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Take the movement to a new level

This article is over 19 years, 6 months old
Susan George, the global justice campaigner and writer, spoke to Socialist Worker about the movement’s achievements and future direction
Issue 1923a

It’s been five years since the Seattle demonstrations kickstarted the global justice movement. What do you feel we have achieved so far?

Far more people understand there’s something wrong with the world. On inequality, on unemployment, our diagnosis reaches a huge number of people. They want to hear about the movement, and many sectors of opinion, including students, are far more aware than they used to be.

That’s positive, especially considering we’ve had 30 years of neo-liberal dogma to combat—the free market fundamentalists have had 30 years to develop and spread their ideology.

It’s been an uphill fight, but a great many people are on our side now. They are unhappy with banks, they know inequality is rising, and they understand that unemployment has got to be vanquished. And perhaps most important of all, many of them think they can actually do something about all these ills.

We mobilised millions of people on all continents against the war during the demonstrations on 15 February 2003. That was a real achievement—a genuine first.

I remember for example how during the Vietnam War it was terribly laborious to have any kind of coordination even between Europe and the US. But on 15 February there were simultaneous demonstrations worldwide.

We’ve also had minor victories—we’ve made the World Trade Organisation (WTO) a bit more transparent, for instance. But we must face the fact that we’ve not had a major victory, and I fear that if we don’t win some soon, people may get discouraged and drift off.

What role has the ESF played in all this? And what directions do you think the ESF should take for the future?

The ESF is very important for bringing a broad range of people together, particularly in the organising country, in the present case Britain. It’s extremely positive that you have the mainstream left and the radical left working together. We should make sure that keeps on happening, and that the event helps us work towards common goals.

But we also need to think about how we can multiply our strengths. Now we must move to a different level, and I am not sure that it’s happening.

The ESF is still overly preoccupied with plenary sessions, with who will be speaking from this or that country, of what gender, religion and who knows what else…it’s all becoming a bit childish and a waste of time.

I was pleased to learn that the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in January 2005 will dispense with plenaries altogether. That’s a step in the right direction.

Meanwhile, not nearly enough attention is paid to questions of power and organisation. Ritual denunciations don’t make anyone quake in their boots. Also they’re getting a bit stale. We’re against the war, we hate Bush, transnational companies are bad, financial markets create crises…what else is new?

We needed that phase of denunciation, but now our analysis is basically complete. Most of the people who come to the ESF know these things. We could be using our investment of time, money and militant activity more effectively.

What we should be doing now is deciding early on about seminars. The organisers should put people working on similar topics in contact beforehand, then we should use our time at the ESF developing strategies together. The forum should be helping people to organise around their chosen themes. Our enemies do that very well.

My new book, Another World Is Possible If…, is kind of a primer for people who want to know what the movement is about.

It covers our basic “alter-globalisation” themes, as well as more empirical matters, like how to keep people interested, the need for non-violence and so on. I draw on my personal experience when I think it can be helpful to others.

Turning now to the wider global justice movement, what do you see as the key challenges and issues we face in the months ahead?

We need to think about strategic questions. If you want change and to move towards a more just world, then you have to examine why things remain as they are, determine where the power lies, which people and institutions keep inequality, unemployment, war in place and decide how we can best oppose them.

We also need to look at institutions, the kinds of rules they want, and go after them. For example, the World Bank, the IMF, the Bolkenstein directive—which most people have never heard of but which is extraordinarily dangerous. The new European Commission is likely to be the most neo-liberal in the history of the European Union.

Then there’s the US presidential elections. Kerry is not all that great, but Bush is demonstrably worse, and I fear he’s going to win. We must prepare for the worst. We have to ask what the implications of a Bush victory are for us—what does it mean in terms of our political strategy if we are faced with the re-election of this criminal?

What do you feel should be the campaigning priorities for the movement? What should we target, and how should we go about it?

I would like to see the movement choose one or two winnable campaigns and decide to work on them together. This doesn’t mean people have to stop working on their favourite issues, just that everyone understands that when the call comes, we all have to mobilise.

We need common strategies to generate one or two campaigns that are really going to hit hard. So we must sit down and think like political strategists, look at the balance of forces, at how to build alliances that attract a great many people.

And we don’t need to be in agreement about absolutely everything. I don’t agree with the Socialist Workers Party about absolutely everything, but we can work together for a certain number of goals.

Let’s say we were to choose debt. We would need to target the World Bank, the IMF and the private banks. They are presently in a very weak position, morally and politically, on the issue of Third World debt. Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, is still paying out $28,000 a minute and has done so for years. We know the banks can perfectly well afford to cancel the debt.

It’s a pity the Jubilee campaign self destructed so early. Their demand was to cancel $100 billion of Third World debt. Only $30 billion has been cancelled, and that’s mostly what countries weren’t paying interest on anyway.

G8 Action could pick up where Jubilee left off. It would have to be a broad campaign, with different priorities in the North and the South, and an international steering committee. Why don’t we just write to Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, José Bové, who knows—maybe ten or a dozen leading figures could call for it?

And finally, what campaigns are you personally involved in at the moment?

In France and elsewhere I’m working on a rather successful anti-GATS campaign. GATS—the General Agreement on Trade in Services of the WTO—would privatise what’s left of the welfare state, including health, education, cultural activities and public services.

Citizens can’t change the WTO directly. We have no power over it. We can’t change the European Commission, since it’s not democratically accountable. So we have to apply pressure at the level of individual member states.

Our campaign in France calls on elected local government official to declare their cities, departments or regions “GATS-free zones” and demand a moratorium.

We have called an “Estates General” of these 560 local governments in November—a meeting of all those who oppose GATS in order to put pressure on the government. So far, about 39 million people are covered by these zones, although a lot of them don’t know it!

Groups in other countries are active in similar campaigns. I’m hopeful we can force governments to change their attitude in the EU, and make the EU change its stance with regards to GATS and the WTO. I can’t promise we’ll win, but we are moving forwards—moving from popular education towards action.

Susan George is speaking at a number of events at the ESF, including Life after capitalism: what kind of world do we want? which takes place at Alexandra Palace tomorrow at 9am. Her new book, Another World Is Possible If… is available for £10 from the Bookmarks stall at Alexandra Palace


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