We Dream A World: Resisting & Surviving Six Decades of the IMF & World Bank

5 April 2004 by Soren Ambrose , Njoki Njoroge Njehu

For many of us it is by now a familiar story:

In the summer of 1944, as the ultimate outcome of World War II looked increasingly certain, representatives from 44 countries met in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire to establish institutions that would manage the post-war international economy so as to ensure prosperity, development, fairness, and an end to the economic crises and tensions that fuelled the Great Depression of the 1930s, the rise of fascism in Europe and Asia, and ultimately World War II...

A fine beginning, and indeed for their first 25 years or so the resulting institutions, the International Monetary Fund IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.

(IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction & Development (commonly called the World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

), do deserve a good amount of credit for maintaining a stable global equilibrium. Not necessarily a fair one, but a relatively stable one.

But we also know that the story got uglier once the loans they made got bigger and started going to big projects like large dams or roads into the Amazon, or to supporting extremist pro-corporate economic policies.

We don’t know yet how the story ends. Some people think the institutions are reformable, while others think the future of the planet and its people demand that the institutions be eliminated and something new tried.

But we do know that the story’s plot got a lot more interesting ten years ago, when activists from around the world who had been opposing IMF and World Bank policies in their countries or in sectors where they had expertise came together to create a global campaign to counter the anticipated burst of publicity that would accompany the institutions’ 50th anniversary. That campaign was called, in most places, 50 YEARS IS ENOUGH!

It put the IMF and World Bank on the defensive over their destructive environmental practices, their incessant drive for privatization of national industries and basic services, their prioritization of debt repayment and abstract economic figures over basic welfare and social services for people, their willingness to erode the capacity of peoples, societies, and entire countries to manage their economies for their own needs, and their apparent function of exercising control over economic and political decision making in most of the world on behalf of the wealthiest governments and corporations.

In the United States, host country to the institutions, the campaign hit a nerve, and changed into a network of organizations dedicated to the fundamental transformation of the IMF and World Bank.

As we look toward 2004 and the 60th year of the IMF and the World Bank,50 Years Is Enough: U.S. Network for Global Economic Justice intends to once again use a milestone anniversary to expose the role and impact of the institutions and spark campaigns worldwide to more assertively challenge them, and the countries that control them, to change the way the global economy is structured. To make, in short, the organizing principle justice rather than profit Profit The positive gain yielded from a company’s activity. Net profit is profit after tax. Distributable profit is the part of the net profit which can be distributed to the shareholders. .

We are often asked if we intend to change the name of our group. Isn’t it outdated? We don’t think so. If anything, we would change the verb tense, not the number. Fifty years, after all, WAS enough. We’re proud to have been declaring that now, for ten years.

We wish we didn’t have to; we wish there was no need for an organization like ours. But while a lot has happened in the last ten years, a lot has yet to change.

We have changed the debate, that’s for sure. Since 1994, staff at the IMF and the World Bank have had to contend with knowledge and evidence that the work they do is not unquestionably beneficial for the people and ecology of the world. They may still argue that their work makes the world better (and many do), but they have to argue and confront the mountains of evidence to the contrary.

And they know that there are a lot more people who will argue against them. Our first big demonstration against the IMF and World Bank in the United States, at their fall meetings in 1995 (the 1994 meetings were in Madrid, Spain), drew about one thousand people. In subsequent years we usually had between 500 and 1000 people outside the institutions during their fall meetings when they were in Washington. At their spring meetings, we sometimes had as few as 25 demonstrators.

All that changed with the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO WTO
World Trade Organisation
The WTO, founded on 1st January 1995, replaced the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT). The main innovation is that the WTO enjoys the status of an international organization. Its role is to ensure that no member States adopt any kind of protectionism whatsoever, in order to accelerate the liberalization global trading and to facilitate the strategies of the multinationals. It has an international court (the Dispute Settlement Body) which judges any alleged violations of its founding text drawn up in Marrakesh.

) demonstrations in Seattle, a crystallization of work many of us in the global justice movement had been doing for a number of years. It served as a catalyst and provided momentum for our organizing during the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank, just four months after the Seattle WTO ministerial. Some intensive coalition-building yielded a crowd outside the IMF/World Bank spring meetings, on April 16, 2000, of over twenty thousand people — a thousand-fold increase over the previous year.

We won’t rehearse all of the other events of the last ten years — from the East Asian financial crisis that ripped the “teflon” off the IMF to the debates we’ve participate in with the institutions’ representatives to the dozens of protests and deaths as people resisted and protested policies, programs, and projects of the IMF & World Bank. However, we note that the IMF/World Bank campaigning community and organizations are in a stronger position today than we were in 1994. But any satisfaction we might feel is tempered by the recognition that the world, particularly its most vulnerable people and ecosystems, have endured another ten years of devastating corporate globalization, with all the death, denial, and destruction that implies.

During the 60th anniversary year, we are going to be exposing again the record of the IMF and the World Bank, the institutions which have, at the direction of the wealthiest governments — especially the United States government — created and enforced the rules of the global economy.

We will be showing that the World Bank, after reducing for several years its involvement in “high risk” infrastructure projects, is now ramping up its commitment — despite the sharp and immediate assertions by civil society that it does not have the right to force those risks on people and the environment. Indeed, it still has much to answer for in terms of the risks it has supported in the past, and refused to take responsibility for.

We will be demonstrating that through the debt and currency crises, the bailouts, the structural adjustment Structural Adjustment Economic policies imposed by the IMF in exchange of new loans or the rescheduling of old loans.

Structural Adjustments policies were enforced in the early 1980 to qualify countries for new loans or for debt rescheduling by the IMF and the World Bank. The requested kind of adjustment aims at ensuring that the country can again service its external debt. Structural adjustment usually combines the following elements : devaluation of the national currency (in order to bring down the prices of exported goods and attract strong currencies), rise in interest rates (in order to attract international capital), reduction of public expenditure (’streamlining’ of public services staff, reduction of budgets devoted to education and the health sector, etc.), massive privatisations, reduction of public subsidies to some companies or products, freezing of salaries (to avoid inflation as a consequence of deflation). These SAPs have not only substantially contributed to higher and higher levels of indebtedness in the affected countries ; they have simultaneously led to higher prices (because of a high VAT rate and of the free market prices) and to a dramatic fall in the income of local populations (as a consequence of rising unemployment and of the dismantling of public services, among other factors).

IMF : http://www.worldbank.org/
programs (cunningly, or brazenly, renamed “growth and poverty reduction”), the IMF has continued to act as a powerful agent for irrational and destructive economic policies. Irrational, that is, if the impact on the ostensible beneficiaries is the gauge, but wholly rational if the goal is maintaining the continued imbalance of the global economy to favor the already-wealthy.

We will be showing that the institutions are hatching even more plans to shift wealth and resources into private hands, squeezing the workers and the ecosystems of the world for private profit.

And we will be continuing to demand change — fundamental, systemic, moral change. Loudly. Maybe loudly enough, in this presidential election year, to make more people pay close attention to the strength of the global justice movement in the United States.

We will be sponsoring speaking tours, film festivals, decentralized actions, and more. Our partners around the world will be organizing and mobilizing as well. In April 2004, we are calling for a mass mobilization in Washington, DC at the time of the institutions’ joint spring meetings (April 22-28). It will be both a kick-off for the events during the rest of the year, and a vivid demonstration of the power of the U.S. global justice movement. Join us in Washington, and join us throughout the year.



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