A world of many worlds

Interview with Pablo Kala of Peoples' Global Action

 

Zapatista beginnings

The manifestations of globalising resistance take their beginning, in some ways, from the anti nuclear movement in the 1980s in Europe and the United States, when people organised across borders and transnationally. More specifically, the current wave of anti capitalist demonstrations, as we saw in Seattle, Prague, Genoa, and most recently in Barcelona*, owe their origin to the Zapatista insurgency in Chiapas in south eastern Mexico which emerged on New Year’s day 1994.

This insurgency was the catalyst in many ways for what has taken place since because the Zapatistas were attempting to resist officially the project of neo-liberalism, that is the form of globalisation that is taking place around the world: privatisation of public services, the increasing power of multinational corporations, etc. The Zapatistas were interesting because they had emerged as the first revolutionary movement in Latin America that had as its leadership, almost exclusively indigenous people. Traditionally in this area revolutionary movements in Cuba, in Guatemala, in El Salvador, in Nicaragua and so on have tended to have very problematic relations with indigenous people.

As pointed out many times by Sub Commandante Marcos, their spokesperson, they too went into the jungles to organise peasants and particularly indigenous people (in Chiapas a large percentage of the population are indigenous) with very preconceived notions. Marcos describes how they had to learn from indigenous people about their ways of life, about the jungle, about the terrain, the locality, about the cosmology or the world view of indigenous people, before they could even begin a discussion about challenging the system, the state and the power of international capital in Mexico. In fact the dialogue and organisation that took place took 10 years before the Zapatistas emerged in 1994.

This is my first important point: here is an interesting model for other movements to consider. The Zapatistas emerged very publicly with a very powerful symbolic message. They emerged as armed, masked , guerrillas from the jungle and occupied towns and the regional capital of Chiapas, but for only 30 hours , whereupon the rebels went back to the jungle and disappeared. The image of guerrilla warfare, however, the image of armed masked rebels, sent a very powerful message to a lot of the international investors who were beginning to invest in the Mexican economy as Mexico had been deemed a newly emerging market. They got cold feet and as a result the peso was devalued, and millions of dollars of investment fled from Mexico.

Subsequently over the last 8 years, the Zapatistas have continued their struggle, and this brings me to the second important point about the Zapatistas - they are not attempting to capture state power. Even though they declared a symbolic war on the Mexican state they are very different from previous revolutionary movements in that they are attempting to democratise civil society and in doing so they have formed coalitions and solidarity networks with a whole series of groups in Mexico, including trade unions, other peasant movements, the Catholic church, women’s groups and so on. They are trying to form a broad based coalition of resistance against globalisation and neo liberal capital and indeed the Mexican state.

And the third important point, which leads me to talk about globalising resistance and the big demonstrations that have taken around the world in the last 4-5 years is that the Zapatistas attempted to globalise their struggle by communicating to the world via the internet, though not exclusively. They have wanted to mobilise global civil society against neo-liberalism, because as they rightly argue, neo-liberal globalisation is threatening everybody. It is threatening peoples livelihoods, health and education services all over the planet, albeit in different ways. So for example, over the last few years in Iran there have been all kind of demonstrations about similar issues, poor wages or non-payment of wages, against the privatisation of public services, about safety at work or conditions at work, and about unemployment. What has inspired people elsewhere about the Zapatista struggle is that although their struggle is culturally specific to Mexico in many ways, what they are facing is being faced by people all over the world. As a result of this in 1996 the Zapatistas set up the first Encounter in the jungles of Chiapas to invite activists, academics, and media from throughout the world to discuss these issues and discuss strategies. A second encounter took place in Spain in 1997 and inspired by the Zapatista message, and sub-commandante Marcos’ call for there to create a network of struggles around the world, an active attempt to coordinate struggles around the world, particularly against the world bank, the IMF , the world trade organisation and transnational corporations, which are driving this model of neo liberal globalisation.

Peoples’ Global Action

In 1998, there was a big demonstration in Geneva against the World Trade Organisation and against the G8 governments of US, Canada, Germany, France, Britain, Japan and Italy, Russia. At Geneva at the same time a group of social movements had their own alternative summit against globalisation and from that summit one of the formations that emerged to coordinate struggles against globalisation internationally, has been Peoples’ Global Action (PGA).

PGA is really not an organisation; it is a convergence of different social movements, struggles from around the world, including farmers unions, Zapatista support groups, peasant groups from various parts of Latin America and Indonesia, South Asia, and autonomous struggles from all over Europe, and direct action groups in the United States. What is important about PGA is that as a convergence what it has tried to do is to invite different movements, indigenous peoples movements , women’s movements, environmental movements and trade unions to converge with one another to do several things.

Firstly to communicate with one another, and one of the prime ways of doing this has been over the internet. Secondly to share information with one another about each other’s struggles. Thirdly to effect and create links of solidarity to help and support another struggle although it might be in a very different part of the world. Fourthly to coordinate struggles, through both regional and international conferences and various meetings and workshops. Fifthly, to coordinate and plan strategies for forthcoming struggles and sixthly, to mobilise resources, financial resources, people resources, and media resources to affect these struggles.

Specifically they have been involved in, firstly, calling for participation in the global days of action, Seattle in 1999, subsequent demonstrations against the World Bank and the G8 in Prague 2000, in Genoa in 2001 and more recently in Barcelona, against the policies of the European Union. These organisations and institutions are targeted because they are seen as the main proponents and organisers of globalisation. So PGA has put out calls for these global days of action and has also had three international conferences. The first in Geneva in 1998, then in Bangalore, India in 1999 and the third in Cochabamba in Bolivia in September 2001. At these conferences, activists, usually one or two from particular movements from round the world have come to the conference for a week or two, had face to face meetings to share information, to discuss their own struggles and to plan and coordinate collective struggles for the future. In Cochabamba there were about 250 delegates, 175 were from different movements in Bolivia, including domestic workers, cocoa farmers, campesino or peasant movements of central Bolivia. But also movements from Central and Latin America, from Papua New Guinea, various parts of Asia, including India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and from across Europe.

Peoples’ Global Action is trying to follow a quote by sub-commandant Marcos: “we are all the network, all of us who resist” and indeed what PGA is trying to do at the moment is engage in a consulta (consultation ) to do an outreach in Europe to try and find out more about peoples struggles and to invite them to participate in the convergence. I am involved in a regional component of People’s Global Action (PGA-Asia) which at the moment include movements from India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Thailand. We are very open to talk with people involved in struggles in Iran, to try and effect some coordination, some linking up and working with people there. From what I have heard the various struggles involving chemical workers, textile workers, mine workers, teachers in Iran, are bringing up issues similar to at least some of those issues being struggled over in other parts of the world. There is clearly common ground here for links and networks.

The anti capitalist movements are winning the arguments about the negative impacts of globalisation. Even people in the advanced capitalist countries can see that their own life world is being impacted, their health services are declining, their education system declining, the costs of basic materials such as food are going up. While the media in Seattle, Genoa, and Barcelona has focussed on these big demonstrations, what is also important is that there have been simultaneous demonstrations over the planet. For example, during the Seattle demonstrations there were demonstrations in over 100 other cities in 40 other countries around the world on that same day .

The important reality behinds these days of action, is that they are only the surface of what is really going on throughout the world. Certainly activists involved in networks are now getting continuous information about different struggles around the world and ways they may be able to help these struggles. The movement has been very good, I think, in sharing information, communicating, and coordinating these big demonstrations but also in more regional smaller demonstrations. For example there is a big struggle taking place in Europe regarding refugees and immigrants, border camps are being set up to open these borders, because one of the big claims of neo-liberalism is that there are open borders, there is free trade. Yet these are open for capital but not for people. The border camps, effectively detention centres, are for those people from the third world, or eastern Europe, who are trying to find work in Europe because their own countries economies have been destroyed by neo-liberal policies.

Organise material support

I think one aspect the movement has to work on is to provide concrete and material support for different struggles around the world. In this it has not yet been successful. It is a difficult thing to organise and of course the movement has only been around really for 4-5 years. It has had phenomenal successes so far. One of the ways the PGA is addressing the issue is, in addition to these international and regional meetings, setting up “caravans”. Caravans (and there have been several) are attempts to move activists through countries or across borders to link-up with as many struggles as possible, to inform them about PGA and to exchange information, and invite them into the convergence.

One very successful one was a caravan of about 400 Indian and Nepalese farmers, brought from India to Europe in 1999, right across a number of countries in Western Europe, to participate in rallies and workshops. There have also been caravans in Canada and the United States , in Latin America, and I was involved in a small one in India. At the moment struggles are very much focussed in their own localities dealing with day to day issues and it is difficult for them to put their energies into supporting movements from across the world. But such problems are being discussed at regional conferences, workshops and caravans. A success of the movement has been that for the first time we are now seeing the coordination of very different types of political formations.

At the global days of action, and certainly at some of the conferences I have attended, people from indigenous movements, women’s, movements, environmental struggles, Maoist struggles, trade Unions, are all coming together. Different groups who were involved in very sectarian struggles in the last 30-40 years, such as autonomist and authoritarian left groups, are beginning to realise that it is in their common interest to join together. This happened in the past in the anti-nuclear movement in Europe and in the United States in the 1980s but not on such a great scale. This is because the effects of neo-liberalism are being felt by people very directly, that people from different struggles - trade unions, feminists, environmentalists, and anarchists are joining together in common struggle. Convergences like PGA are attempting to nurture this coming together of different movements. Of course people have very different views about tactics and strategies but, in the words of the Zapatistas, we are trying to create a world of many worlds.

We are trying to join hands across our differences, while recognising the importance of those differences and respecting them. We need to recognise that we share common ground, regarding certain broader goals concerning peoples right to self determination, equality, and meaningful and creative work. In Bangalore 1999 PGA conference and again in Cochabamba in Bolivia in 2001 many movements, and indeed many countries, were not represented. In Bangalore there was nobody from Africa, that changed in Bolivia, as members of South African unions were present in Cochabamba. But there are a lot of movements from Asian countries who have not yet been drawn into the PGA process. One of these is of course Iran. These days you can communicate without physically crossing borders using the internet. Again the Zapatistas were one of the first groups to use the internet and email to organise globally. This is used very much by PGA. There are a whole range of web sites to tap into to get information about other struggles around the world, but also to post information about the struggles that are going on in, say Iran, in order to initiate and begin links with other movements in other parts of the world.

 

The Peoples Global Action web site is www.agp.org. The more regional coordination of PGA is taking place through an email list which is pga-asia@cupboard.org. This is an email list for people who are attempting coordinate meetings, conferences, and struggles in Asia. There are also two very good western based but international emailing lists. One is social-movements@listserve.heanet.ie and the other allsorts@gn.apc.org The last two are email lists disseminate news about struggles all over the world. These are good places to link into, to communicate with others involved in struggles and begin a dialogue.

 

* This an abridged version of an interview between Yassamine Mather and Pablo Kala from Peoples' Global Action in 2002. We publish it here as an introduction to the debate over the need to set up a Middle East Social Forum [eds]

 

Introducing Peoples Global Action

From the 23rd to the 26th of February of 1998, grassroots movements of all continents met in Geneva to launch a worldwide coordination network of resistance to the global market, a new alliance of struggle and solidarity called Peoples' Global Action against “free” trade and the WTO. The defining documents of the PGA are its five hallmarks, its organisational principles and its manifesto. At the conference in Bangalore, India in August 1999 the hallmarks and the organisational principles were amended to reflect discussions about clarifying differences to right-wing anti-globalisers. A new second hallmark was added. The Hallmarks were changed at the conference in Cochabamba 2001. Visit www.agp.org for an updated version.