Published on Tuesday, September 26, 2000 in the Washington Post
Protests Again Target World Bank
by David Montgomery
They're back: The critics of global capitalism who disrupted Washington in April are demonstrating again this week, timing rallies to coincide with those in Prague, where thousands are protesting meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The Washington events are much smaller than the protests in April, when nearly 1,300 people were arrested. Activists in nearly 60 other U.S. cities are also synchronizing rallies with those in Prague, where organizers have promised the kinds of blockades that clogged District streets.
After the speeches, the activists debated issues with a bank spokesman who came out to meet them. This was the wonk wing of the movement launched last year amid tear gas and plastic bullets in Seattle, so the protesters came armed with footnoted briefing papers.
"We applaud their passion," said John Donaldson, the bank spokesman. He said the protesters have raised the profile of arcane issues of global trade. "It's hard to ignore. . . . We're certainly listening."
Njoki Njehu, director of 50 Years Is Enough, a group calling for drastic reforms of the bank and the fund, said bank policies hurt workers and the environment and lead to such practices as charging families for public schooling in her native Kenya.
Robert Naiman, co-author of a report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said there is no evidence that the bank's policies promote economic growth, which is one of its aims. "The burden is on them to show [the policies] have worked," Naiman said.
Donaldson accepted Naiman's report and replied that while the bank has made mistakes, "clearly our track record shows we've made positive contributions to the conditions of these people living in abject poverty. . . . If it were easy to reduce poverty, poverty already would have been alleviated."
Organizers are trying to "localize the movement for global justice," said Fred Azcarate, executive director of Jobs With Justice, a coalition of labor, religious, student and community activists.
Toward that end, the Teamsters union held a rally late yesterday afternoon, outside the headquarters of the D.C. public school system on North Capitol Street NE to protest the condition of schools. The demonstrators planned to display a "wall of shame" showing pictures of schools in ill repair. The union represents the schools' building engineers, a department that has been cut from 400 to 160 and replaced by contract workers over the past six years, said Louis Malizia, a union campaign coordinator.
And the connection to global justice? The case shows how privatization efforts worldwide favor private companies to the detriment of public institutions, Malizia said.
This morning, Local 27 of the Parking and Service Workers Union is rallying at an InterParking office on L Street NW. The union says the company is frustrating efforts to organize parking attendants, while the company responds that it will permit a vote under federal labor guidelines.
What's it got to do with events in Prague? The company is affiliated with a global investment firm, and its employees are from countries where critics say failed bank policies are driving people to seek new lives in the United States. "It's an example of what the global marketplace means for workers," said union President Roxie Herbekian.
© 2000 The Washington Post Company