US: Don't Bash China

Build a Positive Labor-Environment Agenda
Publisher Name: 
Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First

The anti-China trade campaign amounts to a Faustian bargain that seeks
to buy some space for US organized labor at the expense of real
solidarity with workers and progressive worker and environmental
movements globally against transnational capital. But by buying into
the traditional US imperial response of unilateralism, it will end up
eventually eroding the position of progressive labor, environmental, and
civil society movements both in the US and throughout the world.

What organized labor and US NGO's should be doing, instead, is
articulating a positive agenda aimed at weakening the power of global
corporations and multilateral agencies that promote TNC-led

The first order of business is to not allow the progressive movement to
be sandbagged in the pro-permanent normal trade relations,
anti-permanent normal trade relations terms of engagement that now
frames the debate. While progressives must, for the time being, oppose
the more dangerous threat posed by the unilateralists, they should be
developing a position on global economic relations that avoids both the
free trade paradigm that underlies the PNTR and the unilateralist
paradigm of the anti-PNTR forces. The model we propose is managed
trade, which allows trading partners to negotiate bilateral and
multilateral treaties that address central issues in their
relationship--among them, the need to preserve workers jobs in the US
with the developing countries' need for market access.

Advocacy of managed trade must, however, be part of a broader campaign
for progressive global economic governance. The strategic aim of such a
campaign must be the tighter regulation, if not replacement, of the
model corporate-led free market development that seeks to do away with
social and state restrictions on the mobility of capital at the expense
of labor. In its place must be established a system of genuine
international cooperation and looser global economic integration that
allows countries to follow paths of national and regional development
that make the domestic market and regional markets rather than the
global market the engine of growth, development, and job creation.

This means support for measures of asset and income redistribution that
would create the purchasing power that will make domestic markets
viable. It means support for trade measures and capital controls that
will give countries more control over their trade and finance so that
commodity and capital flows become less disruptive and destabilizing.
It means support for regional integration or regional economic union
among the developing countries as an alternative to indiscriminate

A key element in this campaign for a new global economic governance is
the abolition of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and
the World Trade Organization that serve as the pillars of the system of
corporate-led globalization and their replacement with a pluralistic
system of institutions that complement but at the same time check and
balance one another, thus giving the developing countries the space to
pursue their paths to development.

The IMF, World Bank, and WTO are currently experiencing a severe crisis
of legitimacy, following the debacle in Seattle, the April protests in
Washington, and the release of the report of the International Financial
Institutions Advisory Commission (Meltzer Commission) appointed by the
US Congress, which recommends the radical downsizing or transformation
of the Bank and Fund. Now is the time for the progressive movement to
take the offensive and push for the elimination or radical
transformation of these institutions. Yet, here we are, being waylaid
from this critical task at this key moment by an ill-advised, divisive
campaign to isolate the wrong enemy!

Another key thrust of a positive agenda is a coordinated drive by civil
society groups in the North and the South to pressure the US, China, and
all other governments to ratify and implement all conventions of the
International Labor Organization (ILO) and give the ILO more effective
authority to monitor, supervise, and adjudicate implementation of these
conventions. This campaign must be part of a broader effort to support
the formation of genuine labor unions in China, the Southern United
States, and elsewhere in a spirit of real workers' solidarity. This,
instead of relying on government trade sanctions that are really
self-serving rather than meant to support Third World workers, is the
route to the creation of really firm ties of solidarity across
North-South lines.

This social and economic program must be tied to a strategy for
protecting the global environment that also eschews sanctions as an
approach and puts the emphasis on promoting sustainable development
models in place of the export-led, high-consumption development model;
pushes the adoption of common environmental codes that prevent
transnational firms from pitting one country against another in their
search for the zero cost environmental regimes; and promotes an
environmental Marshall Plan aimed at transferring appropriate green
process and production technologies to China and other developing

Above all, this approach must focus not on attacking China and the
South but on strategically changing the production and consumption
behavior and levels in the North that are by far the biggest source of
environmental destabilization.

Finally, a positive agenda must have as a central element civil society
groups in the North working constructively with people's movements in
China, the United States, and other countries experiencing democratic
deficits to support the expansion of democratic space. While the
campaign must be uncompromising in denouncing acts of repression like
the Tienanmen Square massacre and Washington's use of mass incarceration
as a tool of social control, it must avoid imposing the forms of Western
procedural democracy on others and hew to the principle that it is the
people in these countries themselves that must take the lead in building
democracy according to their rhythm, traditions, and cultures.

Abandoning Unilateralism

The anti-PNTR coalition is an alliance born of opportunism. In its
effort to block imports from China, the AFL-CIO is courting the more
conservative sectors of the US population, including the Buchananite
right wing, by stirring the old Cold War rhetoric. Nothing could be a
more repellent image of this sordid project than John Sweeney, James
Hoffa, President of the Teamsters, and Pat Buchanan holding hands in the
anti-China trade rally on April 12, 2000, with Buchanan promising to
make Hoffa his top negotiator of trade, if he won the race for

Some environmental groups and citizens groups which have long but
unsuccessfully courted labor, have, in turn, endorsed the campaign
because they see it as the perfect opportunity to build bridges to the
AFL-CIO. What we have, as a result, is an alliance built on the
assertion of US unilateralism rather than on the cornerstone of
fundamental shared goals of solidarity, equity, and environmental

This is not a progressive alliance but a right-wing populist alliance
in the tradition of the anti-communist Big Government-Big Capital-Big
Labor alliance during the Cold War, the labor-capital alliance in the
West that produced the Exclusion and Ant-Miscegenation Acts against
Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino workers in the late 19th and early 20th
centuries, and, more recently, the populist movement that has supported
the tightening of racist immigration laws by emphasizing the divide
between workers who are citizens and workers who are not, with the
latter being deprived of basic political rights.

It is a policy that will, moreover, feed global instability by lending
support to the efforts of the US right and the Pentagon to demonize
China as The Enemy and resurrect Containment as America's Grand
Strategy, this time with China instead of the Soviet Union as the foe in
a paradigm designed to advance American strategic hegemony.

As in every other instance of unprincipled unity between the right and
some sectors of the progressive movement, progressives will find that it
will be the right that will walk away with the movement while they will
be left with not even their principles.

It is time to move away from this terribly misguided effort to derail
the progressive movement by demonizing China, and to bring us all back
to the spirit of Seattle as a movement of citizens of the world against
corporate-led globalization and for genuine international cooperation.

Excerpted from "Dangerous Liaisons: Progressives, the Right, and the
Anti-China Trade Campaign" and located at

Walden Bello is executive director of Focus on the Global South, a program of research, analysis, and capacity building based in Bangkok; Anuradha Mittal is co-director of the Oakland-based Institute for Food and Development Policy, better known as Food First. We would like to thank Nicola Bullard, Peter Rosset, and Sal Glynn for their invaluable 1310advice and assistance.

AMP Section Name:Trade Justice