Ten years ago saw the first major global Reclaim the Streets action and, in many ways, the birth of what was to become known as the anti-globalization movement. The street battles of the years that followed, as activists around the world targeted all the symbols of the world’s financial inequality – the WTO, IMF, WEF, G8 – put poverty back on the global agenda.
However, the mainstreaming of the debate took the wind out of the movement’s sail and, by 2005’s G8 summit at Gleneagles in Scotland, the activism was overshadowed by Live 8 and politicians promises that came to nothing.
Right now, in October 2008, poverty is on the agenda for a very different reason – it’s come home to the global north. The credit crunch, runaway inflation and impending recession mean that poverty is no longer an issue for others in Africa or elsewhere.
And people are becoming angrier and angrier about the extravagance of the various parts of the financial sector, with its massive pay packets and bonuses, which have so completely failed and are gobbling up tax-payers money freely given by governments. And it’s this very extravagance that has led to financial inequalities the world over that are making it so easy for people to fall into poverty.
The anti-globalisation movement came and went without really bringing about the other world enshrined in the slogan “Another World is Possible”. It wasn’t activism that brought the banks and the stock markets down, it was the fact their excesses weren’t halted or restrained by the mass movements that filled Genoa, Prague or Cancun, they got worse until the system collapsed in on itself.
2008 needs a new radicalism and new global movement to tackle a capitalist system that has absolutely proved itself a complete failure. And we need a movement that combines the anarchic spirit of the anti-globalization movement with an earlier, more successful, radicalism.
In the first three decades of the last century, syndicalist trade unions in Europe created real change in society. From Rudolf Rocker and the Jewish trade unions of London’s East End who finally dragged the immigrant population out of the poverty of the sweatshops to the social revolution that changed Catalonia in Spain for a tragically short time, radical trade unions changed the world. At its height, the International Workers of the World (IWW) really started to live up to its name and stretched from USA to Europe to Australia.
Syndicalist unions were smashed by fascist forces and state oppression, overtaken by Soviet-inspired (or controlled) organisations or parliamentary-focused trade unions. And, while these may have maintained high levels of influence for a few more decades, they all went into terminal decline in the 1980s and have yet to fully recover. But, as we can see in the UK where the union-created and funded Labour Party has abandoned its roots that the old models need to be revised.
We need a new movement the brings together the anarchic spirit of the anti-globalization movement and the anarchist organisation of the syndicalist unions, a movement that leaves political parties to the squabbling and brings the fight against poverty to the people and the streets.