Peoples' Global Action Network: a global network for local action

The World Bank cancelled the conference it had planned for June 2001 in Barcelona, due to 'foreseeable protests'. This was the official explanation given to the press. In fact, every summit of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation in recent years has been accompanied by noisy protests. Since Seattle, this protest movement can no longer be overlooked, even in the North. The often-used term 'anti-globalisation movement' is a misnomer, because it actually promotes the globalisation of protest.
The difference of Seattle from earlier demonstrations, such as those at the IMF/World Bank summits in Madrid (1994) and Berlin (1988) is obvious: in Seattle (end of November to beginning of December 1999) the planned Millennium 'round-table' talks failed. In Prague, the IMF/World Bank conference had to finish one day earlier. A subsequent WTO conference was moved to the Gulf state of Qatar to avoid protests.

There has been a new, world-wide dynamism within the movement since even before Seattle. A greater number of people have begun to take an interest in world trading structures and its consequences, and to make connections between world economic activities and their own daily life.

As far as these people are concerned, everything hasn't been done that could be done. They are not content with a mere reduction in exploitation through a few superficial reforms, or the introduction of a tax on the transfer of capital. Hence they don't only take to the streets at the locations of summits (Geneva, Cologne, Seattle, Prague, Davos) but also participate in global action days in various countries on different continents: the Philippines, Australia, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, India, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, the USA, Israel, the Czech Republic, and many Western European countries. The series of World Action Days began on 18 May 1998 on the occasion of the WTO Conference in Geneva, when people in twenty-nine cities on all five continents took part in protests. In June 1999 it was more than forty cities. On 30 November 1999 (the WTO conference in Seattle), 1 May 2000, 26 September 2000 (the IWF/World Bank meeting in Prague) and further dates, successful protest continued.

These decentralised, autonomous groups which are taking action around the world attract large numbers because people can see how successful such activities can be. Within a short time, the idea to take action against capitalism has become a reality that no one previously thought possible. The social answer that we are experiencing today has mainly come about through the free and non-hierarchical articulations, on a global level, of independent entities and actions within a framework of mutual support and solidarity. The recruitment potential of these groups is due to their rejection of power structures and hierarchies within the movement as a whole.

The call for 'Days of Global Action' was made by Peoples' Global Action (PGA), a network founded in February 1998 which set a lot in motion in a short space of time, but remained largely unnoticed: many who took to the streets during global actions days still haven't heard of PGA. The world-wide movement against 'free' trade and the WTO doesn't see itself as a membership organisation but as the loose network of grass-roots movements on all five continents. It is a network for sharing experiences and co-ordinating actions.
The grass-roots movements of Peoples' Global Action have agreed on five principles: the absolute rejection of institutions such as the WTO, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), and the European Union; the rejection of patriarchy, racism and religious fundamentalism of any kind; a clear, confrontational attitude, because lobbying doesn't bring about change and institutions cannot be reformed; a call for non-violent resistance and for the formation of local initiatives (for example within the alternative economy); and a decentralised and autonomous organisational structure.

The non-violent resistance mentioned in the five principles doesn't exclude actions such as those carried out by the KRRS in India. The KRRS stormed a factory of the US company Cargill, then set it on fire, and they have also destroyed branches of fast food chains such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds. The principle is that people should not be harmed.

Coming together through the network
The groups and grass-roots movements which came together in PGA's network commonly agree that local struggles should be integrated into a network of similar movements in other countries. However, PGA is not a resource to be called upon in local conflicts, because if there is no local activism, then there can be no relationship to the global network. When there is successful networking, amazing things can be achieved. The idea of a network to put local struggles in touch with each other goes back to the Zapatistas who, on 1.1.1994, started their resistance against NAFTA (the free trade agreement between the USA, Canada and Mexico). The EZLN, writing from the jungle, said it was all about 'creating a shared network of local struggle and resistance: an inter-continental network of resistance against Neoliberalism; an inter-continental network for humanity. This inter-continental network, respecting differences and recognising our common ground, will try to come together with other resistance movements. This inter-continental network should not be an organisation; it will have no figure-head or decision-maker, central committee or hierarchy. We are the network; all of us who resist.'

It is important to embrace new forms of protest within this form of inter-continental co-operation, for example Italy's 'Tute Bianche' who, clothed in white overalls, symbolise the transformation of the invisible - i.e. the marginalised - to the visible. This is analogous with the black masks of the Zapatistas.

An activist from London's 'Reclaim the Streets' (RTS) describes the trying out of new forms of protest as follows: 'An important lesson learned by British grassroots groups is that all the interesting new approaches recently have emerged due to the convergence of movements, ideas, cultures, strategies etc. RTS is actually no more than a coming-together of the anti-road movement and the campaign against the new Criminal Justice Bill. And that itself was a coming-together of squatters, travellers, ravers, lawyers and demonstrators. Sometimes these unions only came about due to people using pre-conceived methods in another context. For example, tree- hugging, which originated in the USA to protect forests from clear-felling, has been used successfully in the UK against road construction. This isn't about pulling different movements together into one, but about multiplying them. It's not about establishing common aims, but about bringing about confrontation.'

Local struggles instead of NGOs
The PGA network has been on the scene since talks began about 'an international civil society' at the 1992 conference in Rio. Its most important difference to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) is its consistent confrontational attitude and the rejection of political lobbying. Over the years the NGOs have become increasingly professionalised, concentrating on moves which would merely 'improve' agreements and conventions, and taking over the functions of government consultants. But during protests over the negotiation of a Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), the NGOs slightly changed their attitude and aggressively rejected the MAI agreement, whatever its terms, instead of their former pandering to suggestions for merely modifying social and environmental clauses.

Information advantage and hierarchy
An inter-continental network can't exist without contradictions. Many internationalists expounded the need for such a network before PGA came into being. But what does an Indian woman farmer fighting for survival have in common with a single mother in Western Europe living on social security? And what does the rejection of neoliberalism have in common with the negative effects of globalisation? To live ones life in solidarity with others globally is difficult enough, and even more difficult to explain clearly in leaflets.

This isn't about the usual 'solidarity' between North and South the projection of our own perspective on what the Trikont (developing countries) need. 'If you just came to help me, you can go home. But if you consider my struggle for survival to be your struggle too, then maybe we can work together'. These words of an Aboriginal woman became the motto of the PGA's manifesto. Despite differing personal circumstances and experiences and, even contradictory interests, it is possible to formulate common aims; a kind of getting back to basics. It's about reclaiming ones life and opportunities - individually as well as collectively - and taking active control of ones life, opening up new spheres of experience and action. This is where we have to seek the common ground. People are experiencing increasing exclusion, in that all decisions about their lives have been limited by seemingly unchanging structures and external forces. They are seeking to reclaim their lives, for their own survival. The Zapatistas call this 'preguntando caminamos', which can be translated as 'questioning, we set out on our journey'. This common search is what connects all people throughout the world who are struggling in their local context.

Many questions don't need immediate answers. The PGA manifesto, the foundation stone for many grass-roots movements and groups, is not yet perfect. Its analysis is very much based on economics. In general it avoids naming capitalist power structures and talks vaguely of 'neoliberalism' without defining the term precisely. Mention of patriarchy and gender issues is pretentious and outrageously incomplete. The role of governments in globalisation is totally under-represented. Neoliberalism is wrongly presented as a dichotomy of the 'good' oppressed and the 'evil' companies, without considering the multi-layered dimensions of development and of the establishment of social hegemony, and without recognising individuals' involvement in power-structures.
One problem is the failure to name power structures, which means it could easily be dismissed as a superficial analysis. Instead it refers very generally to trans-national companies. What is missing is a precise definition of positions, so that a discussion about, for example, 'evil' capital financing might be construed as coming close to anti-Semitic and nationalist positions.
Hence, at the second conference of Peoples' Global Action in Bangalore, the common principles were supplemented with another important point:
'We object to all forms and systems of power and oppression, including, but not limited to, patriarchy, racism and religious fundamentalism of any kind. We acknowledge and respect the dignity of all human beings.' There should also be a statement against anti-Semitism in the manifesto. An intense debate about the manifesto was, however, postponed because the common principles were felt more important to the extension of the network.

There have been repeated warnings in the globalisation debate about the right wing; however the feared merger of left and right has not yet happened. Some anti-globalisation protesters just want to preserve the welfare state in the North and protect it from neoliberalism. They exclude the North-South dimension. Many leaflets simplify institutions such as the IMF and make themselves sound very upset about the terrible consequences of globalisation. There is no widespread recognition that capitalist exploitation has been international ever since colonialism.
Therefore at the Bangalore conference in August, the PGA's previous focus on 'free' trade and the WTO was broadened out. As an anti-capitalist network, PGA objects not only to individual institutions and agreements which (de)regulate world trade, but to any form of capitalist exploitation. In a detailed analysis combining the perspectives of five continents, PGA rejected a simplistic view of trans-national corporations entriely taking over the sovereignty of nation-states in favour of a detailed analysis combining the perspectives of five continents.
The views of African states are not yet well-formed. There was a lack of representatives from African states and Eastern European countries at the conference, partly because of delayed visa applications. They were also missing from PGA's founding conference in February 1998 in Geneva, which was attended by three hundred delegates from five continents. There needs to be more networking, therefore. The aim is for more grass-roots movements in Africa and Eastern Europe to take part in the next conference in Cochabamba, Bolivia (September 2001).
A difficulty is that most of the communication within PGA is via new media, i.e. the Internet. This means that grass-roots movements in the South are disadvantaged because they have hardly any access to the Internet. Also, many discussions happen in English and Spanish and are rarely translated into other languages. Most contributions to discussions come from countries in the North.

And yet, the unbelievable dynamism within PGA has already produced many examples of new co-operation between groups in different countries. The network is at its strongest when it is not visible, when a dynamism evolves out of lively local discussions which then lead to local actions with cross-continental links.

Contact for Peoples' Global Action:; e-mail:
Postal address: PGA, c/o Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), 377 Bank Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Contact in Germany: fzs (freier Zusammenschluss von StudentInnenschaft), Reuterstr. 44, 53113 Bonn.
Tel. +49-228/262119

This text is the result of contributions from several people. By not printing contributors' names we would like to highlight the principle of texts being created through collective discussion rather than written by selected individual authors who have sat on discussion podia, published articles and have a tendency to speak for others. All campaigners who act in accordance with PGA's principles are equal members. We are everywhere!


Email: PGA
Contact for Peoples’ Global Action:
Postal address: PGA, c/o Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), 377 Bank Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Kanada.
Contact in Germany: fzs (freier Zusammenschluss von StudentInnenschaften), Reuterstr. 44, 53113 Bonn, Tel. +49-228/262119,