The G20 Debacle

Published on ZNet, by Justin Podur on his ZSpace Page, July 01, 2010.

What it might have looked like inside the fence: … Bodies like the G8 and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are generally like minded, as they represent the minority of countries that are already wealthy. These countries have an interest in the current order, skewed as it is toward their interests. Until recently, they have had the power to keep things that way. But when what was then called the Asian economic crisis struck in the late 1990s, the wealthy countries let the biggest of the poor countries into a new club, the G20 Finance Ministers meeting. The new body could claim to be more inclusive: with China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil aboard, the G20 had the Finance Ministers of 80% of the world’s population and 80% of the world’s GDP. 

But as an informal gathering of Finance Ministers (Labour Ministers started to meet at separate summits years later), without any transparent structure, and whose debates took place away from the public eye, the gatherings were still suspect. Norway’s Foreign Minister recently called the G20 “the greatest setback since World War II”, “a grouping without international legitimacy”, with “no mandate” (1). The skewed membership and structure hides skewed power relations within the G20, where the G8 countries have far more say in how the world is going to be governed.

Because the lowest common denominator for countries with such vastly different problems and agendas is low indeed, the G20 meetings produce declarations of principle that are mostly platitudes. It is difficult to argue that they have done much, in their 11 years of existence, to stabilize economies, much less to deal with any of the other issues for which sound thinking about global finance is needed, from food and fuel system problems, development aid and war to environmental degradation and climate change … //

… People on Toronto streets reported seeing police operations that had no relationship to any protest or anything going on: riot police shuffling about, horse charges, rapid deployment from one part of the city to another, temporary closures of areas and sweeping up of random people into mass arrests. It looked to me like Harper’s people were flexing their muscles, testing the public stomach, seeing how far they could ride over people’s rights and liberties. Accompanying the show of muscle was a public relations effort – placing the burden of justifying the $1 billion security expenditure on some smashed windows and police cars (with damages probably in the tens of thousands).

Something of a public backlash did emerge. On Monday afternoon, 2600 people (by my count) protested the police response outside headquarters. Among the slogans: “No more cops on overtime, protesting is not a crime”. The same police who had been so abusive the day before were relatively quiet. Protesters didn’t see any riot gear, the bike police didn’t push people with their bikes as they often do at protests, and the horses stayed largely out of sight a block away.

Important questions remain about the dozens that remain in detention. Will the government pursue charges and seek jail sentences for protesters? If some of those who smashed windows were entrapped by provocateurs, will the evidence emerge in trial? Will the public allow the state to persecute protesters when the police role was so pernicious? And the question that, unfortunately, is likely to get lost in the details: since these summits are destructive when they are not useless, are they worth spending hundreds of millions of dollars, shutting down cities, destroying civil liberties? (full long text and Notes 1 – 4).



Proposal for a Participatory Socialist International PSI, published on, not dated.

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