The International Colloquium on Anti-Globalism,
Amsab/Institute of Social History,
Gent, Belgium, 09.09.05
This note began as a simple exercise preparatory to attending the Gent Colloquium on Anti-Globalism, September 2005. As I began raking my own mind and surfing the web, however, it took off into something more like a paper. In so far as it reflects on the two colloquium themes and identifies some possibly unfamiliar resources, it occurred to me that it might be of value to others. But in so far as much of it remains speculative, I thought it could only be completed by a Part 2, after the event. It should therefore be considered an incomplete draft. As always, critical feedback will be appreciated and acknowledged.
Introduction: the crucial triangle
Hosted by Belgium’s major institute of labour studies, in Gent, a Flemish city with a significant labour movement history, this one-day event can be expected to make a further contribution to the crucial triangular relationship between the trade unions, the global justice and solidarity movement (GJ & SM) and the academy (see further below). Belgium has further stakes in these topics. French-speaking academics have concerned themselves with internationalism, historical and contemporary (Gotovitch and Morelli 2003). Belgium is also the base for Cedetim (Centre Tricontinental) which, through the Forum Mondial des Alternatives has made a considerable contribution to research and documentation on the new global solidarity movements (Amin and Houtart 2002). And Brussels is the base of the International Confederation of Trade Unions and many of the associated Global Unions.
The Gent programme introduces the event as follows:
When speaking of 'anti-globalism' a number of social organisations and activities are designated, resisting to worldwide processes of so-called 'globalization'. This usually refers to neo-liberal economical reforms, and the often catastrophical social, cultural and ecological effects on the lives of a large part of the world population, most often but not exclusively in the South.
The protest actions against the 1999 Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organisation are generally considered as the starting point of this new social movement, although rooted in other social movements such as the third world movement or the ecological movement.
Though being a recent phenomenon, social sciences have already devoted serious research attention to the movement. Amsab-Institute of Social History will bring together a number of researchers in the International Colloquium Anti-globalism, who will survey the research on the anti-globalist movement.
The colloquium will touch upon a theme that in the coming years will become ever more important in the evolution of the anti-globalist movement, namely its position towards the 'global governance authorities'. Within the movement a relatively positive attitude exists towards the United Nations Organisation and linked organizations such as UNCTAD, although their structure and the lack of democracy in their decision making is under serious criticism. Sharply negative, on the other hand, is the attitude towards organizations such as WTO, IMF or G8.
The one-day event will, with little doubt, build on or add to such previous conferences of European labour research institutes/archives. These include one of Amsab itself and another of the International Conference of Labour and Social History in Linz, Austria. The first of these considered the past, present and future of the international trade union movement, particularly those of the 50-year-old International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (de Wilde 2001, Waterman 2001). The second was on ‘Labour and New Social Movements in a Globalising World System’ (Unfried and van der Linden 2004, Waterman 2005a).
Why I consider these events as a crucial triangular (I would like to avoid the term ‘tripartite’) relationship is because they seem provide a space within which it is not only possible to reflect, at some critical distance, on the movements themselves but also one within which there can be some serious dialogue on the relations between the two. Although it is my experience that the new movements have little trouble looking critically at themselves and each other (endlessly), the trade unions and political parties do have a problem here. And even within the endless discussion spaces of the World Social Forum (WSF) process, there has so far been little serious discussion on the trade unions/labour movement, or their relationship with the new one. Here the old and the new seem to have intercourse like porcupines – carefully. (I should say here, finally, that whilst I am using the conventional shorthand distinction between the old and the new, I am aware of the numerous ways in which these two categories overlap and in which, for example, the ‘new’ can reproduce today they characteristics associated with the ‘old’ 50 or 100 years ago.)
Documenting and researching
One half of the day in Gent will be devoted to documentation and research on the ‘anti-globalism’ movement, the other half to its impact on ‘global governance’. These areas and names suggest the interests and orientations of the sponsors of all three events, linked as they by the International Association of Labour History Institutions (IAHI). This body itself links union, party and associated research bodies, largely of the European social-reformist tradition. Earlier Marxist or Communist influences within IALHI have declined, for reasons that hardly require repetition. Yet, at the same time (and by related tokens!), the crisis of both unionism and social-democracy internationally seems to be encouraging at least some IALHI members to confront the challenge of the new international ‘movement of movements’. The latter could be considered to be today playing an analogous, if more complex, role to that of the labour movement in the 19th-20th centuries. Indeed, the questions arise of whether the new movement will not be incorporated into capitalism as the old one was, or whether it might succeed as an emancipatory movement where the old one failed.
The relationship between documentation/research on the labour movement and the GJ & SM will be considered by speakers associated with both traditions. I am not sure that the research/documentation projects of either are much aware of each other. We will have to see. Such ignorance is likely to be more true for researchers/archivists of the new movement than the old one, given that the new movement tends to consider that international social protest (and internationalism?) began in Chiapas 1994 or Seattle 1998! And, of course, because the global justice movement is new, un-institutionalised, inchoate, experimental and (relatively) underfunded. There are, nonetheless, various projects in and around the World Social Forum, intended to preserve the ‘memory’ of at least the WSF itself (Social Forums' Living Memory). And, in so far as the GJ & SM tends to recognise the centrality to its very existence of the Web, cyberspace already houses -and can house- infinite records and resources that any new research/archive projects can rely on. (For various projects and resources here consider Reyes 2005, Sullivan 2004, Waterman 2005b). There is thus little reason why collaboration on this axis should not benefit researchers and archivists at both ends.
Social movements and global ‘governance’
The afternoon session, on social movements and global governance, may turn out to be more problematic. Naming is taming, and this topic seems to me one conceptualised from within the social-democratic or liberal-pluralist tradition.
The conventional term ‘anti-globalisation movement’ suffers as do all negative definitions. But it also customarily avoids - like the plague? - the word ‘capitalism’. The negative definition, like the non-governmental organisation, lends itself easily to such questions as: how can the new (and old?) movements influence or pressure the institutions and processes of global governance in a progressive or more-democratic direction (Patomäki and Teivainen 2002, Massiah 2005)?
‘Governance’, rather than government, is not simply a neat new and relevant political science term, intended to spread attention to power relations beyond the international institutions; it is one that leans heavily toward ‘management’. Indeed, it has been argued that the term is specifically linked to the ideology and institutions of neo-liberalism (De Angelis 2003:24):
[G]overnance, far from representing a paradigm shift away from neoliberal practices, [is a] central element of the neoliberal discourse in a particular phase of it, when neoliberalism and capital in general face particular stringent problems of accumulation, growing social conflict and a crisis of reproduction. Governance sets itself the task to tackle these problems for capital by relaying the disciplinary role of the market through the establishment of a “continuity of powers” based on normalised market values as the truly universal values. Governance thus seeks to embed these values in the many ways the vast arrays of social and environmental problems are addressed. It thus promotes active participation of society in the reproduction of life and of our species on the basis of this market normalisation. Neoliberal governance thus seeks co-optation of the struggles for reproduction and social justice and, ultimately, promotes the perspective of the ‘end of history’.
A focus on the relations of the movements with a ‘global civil society in the making’ would seem to me potentially more open – less reproductive of failed national social-democratic and failing liberal-pluralist thinking – than one on governance (Waterman and Timms 2004). This needs to be said because there is a parallel corporate project, ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR) intimately linked with ‘global governance’, and with which both the old and the new international social movements are intertwined. Ewa Charkiewicz (2005:81) characterises CSR as
a paradigmatic example of how policy dialogues increasingly operate as virtual spectacles where governance is performed according to carefully scripted rules and norms. NGOs [and unions – PW] are offered voice without influence. Concepts such as poverty reduction or CSR have taken a discursive life of their own and by so doing pretend that poverty or CSR and accountability is addressed. The virtual performance of governance makes the differential effects of the organisation of the global production and consumption on the realities of people’s livelihoods invisible, as it assumes that these are addressed. […]
While…policy discourses such as CSR are conducted in the name of caring for life, and claim to deal with the social and environmental effects of production and consumption, at the same time they obscure that in order to generate value and profits life has to be killed. Inextricably linked with the caring face of global governance which
operates through biopolitical security discourses such as the one on CSR is the global economy which operates as war on livelihoods.
The second part of the colloquium is, however, to be opened by the Indian ecofeminist Vandana Shiva, closely associated with the new movements (and such orientations). It will be contributed to by a representative of the Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), which has one foot in the institutions of global governance-cum-corporate social responsibility, and one toe in the World Social Forum process (Waterman and Timms 2004).
Shiva favours a ‘living democracy’:
We need international solidarity and autonomous organising. Our politics needs to reflect the principle of subsidiarity. Our global presence cannot be a shadow of the power of corporations and Bretton Woods institutions. We need stronger movements at local and national levels, movements that combine resistance and constructive action, protests and building of alternatives, non-cooperation with unjust rule and cooperation within society. The global, for us, must strengthen the local and national, not undermine it. The two tendencies that we demand of the economic system needs to be central to people's politics -- localisation and alternatives. Both are not just economic alternatives they are democratic alternatives. Without them forces for change cannot be mobilised in the new context. (See V. Shiva's "The living democracy movement. Alternatives to de bankruptcy of globalisation").
Elsewhere, in the same piece Shiva advances arguments close to those of the Foucauldian feminist Charkiewicz and of the libertarian Marxists (for whom see The Commoner 2003).
There would seem to be a considerable tension, not to say ‘antagonistic contradiction’, between such a view, particularly if addressed directly to labour (Waterman 2003) and that of social-reformists in general, the ICFTU in particular. The ICFTU is heavily committed to the hoisting of failing national-level ‘social partnerships’, i.e. between capital, labour and state, to the global level. This has so far been done without consideration of why Keynesianism failed at national level and why it should succeed at the global one. ‘Social partnership’ has always meant the contribution or subordination of labour, as junior partner, to the development of capitalism and the state, as senior partners. This understanding is now being energetically promoted by the United Nations. The ICFTU is as deeply committed to the Global Compact now as it earlier was to another failed and unexamnined project, that of achieving a ‘Social Clause’ (international labour rights) within the World Trade Organisation. Concerning one part of its involvement in and with global governance, the ICFTU says:
The Global Compact is…an initiative that is based on dialogue, including social dialogue, built around the core labour standards of the ILO as well as other universal standards relating to human rights and the environment. This is an important opportunity for the social partners and other parties to develop relationships that will resolve problems inside companies and industries as well as to develop dialogue on compelling policy issues.
Global social dialogue has taken concrete form in 14 framework agreements signed by major companies with global union federations. The agreements are important not only for what is on paper but for the social dialogue that produced them and that continues to make them living agreements. They are pioneering ventures that contribute to good industrial relations. (See full text)
This language suggests the continuing faith of the ICFTU in capitalist democracy. It could hardly be more distant from Shiva’s notion of living democracy.
Given, however, the range of other speakers announced, it is difficult to predict in which direction discussion might go. It would perhaps be sufficient if it were to at least record and discuss the tensions between and within both old and new movements in their complex relations with capital and state – not to mention patriarchy, racism and other hegemonic instances or practices.
To be continued…
>> Amin, Samir and François Houtart (eds). 2002. Mondialisation des résistance : l’etat des luttes 2002. Paris : L’Harmattan. 386 pp.
>> Charkiewicz, Ewa. 2005. ‘Corporations, the UN and Neo-liberal Bio-politics’, Development, Vol. 48, No. 1, pp. 75-83.
>> De Angelis, Massimo. 2003. ‘Neoliberal Governance, Reproduction and Accumulation, pdf.’, The Commoner, No. 7,
>> de Wilde, Bart (ed). 2001. The Past and Future of International Trade Unionism. Gent: Amsab.
>> Gotevitch, José and Anne Morelli (eds). 2003. Les solidarités internationales: histoire et perspectives. Brussels: Éditions Labor. 282 pp.
>> Massiah, Gustave. 2005. ‘La réforme de l’ONU et le mouvement altermondialiste’
>> Patomäki and Teivainen. 2002. Global Democracy Initiatives: The Art of the Possible. Helsinki: Network Institute for Global Democratisation.
>> Reyes, Oscar. 2005. 'World and European Social Forums: A Bibliography', pdf. Ephemera, Vol. 5, No. 2, Pp. 334-43.
>> Sullivan, Sian. 2004. ‘Barcelona 22-25 January 2004: First International Conference on Social Movements and Activist Research’.
>> The Commoner. 2003. ‘What Alternatives? Commons and Communities, Dignity and Freedom’, The Commoner, No. 6.
>> Unfried, Berthold and Marcel v.d. Linden (eds.), Labour and New Social Movements in a Globalising World System/Arbeit, Arbeiterbewegung und neue soziale Bewegungen im globalisierten Weltsystem. ITH Conference Proceedings, Vol. 38. Leipzig: Akademische Verlagsanstalt.
>> Waterman, Peter and Jill Timms. 2004. ‘Trade Union Internationalism and A Global Civil Society in the Making, pdf.’, in Kaldor, Mary, Helmut Anheier and Marlies Glasius (eds), Global Civil Society 2004/5. London: Sage. Pp. 178-202.
>> Waterman, Peter. 2001. ‘The Problematic Past and Uncertain Future of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions’, International Labour and Working Class History. Vol. 59, Spring, pp. 125-32.
>> Waterman, Peter. 2003. ‘Omnia Sint Communia: A New/Old Slogan for International Labour and Labour Internationalism, pdf’, Contribution to a Workshop on 'The Commons and Communities: A Strategic Alternative to the State-Market Nexus', European Social Forum, Florence, Italy, 7-10 November, 2002.
>> Waterman, Peter. 2005a. ‘The Future of the Past’, and ‘The Real Movement Which Abolishes the Present State of Things’, (initial and concluding contributions to a symposium), Labour History 46:2 (May/June), Pp. 195-205 and 235-43.
>> Waterman, Peter. 2005b. ‘Making the Road Whilst Walking: Communication, Culture and the World Social Forum’, Network Institute for Global Democratisation. Html format - Pdf format.
Websites and lists
>> Guide for Social Transformation in Europe (Mayo Fuster, Marco Berlinguer)