Peoples' movements and protests
The implosion of walls between movements in reaction to COVID19
All main international people's movement respond with a comprehensive program on the COVID19 crisis including the Pope. The exception is the main trade union organizations but here Trade Union for Energy Democracy has instead addressed a wide range of issues by organizing a global webinar on COVID19. Main international organizations in women's, small farmer's, environmental, peace and antiimperialist movements all sees the need of addressing the current crisis in a broad way largely overlapping each others main areas of interest. A new situation have emerged making far more radical people's movement cooperation across many issues possible. The analysis puts emphasis on class conscious strategies. It shows that the weakest link are the trade unions. La Via Campesina and its call for class alliances between people in rural and urban areas is emphasised as a way forward.
The fastest way to strengthen global movement cooperation is to bring closer together the middle class based environmental and peace movements. This would be a more attractive cooperation partner to most trade unions. This would also weaken geopolitical polarizations and make socio-ecological dimensions more central which helps international solidarity and the kind of class alliances asked for by La Via Campesina.
Long time coming
It has been long time coming. With the COVID19 pandemic the main international people's movements came out of the closet. Each one delivering their answer not only on how to solve the coronacrisis but also the general crisis which the present pandemic has made more explicit.
The interesting thing is that with one exception this implosion of walls do not take place by cooperating across the main movements althoug such cooperation have in many ways preceeded the current situation. It takes place by the fact that each movement to a very large degree also address the concerns of other movements. Thus a foundation is built on which further cooperation can be built on the strength on each movement and not a least common denominator.
This development made explicit by the internationalistic answers to the coronacrisis is presented by Activists for Peace, a Swedish peace organization which is a member of the social forum network Prague Spring 2 (PS2) and the Swedish network Folk och Fred (People and Peace). Statements from main international women's, small farmers, trade unions, environmental, antiimperialist and peace movement as well as from the Pope have been compared to each other to make it possible to assess what is going on.
The collection of statements was done in the process of organizing the webinar ”Internationalistic answers to the corona crisis” 26th of April 2020. It was initiated by PS2 and organized together with the anti racist network UNITED, Youth Environment Europe (YEE), International Youth Naturefriends (IYFN), Transform Europe and SpED, Czechia, SZAB, Hungary and Activists for peace, Sweden.
The study is made to enable an exchange of experience among movements. Thus it has no ambition to be part of any academic or professional research tradition as the need for movements to get inspiration and learn from each other is here and now. The time for a more systematic study can come further on. The categories used to frame what issues are addressed by different movements can at times be arbitrary or questioned in other ways. Sometimes the problem with the category might be that its essential quality is to cross common categories like militarization which might both be an issue concerning foreign policy but also growing domestic authoritarian tendencies. Quite a few of the categories can be questioned including why some issues becomes very detailed and others broadly defined. But the idea is here rather to make people to go to the source and read more precisely what different organizations says rather then providing an unquestionable taxonomy.
All movements are represented by their main stream organization or maybe one should say man organization. One could say that farmers have stronger organizations than the small farmer organization La Via Campesina International (LVCI). But LVCI have a far larger membership with some 200 million members and a presence in all corners of the world with a similar political program which makes it a key factor for rural communities. International Peace Bureau (IPB) is by far the most established peace organization with its 128 years since it started. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) has not produced a statement but published more articles on the coronacrisis than any other international people's movement included in this study and the links to their articles are enclosed. War Resister's International is also included as they have made a statement on COVID19 and represents a more radical part of the peace movement since the 1920s.
From the environmental movement two organization stands out. One is Friends of the Earth international. This is the biggest democratic international environmental organization with some 2 million members in total in 77 countries. There are other environmental organization with more resources like WWF and Greenpeace but they have no democratic membership base and is of less interest when we discuss how peoples movements react to the coronacrisis. Interesting is also 350.org which is the maybe globally most influential among the signatories to the Demand Climate Justice statement. How this organization is democratically controlled by a membership it is hard to find out. But 350.org has been able to organize already in 2009 local actions in 6000 places on all continents and is still a main organizer of international climate actions. Fridays for Future (FFF) is not included in this study as they have not responded to the COVID19 crisis and is a broad alliance based on a small common ground. But it should be pointed out that FFF is not a single issue movement as it address often with equal importance the protection of biological diversity and oppose art extinction thus challenging fundamentally the focus only on emission and industry so often dominating earlier climate campaigning. Extinction Rebellion also address art extinction in a similar vein while some of their groups have joined the Demand Climate Justice statement.
Global feminism is organized in several ways. World March of Women (WMW) stands out as being mass action oriented and firmly based among populations belonging to the global majority. This feminist movement cooperates closely with other peoples movements as La Via Campesina and anti transnational corporations campaigns. One can compare WMW established in 1998 with Women's March Global (WMG) established in 2017. While WMW has its constitution and bylaws easily accessible under the Who we are in the menu such democratic clarity is hard to find on new Women's March Global webpage. This webpage is well designed and local chapters are presented, 2/3 from the North and the rest from the South while proportions for national chapters of WMW is the opposite. The lack of democratic clarity is common among international networks based in the US or UK. Interesting is how this kind of network reacts on the corona crisis which is so far with silence. Thus although these kind of networks are resourceful they seem to respond later if at all when a severe global crisis appears and effects their own area of work.
The exception among the movements is the trade unions. The dominant International trade Union Confederation (ITUC) with some 180 million members has only produced a very narrow statement on the coronacrisis addressing only social rights in sharp contrast to all other movements. The 75 year old World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) has only presented a video with a message from its general secretary equally narrow in its scope addressing the important issue for workers of raised cost for necessities when speculators double or tenfold prices. The same broad approach held by all other movements was instead present at an international webinar on the corona crisis organized by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED).
Trade Unions, Via Campesina, solidarity movements as well as political parties are members of the International People´s Assembly (IPA) with continental and subcontinental chapters world wide. This cooperation between mass movements especially i Latin America, Africa, Arab countries, South Asia and Southeastern Asia with a European secretariat and network as well can be seen as the newest and in some aspects most well organized multi issue international people's movement cooperation in the current crisis. It is an anticapitalist and antiimperialist network responding quickly on the coronacrisis by exchanging evaluation of the situation and what to say between the continents. The influence of IPA can also be seen in the so far most spread common statement by several main movements that so far has received almost 500 signatories from organizations world wide: In Light of the Global Pandemic, Focus Attention on the People.
Pope Francis Easter message: our
brothers and sisters of popular movements and organizations has
also been included. It represents
one of the important convergences between movements and religious
institutions and is as all above examples a process that has
developed in a more comprehensive directions already before the
COVID19 outbreak. The language of the Pope is different from
the organizations but covers the same subjects. Furthermore it
address the strategy forward in a manner were people in common
are at the center and both market and state solutions are seen
as insufficient which makes this statement important for the
Size does not matter
Some conclusion can be made.
One is the size does not matter with the exception of the longest
of the statements. It is true
that two out of the four short circa 1 page statements are more
single issue than comprehensive. Both ITUC and WRI have a narrow
answer on the corona crisis in the two documents included in
the study. But WMW and the Pope have in the same space been able
to address as many wide issues as movement statements twice as
long. The exception is the statements made by the Global Campaign
Demand Climate Justice (DCJ) that thanks to its length address
more issues than the other statements.
What areas are included?
Three areas of interest were fairly easy to distinguish between, one being social and economical, here seen as belong to the same group of issues, ecological issues and peace. More problematic was democracy issues. Such issues including the closely related issue of militarization in general of society including domestic conflicts were put together. Finally issues concerning existential question and how to act were added as two issues of interest in themselves.
What becomes clear is that all the movements address social and economic issues and all with the exception of ITUC also calls for a change of the economic system. As one could imagine it is health care the receives the most intense interest while actually social rights more in general is almost given the same importance. Interestingly demands for a change of the economic system in different ways receives great importance from all but ITUC and WRI that do not comment on the subject.
When it comes to environmental issues the attention is more varied. Food sovereignty and similar issues receives more interest than any other issues besides the social and economical field. The cause of the COVID19 pandemic receives surprisingly little interest. The only concerned is the climate justice movement and environmentalists. Climate just a short time ago a main priority for many organizations have drastically fallen behind among other than environmental movements with the exception of IPA.
Peace movement issues have a slightly different pattern. In total the interest is similar but differently distributed. While stopping wars is explicitly mentioned by the peace organizations, WMW, and vaguely by LVCI end armament is mentioned of course by the peace organizations and this time also by IPA and the joint statement by 479 organizations. The biggest difference in the pattern compared to environmental issues is that one of the aspects peace movement issues has not been included by any of the peace organizations. Instead opposing economic sanctions is brought forward by IPA and cooperation partners as well as WMW.
The issues of democracy and militarization causes both concern among WMW, LVCI and environmental organizations while the peace organizations only bring up militarization and the pope only address the need to support those that stands up for their rights. That ITUC and IPA including cooperation partners does not explicitly address none of these issues can rather be seen as that was is self evident that theses organization support must not be mentioned. Now such an argument could be used for making an excuse also for other missing issues but it can be an argument that ig is more telling in the other cases than this.
issues and action methods are added. Not because they belong
much to the same category or that one can
say much about why an organization have mentioned them or not
except for the Catholic Church. They are included anyway as a
reminder that faced with a pandemic everything is not only politics
and the other side of the coin, politics has also to be practised.
There are some interesting unique qualities when looking at the more detailed account including what actors the organizations focused upon. That several organizations are unique in their area of special interest is not surprising. Standing out are the environmental organizations that together are alone on 6 issues out whom FOEI has unique interest in forestry and energy. When it comes to peace issues it is not the peace organizations that alone address some issues but IPA as they mentions to put an end to foreign military bases. In social and economic issues there is no unique interest, all issues are addressed by at least two organizations.
When it comes to actors the interest is more
diverse. The two receiving most attention is small farmers addressed
both by IPA
et al, LVCI, DCJ, FOEI and the Pope and TNCs opposed by WMW,
LVCI, DCJ, and FOEI while seen as a cooperation partner by ITUC.
Indigenous people only receive attention from the environmental
organizations. The two receiving unique interest is those in
rehabilitation centers included by the Pope and prisoners included
by the climate justice movement.
The way forward
When looking at the way the different movement address the corona crisis and frame it in a wider context there is one thing that become especially clear. The greatest potential lies in a mutual learning process between the environmental and peace movement. The environmental organizations interest in the three main peace issues stop war, armament and end sanctions is as blank as the peace organizations interest in their statements concerning stopping environmental destruction causing pandemics, climate change or food sovereignty. And yet we know that these movement are grown out of the same interest and have much in common. Now we also know that the interest for climate change is strong in the peace movement and the interest for stopping armament in the environmental movement. But further strengthening of understanding of common interests will strengthen not only both movements but also in general people movement cooperation to address the crisis at its roots. The peace movement have largely been marginalized as a result of growing competition for natural resources were us democracies in demand for oil and cheap food are in conflict with them, the dictators and terrorist. The peace movement has been portrayed as working in the interest unwillingly or willingly of the other side of geopolitical cleavages. The environmental movement on the other side has been embraced as few other movements at the risk of loosing its role as a threat capable of causing substantial change.
Seen from a class perspective the kind of classes that are the main members of environmental and peace organizations are at least in the North what is often called middle classes. They have as been seen in history a capability of mobilizing far wider in society beyond their class limits. Only when in a local community or at national and sometimes even transnational level a larger part of the working classes is involved can there be lasting victories. The working classes in agriculture and forestry in rural areas are especially important for environmental struggles. But workers in industrial economy as well as services and many time the unseen mostly female work behind the scenes to sustain a protest outside workplaces are of equal importance in the struggle against environmental destruction and war. Social struggles can often be carried out successfully when the class in question mobilize itself and receives solidarity from others seeing that it is in their own interest to do so. But quite a few environmental and peace issues get their strength through building of class alliances. Here environmental and peace organization can contribute uniquely to the family of peoples movement by coming more together on a common platform including ending of sanctions which in the time of COVID19 pandemic is of crucial importance.
Concerning social issues there are already a broad common ground and when it comes to democracy, authoritarian rule and militarization such a common ground seems also be fairly easy to achieve. When ot comes to practical ways of doing politics all the movements that made the statements hare well experienced and with further exchange of ideas and testing new ways of achieving mass participation this issue can also be fruitfully addressed. When it comes to existential issues it might be a more private matter. But it is becoming a wider recognition in all movements that it is not enough to resist and construct alternatives but it is also needed to celebrate. In Latin America the movements calls it Mistica, in other parts of the world similar cultural celebrations of what we are and do together by singing, dancing, reading poetry, making posters or street theater and the like is also an issue were we can learn more from each other.
Standing out as a problem are the trade unions or at least ITUC. But also here there might be new ways forward. In its description of the webinar organized by TUED on union responses to the COVID19 crisis with some 70 unions in 25 countries participating. This webinar addressed far wider issues than ITUC in its statement to G20 leaders. Among the issues were attacks on worker rights and health and safety including indirect effects of the pandemic due to the massive disruption to lives and livelihoods, and the threat of food insecurity. These disruptures are pointed out as being ”themselves a result of decades of austerity and increased privatization under neoliberalism, and the severe depletion of public health systems, other public services, and worker rights and protections.” How to advance international solidarity and pro-public solutions to the immediate challenges, was addressed together with solutions to the enduring ecological crisis. As TUED is an important part of the climate movement there are a growing core of organizations in all movements seeing the need to address the current crisis as a whole together with all other democratic peoples movements.
The probably fastest way to strengthen
global movement cooperation is to bring closer together the middle
class based environmental
and peace movements on a class concious basis understanding the
need of broader class alliances including indigenous people.
This would be a more attractive cooperation partner to most trade
unions. This would also weaken geopolitical polarizations and
make socio-ecological dimensions more central. It would also
strengthen rural workers and small farmers with their strong
links to the environmental movement as an important part of the
trade union family. The call made by La Via Campesina for class
alliances between people in rural and urban areas is in the interest
of many. A strengthening of ties between those working in agriculture,
forestry, and fishery and those working in industry and services
would also strengthening the urban trade unions.
Organizations lacking a democratic membership
base and mostly working with a single issue tactic can be good
with democratic movements. An organization as Greenpeace built
more like a company rather than association can do unique action
were there is not local population like in the Antarctica. Avaaz
can be a tool for making more and more single issue online petitions
claiming to have more the 50 million members although those members
are not having a democratic say in the way the political and
economical decisions are made by this type of organization. These
kind of organizations can get some attention and make some kind
of political actions needed leaving room for peoples movements
addressing all levels from the individual or family level to
the local community, national and international level while also
cooperating with other movements acting together.
There are of course clear ideological differences, mostly between ITUC and the rest. Pope Francis uses very different words than all the rest but there is no mistake to be made that he claims that the present economic system must change, only he calls it a cult of Mammon or in his more modern words ”the idolatry of money” rather than capitalism and sees people in common as the main agent of change, not representatives of organizations. Only ITUC sees corporations as mainly cooperation partners.
WMW and IPA are both explicitly anticapitalists IPA also antiimperialists. LVCI have a more outspoken class consciousness than any other movement in its statement. They say ”construct solidarity and class alliances, between rural and urban areas” while avoiding the concept capitalism and imperialism which they have used at other occasions. The signatories of the very radical common statement by organization initiated by IPA and signed by LVCI and in total 479 others is also avoiding the concepts capitalism and imperialism while in practice having formulated the probably most specific anticapitalist demands of all statements.
”International cooperation and not confrontation” is the way WRI use to describe its pacifist ideology. IPB talks in similar vein about a culture of peace: ”A peaceful path means that we need a global strategy, a global social contract, and global cooperation to ensure planet-wide support for people.” an ideology that can be interpreted in contrary direction as a way to seek win win solutions with corporations or as opposing such cooperation when corporations promote war. IPB also talks about opposing ”a world driven by financialization, shareholder value, and austerity” which ”has weakened our ability to defend the common good and placed human life in danger on a global scale. They also in a short and effective way combine all main subjects by calling for ”to dramatically reduce military spending in favor of healthcare and all social and environmental needs.”
The DCJ statement is also radical but avoids also words as imperialism and capitalism in general. Instead terms as the dominant economic system is used and years of neoliberalism is seen as a decisive factor behind the crisis both for health and other social issues as well as ecological problems. At one point the concept capitalism is used but in a limited sense: ”The powerful are taking advantage of the crisis to advance disaster capitalism and a new authoritarianism, handing themselves expanding police and military powers, and rushing through extractive projects.”
The FOEI statement use similar concepts as structures of social inequalities or current political-economical system Neoliberal doctrine, privatization, dismantling of worker's rights and flexibilisation of the work market while increased exploitation of women’s work are accused of causing much of the problems. But also explicitly capitalism: ”The pandemic is unveiling and aggravating the brutal inequalities of capitalism between and within countries”. It also includes the maybe most elaborated ideological explanation of the corona crisis in all of the movements statements: ”COVID-19 is exposing the magnitude of the care crisis in our societies: a crisis that has developed over centuries through the failure of the patriarchal, racist, capitalist system to care for peoples, nature and territories, and its reliance on the work and bodies of women to make up for and fix the damage caused by the capitalist neocolonialist system of exploitation.”
There is also a difference regarding who is primarily addressed. LVCI and the environmental oppose transnational corporations while IPA primarily is state-centric highly critical against imperialist countries in the West. ITUC as we know by now wants cooperation with both states and corporations while the peace movement wants cooperation instead of conflict and is opposing the weapon industry. IPB add opposition to the general purpose of corporations and embrace a new version of the old demands from Tsar Russia, peace, welfare, and environment instead of peace, bread, and land from 1917 while also talking about cultural values thus going beyond political and economic demands putting pressure on corporations or the state.
The message coming from
the Pope have probably the clearest view on who to address. He
says technocratic paradigms (whether state-centred
or market-driven) are not enough to address this crisis. Now
more than ever, persons, communities and peoples must be put
at the centre, united to heal, to care and to share.Here it is
not primarily the state or corporations and the market who are
the main actors. As he says in the last paragraph, ”Stand
firm in your struggle and care for each other as brothers and
The languages used
Another question of interest
is what languages are used. WMW has more or less all material
in both English, French and Spanish
as well as LVCI and FOEI use the same languages as WMW in most
or all documents and the DCJ statement use these languages as
well. ITUC statement is only in English. WFTU video is French
with both English subtitles. WRI use English and Spanish. Standing
out are the call by 479 organizations translated into English,
Spanish, Portuguese, French, and a language with letters unknown
to undersigned. Pope Francis message to peoples movements is
translated into German, English, Spanish, French, Italian and
Portuguese, IPB statements translated into English, Spanish,
French, German, Swedish, Finnish, Catalan, Korean, and Japanese
and finally IPA statement translated into English, Spanish, Arabic,
Portuguese, French, Turkish, Catalan, German, Greek, Norwegian,
and Italian. If all the main movements come together more there
is an opportunity for a far wider use of language than normally
at least for main documents and campaigns.
A window of opportunity is open
This coming together
of international peoples movements is a window of opportunity.
We know that there are many powerful actors
out there willing and able to do the utmost to divide and rule.
This time we should not let that happen. The family of peoples
movements have thousands of year of experience behind us. If
we need to move fast, we can move fast. If we need to move slow
to get everyone on board, we can move slowly. As long as we keep
together we can make miracles. Our opponents trying to split
us apart find themselves in the predicament that when they hunt
their enemy down they find themselves when in the mirror. Objectively
we are weak but they are weaker if we stick together.
Statements and articles published by main international peoples movements on COVID 19
IPA - International Peoples Assembly
together with 479 organizations in total
World March of Women
LVCI – La Via Campesina
ITUC – International Trade Union
ETUC – European Trade
- Wold federation of Trade Unions
TUED – Trade
Unions for Energy Democracy: Videorecording of the TUED Global Forum on Union
Responses to the COVID-19 Crisis
DCJ – Global Campaign
to Demand Climate Justice: A New Normal
FOEI – Friends
of the Eart International
IPB - International Peace Bureau
WILPF – Womens International League for Peace
WRI – War
- The Transnational Foundation for Peace & Future Research
of Pope Francis: To our brothers and sisters of popular movements and
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