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McLIBEL - MORE VICTORIES.
Sept 1999 newsletter from McLibel campaign
Since our last mailout, the global campaign against McDonald's has continued to grow - mass distribution of leaflets by thousands of local activists, millions of hits to 'McSpotlight', many determined residents campaigns against new stores, mass anti-McDonald's protests by french farmers opposing economic globalisation, a crew unionisation success in a store in America for the first time and general bad publicity for the Corporation as a result of the McLibel case. In March this year the McLibel Appeal resulted in further important victories for campaigners.
The Defendants have now lodged a petition to the House of Lords, and after that will go to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary to seek to overturn the UK's oppressive libel laws.For this reason we are making a financial appeal for McLibel - Funds have run very low, and we urgently need funds for legal costs (transcripts, photocopying of papers for court etc). Not a penny will go to McDonald's of course! Donations will be greatly appreciated (Cheques to McLibel Support Campaign).
HOUSE OF LORDS PETITION
Helen and Dave, representing themselves, are seeking to defend the public's right to criticise companies whose business practices affect people's lives, health and environment, arguing that multinational corporations should no longer be able to sue for libel. They will also argue that publishing material about matters of public importance and interest should be protected by 'qualified privilege' - a point related to the matters currently being heard by the House of Lords in the libel case of the former Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds vs The Sunday Times. Helen and Dave also seek an end to unfair and oppressive defamation laws and procedures.
But most importantly for McDonald's they are seeking leave to argue that, having now won the bulk of the issues in dispute with the fast-food corporation, they should have won the case outright. After a controversial 314 day trial ending in June 1997, in which the defendants had been denied Legal Aid and their right to a jury trial, Mr Justice Bell ruled that: McDonald's marketing has "pretended to a positive nutritional benefit which their food (high in fat & salt etc) did not match"; that McDonald's "exploit children" with their advertising strategy; are "culpably responsible for animal cruelty"; and "pay low wages, helping to depress wages in the catering trade." Significantly McDonald's did not appeal over these damning rulings against their core business practices, stating that the Judge was 'correct in his conclusions' ! [McDonald's written submissions 5.1.99].The McLibel 2 failed to convince the judge on all issues, however, and so appealed.
On March 31st the Court of Appeal added to those damning findings, after a 23-day hearing earlier this year. Lord Justices Pill, May and Keane ruled that it was fair comment to say that McDonald's employees worldwide "do badly in terms of pay and conditions", and true that "if one eats enough McDonald's food, one's diet may well become high in fat etc., with the very real risk of heart disease.'" But despite these further findings the Appeal Court only reduced Mr Justice Bell's original award of £60,000 pounds damages to McDonald's (who'd spent an estimated £10m on the case) by £20,000.
The defendants believe, and will argue that it is an outrage that McDonald's has been awarded any damages at all in the light of all the serious findings made against the company and the fact that no sanctions have been taken against them.
McLIBEL 2 SUE MET POLICE COMMISSIONER.
In September 1998 Helen and Dave launched proceedings against the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, claiming damages for misfeasance in public office, breach of confidence and breach of their right to privacy.Their claim results from actions of police officers, including Special Branch officers, which came to light as a result of the McLibel trial.Police officers had passed private and in some cases false information about the McLibel 2 (and some other protestors), including their home addresses, to McDonald's and to private investigators hired by McDonald's to infiltrate London Greenpeace.
During the trial Sid Nicholson, McDonald's Head of Security and a former Met Chief Superintendent, stated from the witness box that McDonald's security department were 'all ex-policemen' and if he ever wanted to know information about protestors he would go to his contacts in the police, (day 249 p38). This collusion between the police and a multinational corporation against members of the public exposes the political role of the police in ensuring the wheels of big business keep turning.The case is expected to be heard later this year.
WHAT CAN BE LEARNED FROM McLIBEL ?
Around the world there is a war being waged on society by a powerful minority who seek to control and use other people, animals and the planet in order to make profits for themselves.But many around the world are fighting back, for ecological sustainability and for freedom for all people and animals. Increasingly companies are turning to the courts to suppress this dissent and opposition.
But the thousands of people around the world who participated in the McLibel battle have demonstrated that when people are organised and defiant these corporations do not succeed in getting everything their own way, and that court cases can instead be used as an opportunity to draw the issues to the attention of many more people.
In September 1990 McDonald's issued libel writs in order to suppress the distribution (at that time in the thousands) of London Greenpeace anti-McDonald's leaflets, and with the wider aim of frightening off and silencing all other critics of the company.
Instead, 3 million leaflets have been handed out on the streets in the UK alone since the writs were served and there is a much greater public awareness of what McDonald's really represents (in a recent survey of young people, one in two said they did not trust McDonald's - Telegraph 6.5.99). There have been over a million more leaflets (now available in at least 27 languages) handed out in solidarity protests all over the world.The 'McSpotlight' Internet site, with over 65 million 'hits' in its first 3 years, enabled campaigners, researchers, journalists and interested people world-wide to have immediate access to a huge range of anti-McDonald's material and news.
This victory in defiance of McDonalds' threats demonstrates the power that ordinary people have when they believe in themselves and decide to fight back against the powerful institutions who currently control our lives and the planet.
The company had predicted that the case would last '3-4 weeks', but instead it was turned into an extensive public tribunal in which corporate 'McWorld' was put on trial. McDonald's spent an estimated £10 million as against a defence total of £35,000 raised from public donations. Despite all the cards being stacked against them, and the vast amount of work involved, it was an amazing and empowering experience for the defendants (and for others too). People rallied round to help out in all kinds of practical ways: as witnesses; helping with admin; giving legal advice; sending copies of press cuttings & company documents, money and even just messages of support. The defendants were determined to be seen as fighters rather than passive 'victims'.
Representing themselves in such a huge trial was exhausting but was also the most rewarding aspect of the trial, giving them the opportunity to challenge corporate propaganda head on, bring out previously secret information about the company and put forward an alternative world view.
Critics of McDonald's and of the food industry in general were completely vindicated by the evidence, the judge making some damning major findings against the company's core business practices. Following this McDonald's capitulated by abandoning all efforts to get costs, damages or an injunction to stop the leafleting (which had been their primary aim).
But none of this would have been effective without the actions of thousands of ordinary people continuing to distribute leaflets, ensuring that the public heard the other side of the story to that spun by McDonald's.The McLibel Support Campaign was set up by volunteers to galvanise public interest and support, to help with legal finances and practical tasks, but amazingly for most of the time it was run from an office in someone's bedroom.Despite this it succeeded in ensuring that the private and often seemingly obscure legal battle in the courtroom became a public issue fought and won in the court of public opinion and on the street.
Regular supporters' mailouts, hundreds of e-mailings and numerous international 'Days of Action' were organised to ensure the public got to hear about the issues.Although the media (establishment and alternative) were consistently contacted and given reports of what was going on, the capitalist media largely trivialised or ignored the case, focussing on the personal side rather than the real issues.
The campaign, with varying success, also made links with residents' associations opposing plans for new McDonald's stores, gave encouragement to kids wanting to circulate anti-Ronald leaflets, and made contacts with disgruntled employees.
So, despite being up against one of the most successful propaganda organisations in the world, campaigners were able to throw the company so much on the defensive that after the trial their usual sophisticated PR was reduced to an embarrassed silence on the subject. The courts were also shown to be powerless in the face of mass defiance.
This was a real DIY victory, echoing other recent movements defying legal suppression - e.g. over issues of free speech, rights to organise and demonstrate, and to party, Poll Tax, environmental and animal rights direct actions, occupations of empty homes and buildings, and workers' struggles. We can all benefit from those movements which have gone before, giving us the perspective and strength to be able to fight and win current battles and ultimately, the long war for a better world.
Social inequalities and controls, and conflict and environmental destruction are serious and growing problems, so public discontent and opposition is bound to increase - as will our contact with the courts. Rather than be intimidated by repression, we should see it as a sign of our success and be even more determined to fight back.
We need to create a new society by taking direct control of our lives, workplaces, streets, neighbourhoods and land. Together ordinary people can reclaim our world, currently based on the greed and power of a minority, and create an anarchist* society based on strong and free communities, the sharing of precious resources and respect for all life.
(*Collins dictionary: a harmonious system of society without government)
Further details of the case and the campaign, or about London Greenpeace, from 'McSpotlight' - available on CD-Rom. Also available: 'McLibel: Burger Culture On Trial' (Pan Books, Macmillian press, £5.99) and the superb documentary 'McLibel: Two Worlds Collide'(53 mins - from One Off Productions, 0171 375 3181)
London Greenpeace / McLibel Support Campaign 5 Caledonian Rd, London, N1 9DX, UK. Tel/Fax +44-(0)171 713 1269 Email: email@example.com
Internet info: www.mcspotlight.org
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