Globalisation is not a modern phenomenon. It has been in existence for decades in several forms and degrees. It evolved rapidly after the cold war era. The trend in the initial stages of globalisation was largely influenced by a country’s politics and economic policies. In case of trade, GATT attempted to liberalise it and numerous bilateral and regional trade agreements came into play. With respect to developing nations, their initial policy was inward looking. However, the debt crisis brought many people out of their restricted shells. For instance, in India, the roots of globalisation lie in the 1990s, when the then finance minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh initiated the economic liberalization plan (LPG).
Simultaneously, a new social movement emerged which was called the “anti-globalisation movement”. People became concerned about the spreading inequality, violation of human rights, a threat to culture and damage to the environment. The aim of these protests was to outline and address the various harmful consequences of globalisation. They involved people belonging to different fields such as workers, indigenous people, environmentalists, unions, the youth, the poor and others who are striving to find economic and social equality.
One such movement occurred around 1994 with the Zapatista uprising. Mexican Indians known as Zapatistas took out a march from Chiapas, to Mexico City. This was done in order to express indignation against the global mining companies who were affecting the land of indigenous communities and to protect values and culture from the advent of globalisation. The situation was aggravated with the enactment of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Not only was their resource rich land under threat, but the Chiapas also feared that international competition will obliterate their local business. The uprising caused significant economic loss to Mexico and the government had to struggle to win back foreign investor’s confidence. Consequently, constitutional reforms were made by the government of Mexico to protect the rights of the indigenous community. For the first time, the protest outlined the threat to local life, culture and values posed by liberalisation.
It was followed by a three week strike by public transportation workers in France (in the year 1995). The Maastricht Treaty marked the beginning of the European Union. The integration of the European market necessitated the nations to privatise services, maintain high interest rates, among other things. This lead to France privatising numerous industries which was when coupled with free trade policies threatened job security of the working class. The general fear was that conversion of industries from public to private would make the industries less accountable and would cause severe unemployment. This, they believed would also wipe out subsidies.
Another important incident was the 1999 Seattle Protest. In 1999, WTO meetings were convened in Seattle, Washington wherein discussions pertaining to integration of the world market through trade barrier reductions and other liberalisation policies were taken place. Simultaneously, protests, marches and occasional rioting started transpiring against the organisation, the idea of capitalism and the rapid spread of globalisation. A group of protestors who were part of the Seattle Protest, and were called the ‘Turtles and Teamsters’ demanded human rights and environmental concerns to be addressed by the global free trade countries. These protests were not at all peaceful as cars were set on fire and buildings were stoned.
The Seattle protest was immediately followed by various other protests, largely occurring in the West. In 2000, protests were carried out during meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Quebec, Prague, Genoa, etc. were other countries who were the witnesses to anti-globalisation protests in the 1990s. In India, the protests began soon after India’s LPG policy came into force and transnational food companies entered into the Indian market. In 1995, Karnataka Rajya Raita Sangha (KRRS) raised protests against Kentucky Fried Chicken which had opened 30 food outlets in the state. The farmers believed that the style of farming required to feed the industry’s large need would degrade the land and cause health issues. The popular opinion was that globalisation and free trade has disrupted the system of rights like right to food, right to culture and right to safety. These revolts carried on till 2000s and are still going on in various shades.
Polls conducted by the World Economic Forum show a significant decline in the 1990s anti-globalisation, and show that the North countries have become more inclined towards the positive aspects of globalisation. However, in the poorer countries of the South, there is still a kind of reluctance to globalisation. It is indeed true that the anti-globalisation movement of the 1990s lost much of its dynamism and there was a common consensus in favour of globalisation. However, one also finds reports which strongly suggest the negative impacts of globalisation as foreseen by the anti-globalists.
The ‘race to the bottom’ theory is where countries sacrifice their standards of environment protection, worker safety, etc., in order to stay competitive or to invite more foreign investments. Certain African nations are relaxing their standards to increase investment. Hence, in the race to acquire the benefits of globalisation, governments are forgoing important standards.
Globalisation is also slowing down with as many nations are taking protectionist measures. For instance, the very country that was the champion of free trade and liberalisation is now thinking of ways to protect its industry from Chinese products. The anti-globalisation revolts might have withered out, but the ideology and the claims its proponents raised, continue to be discussed and debated.
Picture Source- By Herder3 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4209908