The Accelerating History of PGA


S26 in Prague

from the PGA Bulletin #5

Capitalism had won; many had declared it was the end of history -it was November 1989, the Berlin wall had just fallen. Travel amere ten years forward in history... it's November 1999, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), legislators of global capitalism, try to meet in a city reeking of tear gas and paralysed by tens of thousands of demonstrators. A piece of graffiti is painted allover Seattle: "Don't Forget - We are Winning". It was clear that history had a lot further to go.

Whether you were on thes treets of Seattle that day dodging the rubber bullets, or following the hundreds of bullock carts converging on the Narmada dam in India, or marching with trade unionists in Manila, or in London trapped bythe £3m police operation, or mocking the stock exchange in Buenos Aires, or even occupying a McDonalds in Milan... one thing was clear to everyone: at the end of the 20th century resistance had become as transnational as capital.

As the state, transnational corporations and their puppets the International Monetary Fund and WTO impose "free market" policies on every country on the planet, putting profit and economic growth above all else, they areu nwittingly creating a situation where diverse social movements are able to recognise each others struggles as related and are beginning to work together in new ways. But where did this extraordinary show of international solidarity spring from?

It wasn't in the acridmist of Seattle's tear gas that this global movement was born, but inthe humid mist of the Chiapas jungle, in Southern Mexico on New Years Day 1994 the day. This was the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect, a day when two thousand indigenous peoples from several groups came out from the mountainsand forests. Masked, armed and calling themselves Zapatistas, their battle cry was "Ya Basta" - "Enough is Enough". An extraordinary popular uprising, which was to help change the landscape of global resistance, had begun. Using a jungle battered laptop computer and intermediaries to get the discs to an internetconnected computer, the Zapatistas were able to bypass the media censorship of the Mexican state and communicate directly. People everywhere soon heard of the uprising.

These masked rebels, from poverty stricken communities, were not only demanding that their own land andlives be given back, neither were they just asking for international support and solidarity; they were talking about neoliberalism, about the "death sentence" that NAFTA and other free trade agreements would impose on indigenous people. They were demanding the dissolution of power while encouraging others all over the world to take on the fight against the enclosure of our lives by capital. "Don't join us - do ityourself" was their message.

The sense of possibility that this uprising gave to millions of people across the globe was extraordinary. In 1996, the Zapatistas, with trepidation as they thought no-one might come, sent out an email calling for a gathering, called an "encuentro" (encounter), of international activists and intellectuals to meet inspecially constructed arenas in the Chiapas jungle to discuss commontactics, problems and solutions. Six thousand people attended, and spent days talking and sharing their stories of struggle againstthe common enemy: capitalism.

This was followed a year later by a gathering in Spain, wherethe idea for the construction of a more action focused network, to benamed Peoples' Global Action (PGA), was hatched by a group made up ofactivists from ten of the largest and most innovative socialmovements. They included the Zapatistas, Movimento Sem Terra, (the Brazilian Landless Peasants Movement who occupy and liveon large tracts of unproductive land) and the Karnataka State Farmers Union (KRRS), renowned for their "cremate Monsanto" campaign which involved burning fields of Genetically Modifiedcrops.

The group (who became the PGA convenors committee, a role that rotates every year) drafted a document outlining some of the primary objectives and organisationalprinciples of the emerging network. It outlined a firm rejection ofappeals to those in power for reforms to the present world order. Asupport for direct action as a means of communities reclaimingcontrol over their lives, and an organisational philosophy based onautonomy and decentralisation. In February 1998, Peoples'Global Action was born. For the first time ever the worldsgrassroots movements were beginning to talk and share experienceswithout the mediation of the media or Non Governmental Organisations (NGO's).

This first gathering of the PGA was held in Geneva - HQ of the much hated WTO. More than 300 delegates from 71 countries came to Geneva to share their anger overthe current phase of the capitalist project. From the Canadian Postal Workers, and Earth First! to anti-nuclear campaigners, to French farmers, to the indigenous from the Maori, U'wa and Ogonipeoples, to Korean Trade Unionists, to Reclaim the Streets, to the Indigenous Women's Network of North America, to Ukrainian radical ecologists... all were there to form, "a global instrument for communication and co-ordination for all those fighting against the destruction of humanity and the planet by the global market, while building up local alternatives and people power." One ofthe participants spoke of this inspiring event: "It is difficult to describe the warmth and the depth of the encounters we had here. The global enemy is relatively well known, but the global resistance that it meets rarely passes through the filter of the media. And here we met the people who had shut down whole cities in Canada with general strikes, risked their lives to seize lands in Latin America, destroyed the seat of Cargill in India or Novartis's transgenic maize in France. The discussions, the concrete planning for action, the stories of struggle, the personalities, the enthusiastic hospitality of the Genevan squatters, the impassionedaccents of the women and men facing the police outside the WTO building, all sealed an alliance between us. Scattered around theworld again, we will not forget. We remain together. This is our common struggle." One of the concrete aims of this gathering was to co-ordinate actions against two events of global importance that were coming up in May of that year, the G8 meeting (an annual event) of the leaders of the eight most industrialised nations, which was to take place in Birmingham and the secondministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation which was beingheld a day later in Geneva. The outcome of the gathering was thatthree months later in May 1998 for four consecutive days, acts of resistance echoed around the planet.

In Hyderabad India, 200,000 peasant farmers called for the death of the WTO, in Brasilia landless peasants and unemployed workers joined forces and 50,000 of them took to the streets, while over thirty Reclaim the Streets parties took place in many countries, ranging from Finland, to Sydney, to San Francisco, to Prague, the biggest single mobilisation since the Velvet Revolution in '89 brought thousands into the streets for a mobile street party which ended with several McDonalds being "redesigned" and running battles with the police. Meanwhile in the UK 6,000 reclaimed the streets blocking central Birmingham as the G8 leaders fled the city to a local manor, to continue their meeting in a more tranquil location. In Geneva the streets exploded: world leaders had congregated there for the WTO ministerial, and to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), the forerunner of the WTO.Over 15,000 people from all over Europe and many from other continents demonstrated against the tyranny of the WTO, banks had their windows smashed, the WTO Director General's Mercedes was overturned. Three days of the heaviest rioting ever seen in Geneva followed.

It was clear something was happening, something big, and the momentum was becoming unstoppable. A year later an intercontinental caravan of 500 people from the global South toured Europe, directly confronting governments, corporations and banks. On June the 18th the caravan ended in Cologne where the G8 was holding its annual meeting. That day carnivals against capitalism took place in financial centres on every continent. The term "anti capitalist" became common currency in many mediareports. Five months later on November the 30th the World Trade Organisation is brought to its knees... the rest is history...

At over 100 years old, activist Hazel Wolf has lived through a Russian Revolution, a Chinese Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall. "the thing about all of them is, nobody knew they were going to happen." she says. A revolution, by its nature, hardly seems possible before it takes place; but it may seem obvious andeven inevitable in hindsight. But one thing is sure, revolutionary epochs are periods where tyrannical institutions lose their legitimacy. They are eras of convergence, when apparently separate processes collect to form a socially explosive crisis. They aremoments when hope is ignited, the hope that everything can be transformed, and transformed quickly. They are times when history speeds up >> >>

Ecology has influenced many movements today and that is perhaps why their model of organisation and co-ordination resembles an ecological model, why it works like an ecosystem. Highly interconnected, it thrives on diversity, works best when embedded in its own locality and context and develops most creatively at the edges, the overlap points, the in-between spaces. Those spaces are where different cultures meet, such as the coming together of the American Earth First! and Logging Unions or London tube workers and Reclaim the Streets. The societies that they dream of creating will also be like ecosystems, diversified, balanced and harmonious.

The global "race to the bottom" in which workers,communities and whole countries are forced to compete by lowering wages, working conditions, environmental protections, and social spending, to facilitate maximum profit for corporations, is stimulating resistance all over the world. People everywhere are realising that this resistance is pointless if they are resisting inisolation. E.g - say your community manages, after years of tireless campaigning, to shut down your local toxic waste dump, what does the transnational Company that owns the dump do? They simply move it to wherever their costs are less and the resistance weaker - probably somewhere in the Third World or Eastern Europe. Under this system, communities have a stark choice either compete fiercely with each other or co-operate in resisting the destruction of our lives, land and livelihoods by rampaging capital.

grumpy Moore

read the Hallmarks of PGA here!
S26 Global Action Day Reports
"Cronologia dos Novos Movimentos" (portugês)