Washington braces for protests against IMF, World Bank

WASHINGTON (AP) - John Tarleton says he is coming from Columbia Falls, Maine, to demonstrate in Washington this week because he witnessed the International Monetary Fund's harsh economic conditions as a teacher in Mexico.

Pete Capano, a union shop steward, plans not one but two round trips between Lynn, Mass., and Washington to protest IMF policies and permanent trade status for China.

A series of rallies, teach-ins, concerts, marches and likely civil disobedience will go on all week in a capital accustomed to protest. There will be a big rally against China trade Wednesday at the Capitol. A huge demonstration is planned next Sunday when finance ministers convene at the offices of the World Bank and IMF.

Washington demonstrations used to have easy-to-follow themes. Civil rights. Opposition to the Vietnam War. Lower gas prices.

Not this time. Tarleton, a part-time migrant worker, and Capano, a refrigerator mechanic in an aircraft engine plant, and their co-demonstrators are protesting ''globalization,'' a vague and murky concept.

''I think of it as multinational corporations creating the rules for wages going to the bottom, where profits and corporate greed rule over everything else,'' said Capano, who decried the loss of jobs at his General Electric plant to low-wage positions in other countries.

To Tarleton, it means that ''governments have put so much into debt repayments, there is little left for health or education.'' He blames IMF-World Bank austerity programs, the price many struggling countries pay for international economic bailouts.

Union members, environmentalists, human rights advocates, proponents of government social spending and advocates for AIDS sufferers contend the IMF and World Bank care more for global companies than the poor nations they serve.

Many of the same issues arise in protesting permanent trade status for China and IMF-World Bank policies: protecting the environment, shutting down low-wage sweatshops, stopping child labor, paying out more for health care and education.

The organizing groups pledged to avoid violence and property destruction, carry no weapons and use no alcohol or illegal drugs. The sponsoring groups admit they have no control over radicals who show up on their own.

Law enforcement agencies have identified 73 Internet sites promoting demonstrations associated with the meetings. Police in Washington, who have received special training in crowd and riot control, have begun 12-hour shifts.

''They ain't burning our city like they did Seattle,'' said Chief Charles Ramsey of the District of Columbia's Metropolitan Police Department. ''They didn't know what to expect in Seattle'' when protesters disrupted the World Trade Organization meeting in December.

Tarleton, who was tear gassed during the Seattle protests, is ready to sit down in the street again. Capano will confine his protesting to marches and rallies. Groups that specialize in getting demonstrators arrested are advising the news media to stay tuned.

The Washington protest is organized under the umbrella name Mobilization for Global Justice. Its leaders brim with confidence because of the Seattle disruptions.

''People in Seattle took on the WTO and won,'' said Laura Jones, a spokeswoman for the coalition organizing this week's events.

''We're building on that momentum. We're putting these institutions under public scrutiny for the first time in American history. We want their power reduced. It is a revitalization of people power.''

Lori Wallach of Global Trade Watch, protesting China trade legislation, said, ''Our strength is in the grass roots. We're not shipping all our people to Washington.'' Instead, she said, bus tours, demonstrations, rallies, town hall meetings and sit-ins will be staged around the country.

One ''direct action'' group, ACT UP, plans acts of civil disobedience to protest their contention that IMF-World Bank policies harm AIDS sufferers in poor countries.

Kate Sorensen of the group's Philadelphia chapter said, ''Countries are forced to use export earnings to pay back debts,'' which makes health care systems charge for care that poor residents can't afford.

The first major event was set for Sunday, when union members and religious activists planned to form a chain around the Capitol. They want Congress to cancel debts of the world's poorest countries and are urging support for policies that provide good jobs in this country.

Tarleton, 32, was a teacher and human rights monitor in Mexico when that country's economy collapsed five years ago. He said the austerity program imposed on the country was ''devastating for the great majority of the population.''

''Seattle was an electrifying experience,'' he said. ''People are starting to draw connections between poverty, environmental destruction and the destruction of labor rights.''

Capano, 42, the shop steward, said, ''A lot of the trade debate was just old union guys complaining about jobs. What I'm realizing is it's not just us. There are environmental concerns and human rights concerns. We're part of a movement against globalization.''


On The Net: Mobilization for Global Justice site: http://www.a16.org

IMF site: http://www.imf.org

World Bank site: http://www.worldbank.org


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