On February 19, a precedent-setting court case began in the BC Supreme Court, when it sat to review a ruling by a secret NAFTA tribunal that puts the interests of foreign investors above the democratic rights of citizens. The facts in this case are simple. Metalclad, an American corporation, sued for damages after a small Mexican town had the nerve to put the health of its children above the profits of the corporation. Metalclad had wanted to operate a toxic waste dump in a small Mexican municipality. The municipality objected after the protests of the people of the town and closed the site. A NAFTA review panel, meeting in Washington behind closed doors, ruled that Mexico must pay damages to Metalclad under NAFTA Chapter 11.
If this ruling is upheld, no town or city will be safe. And once the precedent is set, all public services health care, education, water could face a similar threat. That is why CUPE had asked for intervenor status in this case because we were determined to expose this threat to democracy. Unfortunately the judge ruled to keep the door shut. However, it was CUPE working in partnership with Greenpeace that brought the dire implications of this case to light for Canadians.
On February 19, I held a press conference with Greenpeace in Vancouver together with two activists from Mexico whom we hosted for the event so that they could speak directly about the experience of the small town with toxic waste and a powerful American corporation. And were determined to keep up the battle. Not just because of the huge risk that NAFTA represents but because were seeing the same attack on our rights in other trade deals being negotiated at the World Trade Organization and in the Americas.
Discussion forums, a teach-in, and a mass rally are all part of the planned activities taking place April 17 to 21 in Quebec City as labour and social activists gather to protest the FTAA. The heads of state of the Organization of American States are meeting in Quebec City April 21-22 to discuss the Free Trade of the Americas Area (FTAA). The goal of the FTAA is to create one giant free trading zone comprising the entire western hemisphere sacrificing the environment, labour rights and democratic rights in its wake.
Both the federal government and the government of Quebec are making participation in these events incredibly difficult by restricting access to the City during this period. In fact, the federal government has pre-booked every hotel room in the city and surrounding communities. However, working together with the CLC and Common Frontiers, we in CUPE are determined to make our voices heard. All the Peoples Summit events are going ahead regardless of the extraordinary security measures being undertaken. The discussion forums will take place April 17-18, the teach-in is on April 20 and the mass rally and demonstration is set for April 21. CUPE will be out in full force and we are working to ensure that as many of our activists can take part as possible. And you can be sure that we will send the message loud and clear that we oppose trading agreements that place the rights of corporations ahead of public services and the rights of people.
A critical set of negotiations has already begun at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on a new General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Scheduled to take place over the next two years, the GATS negotiations are aimed at accelerating the privatization and corporate takeover of public services. Health care, water, education, social services, postal services, municipal services and correctional services are all at stake.
Working with the Polaris Institute, we are developing a project to produce new tools and build skills for taking on the major corporations as well as the lead government players behind the push for globalization. The Polaris Institute has secured start-up funding for a three-year international project that will assist public service unions and social activist groups in developing campaigns to intervene in these negotiations. CUPE hosted a one-day planning meeting with the Polaris Institute and other public service unions, (PSAC, CUPW, NUPGE and SEIU) in February to get this project underway. This initial meeting identified the issues for public service unions and discussed the need to develop tools to build effective opposition to globalization.