Against “This” Globalization


Vittorio
Agnoletto recently represented the Italian movement at the international
council of the World Social Forum. In 1987, just two years after
graduating in industrial medicine at Milan’s state university,
he co-founded LILA, the Italian League for the Fight against AIDS
and was president from 1992 until November 2001. Agnoletto has been
a member of the International AIDS Society since 1999 and has written
various books and over 100 articles on AIDS-related issues. I talked
with him this spring. 

PACITTI:
The Italian movement that you represent is commonly referred to
by the media here in Italy as the “no global” or anti-globalization
movement. Do you accept this denomination? 

AGNOLETTO:
Not at all. In fact, it’s quite misleading. We are not opposed
to globalization as such, but simply to the present form of globalization. 

Could
you outline the sort of globalization that the movement is opposed
to and the sort you wish to promote? 

We
are against the globalization of profits in a world dominated by
economic considerations in the absence of political rules. That
is our basic position. We support the globalization of rights, for
example, safeguarding the rights of all those who work. That means
demanding respect for trade union rights throughout the world, including
full maternity and health rights. 

Globalizing
rights means protecting the environment, so that signing the Kyoto
agreement is an indispensable first step. It means refusing to accept
a world in which over one billion people live on less than a dollar
a day. It means the refusal to believe in a world in which nearly
a billion people still have no access to drinking water. 

On
the other hand, we have realistic aims and are not just idle dreamers.
According to both UNICEF and a recent UN development program, it
would require the relatively modest figure of U.S.$80 billion to
supply everyone with drinking water, a decent food diet, and basic
health care. Here in Italy we have proposed the Tobin tax. If it
were to be applied to the world’s eight stock markets simultaneously,
it would go a long way towards remedying poverty and hunger. 

We
are certainly not advocating a return to the Stone Age. Computers
and the Internet are fundamental. But we want to see a world with
a different development. That is why we oppose institutions that
are illegitimate—the WTO or G-8, which was never elected by
anyone to govern the world. 

We
wish to see a new role for UNO that would allow it to make political
decisions, a less bureaucratic UNO in which everyone would have
the right to vote and no one the right of veto. That is why we are
opposed to the IMF and World Bank. 

What
exactly are the components of the movement in Italy and how many
organizations are there? 

The
Italian movement is quite distinctive in that it did not arise suddenly,
but was the result of the work carried out by hundreds of associations
and groups that began working in specific areas from the mid-1980s.
Many of these people had previously been engaged in political activities. 

Following
the cultural defeat of the left, which preceded its political defeat,
each of us began working in his or her own specific specialist field.
In my own case, that has meant 15 years in the AIDS field fighting
to have the rights of HIV-positive people upheld. Others have been
carrying out parallel work in other fields. 

Has
your own work been limited to Italy? 

I
do a lot of work in the Balkans and am involved in solidarity intervention
programs in South Africa and Nigeria. In 1996 new medicines began
to appear. Protease inhibitors are a particularly important example.
They completely transform the lives of AIDS sufferers. Since 1996
their administration has prolonged life expectancy by 16-18 years. 

Meanwhile,
we know that almost 95 percent of HIV-positive people are unable
to use the inhibitors on account of their high cost —about
U.S.$10,000 a year per person. 

When
we ask why this medicine is so expensive and whether its high price
is somehow an unalterable fact of life, we discover that there is
absolutely no relation between market price and research and production
costs and that the reason for this is because they are running a
monopoly. 

Would
you name some of the people we’re talking about here? 

GlaxoSmithKline,
Abbott, and Merck [based respectively in England, Illinois, and
New Jersey]. Those are the main ones. 

How
is it that they are allowed to run a monopoly? 

Because
the WTO has established a patent regulation that guarantees the
interests of these corporations for over 20 years. It safeguards
the intellectual ownership of such medicines and that means that
no one else is allowed to produce them. So if we want to defend
the rights of HIV-positive people, we have to fight against the
WTO. 

How
united is the Italian movement, given the fact that it reflects
a wide cross-section of opinion? 

A
fundamental characteristic of the Italian movement is that it is
wholly united. This is something that is quite unique in Europe
and perhaps even in the world. 

How
did this come about? 

It
goes back to Genoa. In order to contest the G-8 Summit, in November
2000 we drew up a plan of action that stressed the ideals that held
us together and set out our common objectives and programs. At a
certain point we realized that we needed a spokesperson to speak
for the whole movement and I was nominated. 

When
was this exactly? 

It
was in May 2001 during the lead-up to the Genoa Social Forum. The
November 2000 plan of action document was signed by 1,000 associations—600
Italian and 400 foreign. 

After
Genoa, social forums began to spring up throughout Italy as a response
to state repression and in order to help carry forward our plans
and programs. Today we have over 130 social forums in Italy—virtually
one in every key town and area. This spring, we held our National
Social Forum convention and did some more organizing. We hold a
national convention every two or three months and a coordinating
group meets once a month with one representative from each social
forum and representatives from each of the national associations.
 

So
what’s the next step? 

This
document now has to be signed by the 130 local social forums and
also by all the national associations, which run into hundreds.
We have a coordinating group for every social forum and one for
every association, which meets every month. Then we have six national
work groups that work on different themes. One of these themes is
no to war and terrorism. Another work group organizes our presence
at every meeting of FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization].  

A
second work group organized for the world meeting of FAO held this
June in Rome. A third group is organizing the ESF. A fourth is dealing
with immigrant labor. There are also a couple of others. Each group
will establish two, three, or four spokespeople, but one only on
the respective themes of each group. 

Given
the present adverse political situation in Italy in terms of the
Silvio Berlusconi government and the left’s weak opposition
and disarray, isn’t there a political role for your movement? 

We
are essentially a social movement with social, cultural, and political
objectives and a social movement we must remain. I am totally opposed
to any transformation of this movement into a political party. 

But
do you believe you can influence politicians sufficiently from outside
the political arena? 

Our
proposals always command the maximum attention and even succeed
in dividing individual parties. We are working for the reorganization
of the left and I am in favor of an organization of the left that
is genuinely alternative, substantially pluralist, and non-ideological.
The fact that we are working towards this objective doesn’t
mean that the movement has to be transformed into a political party. 

The
movement raises problems and proposes issues and it does so with
such vigor that it upsets and divides the political framework, which
we also try to put together again with the hypothesis of an alternative
left, but not by transforming ourselves. As a movement we are much
stronger than a political organization. So in all these months the
real opposition to the Berlusconi government has been our movement,
which has held open the door of democracy and resistance. 

How
do you feel media indoctrination is faring in Italy? 

Italy
has a very large and varied media with a particularly high number
of local television networks, probably more than any other European
country. Ours is the so-called nation of the thousand towns and
cities each of which has one or two daily newspapers, but the ownership
is concentrated in very few hands. Berlusconi owns three national
TV networks in addition to major publishing houses. He recently
helped a group of entrepreneurs to prevent Italia 7 from becoming
an independent TV network. 

Can
we quantify the sort of damage that’s being done? 

Well,
the risk is that we could be getting information that is all one
way. The risk is that people don’t know what’s happening
and that they confuse television with reality. 

Do
you have any particular cases in mind? 

Take
a look at the way Genoa was handled. We won the information battle
in Genoa because we were able to develop an alternative network
of radios, newspapers, and magazines to counter misinformation.
We won because thousands of people working within the Italian cinema
gave us their support. They filmed what actually happened and flooded
all the TV networks with their videotapes so that the truth got
shown. 

The
point is that the journalists who had been sent to Genoa by those
same newspapers were meanwhile writing the truth and were producing
articles for the local news pages, which went in our favor. So,
on the one hand, you had the prestigious front-page article by the
editorialist writing under pressure from the ownership and attacking
us; and, in the local news pages where the articles were written
by people who had actually been there and witnessed what had happened,
they only had to tell the truth and we were automatically being
defended. 

The
government would have liked to close the Genoa affair with the claim
that it had all been about a subversive movement organized by Vittorio
Agnoletto. But all the documentation showed that this was untrue.
So, despite being in a country where all the main networks are under
the control of the government and Berlusconi, we displayed a great
capacity to counter misinformation. The problem is that this great
capacity to counter misinformation is something we are only able
to produce at the high points in a conflict. We obviously aren’t
able to get through to people in this way every day. 

Say
something about the positive results of the World Social Forum 2
in Porto Alegre last February. 

No
one can call us “no global” after Porto Alegre because
we demonstrated that we are in favor of another type of globalization.
Secondly, no one can accuse us of being only capable of protesting
since there were 900 work groups, all perfectly capable of proposing
alternatives. At Porto Alegre we succeeded in showing how a union
between the movements of the north and the large mass movements
and populations of the south is not a union built purely on ideology
and solidarity. We are fighting battles in which we have common
interests. 

That
another world is possible is fundamental. But it is the only world
that is possible and we want that world also for ourselves. 

What
would you say is the lesson we should learn from 9/11? 

The
lesson is that the only real antidote to terrorism is our movement.
We have been accused of providing a fertile terrain for terrorism.
It is rather neoliberal policies that provide such a terrain. If
we succeed in consolidating as a world movement and manage to obtain
a few victories—we also need to win a few times—we’ll
become more credible in the eyes of the great masses in the world’s
south. Terrorism has nothing whatsoever to do with our movement.
That is why we are building the African Social Forum and the Asian
Social Forum and giving spaces to the alternative movements. So
we remain the only antidote to terrorism to the same extent that
we can succeed in our battle against neoliberalism. In producing
hunger and poverty, neoliberalism is the very cradle of terrorism.
                          Z 


Domenico
Pacitti is an international journalist and academic. A correspondent
for
The Times Higher Education Supplement and
the
Guardian (London) and Italy editor of World
Parliamentarian
(Brussels), he has written on  Italian
higher education, culture, and politics.