Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Ulex Project: developing radical social movement training across Europe

A really interesting step forward in terms of activist training in Europe: the Ulex Project, developing social movement training combining personal, collective and political transformation. It's based on the long-standing and very effective work done by Col.lectiu Eco-actiu training activists and organisers. Now launching a crowdfunding project to develop a large new venue - please circulate far and wide!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Hamburg G20 protests: call out and international planning network

We are many! We are loud! The world will hear us.

July 2017, the G20 summit in Hamburg. With the world’s 20 most powerful leaders, in a world in deep crisis and turmoil, the world’s media will be present. But it is not only the powerful and mighty who will be there. We will make sure that the voices of the many different struggles around the globe will be “on air” as well: the voices against social inequality, austerity and exploitation; the voices against war and manmade eco-disaster; our voices for solidarity, other choices and visions. We know that we can make our voices heard, if we are loud and clear. Seattle 1999, the global marches against the Gulf War, the squares of Madrid, Istanbul, New York and Lagos, Blockupy 2015 in Frankfurt and the Global Women’s Marches proved it.

The G20 will try to square the circle and protect the globalized system of domination from its own self-destructiveness. And they will try to rearrange the whole world in order to serve the interests of the rich and powerful. This is why we, the lively resistance in our many shapes and forms, will be in Hamburg.

Let them set their global issues; we’ll set ours. Let them discuss their capitalist development; we will be loud against the exploitation of labour and the destruction of nature in the name of profit, and loud for equal rights and gender equality. Let them talk about their “migration crisis”; we will speak up for open borders and against racism; we will address the systematic production of poverty and war that forces millions of people to move. Let them talk about free trade agreements; we will be vocal about transparency, for political, cultural and food sovereignty and against their (post-)imperialist practices toward the Global South. Let them talk about the “war on terror” and the “clash of cultures”; we will shout out for peace and against their warmongering and torture, against their production of fear and Islamophobia. Their efforts to divide us and rule forever will be met by our creative protest and fierce resistance.

None of us thinks that the world is easy to explain. Yet we are determined to oppose all those politicians who allegedly know best what is good for their countries and the world. These new political figures seem to address the social question, the social effects of a decades-long neoliberal world order. But we know that in their efforts to keep us divided, they push us into rivalry and hate against our brothers and sisters on the other side of their borders and eventually into their dirty wars. We know their plans and we will not let this happen. We don’t buy into scapegoating the weakest of our world in the false hope that this will change the misery of our everyday lives.

Against their rivalry, we stand in solidarity; against their exploitation and expropriation even of the air that we breathe, we put the cooperation of free individuals and the free use of the commons; against their wars we opt for sister- and brotherhood, for freedom and equality.

We see the protests against the G20 as a chance to send a strong signal to the world that we are the many who believe in global alternatives. We believe in alternatives outside and against neoliberal globalization, nationalism and autocratic rule. We believe in the globalization of justice and Rights4All and we reject all nationalist and xenophobic “solutions”, which are their solutions against our vision for a just world, a world united in solidarity.

The counter summit, the camp, the transnational rally with tens of thousands of people in the city of Hamburg and the mass civil disobedience actions will give us the opportunity to meet, to discuss and to share our visions, ideas and practices of resistance, of a world of freedom, equality, solidarity.

Allons enfants! In 2017 the Bastille stands in Hamburg!

The “compact week” of global solidarity against the G20 will give us many opportunities to express the other world and our conviction that it is possible.

At the “Summit of Global Solidarity” (July 5 and 6) or at the open camp (from July 2 to 8), in actions of mass civil disobedience on the day of the official summit (July 7) or at the broad, lively and colorful demonstration in the heart of the city (July 8) we will organize and celebrate, fill the squares and streets of Hamburg, debate and shout out!

Let’s make the G20 summit a real counter summit of the many, the disobedient of the world.
Come and join us at the international preparatory meeting in Hamburg on April 7, get in touch with us via email.

See you all in Hamburg!

International NO-g20 work group

International preparatory meeting (April 7, Hamburg): http://g20-protest.info/category/international-meeting-on-7th-of-april/
Website: http://g20-protest.info
Planning list: http://lists.g20-2017.org/mailman/listinfo/interlist
Email contact: international@g20-2017.org

PDF: International Call to Hamburg_Allons enfants! We are loud and many_March 2017

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Irish water charges movement

A working paper on "The Irish water charges movement: theorising 'the social movement in general'" is now available via https://www.academia.edu/31075937/The_Irish_water_charges_movement_theorising_the_social_movement_in_general. Comments very welcome!

Monday, 19 December 2016

Interface 8(2) now out: social movement auto/biographies

The latest issue of Interface, an activist / academic journal "from and for" social movements, is now available free online. This issue's theme is social movement auto/biographies.

Find it here

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Trump, Brexit and the twilight of neoliberalism

Laurence Cox and Alf Gunvald Nilsen have just published an extended piece for Pluto Press drawing on a shorter one for the Sociological Review, looking at the "twilight of neoliberalism" highlighted in their book We Make Our Own History and how Trump and Brexit can be understood - and resisted.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The twilight of neoliberalism: theorising social movements in the age of Trump and Brexit

Abstract for a talk at Aarhus University's CESAU in December, together with the launch of a special issue of the journal Slagmark on neoliberalism:

In 2014’s We Make Our Own History: Marxism and Social Movements in the Twilight of Neoliberalism, Alf Gunvald Nilsen and I argued that neoliberalism, like other forms of capitalism before it, had entered an organic crisis characterised both by a crumbling of the social alliances underpinning neoliberalism as a strategy for accumulation and by a global “movement of movements” against neoliberalism, running from global justice struggles around the turn of the millennium to contemporary anti-austerity movements. Indeed the widespread usage of the term neoliberalism itself is in large part a reflection of its adoption as a term enabling alliance formation between very different social movements. Underpinning this analysis is our wider rereading of Marxism as a theory of collective human action, in which both social order and social change are produced by the conflictual interactions between “social movements from above” such as that which gave rise to neoliberalism as an effective political project, and “social movements from below”, operating on many different scales from the local to the global.

Since writing the book, we have seen the EU’s austerity policies encounter crisis after crisis around the European periphery, while core EU states have seen multiple challenges from the right as well as the remarkable French experience of Nuit Debout. In the UK and US neoliberalism has been challenged on the left by Corbyn and Sanders and on the right by Trump and Brexit. The US election and British referendum neatly illustrate the operations of social movements from above, as well as the increasing difficulty of securing consent for neoliberal accumulation strategies; meanwhile in Ireland popular resistance to water charges has produced a situation of near-paralysis of state power in the attempt to impose neoliberal measures. The twilight of neoliberalism is precisely this situation – shared with some other world regions – where a once-hegemonic strategy of accumulation cannot sustain the social alliance it requires for longer-term consent and new initiatives. Meanwhile, new models – whether serious new elite strategies or powerful movements from below – are not yet able to impose themselves sustainably. 

In this context, I argue that it is important to take social movements and collective action – from above and below – seriously, rather than naturalising and eternalising the institutional structures of a particular historical period whose continuation, in the last analysis, depends on the outcome of these conflicts. To quote We Make Our Own History

“[W]hether neoliberalism is ending is perhaps not the main question we should now be asking. Such hegemonic projects have relatively short shelf-lives, induced by their declining ability to meet the interests of the key members of the alliances that underpin them. The real question is more one of how much damage neoliberalism will do in its death agonies; and, even more importantly, what (or more sociologically, who) will replace it and how.”
Laurence Cox

Environmental groups facing the petroleum industry: global perspectives

A short talk given to the "Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa" event on 10 November 2016, the 21st anniversary of the execution of the Ogoni Nine.

On Wednesday last week a Brussels-based anti-fracking campaigner wrote 

“things have been quiet on the fracking front. In England, faced with a fractured democracy, campaign groups are becoming increasingly creative and well organised. In Ireland, the Parliament has backed a Bill calling for an outright ban, meaning it progresses to the next legislative stage. Aside from having had to assist with a Twitterstorm, write to elected representatives and keep others updated with developments, there has been little else to do. Elsewhere in Europe, there has only been positive news to share of late: Poland’s last frackers pulling out and BNK Petroleum relinquishing another licence in Spain.”[1]

This Wednesday, of course, Trump won the US election, which casts a huge shadow over Native resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock and perhaps also to Keystone XL. We could say: what a difference a week makes. Or we could say: what a difference politics makes.  

This is often not how we talk about energy, where decisions on petroleum are treated either as a technical issue (by its supporters) or as a grim structural inevitability (by its opponents). But in practice the very uncertainty of petroleum extraction projects points to how far they are political decisions in the last instance.

This can be seen particularly in relation to tar sands, where in the boom years 2010 – 2013 producers lost $30.9 billion, of which 55% “can credibly be attributed to the impact of public accountability campaigns”[2]. It is also, of course, visible on a wider scale, in decisions such as that of the UK government to remove subsidies for renewable energy while passing legislation to facilitate the fracking industry and deciding to proceed with the 3rd Heathrow runway – or on the widest scale around the Paris agreement and the question of what it will actually mean in practice.

Politics, or more broadly social movements, is also an outcome of struggles over petroleum production. Anna Szolucha, who completed her PhD here, is now a Marie Curie research fellow working on energy democracy and popular resistance to fracking. She writes

“In places where the protesters managed to make the energy corporations abandon the drilling sites, the communities are organising in egalitarian ways and forming new renewable energy co-operatives. The aim is to take responsibility for meeting their own energy needs in a way that is local and mitigates climate change. May new local energy co-operatives and grassroots mobilisations against hydraulic fracturing reveal the potential for a repowering of democracy?”[3]

In other words, if we want to think about the future of petroleum we are talking not simply about inevitable technical or structural factors, but about politics: about how people organise on both sides to push or resist particular projects and alternatives. This matters to all of us, or at least to those who will live long enough to be personally affected by global warming or who have children and grandchildren.  This is why Ken Saro-Wiwa’s commitment to the struggle against Shell in Ogoniland, or the struggle against Shell in Mayo, matter far beyond the people involved: they are among the places where the future of the planet has been fought out.

In terms then of assessing the politics of environmental groups facing the oil industry:

·        The period of low oil prices since 2014, in large part a result of OPEC hostility to the new petroleum sources (fracking, tar sands, deep water drilling), has had the desired effect of making such projects much less likely to be profitable, and thus much less likely to be pursued, at least at present. However once a project has been signalled, this gives local opposition advance warning for the long process of organisation and education that is needed to win.
·        The shift towards “midge” firms, particularly in fields like fracking, is an added weakness. As we have seen, it is far harder to resist a major oil company like Shell, with massive reserves and a need to maintain a political image of strength, than it is to resist a small and in part speculative exploration company which cannot easily cope with declining prices and the costs of popular resistance. (For a reminder: Shell to Sea raised the cost of the Corrib Gas project from c. €800m to c. €3.5bn, quite separate from the costs involved in taking 15 years to build a pipeline). So the chances for effective resistance vary considerably in terms of the size of the company involved – bear in mind that the oil majors have bigger economies than many small countries.
·        With the Paris agreement in particular, we have started to see some light at the end of a long historical tunnel. If Graham Kay’s research explores the moment when a strategic commitment to secure petroleum reserves became a central motivation for great power politics, we are now entering a period where this can no longer be taken for granted, and where it is conceivable that major states can face the industry (and its associated industries, like the car and aviation industries) down. This does not mean, of course, that they always will: rather that other economic actors and considerations (rising sea levels, comparative costs, renewable energy) start to become thinkable alternative options for states. Indeed some petroleum companies themselves are investing increasingly in renewables, while divestment campaigns are having a surprisingly easy ride of it.
·        Lastly, as in Ogoniland a substantial proportion of new oil projects are in areas with significant indigenous populations, not least in the USA and Canada. Such populations are often fighting for their economic and cultural survival, and have less to lose in that they have fewer ties to national power structures than others. This is of course one reason for the often spectacular involvement and frequent success of indigenous resistance to the industry.

So these are broadly speaking background conditions. Environmental groups are, I think, winning more battles against the petroleum industry now than perhaps ever before. It is also important to remember that some defeats (like Rossport) represent Pyrrhic victories for the industry: the Irish state will think twice and three times before signing up to another project that might bring on the same kinds of conflict. This was, after all, the experience both of the nuclear power projects of the 1980s and of the UK government’s roads projects in the 1990s.

However the question of whether the light at the end of the tunnel is just a mirage is ultimately one of politics. On the dark side, as we can see with Trump and May, states are entirely capable of orienting towards petroleum for non-strategic reasons. Conversely, if Putin’s petroleum strategy has a logical geopolitical orientation, China’s relative openness to a gear shift shows an alternative kind of state strategy from a surprising direction.

On the light side, much depends on alliances. This is very obvious in relation to indigenous resistance, from the international alliance-building of Saro-Wiwa’s MOSOP to Standing Rock. However it is equally important elsewhere: between the “Lancashire Nanas” and eco-warriors in Britain, or between unions, churches and environmentalists in Norway. There are no guarantees here; and events like the Green Party’s presence in government here when the Navy was used against Rossport protestors show just how bad things can be.

So it really is up to us.

Laurence Cox

Friday, 16 September 2016

Occupy in Ireland and Oakland

Anna Szolucha's book on Occupy in Ireland and Oakland has just come out with Routledge as Real Democracy in the Occupy Movement: No Stable Ground.  It's still at academic hardback prices but can be ordered for libraries (and hopefully they will do a paperback in due course).

Here's the blurb:

The liberal representative model of democracy is in a crisis. In protest camps, neighbourhood assemblies and through other non-hierarchical initiatives, the Occupy movement as well as other recent anti-austerity movements are redefining democracy as a positive way to engage with this crisis. The more direct democratic models of organisation that they are employing are not aimed at making the politicians regain their lost public legitimacy. Instead, direct democracy is perceived by these movements as a radical alternative to the established forms of representation. Can direct democracy become an actual alternative to representative democracy? 

This book takes an engaged and in-depth look at the Occupy movement in Ireland and the San Francisco Bay Area in the US in order to present the most up-to-date evidence of the changing nature of popular democratic demands. It takes an insider’s perspective to analyse the internal processes and iterations of the movement. Establishing links between social movements and transformations of democracy, as well as underscoring the significance of the recent movements for the future of democracy, this book is essential reading for students, scholars and activists interested in direct democracy, social movements, and radical politics more generally.

Looking forward to hearing a talk about the book in Ireland!

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Student activist weekend (Dublin, October)

People and Planet are organising an interesting-looking student activist weekend, hopefully free:

It's an exciting time for activism in Ireland at the minute as we're now starting to see students open their eyes and take action! At this weekend in October, students will be equipped with all the skills to run a campaign - how to plan strategic campaigns, get their cause into the media and organise creative actions.

It's set to be a very fun weekend packed with music and craic (and very cheap as we're hoping to keep the cost at €0)! Please see the attached documents for a rough guideline of the weekend. If you would like more information, feel free to contact me [crossonc AT tcd.ie] or check out our facebook event - https://www.facebook.com/events/1762452914007252/


We are offering an opportunity for students across the country to network with one another and learn specific campaigning skills by taking part in engaging discussions and workshops. We want to welcome students who are already involved in activism or are new to the idea and want to learn more about how they can effect social change. 

This weekend will give you a chance to have discussions with like-minded people surrounding topics that interest you. Our workshops lend a space for you to share experiences and and gain practical skills for social change. Our main objective is for you to leave feeling energised with a supportive student network, relevant skills, campaign ideas and having made new friends.

People & Planet is a student network that exists in the UK and Ireland which campaigns to end world hunger, defend human rights and protect the environment. We’re a student-led movement that empowers young people with the skills, confidence and knowledge they need to make change happen, at home and globally. We can give you specific training in campaigns such as Fossil Free, Sweatshop Free and Ethical Investment while also equip you with the necessary skills to campaign for any issue you feel passionate about.

The weekend will run workshops with experienced student campaigners but will also give you a chance to socialise as a group through various fun activities with the aim to build an empowered activist network in Ireland.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

The bells of Rhymney...

Just following up the history of Pete Seeger's 1958 song The Bells of Rhymney, familiar to many from the Byrds' 1965 version. The lyrics are by Rhymney poet Idris Davies, from Gwalia Deserta. Davies was a miner's son and worked in the pit for 7 years before an accident, the General Strike and the pit closing propelled him into becoming a teacher and a poet.

The lyrics are often taken as speaking for themselves but as so often the locations carry a lot of meaning, as comments here point out:

"As to the bells themselves the bells of Brecon and Wye are off the s Wales coalfield, which meant that they could be happy without the mass unemployment endured by the coalfield to the south. Neath is in the anthracite coalfield of s Wales, which didn't experience the depression of the 20s and 30s so severely. Caerphilly is just off the coalfield. Many miners from Merthyr and Rhymney traveled to pits in the Neath valley at that time. At this time the British government was talking of closing down Merthyr and transporting the people to England- hence the brown bells."

"As for the phrase "Throw the vandals in court" this isn't a reference to the coal owners. Because this cry came from Newport an area which suffered less unemployment in the 1920s than the south Wales coalfield, the cry to put the vandals in court refers to the militant miners of 1926, as they were seen as vandals who refused work and created social disturbance. From Swansea onwards Idris Davies is portraying the social unease felt by the more prosperous areas towards the south Wales miners."

The bells aren't agreeing with each other, they are voices in conflict (though Davies might also have been remembering the uprising of the Newport Chartists a century before). Here's the original poem (the song cuts the Brecon line in order to repeat the Rhymney line as chorus):

Gwalia Deserta XV
O what can you give me?
Say the sad bells of Rhymney.
Is there hope for the future?
Cry the brown bells of Merthyr.
Who made the mineowner?
Say the black bells of Rhondda.
And who robbed the miner?
Cry the grim bells of Blaina.
They will plunder willy-nilly,
Say the bells of Caerphilly.
They have fangs, they have teeth
Shout the loud bells of Neath.
To the south, things are sullen,
Say the pink bells of Brecon.
Even God is uneasy,
Say the moist bells of Swansea.
Put the vandals in court
Cry the bells of Newport.
All would be well if — if — if —
Say the green bells of Cardiff.
Why so worried, sisters, why
Sing the silver bells of Wye.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Hope in the dark

Just finished reading the updated edition of Rebecca Solnit's short book Hope in the Dark. It's not perfect - a bit US-centric and oddly hostile to the word "left" for someone who is so positive about the Zapatistas, desde el abajo y a la izquierda - but still a great antidote to the politics of radical despair. A good essay of hers linked to the book is free online here:

"We write history with our feet and with our presence and our collective voice and vision. And yet, and of course, everything in the mainstream media suggests that popular resistance is ridiculous, pointless, or criminal, unless it is far away, was long ago, or, ideally, both."

Friday, 15 July 2016

Keeping going in hard times

Sound advice from Harry Giles here on how to keep going when you're feeling terrible about politics.