities – competing in size and wealth with the world’s largest national economies – and thus have taken on a distinctly ‘cosmopolitical’ nature. Acting through industry associations, lobby groups, think tanks and foundations, cosmopolitical corporations are engineering large projects aimed at transnational economic and political consolidation of power… into their hands. With the construction of “a European-American free-trade zone” as “an ambitious project,” we are witnessing the advancement of a new and unprecedented global project of transatlantic corporate colonization.
The Atlantic Fortress as “Grand Strategy”
In a 2006 article for Der Spiegel, Gabor Steingart suggested that, “to combat the rise of China and Asia,” the “role NATO played in an age of military threat could be played by a trans-Atlantic free-trade zone in today’s age of economic confrontation.” With the possible “addition of Canada,” the US and EU “could stem the dwindling of Western market power by joining forces… [which] would inevitably lead to a convergence of the two economic systems.” In a process that would likely take decades, “a mega-merger of markets” would send a “new message” to the East, to “serve as a fortress.”
During the worst of the initial financial and economic crisis in January of 2009, Henry Kissinger wrote an article for the New York Times in which he noted that America’s “prescription for a world financial order has generally been unchallenged,” though the crisis had changed this, as “disillusionment” became “widespread.” Nations now wanted to protect themselves from the global markets and thus, become more independent. Kissinger warned against this, proclaiming: “An international order will emerge if a system of compatible priorities comes into being. It will fragment disastrously if the various priorities cannot be reconciled… The alternative to a new international order is chaos.”
Kissinger noted that the economic world was “globalized,” yet the political world was not, and in the midst of “political crises around the world” accelerated by “instantaneous communication,” the political and economic systems had to become “harmonized in only one of two ways: by creating an international political regulatory system with the same reach as that of the economic world; or by shrinking the economic units to a size manageable by existing political structures, which is likely to lead to a new mercantilism, perhaps of regional units.” President Obama’s election victory was an “opportunity” in “shaping a new world order.” But that opportunity had to become “a policy” as manifested through “a grand strategy.” A central facet to that grand strategy would include the strengthening of the “Atlantic partnership,” which “will depend much more on common policies.”
Some four years later, former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski praised the “enormous promise” in the new transatlantic agreement, “It can shape a new balance between the Pacific and the Atlantic oceanic regions, while at the same time generating in the West a new vitality, more security and greater cohesion.” Not worth mentioning, apparently, was that this was all about “cohesion” of power interests. In the same speech where Brzezinski endorsed “greater cohesion” between the U.S. and the European Union, he criticized the EU for being “a Europe more of banks than of people, more of commercial convenience than an emotional commitment of the European peoples.”
It’s the type of “cohesion” that only bankers, corporations, and “grand strategists” like Kissinger and Brzezinski could like. So naturally, such an agreement has a great deal of support, encouragement, and organized planning. While the idea of ‘transatlantic integration’ has long been on the lips and in the documents of grand strategists and corporate-financed think tanks, it kept its distance from formal policy. In 2007, the EU-US summit meeting of leaders – US President Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso – established the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) to promote economic cooperation between the two regions.
The economic crisis itself delayed any progress from taking place, as countries focused on rescuing their banks and imposing austerity measures in order to punish their populations into poverty, privatize society, and create the conditions ripe for unhindered plundering of resources and exploitation of labour. This is called “structural reform.” But structural reforms only show “success” when corporations begin profiting from them. That’s called an “economic recovery.” There is an entire language to the European debt crisis – and to political economy in general – which, when translated, helps to elucidate the rationality of policy choices.
Political Language: Words or Weapons?
As George Orwell once wrote: “Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
In a world undergoing radical transformations in political, economic, and social structures and relations – from the Arab Spring, the global economic crisis, food crisis and land grabs, to the global spread of protest movements – political language becomes weaponized. Hiding behind seemingly meaningless words, obscured by over-used rhetoric and abstract, undefined terms and concepts, political and economic language function by preventing the population from understanding the true meaning and implications of the policies pursued.
Take, for example, the word ‘austerity.’ It has been used endlessly – in rhetoric and policies – as the ‘solution’ to the economic, financial, and debt crises, but it’s meaning is obscured as an abstract notion of cutting public spending in order to decrease the debt, and thus, increase investor confidence in the country. This is supposed to lead to an economic “recovery.” The problem is that it doesn’t: it leads to a very deep depression. Yet, the policies continue to be promoted and pursued.
What can one deduct from this? If the rhetoric promotes specific policies for a desired effect, and the desired effect is never met, yet the rhetoric and policies continue to be promoted, we can assume one of two things: either, as Einstein defined it, the world’s decision-makers are all insane (“doing the same thing over again, expecting different results”); or, they are simply speaking a different language, and we lack an understanding of it. In such circumstances, it is helpful to attempt translating this language.
The policies of ‘austerity’ include firing public sector workers, cutting spending on health care, education, welfare, social services, pensions, increasing the retirement age, increasing taxes and decreasing wages. The results, inevitably, is impoverishment of the general population, increased unemployment, the elimination of health and social services when needed most, increased cost of living and decreased standards of living. Thus, we can loosely translate ‘austerity’ as impoverishment, since that is what the actual effects of the policies have.
In March 2010, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) suggested Europe undertake a program of austerity lasting for no less than six years from 2011 to 2017, which the Financial Times referred to as “highly sensible.” In April of 2010, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) – the central bank to the world’s central banks – called for European nations to begin implementing austerity measures. In June of 2010, the G20 finance ministers agreed: it was time to enter the age of austerity! German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the European midwife of austerity, set an example for the EU by imposing austerity measures at home in Germany. The G20 leaders met and agreed that the time for stimulus had come to an end, and the time for austerity poverty was at hand. This was of course endorsed by the unelected technocratic president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso.
The unelected president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, also agreed, explaining in his unrelenting economic wisdom that austerity “has no real effect on economic growth.” Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank (ECB), also hopped on the austerity train, writing in the Financial Times that, “now is the time to restore fiscal sustainability.” Jaime Caruana, General Manager of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) stated in June of 2011 that the need for austerity was “more urgent” than ever, while BIS chairman, Christian Noyer, also the governor of the Bank of France (and board member of the ECB), stated that apart from austerity, “there’s no solution possible” for Greece.
But of course, austerity is not complete without its sister-program of ‘structural reform’ (or ‘structural adjustment’), which includes policies aimed at privatizing all state-owned assets, resources, and services, the dismantling of labour and environmental protections and regulations, the opening of new ‘markets,’ and enormous subsidies and protections for multinational banks and corporations.
Why is this done? To promote investment, competition, and growth. Privatizing everything in sight – including airports, land, water management, roads and resources – encourages investment because corporations can come in and purchase national assets for pennies on the dollars. Indeed, most privatization programs include enormous subsidies and protections for corporations in order to provide an incentive for them to invest. And competition is best promoted by allowing just a handful of transnational conglomerates to cheaply acquire a nation’s wealth and resources, and then by promoting what’s called “labour flexibility.” These ‘reforms’ mean that workers’ rights are to be dismantled, cutting wages, benefits, protections, the ability to unionize and make demands, to make the labour force flexible to the demand of big business, who demand little more than a cheap labour force (as well as absolute control of the global economy). Thus, across markets – Europe for the EU, North America for NAFTA – and indeed, across the world, labour forces are put into competition with one another in a race to the bottom of who can be the best, and therefore, cheapest labour available – in order to attract investment and jobs.
Thus, the effect of ‘structural reforms’ is to facilitate the exploitation of resources and people and to consolidate economic and political power into corporate hands. Austerity thus serves the purpose of impoverishing the population to make them ready and willing to accept the structural reforms (or “adjustment”) which adjust them to a situation of social devastation by making them into an employable – and cheap – labour force. Unhindered corporate plundering is facilitated by dismantling all “barriers” to investment, and thus, control of the entire economy. Austerity and structural reform create the conditions for investment, competition, and growth. Investment essentially means subsidized acquisition/control over the economy by corporations, competition implies protection for corporate interests, and growth means that corporations are making massive profits. The effect of all these policies and programs is to consolidate regional and global economic and political power into the hands of cosmopolitical corporations.
Austerity is impoverishment for populations.
Structural reform is exploitation of people/resources, and consolidation of political power in corporate hands.
Investment is corporate control of the economy.
Competition is protectionism for corporations.
Growth is corporate profits.
Mario Draghi is the president of the European Central Bank (ECB) – one of the three institutions of the ‘Troika’ with the European Commission and IMF – imposing austerity and structural reform measures across Europe in return for bailing out bankers. In February of 2012, he gave an interview with the Wall Street Journalin which he explained that, “there was no alternative to fiscal consolidation,” meaning austerity, and that Europe’s social contract was “obsolete” and the social model was “already gone.” However, Draghi explained, it was now necessary to promote “growth,” adding, “and that’s why structural reforms are so important.”
In addition to austerity and structural reforms, new markets are required, and thus, “free trade” must be promoted. This is all part of the road to ‘recovery.’ Free trade also has a technical definition: its policies dismantle environmental, labour, and other social protections, increase privatization, deregulation, and include large subsidies and protections for corporations. And today’s ‘free trade’ agreements grant unprecedented rights to corporations to sue governments directly for having laws or regulations which corporations view as “barriers to investment.” Free trade thus promotes competition between populations – in a race to the bottom – and protection for the powerful, for corporations and banks. What we call free trade agreements essentially function as a process of corporate colonialism: the regional and global consolidation of financial, economic, political and social power into relatively few corporate hands.
With the onset of the global economic crisis in 2008, countries turned to bailouts to rescue the large banks that destroyed their economies. In doing this, they accumulated large debts, handing the bill to the populations. The people pay for the debts through austerity, and thus, poverty, which in turn necessitates structural reform, and thus, exploitation. Free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), being negotiated between 12 Pacific-rim countries, facilitate transnational corporate colonialism.
A new corporate world is emerging, and the transatlantic partnership is a centerpiece in constructing this ‘new world order.’ While the crisis had initially stalled the process, it was revived at the EU-US summit meeting in November of 2011, when political leaders ordered the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) to create a High-Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth, led by U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, “tasked to identify policies and measures to increase U.S.-E.U. trade and investment to support mutually beneficial job creation, economic growth, and international competitiveness,” by working closely with both public and private sector/corporate groups.
The Transatlantic Corporate Complex
The impetus for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership was provided by a plethora of corporate-dominated think tanks and big business organizations, including the Atlantic Council, Brookings Institution, the German Marshall Fund, BusinessEurope, the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the European Round Table of Industrialists, among several others. These institutions collectively form a transatlantic corporate complex, uniting elites from major corporations, banks, think tanks, foundations, academia and policy circles in order to establish consensus on elite agendas and to provide the strategies and objectives to be implemented.
The Atlantic Council was founded in 1961 by former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson and several other prominent citizens in the United States in order to help consolidate support for the ‘Atlantic Alliance.’ The Atlantic Council’s first published volume, Building the American-European Market: Planning for the 1970s, was published in 1967, and the Council continued to publish policy papers, books, monographs and other reports throughout the 1970s.
The Atlantic Council’s leadership and direction is provided by the members of its boards, consisting of the foreign policy elite of the United States as well as major cosmopolitical corporations, including the likes of Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Madeleine Albright along with executives from corporations such as Deutsche Bank, BAE, and Lockheed Martin. [For a look at some of the other names of directors and advisors, see Appendix 1]
The Atlantic Council thus represents the interests of trans-Atlantic corporate and financial interests and the foreign policy elite within the United States. Thus, what issues and agendas they promote tend to wield significant influence behind them, with extensive access to policy-makers and processes. Back in 2004, the Atlantic Council published a report, The Transatlantic Economy in 2020: A Partnership for the Future? in which they recommended increasing integration between the two economies and regions, the joint management of the world economy, and more “transgovernmental cooperation.”
The German Marshall Fund of the United States was founded in 1972 with a donation from the German government to Harvard University, where 25-years prior U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall announced the Marshall Plan for Europe’s economic recovery after World War II. The German Marshall Fund (GMF) “is dedicated to the promotion of greater understanding and common action between Europe and the United States,” and includes a number of corporate executives, news commentators and other elites on its leadership boards [See Appendix 2].
The Business Roundtable (BRT) is an organization of CEOs from major U.S. corporations “with more than $7.3 trillion in annual revenues,” according to its website. The BRT was founded in 1972 “on the belief that… businesses should play an active and effective role in the formation of public policy.” The Chairman of the Executive Committee of the BRT is W. James McNerney, the president and CEO of Boeing. The Executive Committee includes the CEOs of a number of other major cosmopolitical corporations [see Appendix 3].
The European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT), founded in 1983, is an organization of several dozens CEOs of major European corporations. As Bastiaan van Apeldoorn wrote in the journal New Political Economy(Vol. 5, No. 2, 2000), the ERT “developed into an elite platform for an emergent European transnational capitalist class from which it can formulate a common strategy and – on the basis of that strategy – seek to shape European socioeconomic governance through its privileged access to the European institutions.” Wisse Dekker, former Chairman of the ERT, once stated: “I would consider the Round Table to be more than a lobby group as it helps to shape policies. The Round Table’s relationship with Brussels [the EU] is one of strong co-operation. It is a dialogue which often begins at a very early stage in the development of policies and directives.”
The ERT was a central institution in the re-launching of European integration from the 1980s onward, and as former European Commissioner (and former ERT member) Peter Sutherland stated, “one can argue that the whole completion of the internal market project was initiated not by governments but by the Round Table, and by members of it… And I think it played a fairly consistent role subsequently in dialoguing with the Commission on practical steps to implement market liberalization.” Sutherland also explained that the ERT and its members “have to be at the highest levels of companies and virtually all of them have unimpeded access to government leaders because of the position of their companies… So, by definition, each member of the ERT has access at the highest level to government.” [For a list of other corporations represented on the board of the ERT, see Appendix 4]
BusinessEurope is Europe’s main business group, representing 41 business federations in 35 countries with its “main task” – according to its website – being “to ensure that companies’ interests are represented and defended vis-à-vis the European institutions with the principal aim of preserving and strengthening corporate competitiveness.” [For a look at some of the companies that made up the Corporate Advisory and Support Group, see Appendix 5]
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1912 as an umbrella organization representing the voice of business throughout the United States. According to its website, the Chamber “works with more than 1,500 volunteers from member corporations, organizations, and the academic community who serve on committees, subcommittees, task forces, and councils to develop and implement policy on major issues affecting business.” Their “overarching mission” is “to strengthen the competitiveness of the U.S. economy.” [For a look at some of the companies represented on the board of directors of the Chamber, see Appendix 6]
The Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) was formed in 1995 by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the European Commission in an effort to “serve as the official dialogue between American and European business leaders and U.S. cabinet secretaries and EU commissioners,” composed of CEOs of U.S. and European transnational corporations.
Transatlantic Corporate Colonialism in Action: Shaping the Agenda
As with any “free trade” agreement (read: cosmopolitical corporate consolidation agreement), corporations must be consulted throughout the entire process to allow them to shape the agenda and encourage specific policies, to ensure that their interests are met. Think tanks employ academics and foreign policy elites to undertake studies and produce reports which advocate policies beneficial to western political and economic domination of the world. Big business groups organize the corporate community around agendas and provide a direct “voice” to the corporate world. The boards of think tanks are dominated by political and corporate elites, and once think tanks begin to establish consensus on agendas, academics and other officials from the organizations write articles or are interviewed frequently in the media (which is owned by the same corporations), to ensure that what little is said in public about such agreements is indeed, positive and encouraging.
When the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) created the High-Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth in November of 2011, it announced its intent to ‘consult’ with private sector organizations on the process of transatlantic integration.
The Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) was one of the first major corporate organizations to support the announcement of the High-Level Working Group. In January of 2012, the TABD met with high level EU and US officials at the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland. They released a report, Vision for the Future of EU-US Economic Relations, which established a consensus “to press for urgent action on an visionary and ambitious agenda,” as well as for the creation of a “CEO Task Force” which would “provide direct input and support the High Level Working Group.”
The meeting was attended not only by the 21 members of the executive board of the TABD (all corporate executives), but officials representing the Atlantic Council, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), the US Chamber of Commerce, World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, European Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht, European Commissioner for Competition, Joaquin Almunia; Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, and Michael Froman, Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs.
That same month, the TABD and the Business Roundtable (BRT) released a joint statement outlining their “vision” of a Transatlantic Partnership (TAP) – modeled along similar lines as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – which would require a further “opening” of the trans-Atlantic market, being able to “compete” with other major economies (such as China), and “deepening the multilateral commitment to open markets.” As major CEOs and executives, the statement wrote, “we need nothing less” than a “strategic vision and structure [which] will need to serve as a global template.”
In February of 2012, the German Marshall Fund released a report from the Transatlantic Task Force on Trade and Investment entitled, A New Era for Transatlantic Trade Leadership. The task force was co-chaired by Ewa Bjorling, the Swedish Minister for Trade, and Jim Kolbe, a former U.S. Congressman and Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the GMF. [For other members of the Task Force, see Appendix 7] The Task Force was launched as a cooperative effort between the German Marshall Fund and the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE) in May of 2011.
The report called for the EU and US to pursue “deeper transatlantic economic integration” as “essential for recovery from the current economic crisis.” The report called for “high-level commitment from political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic” and “it will require active involvement of private sector stakeholders,” or in other words, corporations.
In March of 2012, BusinessEurope released a report to contribute to the EU-US High Level Working Group entitled, Jobs and Growth: Through a Transatlantic Economic and Trade Partnership, in which it was recommended to eliminate tariffs and barriers, to trade in services, ensure access and protection for investments, “opening markets,” to establish “global standards” for intellectual property rights, and to build on the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) for regulatory cooperation.
That same month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Congress in which the U.S. Chamber, BusinessEurope, American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union, the Business Roundtable, European-American Business Council, the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue, and several other big business associations called upon political leaders “to move swiftly to deepen the transatlantic economic and commercial relationship through ambitious trade, investment, and regulatory policy initiatives.” Thus, in the midst of an economic and social crisis created by the very corporations and banks these associations represent, and with the emergence of new economic giants like China and India, “we believe now is the time to create a barrier-free transatlantic market to drive the job creation and growth” that Europe and America “urgently need.”
The High Level Working Group – chaired by USTR Ron Kirk and EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht – should have a “far-reaching” agenda, the statement wrote, which would cover: “tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade in goods and services, investment, regulatory cooperation, intellectual property protection and innovation, public procurement, cross-border data flows, and business mobility.” The statement noted that they had received “support” from Angela Merkel, David Cameron, and then-President of France Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as from the European Council (presided over by Herman van Rompuy). From the American side, support was given by Hillary Clinton.
In May of 2012, the Business Roundtable, European Round Table of Industrialists and the Trans Atlantic Business Dialogue sent a joint letter to President Obama, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Merkel, Italian PM Mario Monti, UK prime minister David Cameron, European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, European Council president Herman Van Rompuy, EU Trade Commissioner De Gucht and USTR Ron Kirk. The letter noted that the three organizations of corporate executives from across the Atlantic “have come together to lay out a strategic vision for a new Transatlantic Partnership (TAP),” and they together produced the report, Forging a Transatlantic Partnership for the 21st Century, to do just that. The report called for US and EU officials to launch “ambitious and comprehensive transatlantic trade, investment and regulatory negotiations by the end of this year.”
That same month, just to press the message, the presidents of the US Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and the National Association of Manufacturers sent a joint letter to Obama urging him to launch negotiations to “trail blaze a true 21st century trade, investment, and regulatory cooperation initiative,” which apart from further integrating the economies, would also “have important benefits for defense and military cooperation as well.”
In June of 2012, Obama’s Export Council sent him a letter applauding the president for establishing the High Level Working Group the previous year, but urged him to “take the critical next step, in consultation with the private sector, to move forward quickly to define and launch a comprehensive and ambitious Transatlantic Partnership (TAP) negotiation.” They recommended the usual protections for intellectual property rights, liberalization of services, “elimination of industrial and agricultural goods tariffs,” among many things. The letter was signed by Export Council chairman Jim McNerney, the president and CEO of the Boeing Company.
The U.S. President’s Export Council (PEC) “is the principal national advisory committee on international trade,” founded in 1973, consisting of 28 private sector members, as well as Congress members and cabinet secretaries. The PEC reports to the president through the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. [For a list of corporations represented by the PEC, see Appendix 8]
Not wasting any time, the High Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth released their interim report to their leaders in June of 2012 from the co-chairs, De Gucht and Kirk. Among other things, they recommended the “elimination” of “barriers to trade” in goods, services, and investment. They recommended a “comprehensive agreement” which “could promote a forward-looking agenda for multilateral trade liberalization.” The “aim” of the negotiations, they wrote, would be to “bind” the EU and US “at the highest level of liberalization” and “achieve new market access.” They were taking the recommendations from corporate groups seriously, and pushing those words into policies.
Paula Dobriansky, a prominent academic at the Atlantic Institute, co-authored an article for the Wall Street Journal in which she called for “a trans-Atlantic free-trade agreement” between the EU and US in order to “strengthen American and European leadership for decades to come.” Frances Burwell, Atlantic Council vice president and director of the Program on Transatlantic Relations published an article for US News & World Report in November of 2012 in which she wrote that “creating a single transatlantic market… makes a great deal of sense.”
In November of 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech to the Brookings Institution entitled, U.S. and Europe: A Revitalized Global Partnership, in which she noted: “we have to realize the untapped potential of the transatlantic market… is as much a strategic imperative as an economic one.” Informing the audience that the Obama administration was “discussing possible negotiations” with the EU on such an agreement, Clinton said it “would shore up our global competitiveness for the next century.”
Also in November, Atlantic Council board member James L. Jones (former U.S. National Security Advisor to Barack Obama) and Thomas J. Donohue (President and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce) co-authored an article for Investor’s Business Dailyin which they suggested that the simultaneous economic crises in Europe and the U.S. – which they defined as “flagging competitiveness, unsustainable entitlement spending, and the ticking time bomb of oversize sovereign debt” – were a threat to the future of NATO’s ability to “tackle urgent security threats” and that this poses “the greatest challenge to the future of the trans-Atlantic community since the Cold War.”
Sustainable growth, they wrote, “only comes from one place – the private sector.” Governments have a “responsibility… to create conditions in which the private sector can drive economic expansion, investment and job creation.” An “ambitious trans-Atlantic economic and trade pact” would certainly fit this prescription of increasing “growth” and “competitiveness.” It was time, they wrote, “to move decisively to the next level of trans-Atlantic economic integration.”
Within days of Obama winning his re-election, European leaders such as David Cameron and Angela Merkel urged him to move forward with the agreement, and the New York Times even noted that “corporations and business groups on both sides of the Atlantic are also pushing hard for a pact.” Former deputy U.S. trade representative and current vice president at General Electric, Karan Bhatia, noted: “This could be the biggest, most valuable free-trade agreement by far, even if it produces only a marginal increase in trade.”
The Financial Times said that a “transatlantic partnership” would yield “geostrategic benefits,” since the EU and US account for half the world’s economy, and thus, they will “possess the leverage to set the global standards that others, including China, are likely to follow.” Since “both the EU and US are desperate for new growth,” wrote Edward Luce, the “only realistic route is via higher productivity,” implying cheaper costs and larger profits for corporations. It would be “an ambitious agenda for transatlantic market integration” including harmonizing regulations and product standards. In other words, wrote Luce: “if a drug were approved by the European Medicines Agency, the Food and Drug Administration would accept it too.” The same would apply for “financial regulation” (or lack thereof), as well as agricultural (GMO) standards, a key issue, since the EU has a ban on such products. The EU had recently shown its enthusiasm for change when it “dropped its objections to imports of US meat from abattoirs [slaughterhouses] decontaminated with lactic acid.” In the EU, “the climate of austerity ought to work in their favour” for reducing protections to do with agriculture.
In January of 2013, the Brookings Institution sent a ‘memorandum to the president’ to Barack Obama entitled, Free Trade Game Changer, in which the authors recommended pursuing both the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) as “the most realistic way to reclaim U.S. economic leadership.” The agreements have “deep strategic implications” since they would provide the US with a leading “role in setting the global rules of the road.” While the TPP “would help define the standard for economic integration in Asia,” the TAFTA “would give American and European businesses an edge in setting industrial standards for tomorrow’s global economy.” While “the erosion of support for FTAs [free trade agreements] in Congress and among the public is likely to hamper this effort,” the memo reminded Obama that public opinion must be disregarded in the corporate interest: “the time has come to launch new initiatives in these spheres.”
In early 2013, the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue merged with the European-American Business Council to become the Transatlantic Business Council (TBC), a group consisting of corporate executives who hold “semi-annual meetings with U.S. Cabinet Secretaries and European Commissioners (in Davos and elsewhere),” acting as the “business advisor to the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC).” It represents some 70 major corporations, including: AIG, AT&T, BASF, BP, Deutsche Bank, EADS, ENI, Ford, GE, IBM, Intel, Merck, Pfizer, Siemens, TOTAL, Verizon, and Xerox, among others.
In January of 2013, the Transatlantic Business Council (TBC) met in Davos, Switzerland during the annual World Economic Forum, holding a meeting with high level officials in the U.S. and E.U. Michael Froman, President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs, spoke at the TBC meeting, declaring that “the transatlantic economy is to become the global benchmark for standards in a globalized world.” Froman and the leaders of the TBC “agreed that support from corporations operating on both sides of the Atlantic is crucial to advance transatlantic trade.”
Tim Bennett, the Director General of the TBC, stated that the structure of the TBC “allows for a combination of strong business message to policy makers as well as substantive input through working groups,” referring to high level meetings in Washington and Brussels. Other participants at the TBC meeting included the Secretary General of the OECD, Angel Gurria, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, European Commission Director-General for Trade, Jean-Luc Demarty, European Commission for Trade official, Marc Vanheukelen, and a former Citigroup executive.
On the Transnational Business Council (TBC)’s website, they promote specific think tanks as providing “resources”: the Atlantic Council, Bertelsmann Foundation, Brookings Institution, Center for Transatlantic Relations, Chatham House, the German Marshall Fund, and the Peterson Institute for International Relations.
The Final Report: Time to Do What the Corporations Demand!
On February 11, 2013, the U.S.-EU High Level Working Group (HLWG) on Jobs and Growth released their final report in which they predictably recommended harmonizing standards and regulations in “a comprehensive trade and investment agreement.” The report recommended “a further deepening of economic integration… to achieve a market access package that goes beyond what the United States and the EU have achieve in previous agreements.” The report further recommended increasing “government procurement,” a euphemism for privatization and state subsidies for corporations, noting: “the goal of negotiations should be to enhance business opportunities through substantially improved access to government procurement opportunities at all levels of government.”
Two days following the publication of this report, on 13 February 2013, a joint statement was issued by Barack Obama, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, stating: “We, the Leaders of the United States and the European Union, are pleased to announce that… the United States and the European Union will each initiate the internal procedures necessary to launch negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.”
With the announcement of the TTIP in February, then-U.S. Trade representative Ron Kirk stated that, “[f]or us, everything is on the table, across all sectors, including across the agricultural sector, whether it is GMOs or other issues.” He explained that “we should be ambitious and we should deal with all of these issues.” João Vale de Almeida, the European Union ambassador to the United States, wrote in an article that “an ambitious economic agreement between us would send a powerful message to the rest of the world about our leadership in shaping global economic governance in line with our values,” which is to say, corporate “values.”
The German media – and government officials – erupted in admiration of the potential for this “economic NATO” in creating “the world’s largest free trade zone.” One German publication noted that “a new economic alliance” between NATO powers was appropriate, since “the old industrialized nations fear they are falling behind the emerging economic power of China.” Another German publication noted that not only would a “trans-Atlantic free-trade zone” have major economic “benefits” and implications, “but it also makes clear that only an ever-closer West can succeed in decisively helping to determine global policy.”
The corporate world expressed immediate admiration for the announced negotiations, with the chairman and CEO of Caterpillar “commending” US and EU leaders and the High-Level Working Group “for promoting much needed economic growth and job creation.” The president of the Business Roundtable (BRT), John Engler, noted that the Roundtable itself “was an early advocate” for such an agreement, and that “negotiations should launch as soon as possible.”
C. Boyden Gray, a member of the Atlantic Council’s board of directors and former U.S. ambassador to the European Union, published a report for the Atlantic Council in February of 2013 entitled, An Economic NATO: A New Alliance for a New Global Order. Gray warned that unless the Atlantic powers “rise to the challenge… of the post-recession era together… they risk ceding to rising powers their economic and political influence.” This must not be simply a “free trade agreement,” but rather, the US and EU “must put economic cooperation on the same robust footing as military security… we need to create an ‘economic NATO’.”
The Wall Street Journal noted that the announcement “represents a nod to business interests by Mr. Obama,” noting that it was less about ‘trade’ and more about establishing global standards. European Commission president Barroso expressed as much when he said, “this is going to be the biggest free-trade agreement ever done, [and] it will certainly have an impact on global standards.” Obama’s international economic policy adviser Michael Froman noted that the agreement would “further integrate our economies and help set global rules.” EU trade commissioner Karel de Gucht added: “What we want to do is make an internal market between the US and EU.”
The Financial Times noted that while it was “commonplace” to imagine that the future belonged to the emerging economies, “the old economic powers can still pack a punch.” The agreement “promises a prize whose political value is even greater than its considerable economic benefits.” Hence, we must understand these “free trade agreements” as, in actuality, cosmopolitical corporate consolidation agreements.
While U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Berlin in late February, he endorsed the agreement, suggesting that it “can lift the economy of Europe, strengthen our economy, create jobs for Americans, for Germans, for all Europeans and create one of the largest allied markets in the world.”
The German press warned that Internet activists, environmental, labour and consumer groups were “preparing to fight the treaty with all means at their disposal,” as they feared that “bad compromises will be made at the expense of consumers in secret negotiations between the European Commission and the Obama administration.” Enforcing equal standards for food products worries many in the EU regarding American-produced genetically engineered food products, such as corn, soybeans and beets; while intellectual property rights issues increasingly threaten the freedom of the Internet for the benefit of corporate and financial interests, such as through the failed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which was overcome by a large Internet campaign and protests against it. One of the organizers for the anti-ACTA movement, Jérémie Zimmermann, stated: “Millions of citizens can be mobilized if their freedoms are threatened.” Still, despite the growing unease and opposition to such an agreement, which would be based primarily around these highly contentious issues as opposed to actual “trade” or tariffs, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared the deal as “by far our most important project for the future.”
Max Baucus, the chairman of the U.S. Senate finance committee, wrote an article for the Financial Times in which he stated that the agreement was “a deal that must be done, it must be done now, and it must be done right… As chairman of the committee overseeing US trade, I will support a deal only if it gives America’s producers the opportunity to compete in the world’s biggest market.”
Speaking at Harvard in early March, Karel de Gucht referred to the agreement as “the cheapest stimulus package you can imagine,” adding that it was “a policy laboratory for the new trade rules we need – on issues like regulatory barriers, competition policy, localization requirements, raw materials and energy.”
Barack Obama stated that he was “modestly optimistic” about the agreement, as the US was moving “aggressively” while the EU was “hungrier for a deal than they have been in the past.” Speaking to the President’s Export Council, composed of executives from major corporations acting as ‘advisors,’ Obama reaffirmed that, “we want our Fortune 500 companies to be selling as much as possible.” John Kerry told a group of French business leaders that, “if we move rapidly… [the agreement] can have a profound impact on the rest of the world.”
Robert Zoellick, former president of the World Bank, strongly endorsed the agreement, noting that it could “set a precedent” in setting standards for the global economy, adding: “We need to create a new structure for the global system.” However, he warned, agriculture was “going to be one of the most difficult issues,” due to the concern over genetically modified organisms. Barroso warned that, “the EU will only go so far.” Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch observed: “This whole negotiation is about eliminating ‘trade irritants’ but in the US consumer movement we envy and admire and seek to emulate the European food safety standards, while industry is seeking to kill them.”
In April of 2013, a “coalition” was launched to promote the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership called the Business Coalition for Transatlantic Trade (BCTT), which “seeks to promote growth, jobs, and competitiveness on both sides of the Atlantic through an ambitious, comprehensive and high-standard trade and investment agreement.” The Steering Committee for the BCTT consists of a number of multinational corporations and business associations, and the secretariat is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The corporate co-chairs for the coalition include Amway, Chrysler, Citi, Dow, FedEx, Ford, GE, IBM, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Lilly, MetLife, UPS, and JPMorgan Chase. Partner associations of the BCTT include the Business Roundtable, Coalition of Service Industries, the Emergency Committee for American Trade, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Foreign Trade Council, the Transatlantic Business Council (TBC), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Council for International Business. The initial objective of the BCTT was to urge the formal launching of negotiations by June or July of 2013, as well as “sustaining broad bipartisan support and on providing detailed inputs once negotiations are underway.”
At the launch of the BCTT, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s vice president and head of international affairs, Myron Brilliant, noted that there was “vast support” for the agreement “both in the government and the private sector.” The business community, he explained, “is committed to assisting with the negotiation of a transatlantic agreement… and we will continue our efforts to encourage both governments to get this deal done quickly.” The Business Roundtable, a member of the BCTT, endorsed the new coalition in a statement from John Engler, who explained, “we look forward to working with Congress and the Administration to ensure a comprehensive and ambitious agreement.” While speaking to an American business group, the British ambassador to the United States said that financial services would also be “covered by these negotiations,” noting that the U.S. and U.K. are home to “the two most significant international financial centres, on either side of the Atlantic,” on Wall Street and the City of London.
According to an Obama administration official involved in the talks, the agreement “would grant corporations new political power to challenge an array of regulations both at home and abroad.” Environmental, consumer, and other interest groups fear that the agreement “will lead to a rollback of important rules and put multinational companies on the same political plane as sovereign nations.” This would be facilitated by an “investor-state dispute resolution” mechanism, which means that corporations could directly sue governments over what they perceive as “barriers to investment” – possibly through an international tribunal (perhaps even through the World Bank). Such a tribunal “would be given authority to impose economic sanctions against any country that violated its verdict.”
Such provisions, noted a trade specialist with the Sierra Club, “elevate corporations to the level of nation states and allow them to sue governments over nearly any law or policy which reduces their future profits.” These mechanisms are “terribly risky for communities, the environment, and our climate.” The “dirty little secret,” noted Public Citizen’s Lori Wallach, “is that it is not mainly about trade, but rather would target for elimination the strongest consumer, health, safety, privacy, environmental and other public interest policies on either side of the Atlantic.”
Thomas Donohue, the president of the US Chamber of Commerce, couldn’t be happier. “If they made a deal tomorrow,” he said in April of 2013, “US and European companies are sitting on a boatload of cash and they’d be moving this thing up as fast as they can move.” Corporations would be able to make a profit faster than anticipated, he noted: “You open a door and say there’s money on the other side, there’s opportunity to expand, to export, to sell their products, to make partnerships… You think they’re going to wait around till 2027? They’ll be through the door before you know it.” Donohue encouraged negotiations to begin as soon as possible, “they must, they need to,” adding: “We don’t need to take our time.”
A Transatlantic Agenda for Austerity, Exploitation and Corporate Consolidation
On April 22, 2013, there was a conference hosted at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in co-operation with the European Commission’s Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs, “bring[ing] together US-and Europe-based policy makers, regulators, market analysts and academics.” The aim of the conference was to “evaluate the prospects for sustainable economic growth and financial stability, and discuss challenges to transatlantic economic relations posed by the recent episodes of the economic crisis.” Speakers included New York Fed president William Dudley and Vice President of the European Commission, Olli Rehn. [For a list of other participants, see Appendix 9]
William Dudley has been president of the New York Fed since 2009, when the previous president – Timothy Geithner – became Obama’s Treasury Secretary. Prior to his new position, Dudley was a partner and managing director at Goldman Sachs; and currently he also serves as chairman of the Committee on the Global Financial System at the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), and is vice chairman of the Economic Club of New York.
Dudley opened the ‘invitation only’ event by suggesting, “in a global economy with a global financial system… regulation and supervision have a decidedly national orientation.” Thus, he explained, “we [must] seek to balance our domestic needs against the benefits from having a harmonized and integrated global system.” What is needed, said Dudley, is “growth.” But there was “good news” in the U.S., the housing sector was re-inflating – what’s called “recovering,” the middle class “household sector” was struggling under a heavy debt burden (called “deleveraging”), but the banking sector was “healthier” (meaning more profitable), and “the corporate sector is highly profitable and awash in cash.” That’s the “good news.”
A Bloomberg article from 2010 referred to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as “a black-ops outfit for the nation’s central bank,” noting that it was in fact a “quasi-governmental institution,” whose leadership is appointed by the major banks of Wall Street to represent their interests, and was “the preferred vehicle for many of the Fed’s bailout programs.” The New York Fed is actually a private bank with a great deal of public authority, and is subject to a “culture of secrecy” which was described as “pervasive.” On the board of directors of the New York Fed is Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, as well as several other bankers.
In his speech, Dudley explained that he has guided the New York Fed to purchase long-term U.S. Treasuries (U.S. government debt) and mortgage-backed securities (the same purchases which helped create the previous housing bubble) to the tune of $85 billion “each month.” Noting that the United States has begun down the path of national austerity – “fiscal consolidation” – and must continue deeper, there was a “tug of war” between having a good economy and having austerity, which is a delicate way of saying that the austerity measures will destroy the economy (something the Europeans already know very well). Thus, as Dudley explained, with immense corporate and bank profits, an asset bubble, and a coming austerity-driven economic nose-dive, “the level of uncertainty about the near-term outlook in the United States remains quite high.” But the United States was not geared “toward a growth path” based upon “business investment” and “trade,” instead having only focused on debt-based consumption.
In Europe, however, the outlook was “less bright.” But again, there was “good news,” since the “peripheral countries” such as Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, and others, were successfully imposing harsh austerity measures, despite resistance from the population being impoverished. This, Dudley calls, “substantial efforts to bring down their structural budget deficits.” There was also progress on improving their “international competitiveness,” which is to say they are opening up to exploitation and plundering, though there was still “an opportunity for further structural reforms in labor and product markets.” Though of course this shouldn’t be done “just in the periphery,” that type of “opportunity” exists everywhere, in order to bring efficiency in exploitation, and thus, more profits: “to increase productivity and strengthen long term growth prospects.”
Sadly, noted Dudley, there was also “bad news” in the EU, since the economy was “still in a recession” – or what could more accurately be described as a deep depression in the so-called “periphery” countries – where it was becoming harder to impose austerity measures and impoverish populations: “the political support for further rounds of budget-tightening has clearly lessened.” Without “growth” – meaning, without corporate and financial profits – “then the political support for continued fiscal and structural adjustment could further erode.” Europe also needed to pursue “deeper integration” at the governance level, and the development of a “pan-European banking union with the ECB [European Central Bank] as the primary overseer” was a “critically important next step.” This will of course demand each country in the EU “to give up a small amount of sovereignty with respect to banking oversight,” and hand it to the ECB, which is unaccountable and remains a driving force behind the austerity and adjustment programs. Dudley referred to this as the “one money, one market” concept.
Olli Rehn, European Commission Vice President and Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs – a major driving force behind the austerity and adjustment programs – gave the keynote speech at the New York Fed conference. He began by welcoming the newly announced Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, explaining that they must work hard to make it “a reality.” Europe, however, is “deleveraging” – which is to say the continent is being crushed by a heavy debt burden whose owners demand ‘austerity’ and ‘adjustment’ in addition to bailouts – and this “deleveraging process is going to take time, and we need to find new sources of growth to ease the burden of adjustment.” Thus, Rehn explained, “opening up global trade opportunities is so very important.” While many EU countries were continuing with harsh austerity measures, “structural reforms” – which facilitate exploitation of labour and resources – “are the key to raising the growth potential of the European economy.”
He finished his speech, stating: “we must stay the reform course. We need to deliver in terms of free trade, financial sector reform, structural reforms that boost growth potential, and consistent consolidation of public finances. We must do so in order to create the foundations for sustainable growth and job creation. Facing these challenges, we are indeed partners on both sides of the Atlantic.”
A Call for Trans-Atlantic Resistance to Corporate Tyranny
Europe is eating itself through austerity, plunging its population into poverty while simultaneously undertaking “structural reforms” designed to facilitate the unhindered exploitation of resources, markets and labour by transnational corporations. The United States has also been implementing austerity measures, though opting instead to create fallacious ‘debt dramas’ involving the pompous parading of meaningless words – ‘fiscal cliff’ and ‘sequester’ – to avoid the blatant promotion of ‘austerity,’ which might encourage people to correctly think of Greece as an example.
So-called “free trade” agreements function as transnational austerity and ‘structural reform’ treaties: they grant corporations unlimited access to markets, protect them from competition, heavily subsidize them, privatize anything and everything, deregulate as much as possible, destroy the environment, and facilitate the unimpeded plundering of resources and exploitation of labour.
Make no mistake: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is little more than a transatlantic corporate coup. Corporations created the demand for the agreement, lobbied and promoted the agenda with political elites, and direct the entire process, ensuring that their interests are met.
It would seem, then, that it is time for activists, intellectuals, and communities and organizations of people to reach out across the Atlantic in an effort to create an organized resistance to transatlantic corporate tyranny, consolidation and colonization.
Corporations are undertaking unprecedented drives for the accumulation of profit and power, promoting agendas and projects which re-shape the world in their image, treating governments as toys, the environment as an enemy, and impoverishing populations around the world. We are witnessing a transnational social engineering project, driven by large corporations, aimed at facilitating economic, financial, political and social consolidation into their hands.
Welcome to the era of Cosmopolitical Corporate Consolidation and Colonization.
Will you accept that as legitimate? Will you accept such an agreement? Who agreed to it? Did you? Were you consulted? Have you even heard of it before?
The real question is: will we sit passively as we are led to Extinction Inc., or will we actually stand up, organize, and do something about it?
Appendix 1: Leadership of the Atlantic Council
Among the leadership on the board of directors of the Atlantic Council are Brent Scowcroft, former U.S. National Security Adviser (to presidents Ford and Bush, Sr.), Richard Armitage, James E. Cartwright, Wesley Clark, Paula Dobriansky, Christopher Dodd, Stephen Hadley, Michael Hayden, James L. Jones, Henry Kissinger, Thomas Pickering, Anne-Marie Slaughter, James Steinberg, John C. Whitehead, and with a group of honorary directors including: Madeleine Albright, James Baker, Harold Brown, Frank Carlucci, Robert Gates, Michael Mullen, William Perry, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, James Schlesinger, George Shultz, and John Warner, among others.
On the Business and Economics Advisors Group to the Atlantic Council, there are executives and management from the following companies and institutions: Deutsche Bank, Institute of International Finance, Center for Global Development, AIG, BNP-Paribas, Rock Creek Global Advisors, the Stern Group, Harvard, and the Peterson Institute for International Economics. The International Advisory Board of the Atlantic Council includes Josef Ackermann (Chairman of Zurich Insurance), Shaukat Aziz (former prime minister of Pakistan), Jose Maria Aznar (former PM of Spain), Zbigniew Brzezinski (former US National Security Advisor), and with top executives from: Occidental Petroleum, SAIC, the Coca-Cola Company, PwC, News Corporation, Royal Bank of Canada, BAE Systems, the Blackstone Group, Thomson Reuters, Lockheed Martin, Bertelsmann, Novartis, and Investor AB, among others.
Appendix 2: Leadership of the German Marshall Fund
The board of trustees of the GMF includes a host of corporate executives and news commentators, and their funding also comes from a coterie of governments, major foundations, and multinational corporations including: Bank of America Foundation, BP, Daimler, Eli Lilly & Company, General Dynamics, IBM, NATO, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and USAID, among many others.
Appendix 3: Leadership of the Business Roundtable
Other members of the executive committee include the CEOs of Honeywell, Dow Chemical, Procter & Gamble, MasterCard, Xerox, American Express, Eaton, JPMorgan Chase, Wal-Mart, General Electric, Caesars Entertainment, Caterpillar, McGraw-Hill, State Farm Insurance, AT&T, Frontier Communications, and ExxonMobil.
Appendix 4: Leadership of the ERT
As of 2013, members of the ERT included the CEOs of Ericsson, Siemens, Telecom Italia, BASF, Nestlé, Repsol, ThyssenKrupp, TOTAL, Rio Tinto, Fiat, Nokia, EADS, ABB, Lafarge, GDF SUEZ, BMW, Eni, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Investor AB, among many others.
Appendix 5: Corporate Partners of BusinessEurope
BusinessEurope counts among its “partner companies,” notable multinational conglomerates that make up the Corporate Advisory and Support Group who “enjoy an important status within BUSINESSEUROPE,” including: Accenture, Alcoa, BASF, Bayer, BMW, BP, Caterpillar, Diamler, DuPont, ExxonMobil, GDF Suez, GE, IBM, Microsoft, Pfizer, Shell, Siemens, Total, and Unilever, among many others.
Appendix 6: Companies Represented on the Board of the US Chamber of Commerce
The board of directors of the Chamber includes top executives and representatives from the following institutions and corporations: Accenture, Allianz of America, AT&T, Pfizer, FedEx, The Charles Schwab Corporation, Xerox, Rolls-Royce North America, Dow Chemical, Alcoa, UPS, Caterpillar, New York Life Insurance Company, Deloitte, the Carlyle Group, 3M, Duke Energy, Siemens, Verizon, IBM, and Allstate Insurance, among many others.
Appendix 7: Task Force Members
Other task force members represented such institutions as: Tufts University, Foreign Policy magazine, Standard Chartered Bank, the Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD, Facebook, a former EU Ambassador to the US, a former senior VP of the World Bank, Deloitte Touche, and Susan Schwab, a former United States Trade Representative.
Appendix 8: Corporate Representatives on the PEC
Obama’s PEC includes CEOs and executives from Boeing, Xerox, Dow Chemical, UPS, Walt Disney Company, Warburg Pincus, Caesars Entertainment, Ford, Verizon, JPMorgan Chase, Ernst & Young, and Archer Daniels Midland, among others.
Appendix 9: Participants in New York Fed Conference
The program for the event was to include opening remarks from the president of the New York Fed, William Dudley, and would also include the EU’s ambassador to the United States, Joao Vale de Almdeida; the European Commission’s director-general for Economic and Financial Affairs, Marco Buti; and individuals from Columbia University, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, MIT, the Brookings Institution, University of Cambridge, the EU-based think tank Bruegel, Morgan Stanley, European Banking Authority, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker was chair of the panel on ‘Transatlantic Dimensions of Financial Reform,’ and with Olli Rehn, Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs (a central figure of the ‘austerity’ hierarchy) as the ‘keynote’ speaker.
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Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, Research Director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and hosts a weekly podcast show at BoilingFrogsPost.