"A Revolting Choice"
Today the production of food is determined by the global market. Means of transport and communications ensure that today's market is genuinely worldwide. As far as world leaders are concerned, the entire planet should submit to market laws. Our struggle is based on resistance to this development. Health, education, culture, food - these are all issues that are close to everyone's heart. Today they are in danger of becoming commodities. Waves of opposition to this commodification can be felt in all corners of the world. There are two different views of society. One where the market with its own rules, runs everything, and where all human activity takes place with capital as the bottom line; the other view is one where people and their political institutions, not to mention issues such as the environment and culture, are at the forefront of people's concerns.
We now have a worldwide dictatorship governed by multinationals. If you are not in the market place, you're a nobody. We no longer live under conditions of traditional management and inter-state conflicts, but in the middle of a war between private powers with the market as the battleground. To understand the extent of this, all you have to do is look at how the traffic in money makes more profit than traditional production and trading activities combined. Today, money works by itself. This has produced a new breed of parasite; vampires thirsty for money. Money addicts.
Seattle and the demonstrations against the WTO showed the emergence of a young radical movement that brought together dozens of groups. It was a convergence of movements - unions, ecologists, consumers, civil and gay rights activists - with the countries of the south.
We reject the global trade model dictated by the multinationals. Let's go back to agriculture; less than 5% of agricultural production goes on to the world market. Yet those responsible for that 5% of international trade dominate the other 95% of the production that is destined for national consumption (or neighbouring countries) and force this sector to submit to their logic. It's a totalitarian exercise. Agriculture should not be reduced to mere trade. People have the right to be able to feed themselves and take precautionary measures on food as they see fit.
Despite Seattle, the WTO is still alive and well. You can't put an end to it with one demonstration. Our objective was to stop the extension of the WTO's powers. Why should the global market escape the rule of international law or human rights conventions passed by the UN? The WTO has arrogated the functions of legislature, executive and judiciary solely for itself. In the 18th century such an anti-democratic concentration of power provoked the French revolution.
We want the WTO to adopt the human rights charter. To break the monopoly of power, we have demanded an international court of justice, composed of professional lawyers, independent of the WTO. It would hear appeals by countries dissatisfied with WTO decisions.
The WTO isn't going to change overnight. We're in for a long struggle. We're working towards setting up a permanent watchdog in Geneva, seat of the WTO. This centre will provide information for all those mobilising on the issue of world trade. We want the WTO to know it is under scrutiny.
I call this the Dracula principle. Dracula, the vampire, can't bear the light. We want to open all the windows on the WTO.
The strength of the global movement that is gathering around the world is precisely that it differs from place to place, while building confidence between people. Today, people mobilise without wanting to take over state institutions, and maybe this is a new way of conducting politics. The future lies in changing daily life by acting on an international level.
The multinationals take decisions with complete disregard for nation states, displaying contempt for the political system. That requires new responses, new forms of militancy. This is what happened in Seattle, Millau, Prague and elsewhere.
What's important is the educative value of an action - whether it encourages public participation. Actions that exclude people are failures. Actions that change the ideas of those who take part as well as those who observe them are successes.Millau and Seattle showed the force of direct action. Legitimacy is a prerequisite. We had that on our side in Millau with the ban on roquefort.
Often illegal action is required to make a case. If the case is fair, the public will support it. Action is collective, but responsibility has to be assumed individually - including going to prison, if that is necessary. In order to win you have to be sure there will be solidarity with your action. In any case, if there's no hope of winning, there's no point in starting the fight.
José Bové is a farmer, and became a hero of the French Left after being imprisoned for an attack on a McDonalds restaurant. This article first appeared in The Guardian, June 13 2001.