PROTECTING BRITAIN AGAINST GLOBALISATION
- VOTE GREEN FOR LOCALISATION
Mike Woodin and Caroline Lucas MEP
The Greens - an Antidote to Voter Apathy
All parties and commentators are expressing concern about the expected low turnout at the forthcoming election. Often a reason given is that people don't have confidence that politicians are capable of significantly improving the conditions in which people live in terms of health, education, transport, crime, pensions and so on.
This instinct is absolutely correct. All the Westminster parties have given up more and more control of the economy to the main beneficiaries of globalisation - big business. Thus when Motorola is in the process of pulling out of Britain it can contemptuously dismiss a pleading phone call from Tony Blair. Were William Hague or even more incredibly Charles Kennedy to become Prime Minister they would be able to do no better. All three main Westminster Parties and their leaders believe that globalisation is inevitable, is good and cannot be reversed. They are today's appeasers. Their capitulation to the big businesses agenda of lower trade barriers, lower taxes, and curbing environmental and labour standards will decrease their chance of ever providing what the British people want.
There is an alternative for such sceptical voters - and that is to vote Green. The rest of this article outlines the Green's alternative to globalisation, ie localisation, which prioritises the protection and rebuilding of local economies in the UK and globally. In the process big business and roving capital can be brought to heel by democratically elected politicians. The localisation programme also means that adequate taxes and social and environmental regulations can be introduced. This will ensure that there are enough resources and political power to provide the social services people crave for, whilst fully protecting the environment.
So whether you are a disgruntled pensioner, or fed up with substandard health and education, or are sympathetic to the aims of most anti globalisation protesters, or all of these, there is an alternative - VOTE GREEN.
Leading by Example
In 1989, the Greens sent shock waves through the other parliamentary parties when they gained 15% of the votes in the European elections. This result, reflecting as it did growing concerns about the state of the planet, galvanised all the other parties into adopting their own environmental policies - inadequate as they were and still are. Thus the Greens acted as a lightning rod for a public concern that the other parties were largely ignoring.
Now there is growing unease and opposition to the adverse effects of globalisation, particularly as it reduces job security and increases inequality both within and between nations. The recent slap down of Tony Blair as he pleaded with one of our supposed high tech saviours, Motorola, not to shut their British factory in the face of the world-wide economic downturn, is just the latest instance of how embracing globalisation leads to increased political impotence.
The Green Party on the other hand is making an alternative - "localisation", a key plank of its election campaign. It is the first political party to challenge the existing political and economic theology of globalisation and instead call for its replacement with an emphasis on local production and the rebuilding of local economies.
Import and export controls should be negotiated to reduce international trade to a fairly traded exchange of goods that cannot be produced locally. Developing nations should meet local needs by setting up import substitution schemes, with OECD assistance, based on appropriate technology and sustainable agriculture.
"Reach for the Future" Green Party Manifesto Globalisation is "irreversible and irresistible" says Tony Blair
The Prime Minister's view typifies the attitude of all UK political parties except the Greens. The others have swallowed Mrs Thatcher's most corrosive, four letter legacy-TINA (there is no alternative). In doing so they slavishly adhere to the view that globalisation is inevitable and the best they can offer their voters is the hope that it might be tinkered with to make it a little bit kinder and gentler to both people and the planet.
The Green Party's goal by contrast is to ensure that everything that could reasonably be produced within a nation or region should be.
Long-distance trade is then reduced to supplying what could not come from within one country or geographical grouping of countries. This has the environmental advantage of no longer transporting so many goods over unnecessary distances. It would allow an increase in local control of the economy and the potential for its benefits being shared out more fairly, locally. Technology and information would be encouraged to flow, when and where it can to strengthen local economies. Under these circumstances, beggar-your-neighbour globalisation gives way to the potentially more cooperative better-your-neighbour localisation.
The Party's localisation approach is not against rules for trade - but we want them to have the different end goal of protecting and rediversifying local economies. The rules of globalisation, by contrast, force all nations to bow the knee to the false god of international competitiveness. Under our approach, the rules for the diminished international trading sector then become those of the "fair trade" movement, where preference is given to goods supplied in a way that benefits workers, the local community and the environment.
The Party's Election Manifesto has a programme of a mutually consistent and self-reinforcing set of measures to achieve localisation. These include:
a) the reintroduction of protective safeguards for domestic economies (tariffs quotas etc);
b) a "site here to sell here" rule for manufacturers and services;
c) keeping money local via policies ranging from exchange controls through to a "Tobin Tax" on currency speculation;
d) resource and progressive taxes to fund the transition, whilst protecting the environment;
e) the reorientation of the goals of aid and trade rules so that they contribute to the international rebuilding of local economies and local control world-wide. Poor countries could then concentrate on meeting basic needs, not out-competing their already impoverished neighbours for exports to the North.
Cooperation Against Globalisation
Such a dramatic, radical change will of course need to overcome fierce opposition from the major beneficiaries from globalisation - transnational companies (TNCs) and international capital.
It will be difficult for one country to shoulder this burden alone. Individual countries will need to co-operate against globalisation, on a regional basis, but without falling into the trap of "globalisation"on a smaller scale in "free trade"blocs. Regional blocs, such as Europe and America can have a key role to play. They could face down corporations and capital and introduce adequate controls on them. Unfortunately four years of Bush's programme of deliberately rolling back key social and environmental protection means that very little can be expected from the US, and so Britain should urge Europe to take on the mantle as a major engine for change.
The Green Party appreciates the need to seek allies in Europe against globalisation. Co-author Caroline Lucas, elected to the EU parliament in 1999, is already working with the European Greens to make localisation more central to such policies. When the Nice Summit was discussing expanding the European Union eastwards, she kicked off such a debate by publishing "From Seattle to Nice: Challenging the Free Trade Agenda at the Heart of Enlargement." In this she called for a bolder, more ambitious vision of a Europe of genuine stability and co-operation, based on the rebuilding of sustainable local economies both East and West, and throughout the world.
The Green Party's General Election Manifesto makes clear that the Green Party are in favour of a very different Europe from what is on offer at present. The manifesto rejects the superstate model of the European Union, "dominated by vested economic interests" with "remote and unaccountable institutions." The Party is working for a multi-track Europe that co-operates on matters of shared concern.
Localisation - Central to Solving Social and Environmental Problems
Of course in the Green Party's Election Manifesto there is inadequate space to spell out the far reaching improvements possible under the localisation programme. However the main strength of this approach lies in its potential to provide an overarching political framework that will enable citizen's campaigns across a whole variety of issues to become more achievable. This holds true for matters as disparate as tackling climate change through to global poverty, from inadequate pensions through to crumbling public services.
Many people when they think of the Green Party think purely of environmental concerns. However the policies of localisation will not only enable the achievement of the level of environmental protection needed in the UK and world-wide, but will also allow the funds to be raised for social necessities such as the substantial improvement of health, education, transport and community renewal.
Globalisation- the Roadblock to Domestic Improvements
Many activists campaigning for such domestic improvements still look to more government expenditure as the solution. Yet because of their history of seeing such improvements through a domestic lens, they often fail to take into account that globalisation puts the governments under huge ideological and business pressure to curb public expenditure. Hence the chances of obtaining the levels of resources for public services they require are virtually zero.
A major roadblock to adequate levels of taxation for the provision of such services is the threat by big business to relocate should taxes rise. This is frequently justified in order to overcome the competitive pressures generated by globalisation. The presumed need to lure in foreign investment is cited as another reason to curb taxes. To provide adequate levels of social funding will need globalisation to be replaced by economic policies that enable elected governments to take back control of their economy. These include:
A Site-Here-to-Sell-Here Policy
In conjunction with the phased introduction of tariffs, quotas and subsidies to ensure the maximum protection and diversity of the local economy, the Green Party's site-here-to-sell-here legislation would, over time, considerably reduce levels of imports by localising industry and services.
Threats by big business to relocate thus become less plausible, as the cost of doing so is to lose market share to local competitors. Once large companies are thus grounded, then their domestic activities and the levels of taxation they pay could be brought back more under the control of citizens and their governments.
Campaigners' demands for social, labour and environmental standards also become feasible. Since under localisation, these TNCs would no longer be able to play the trump card of international competitiveness as an excuse not to be bound by better working, environmental or tax regimes. Furthermore adequate company taxation can help compensate poorer households for any increases in prices.
Market access for foreign companies would be dependent on the exporter being able to supply goods and services not available in the importing country. Preference would also be given to such imports provided by countries as close as possible, thus limiting long distance trade.
Reasonable levels of company taxation would become feasible, since the excuse of unfair competition from low tax/ low wage foreign competitors would no longer be valid. The levels of other taxation could then be raised to pay for social provision, since under localisation countries would no longer have to curb taxes in order to lure in foreign investment. The same would be true of resource taxes such as those on energy which at present are easily constrained by business arguing that they would render domestic producers uncompetitive.
The Greens' Localisation Programme Could Help NGO's Campaigns
Under localisation the constraints on the ability of business to threaten relocation makes them far more susceptible to domestic calls for change. Compare this with present efforts to curb the power of big business, which all assume ever more open borders will be the norm. This leads to a set of usually rather cautious approaches ranging from calls to monitor TNC activity through to various, usually voluntary, codes of conduct and standards. However, under globalisation, any really radical improvement in corporate social or environmental practise soon flounders. Adequate compliance is usually deemed impossible since changes would make the company uncompetitive, hence it might shut down or relocate. The most widespread example of this has been resistance to energy price increases to combat climate change.
In terms of the developing world, anti-TNC campaigns by citizen's movements both North and South tends to focus upon four areas: the product the company is producing (eg the anti-Nestles baby milk campaign); the workers' age or their conditions (eg the Asian football, carpets or toy campaigns); the involvement of businesses in supporting regimes deemed unacceptable (eg South Africa under apartheid or Burma today); and the adverse effects of the production process or environmental threats (such as clear-cut logging and deforestation by Mitsubishi and MacMillan Bloedel).
The activists research, lobby, hold demonstrations, call for boycotts, demand the introduction of codes of conduct and insist on adherence to international standards. While these approaches have had some success in changing the behaviour of the specific TNC targeted, there has been very little significant change in the overall activities of TNCs. Indeed the pattern of the companies' responses has tended to be denial, followed by a degree of admission of a problem, followed by lengthy discussions of the details of voluntary codes of conduct, then further arguments of the scope of the code along the supply chain, and finally discussions of the details of independent verification and monitoring. The end result is often far short of the original goal.
Tax and SPEND on Society and the Environment: At Last Feasible Under Localisation
Ecological taxes on energy, other resource use and pollution would help pay for the radical economic transition towards localisation. They would be environmentally advantageous and should replace VAT. Indeed a central plank of any government policy to tackle the environmental problems will be adequate taxes on energy and other resources. These, along with the necessary legislation, grants and loans can provide the revenue to rebuild public transport, turn organic farming from niche to normality, phase out polluting chemicals and reduce carbon emissions by the 60% required to tackle climate change.
What is stopping this green transition is the fact that, under globalisation, as soon as even mild taxation is muted, big business from the pro fossil fuel Climate Coalition to the CBI clamours that international competitiveness is threatened. This, allied with judicious threats of closure and relocation, ensures that any plans for adequate green taxes are dropped. This happened in the early days of Al Gore's vice presidency, when he was still trying to be a practising environmentalist. Efforts by the European Union to try and introduce an anodyne carbon energy tax to begin to address climate change met with the same fate.
Yet how else is the world to get a 60-80% reduction in carbon emissions in the next 40 years? This will require a massive increase in energy taxes in order to change behaviour adequately, along with supportive legislation and incentives. Significant amounts of money will also be needed to meet the initial costs of shifting energy supplies away from mobile sources like oil, gas and coal, to more localised sources like wind, wave and solar. Up front spending will also be necessary for the massive improvement in energy conservation levels of the entire building stock; adequate provision of public transportation; and shifting agriculture from intensive to organic methods. Some money could be diverted from subsidies to fossil fuels, but the likely costs could run into of billions of dollars to adequately alter the existing infrastructure.
So Vote Green
The growing number of anti-globalisation demonstrations across the world are coming under increasing fire from their critics for failing to offer an alternative. Yet the UK Green Party have done just this and so deserve all your support at the upcoming election. We are standing in around 140 constituencies and if we gain significant support, it will send a much needed wake up call to the New Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat appeasers of globalisation. More importantly it could kick off the debate about alternatives to globalisation that could help encourage the growing international protest movement to shift from opposition to much needed proposition.
Mike Woodin and Caroline Lucas MEP
The authors would like to thank Colin Hines (author of "Localization- A Global Manifesto" [Earthscan]) for his input on the policies proposed in this article.
Party of England & Wales