Activists out-perform G-8 leaders

The following is a statement released by Alberta Federation of Labour president Les Steel in the wake of this week's G-8 Summit in Kananaskis, Alberta. The AFL worked closely with social justice groups, youth organizations, churches and other civil society groups to organize counter-summit activities in Calgary, the nearest major city to the G-8 meeting site:

Now that the G-8 leaders have left Kananaskis and the police barricades are coming down, two important things can be said about the events of the past week. First, as we predicted, the G-8 has failed to offer any real solutions to the problems of poverty, war and disease in Africa. Despite all the rhetoric about the need for the West to pitch-in and help poor nations, the Summit failed to provide any commitments for major debt relief. At the same time, there was no acknowledgement of the role that western governments and businesses play in financing wars on the continent. And there was no agreement to adequately fund the battle against HIV/AIDS, a disease which is killing literally millions of Africans each year and which threatens to completely destabilize the region's already fragile economy.

Instead of measures that could really help ordinary Africans, the G-8 has endorsed a plan that simply calls for more of the same: more privatization of public services, more cuts to social spending and an increased focus on market deregulation and free trade with the west. As many African activists participating in counter-summit events pointed out, these are the same policies that have served African nations so poorly over the past 25 years.

The second, and more encouraging, conclusion that can be drawn from the Kananaskis summit has to do with the nature of demonstrations against the G-8 and its agenda. To put it simply: our protests worked. At previous summits, the world focused its attention on street battles between protesters and riot police. The result was that the causes being championed by demonstrators were usually lost in the shuffle. In Calgary and Kananaskis, however, the situation was entirely different. Instead of tear gas and rubber bullets, Canadians were actually able to learn about the issues.

There were stories about the negative impact that the World Bank's so-called structural adjustment programs have been having on poor nations. There were stories about the exploitive labour practices employed by many multinational corporations. And there were stories about the way in which trade rules concocted by the G-8 and enacted by the WTO are harming the environment and enriching the few at the expense of the many. All of these stories were the result of creative and thoughtful non-violent events organized by activists.

Many observers were surprised (and sometimes disappointed) by the complete lack of violent confrontation between protesters and security forces. But the peaceful nature of protests in Calgary was no accident. For months, labour organizations like the AFL, the Calgary and District Labour Council (CDLC) and the Communication Energy Paperworkers (CEP) were involved in meetings with non-labour civil society groups. Right from the beginning the goal shared by everyone was to stage a series of non-violent events and activities that focused on ideas and not on unnecessary confrontation.

The RCMP and the Calgary police may like to think that it was the large police presence that discouraged violence. But the reality is that it was the protesters themselves who made the difference. They decided that Calgary would be a showcase for the power of non-violent protest - and they made it so.

On behalf of the Alberta Federation of Labour, I would like to thank the dozens of civil society groups and thousands of individual activists who participated in planning and executing counter-summit events here in Alberta. Our approach to protest - which featured unprecedented cooperation between labour and non-labour groups - was so successful that activists from other countries are planning to borrow our ideas.

Obviously, the campaign to draw attention to the failings of the G-8 and its agenda for global trade will not be an easy or short one. But I remain convinced that our approach to protest - with its focus on non-violence - will help to turn the tide. I also remain convinced that our ideas about social justice and fair trade (as opposed to unfettered "free" trade) will eventually win the day. Calgary may very well be the first step in a long campaign to convince citizens, and eventually their governments, that the world economy should be for people, not corporations.

For more information, contact:

Les Steel, AFL President @  780-483-3021(office); 780-499-4135(cell)

Gil McGowan, Communications Director @  780-483-3021(office); 780-910-1137(cell)

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