water text for Leiden conference reader

« Our struggles aim at taking back control of the means
of production from the hands of both transnational and
national capital, in order to create free,
sustainable and community controlled livelihoods based
on solidarity and peoples' needs and not on
exploitation and greed. »
Manifesto PGA

From the beginning, one of the most fundamental ideas
of PGA was to go beyond criticism of the current
system towards creating liveable alternatives. The
fourth hallmark is a clear expression of that
objective: « ....the construction of local alternatives
by local people as answer to the actions of
governments and corporations. »

Exactly this understanding was crucial in developing
the proposal to discuss water at this conference.
Water is one of the central themes in today's world.
Not only as part of the current wave of capitalist
expansion but also as means and object of our
emancipatory struggle. 

We see a clear necessity to, on the one hand,
elaborate a vision of autonomous and self-governed
social relations around water and, on the other, to
clearly identify the many ways towards creating these
new relations. One step in this direction is via
criticism and subsequent rejection of the current
economic and political control over water resources,
their allocation and distribution. Importantly, it
cannot stop at this rather static point of criticism.
Especially the last months have seen much debate about
how to go beyond a situation of resistance towards the
active reclamation of our world and livelihoods. This
contribution and the working sessions on water during
this conference are an active contribution to this

One way to elaborate alternative approaches could be
to renew the idea of sustainable campaigns, which were
first mentioned in the Conveners Committee Meeting in
Prague. The strength of these is to link local
struggles via concrete issues, such as water, while
also to open a public debate that goes beyond the
« activists scene ». We think that the issue of water is
useful to break « out of the ghetto » since water
effects everybody and exemplifies the consequence of
neoliberal capitalism - the privatisation of even the
very basic goods, which means that fundamental needs
turn into a source of profit. 
One example is bottled water and its relation to tab
water. Where both are owned by the same corporation,
the tab water is less profitable and so there is no
« market » incentive for the corporation to actually
improve the quality of fresh water services because it
means that more people will buy bottled water instead,
which has a very high profit margin indeed. Also,
those who control water distribution effectively
control their users: Social control becomes possible
simply by drying or flooding out dissenting
communities, because they are centres of dissent or
because they are seen as useless and worthless. So
threatens to happen in the Chiapas, as part of the
Plan Puebla Panamá, and so already is happening in
Alto Bio Bio in Chile! In both cases dam project are
planned to flood out communities. Effectively, water
is a powerful tool to control social movements,
indígenas, campesinos, and dissent in general.
Water can be used as a theoretical and practical link
between territorial control, autonomy over once.
resources and the collective and directly democratic
allocation of those. The human rights approach
favoured by NGO's, namely to declare water as a human
right, is only a very weak proposition as it does not
challenge the market and requires the state to protect
it. It remains that people stay the recipients of
state authority instead of taking the control over
their lives into their own hands. In its place,
autonomy, self-governance, and mutual aid should be
the basis for any future use of natural resources.

During a workshop on water on the Noborder camp in
Strasbourg (July 02'), these links were developed and
the objection was formulated to discuss these in
greater depth during the Leiden conference. The idea
behind this was to create a mutual exchange of
experience from different realities that can lead to
mutual aid between diverse realities, struggles and
actors. A cunning, even though rather black and white,
conception would be a two-way-exchange between North
and South: From the South, the still existing social
and cultural connection to natural resources in many
spaces can be fundamental for struggles in the North,
where people tend to be rather indifferent about their
water resources as long as the tab keeps running and
bottled water is available. The North could share the
experiences with industrialisation of water in general
and privatisation. 

At the same time as water is a strong weapon to
subjugate or suppress 
dissenting communities, it also can be a great tool
for their liberation and 

Some questions to open debate during work sessions
could be: 

What do we criticise about the current discourses and
practices around water?
How do we conceptualise this criticism?
What do we want... how would a emancipatory approach to
water look like?
How do we connect this to other issues?
How does this issue-based approach fit into the
current structure and strategy 
How do we reach people?
How do we proceed in the diversity of struggles?

European PGA Conference Leiden | PGA