Thursday, April 2, 2009

G20 Protestors Dilute Green Message

Amid calls to 'make capitalism history,' leaders of the world's wealthiest nations are gathering in London today. The G20 together account for about 90 percent of global economic output and although called the G20, the summit will actually involve 24 nations. Normal G20 meetings involve the world's 19 largest economies plus the European Union. But the host, Mr Brown, has also invited the leaders of Spain, The Netherlands, Thailand, and Ethiopia.

G20 leaders have already agreed to a $2 trillion stimulus in November and appear to be ready to do more. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he will ask G20 leaders to agree on a $100 billion fund to boost world trade, which has fallen dramatically in recent months. Writing in the London Evening Standard, Brown said that a great deal had already been achieved as a consequence of the decision to hold a meeting of G20 leaders in London. The G20 normally meets at the finance minister level, today's meeting will mark only the second time that the heads of government have assembled.

"Already the work leading to the summit has generated action on a wide range of issues, on a scale that would normally have taken years to achieve," Brown wrote. "In short, the economics of the Depression-era US president Herbert Hoover – of doing nothing except retrenchment and cutting spending – has been firmly rejected right across the globe. Governments of left and right are intervening to take action to help people and businesses in their countries through this global recession."

According to an article in the Guardian, The Prime Minister Brown's spokesman said."We see it very much as a process, rather than an individual meeting. It is a process that is nearer to its beginning than its end," the spokesman said. Obama also stressed the need for leaders attending the G20 to "deliver a strong message of unity" for the sake of the world economy. France's President Sarkozy joined the two world leaders in making a similar point.

Protests demanding economic and environmental reforms persist even in the face of ongoing efforts to address climate change in Bonn and the global regulation of financial markets in London. At the start of 6 days of protest, an estimated 35,000 people converged on Hyde Park last Saturday. Scotland Yard has indicated that it has undertaken efforts to combat radical groups that are promising violent protests. Many banks have boarded up their windows in anticipation of violence that has become predictable. Despite these precautions, the Financial Times reports that protests by anti-capitalist demonstrators turned violent on Wednesday smashing windows at a branch of Royal Bank of Scotland in a hail of missiles from an angry mob screaming "storm the banks." One man collapsed and died at the protest, police said, and 88 arrests were made.

Four marches, led by representations of horsemen of the apocalypse, converged on the Bank of England at the ‘Financial Fools’ day’ yesterday. An FT reporter at the scene said: “They’re going into RBS and they are urinating in the bank. The words “Burn” and “Thieves” were scrawled in spray paint on the outside of the building. Protesters attacked the offices, shouting: ”These streets, our streets! These banks, our banks!” Some of the banners read: “Eat the Bankers”, and “Capitalism Isn’t Working." One group of protesters urged people watching from the top of Santander bank to “jump”.

One protester wearing a balaclava and carrying a sign saying "welcome to pig city” and who declined to be named said: "I am an anti-capitalist, I am an anarchist. It’s a rich man’s club. I believe in class war. It is poor versus rich, as simple as that.”

Although no one spokesperson can represent the diverse interests of those protesting, Sharan Burrow head of the International Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) comes closest when she said, "It cannot be business as usual. We want to see action, we want to see a recovery plan that includes the world's poorest nations (and) is focused on jobs, green jobs." Protestors were fueled by the ACTU president who told the rally in Hyde Park that greedy corporate leaders were responsible for the economic crisis and they were still trying to fill their own pockets despite the biggest economic collapse in decades.

Ms Burrow said, "the fraudulent corporate deal that has sold us a myth that you can leverage profits off debt has actually continued." The corporate architects of the crisis are "already seeing that the party is over but wanting to get their last bits and pieces out of the deal...Those bankers who are taking those big bonuses, the CEOs taking their salaries and sacking workers, we know that they still need to get the message and the message is the party is over," she said.

A great many people and politicians blame unchecked ''Anglo-Saxon'' capitalism and lax financial regulation for the economic crisis. Last week Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, said ''this is a crisis that was caused by white people with blue eyes'' who "before the crisis they looked as if they knew everything about economics.''

Who are the groups involved in protest and what do they want? According to an MSNBC article, the tens of thousands of people who marched across central London Saturday were demanding jobs, economic justice and environmental accountability. However there are more than 150 groups each with their own agenda.

There are many Green advocacy groups protesting in London including, Camp For Climate Action, Campaign Against Climate Change, Rising Tide and People and Planet. However, Green advocates find themselves in a coalition of protestors. Some of the biggest groups behind Saturday's demonstration were the Stop The War Coalition and Youth Fight for Jobs. The broad coalition of protestors also includes a wide range of other causes and interests from Anti-Israeli advocacy to a campaign against the expansion of Heathrow airport.

The goals of the protest are anything but clear, some want the leaders of the G20 to admit responsibility others want to see world leaders abdicate, as though they were protesting at the gates of an eighteenth century monarch.

Despite the diverse causes represented in London, there is an underlying anti-capitalist sentiment. Andy Bain, the president of Transport Salaried Staffs' Association said, "All the money is going to the rich." To underscore this sentiment, some G20 protestors have adopted slogans such as "Hang a Banker."

All throughout Europe demonstraters set their sights on the G20 emergency summit. Berlin police estimated that around 10,000 people gathered in front of the capital's city hall last Saturday with some demonstrators carrying placards saying, "make capitalism history." While some are protesting against capitalism others appear to be protesting the notion of a government stimulus, and others are just there to throw rocks.

Direct action represents a threat to business and the G20 Emergency Summit is but the latest example. We have seen protests in Europe (Ireland, France, Greece, Britain) Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Lithuania) and Asia (Japan, Vietnam), the Caribbean (Guadeloupe, Martinique) and Africa (Chad). In the US, at the end of February several "tea parties" were held to protest Obama's stimulus initiatives.

It is easy to understand the public's support for a powerful coordinated Green global stimulus, as well as regulation and reform in financial markets. Few would dare dispute that we need more active oversight for economic innovations like collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), and governments are poised to more actively regulate free markets. In the US Obama has made his support for a Green stimulus spending clear, he has aslo preemptively introduced his own broad plan to overhaul financial regulation.

However, rather than support these efforts, protestors have made unrealistic and often contradictory demands. There are so many competing issues being raised, the Green agenda loses its focus. Anachronistic revolutionary sentiments dilute support for action on climate change within the existing UN framework and give credence to claims that Green advocates are in league with anarchists.

Protestors outrage at government, the upper class and capitalism is really motivated by a mood rather than an issue. Frustration and anger are fueling the fires of protest in effect, obscuring the issues.

These protests underscore the dangerous partnership between the growing ranks of disillusioned unemployed and radical environmentalists. Those of us who are serious about fostering recovery and supporting climate change legislation must not allow Green advocacy to be hijacked by stone throwing anarchists.


Jamblichus said...

Thanks for the comment Matt. Whilst I agree with you that "Anachronistic revolutionary sentiments" provide little of substance to an already complex debate over the best road out of the current economic and environmental quagmire, I think you may underestimate the extent to which there is something of a consensus among many groups that those working on our behalf to recapitalise the financial system etc. are shunting tax payers' money directly to shareholders. When even a Nobel Prize winning economist (Stiglitz) calls Geithner's plan "robbery of the American people" then there is something profoundly wrong with our approach to the "credit crunch." (Again, although there will always be plenty waving banners saying "fuck capitalism" or somesuch, this does not preclude the notion that there is a vast swathe of well informed opinion on the issues and steps that most protesting would like to see taken. Given the billions produced in quantitative easing etc., where is the massive investment in renewables; high-speed rail links in the UK? I could go on and on.

Mr. Divine said...

You're right in your analysis .. people watching don't know what the march is about. And when it comes down to it it is just about their own personal frustrations.
Unfortunately nobody owns the rights to a march .. is it not possible to hold a march somewhere that hoards of wannabe Fidel Castros can't hijack it?

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