The unwelcome mat was rolled out in the Czech capital of Prague for the honchos of the global economy.
Czech officials did their best to host the 18,000 delegates, government officials and corporate executives who gathered for the annual World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings this week.
But thousands of protesters from around the world came to Prague and brought a wide range of concerns. Some are protesting the effects of genetically modified foods. Others decry cuts in social spending. Still others demand more respect for human rights from these lending institutions.
Like the protests in Seattle last November over the World Trade Organization or the one in Washington, D.C., in April against the IMF and the World Bank, the Prague protests took aim at "globalization from above." This is a model of economic growth, in their view, that favors corporations, investors and the wealthy.
In opposition, the protesters called for "globalization from below." People at the grassroots level around the world are linking up to make sure their own needs, the needs of the poor and of the environment are taken into consideration in the process of globalization. Beyond just saying "no," they are developing an alternative vision of globalization.
The advocates of "globalization from above" told workers, communities and countries that the benefits of globalization would bless them if they accepted the free-market policies promulgated by the IMF, World Bank and the WTO.
Instead, for many around the world, globalization has become a race to the bottom. As corporations move their operations around the world, they pit workers, communities and entire countries against each other to see who will provide the lowest wages and least environmental protections.
According to the 1999 U.N. Human Development Report, 89 countries are worse off than they were 10 years ago. A recent article in the Atlantic Monthly states that Africa's per capita income, which grew by 34.3 percent from 1960 to 1980, has fallen by about 20 percent from 1980 to 1997 the era of globalization.
"Global poverty is getting worse. Some 1.2 billion people now live in extreme poverty," said James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank. At the same time, the world's 200 richest people doubled their wealth from 1994 to 1998, according to the Human Development Report.
Along with an increase in global poverty, globalization policies such as the deregulation of currency markets have brought one crisis after another in Asia, Russia and Latin America. Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist at the World Bank, says that "capital market liberalization has not only not brought people the prosperity they were promised, but it also had brought these crises, with wages falling 20 or 30 percent, and unemployment going up by a factor of two, three, four or ten."
No wonder people are protesting.
"Globalization from below" provides a more appealing alternative.
That vision includes raising the level of labor, environmental, social and human rights upward, not downward; democratizing institutions at every level from the local to the global; reducing the disparities in global wealth and power; insisting on environmental sustainability, and creating prosperity by meeting human and environmental needs.
Most of the demonstrators in Prague are not isolationists trying to withdraw from the challenges of the wider world. They are true world citizens, demanding an end to global poverty and global warming and standing up for international human rights.
It is the advocates of "globalization from above" who are hiding their heads in the sand by refusing to acknowledge the real problems their model has created and aggravated. Until they do so, they will continue to receive an unfriendly welcome wherever and whenever they gather.
Jeremy Brecher's and Brendan Smith's book, "Globalization from Below: The Power of Solidarity" (South End Press), will be published in October. They wrote this commentary for the Progressive Media Project in Madison, Wis.