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Home arrow Sociology arrow Bourdieu and Social Movements: Ideological Struggles in the British Anti-Capitalist Movement
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Globalise Resistance: building political alliances

Globalise Resistance was formed from a series of conferences of the same name that toured around the UK in 2001. The activists who set up Globalise Resistance have stated how they were inspired by the likes of Reclaim the Streets and their style of campaigning, which was impromptu, sometimes using flash mobs and other direct action methods, such as those on the J18 Carnival Against Capitalism in 1999. It was not that they intended to adopt this style of protest wholesale, but more that they were at the cutting edge of anti-corporate politics, instead of, say, outdated industrial class type protests, which arguably were hampered by anti-trade union legislation. However, a number of Globalise Resistance activists got together and felt that they could build the British anti-capitalist movement into something bigger than the ephemeral actions and campaigns of Reclaim the Streets or Earth First! They wanted to extend the anticapitalist politics to others in the wider AGM field. In 2001, there had been some famous summit protests, which had caught the popular political imagination, such as Prague and Genoa (Neale, 2002).

The socialist activists noticed that certain left-wing groups, particularly trade unionists, were not part of the summit mobilizations and that this did not seem to make sense. Globalise Resistance sought to bring together the trade unionists and activists as part of the anticapitalist movement and AGM too. As one of the founding members of Globalise Resistance explains:

GR was formed as an attempt to bridge different parts of the movement. Also, at the time the main characteristic of the anticapitalist movement was summit hopping. It was going to Prague, to Genoa, to Gothenburg, whatever, and every time one of these things came up, there'd be another group set up, the S26 collectives to organize for Prague. And basically, it was like reinventing the wheel every time, and all the same arguments they had every time. So what we had to do was go and get in there, if we were going to do it. So that's how we came about. (Jay)

Similarly, another founder member claimed that before socialist involvement the BACMF seemed narrow and did not reflect the breadth of grievances of people who could be involved. Thus, the idea behind creating Globalise Resistance:

was to create quite a broad coalition, I mean I think initially quite a wide spectrum of organizations were involved, the SWP, Workers Power, the Greens as well as trade unions. So it was quite a broad steering committee, so the idea was to create a coalition that reflected the different strands of the movement as it was beginning to crystallize in Britain. (Will)

Part of the socialist strategy is to build alliances with trade unions because that broadens the scope of the movement to an untapped contingent who are seeking political representation, particularly during the post-industrial and neoliberal era, when class politics is fragmented but exploitation of consumers and workers is rife:

Basically, the idea is to try and bridge gaps between parts of the movement. Like we discussed at the meeting last night, the trade unions and the anti-capitalist movement, that's what we're very keen on at the moment, because that'll be political dynamite if we get them together, so that's what we're moving towards, but we don't want to narrow down to that, we want to keep it general and inclusive. (Carlton)

The meeting that the interview respondent was referring to was attended by a trade union representative who wanted to connect with groups such as Globalise Resistance to help with a campaign around the issue of low pay for cleaners in the financial district of Canary Wharf, London. This type of issue fits very well with socialist politics; indeed, socialist groups throughout the 20th century fought for workers' rights and made alliances with trade unions. However, during the transition from an industrial to a post-industrial economy in Britain, the social base (the industrial working class) changed. In the post-industrial, neoliberal era, workers face precarious working conditions and living standards (Standing, 2011). In an economy which privileges the individual over the collective, and with a succession of governments that have maintained or expanded anti-trade union legislation, employers are able to erode workers' rights and offer casual contracts without the promise of permanent work. Groups like Globalise Resistance and the SWP that want to support workers and are not subject to the same restrictions as unions are able to campaign on issues that are at once familiar but, at the same time, also a part of a new neoliberal context. During interviews, Globalise Resistance activists stated how trade unions were not part of the new wave of anti-capitalism, yet they stated that they thought they ought to be. According to anarchist activists and academics such as Carter and Morland, the direct action anarchist contingent of the anti-capitalist movement field 'tended to work outside of formalized political structures' (2004: 12), and newer socialist groups such as Globalise Resistance and older ones such as the SWP have used May Day protests to connect with organized labour and the anti-Blair trade unionists, while direct action anarchists of the 1990s 'have often neglected these essential links' (2004: 16). This is precisely the political gap that Carlton from Globalise Resistance (above) was referring to. The newer socialist organizations began to occupy the space within the anti-capitalist movement field which fits and aligns better with the political practices of socialism and includes working with organized labour and trade unions.

It is important to note that anarchists have a long and proud history of being part of working-class struggles (Class War, 1992). However, during the 1990s groups like Class War experienced the same decline in interest as the SWP given that the social base of support - the industrial working class - had declined. Some former members of Class War explain how they decided to shift their political focus from class-based activism to environmentalist activism. Mark and Josh are two such former Class War activists:

In the late 1990s I was involved in Class War [... ] we were going nowhere, so we all agreed to disband our group. At the same time there was this vibrant environmental direct action scene [Earth First! and Reclaim the Streets], so I got involved in that. (Mark)

I think anarchism had to change, class is not where all the power lies. We have to consider issues associated with consumption and the environment. (Josh)

This approach left an opening for socialists to come into the field and build connections with groups who represent workers' interests.

The following activists explain why they joined GR. In Bourdieu's terminology these activists attempted to build their social capital, which translated into networking with other political groups:

I wanted to help to bring parts of the anti-capitalist movement together. I wanted to unite people who do not necessarily agree with each other, to help build the biggest broadest base possible. (Grant)

I think GR is one of the best organizations to be in [... ] it is an umbrella group, there are people that may be members of a different political party or organization and still be in GR. So you know, we often have people who are a lot more liberal, kind of NGO [non-governmental organization] types. (Micky)

I joined because GR is multi-faceted. I feel that GR attempts to globalize resistance through creating links with other groups, e.g. NGOs [...] and all this creates awareness of globalization and oppression. (Al)

Another activist states that he:

found it a very open organization, quite a loose network. And I found that GR tried to bridge the gap between more organized top-down type organizations and bottom-up grassroots networks. (Liam)

The nature of anarchist political practice, as argued in chapter 4, does not really lend itself to making broad alliances, especially with political organizations that have formal structures. By contrast, Globalise Resistance and the SWP, by networking more broadly with other political groups, create a multiplier effect in terms of the cultural, social and symbolic capital they can acquire. Forging connections with more political groups provides more opportunities to acquire more capital, which could in turn enhance their position within the field. The skills and knowledge and action repertoires (cultural capital) from certain organizations are pooled to some extent. The social networks (social capital) that are built and created extend to a larger audience; when this occurs the status and recognition (symbolic capital) of these groups increases. The connections with other groups meant that Globalise Resistance acquired and utilized cultural, social and symbolic capital within the socialist space of the anti-capitalist movement field. This was done with the intention of building a more inclusive anti-capitalist movement, which includes a range of other social and political forces that may have been neglected by the direct action anarchists during the 1990s. This helps us understand the reasons for the ideological competition and conflict that ensued between the socialists and the anarchists, since it could be argued that Globalise Resistance's acquisition of capital meant they were now becoming recognized as veritable anti-capitalists, thereby displacing the anarchists - who had occupied the dominant position within this field for nearly a decade.

The next section details some of the ideological conflict at the beginning of the 21st century.

 
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