The April 16 protests in Washington, D.C. against the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank made history and marked a new phase in
the effort to halt and reverse the processes of corporate globalization.
Citizens in developing countries -- from Jordan to Zambia, Indonesia to
Venezuela -- have long protested against the policies of the IMF and World
Bank. On April 16, for the first time, citizens in the United States came
out in large numbers to join the calls for a rollback of IMF and World
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets, or joined a permitted
demonstration on the Ellipse to denounce structural adjustment policies --
the deregulatory policy package that the Fund and Bank impose on country
after country -- for hurting the poor and exacerbating economic
The exact impact of the demonstrations will only be apparent in the years
to come, but it is already clear that the protests -- evidence of the
deepening citizen movement against corporate globalization -- have had
First, the U.S. public is newly aware of what the IMF and World Bank are,
and millions of people in the United States have for the first time
learned of how the institutions' policies hurt people in poor countries.
In anticipation of the protests, the mainstream media focused some
attention on structural adjustment policies, both by conveying the
viewpoints of the Mobilization for Global Justice and, in some instances,
by actually reporting on the effects of structural adjustment in countries
like Haiti or Tanzania. There was probably more U.S. mainstream media
coverage of IMF/World Bank/structural adjustment issues in the past two
weeks than in the previous 20 years combined.
The growing U.S. public concern with IMF and World Bank policy is crucial
because while the Fund and Bank are unaccountable to the people in the
Third World they are allegedly trying to help, they are responsive to the
United States -- the largest shareholder in both institutions and the
dominant influence at the IMF in particular.
The second noteworthy outcome from the April 16 protests was the role of
U.S. organized labor in the permitted demonstration on the Ellipse. The
AFL-CIO and a number of major unions, including the Service Employees, the
Teamsters, the Steelworkers, the American Federation of Government
Employees, the United Electrical workers and UNITE, the textile union,
endorsed the demonstration, and many of the unions sent top official to
address the rally.
Two years ago, the AFL-CIO lent its support to the Clinton
administration's request for $18 billion in funding for the IMF, so the
newfound willingness to strongly denounce IMF and Bank structural
adjustment policies represents an important shift.
The AFL-CIO is also beginning to develop a penetrating critique of the
notion of export-led development -- one of the core principles of
structural adjustment. Instead of joining in a race to the bottom to
produce goods using sweatshop labor or lax environmental standards, the
AFL-CIO is suggesting, countries should instead concentrate on developing
productive capacity to meet local needs.
A third historic occurrence was the endorsement by members of the G-77 --
a grouping of most of the world's developing nations -- of the Washington
protests and a stinging condemnation of the Fund and Bank's structural
"I, for one, support the demonstrators," said Arthur Mbanefo of Nigeria,
spokesperson for the G-77 during its recent three-day summit in Havana.
"Many countries have rejected the results of various policy initiatives of
the World Bank and IMF," he said, citing privatization, a refusal to
cancel debt and a "one-size-fits-all" structural adjustment agenda. "We
are very supportive of demonstrations that could forcefully handle those
The DC protests seem to have exerted a "Columbus Effect." Just as the
Columbus, Ohio protests against Clinton administration plans to bomb Iraq
led Egyptian President Mubarak to comment that surely he could oppose
bombing if the people of Columbus did, so the Washington protests against
the IMF and World Bank have created more political space for developing
countries to speak up on behalf of their own interests.
The IMF and World Bank spokespeople acknowledged the protests -- pointing
out that it was impossible to ignore them. They emphasized that they are
increasingly focusing on poverty and trying to empower the poor. But they
refuse to abandon their emphasis on structural adjustment, and in fact are
using their very modest debt relief initiative to force poor countries to
undergo still more, carefully monitored structural adjustment.
Real change at the IMF and World Bank will come not from voluntary
"reforms" in their policies, but from external forces -- such as the U.S.
Congress or large numbers of developing country governments cooperating
closely -- that demand that IMF and Bank powers be curtailed.
With the April 16 protests shining light on the policies of the IMF and
World Bank, expanding the coalition opposed to structural adjustment and
revealing that discontent in the developing world with IMF and Bank
policies is increasingly matched by similar outrage in the rich nations,
the prospect of a successful drive to shrink the authority and power of
the IMF and Bank is greater than at any time in recent history.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime
Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Multinational Monitor, and co-director of Essential Action, one of the
sponsors of the April 16 Mobilization for Global Justice. Mokhiber and
Weissman are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits
and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999,
(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman