Activists to blockade World Economic Forum


International activists urged Australians on Sunday to join a blockade of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Asia Pacific Economic Summit in Melbourne this week to protest against the power of international corporations.

A loose group of anti-corporate advocates aim to shut down the three-day summit beginning on Monday, hoping as many as 10,000 will send their message to business icons like Microsoft Corp chairman Bill Gates who will be at the meetings.

Chalk messages on the sidewalks in downtown Melbourne called on everyone to “Protest Corporate Greed,” “Globalize Resistance,” and “Blockade the WEF S11-13”.

About 900 people gathered at a downtown theater on Sunday to draw fuel from international activists, including a former Nike factory worker, Julianto, who led demands for better pay and ended up quitting his shoe sole hot press job.

“Every week at least one worker loses a part of a finger in dangerous machines,” Julianto said through an interpreter, describing the Nike plant in West Java.

Julianto said workers were paid the equivalent of A$2 a day, not enough to support one person, let alone a whole family. And while Nike provided its workers with housing, they were crammed 12 to a room and slept on wooden floors with no pillows.

“We need your help to put pressure on Nike to improve the workers’ conditions and increase their wages, and we want this to be addressed soon,” he said to huge applause.

Nike said last week it had increased wages by more than 70 percent for entry-level Indonesians and increased the minimum age to 16 for clothing workers and 18 for footwear workers.

Filipino Walden Bello, who heads a group called Focus on the Global South, told the coalition of workers, environmentalists, human rights advocates, and leftists that big corporations and bodies like the World Trade Organization were ruining the world.

“I am talking about disabling not just the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank, but dismantling the transnational corporation itself,” said Bello.

Police in the state of Victoria, on high alert for trouble, met with leaders of the coalition, dubbed S11 for the Sept. 11 start date of the summit, and assured them they could protest as long as they stayed peaceful and did not damage property.

There are fears the protests could descend into the sort of violence that engulfed Seattle during a World Trade Organization meeting last November.

“None of us want to get arrested, but we’re all prepared to get arrested,” said Bruce Knobloch, a member of the International Socialist organization, who was handing out flyers outside the rally theater.

At the Crown Casino complex, where the summit is being held and a wooden barricade has been put up, police emptied out the premises on Sunday afternoon to run a security sweep.