Transforming the alternative movement globalization field

The alliance between New Labour, Oxfam (which headed the MPH coalition), rock stars (including Bono and Bob Geldof) and other popular cultural personalities such as Richard Curtis brought with them superior forms of capital that totally transformed the AGM field to their advantage. I wish to stress that this was not a conspiracy on the part of these agents; rather, they had a certain political agenda which they considered to be noble and therefore they used all means at their disposal to achieve their goals. Therefore, in order for them to gain support from the New Labour government it was necessary for

MPH and Live 8 to distance themselves from the other mobilizations, which they considered to be politically contentious and problematic to their cause.

If we consider the MPH campaign as part of a wider international mobilization to reduce poverty it had enormous cultural, economic, social and symbolic capital. George Soros, Bill Gates and Bono, who, with Oxfam International, set up this coalition, have for years campaigned to reduce poverty. They launched a very high-profile media campaign which included film stars promoting the cause. This included an ad campaign to raise awareness where film stars would click their fingers, which represented the time span of how frequently a child in Africa dies. This campaign not only ran in Britain but also across the USA. To run such an ad campaign for the mobilization costs millions of pounds - this alone gives an indication of the power of finance. Economic and other forms of capital were used to promote this cause, but also to reproduce further cultural, social and symbolic capital. Oxfam, through its social (capital) networks, managed to connect up with a further 460 other NGOs and charity groups across the UK, including very high-profile ones such as Christian Aid and the World Development Movement. Connecting with these organizations yielded massive and further cultural, economic and social capital, including the skills, knowledge and resources of all the activists within them.

Cultural capital - in the form of skills, knowledge and years of experience - came from high-profile campaigners such as Bono and Bob Geldof. They also brought with them significant amounts of social capital in the form of powerful high-profile connections, which MPH capitalized on as the event coincided with the Live 8 event in London on the same weekend. These agents also have a certain amount of symbolic capital; they command significant and powerful recognition within the charity sector for all their previous work in raising awareness about poverty in Africa. Furthermore, the Live 8 event was aired from the Meadows Park in Edinburgh after the march by MPH had finished. To be granted the permission, and have the resources to set up a large stage with screens, requires vast economic resources and cultural capital, not to mention the ability and 'know-how' to organize and coordinate the two events.

In addition to this, Oxfam enjoyed a close relationship with the then New Labour government, which endorsed and supported the

MPH and Live 8 campaigns. Two articles, albeit from left-wing political magazines (Red Pepper and the New Statesman), cited evidence which suggested Oxfam and New Labour have had a close working relationship over many years.

An example of this is given below:

John Clark left Oxfam in 1992 to join the World Bank to advise on its co-optation strategy with civil society. John Clark was Tony Blair's adviser on his African Partnership Initiative in 2000. In addition, Justin Forsyth was Blair's special adviser on international development who was previously Oxfam's campaign manager. (Hodkinson, 2005a: 2)

Further examples of the New Labour and Oxfam relationship include:

Frank Judd, a former director of Oxfam, became a Labour peer and spoke for the party on international development in the Lords in the 1990s. Shriti Vadera, who advises Brown on International development, is an Oxfam trustee. When Oxfam advertised for Forsyth's successor, two of the four candidates called for vetting were either current or former special advisers. Vadera was on the interview panel. (Quarmby, 2005)

As well as appointing suitable personnel, there is also evidence that suggests Oxfam's policy was in line with the then government's policy and was essentially neoliberal:

When it [Oxfam] published a report three years ago that advocated liberalisation of markets in wealthy nations and identified market access as a key mechanism for eradicating poverty, the line was strikingly similar to Gordon Brown's. (Quarmby, 2005)

Based on these quotes it is evident that there is a connection between Oxfam, one of the most powerful groups in the MPH coalition, and New Labour. In this respect, it was mutually beneficial for Oxfam and New Labour to work together. Oxfam and New Labour both have powerful social and symbolic capital through their connections with each other. Oxfam has the symbolic recognition of a major charity group that is well known and respected both nationally and internationally. The New Labour government and then Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was president of the G8 in 2005, had powerful social and symbolic capital. Oxfam could gain help from the then New Labour government to advance their politics and the New Labour government would get to be seen as part of the G8 responsible for supporting a reduction in poverty, especially in the global south. An excellent visual example of this symbiosis and evidence of the symbolic capital involved is the banner that was hung from Edinburgh Castle (Figure 6.1).

Oxfam headed a campaign that was endorsed and agreed at a high political level. The close relationship with and support from the government which Oxfam enjoys has had ramifications for the anticapitalist mobilizations, not just for the MPH coalition. In particular, Oxfam ensured that the more radical sections of the ACM were not allowed to sign up to be part of the MPH coalition.2 Groups such as the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), Globalise Resistance, the Socialist Party (formerly Militant), the SWP and Stop the War Coalition were all denied any space for stalls or attendance at the main demonstration on 2 July 2005. MPH had bought a trader's licence

Make Poverty History banner in front of Edinburgh Castle Source

Figure 6.1 Make Poverty History banner in front of Edinburgh Castle Source: Photo by J. Ibrahim.

so 'illegal traders', which could include political activists selling items, could be removed. The other exclusionary tactic they applied was through their website. The MPH website did not mention any other actions or events that were not connected with their own, for instance the G8 Alternatives, the Dissent! network, events, and other mini-mobilizations that were organized by Trident Ploughshares and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) activists. It is at this point we start to see how superior resources affect other less powerful agents in the AGM field, but, more importantly, how the field itself is starting to be transformed in a way that other groups cannot effectively challenge.

In light of this I conducted some impromptu interviews with activists involved in the MPH coalition. It was informative since such was the power of the MPH campaign that even activists who had a critical stance still wanted to be part of it. As one activist stated:

It's better to be involved in the MPH coalition than on the outside; we are openly critical... but it is massive event that will raise awareness of important issues. (War on Want activist)

Others stated how they 'felt disappointed' afterwards (NGO activist). And others disliked the discourse of 'aid for Africa':

Let us not talk about aid, but the retention of Africa's resources. (Christian Aid activist speaking at the Globalise Resistance annual conference, May 2005)

Of course, there were many who supported the campaign before, during and after, and said that they thought it was 'a successful event' (MPH activist 1) and that 'MPH has brought attention to global poverty in a way that might not have happened had it not been for such a high-profile campaign' (MPH 2 activist).

There were also key public figures who have been part of the NGO sector and have campaigned against poverty for many years who were unhappy with the shift MPH made. In particular, George Monbiot (Guardian columnist, environmental campaigner and activist in War on Want) joined the G8 Alternatives. Prior to the G8 summit meeting, at an anti-G8 rally, 'Make the G8 History', held at the London School of Economics on 29 June 2005, George Monbiot stated that:

I will be going up to Edinburgh not to march in favour of the G8, but to protest against it. And to protest against Geldof and Bono as well. (cited by Hodkinson, 2005b)

Walden Bello, who heads the NGO Focus on the Global South, was invited to speak at press conferences during the MPH mobilization, but he defied the set script of spin doctors who asked him not to mention the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead, he used the opportunities whenever possible to make explicit connections between wars and poverty, which was uncomfortable since the UK and USA are responsible for the launching of these wars. Bianca Jagger was also critical of the economic capitalist system. She made explicit reference to the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund.

I now turn to observations and analysis of the contentious political mobilizations that took place over the week of the summit meeting.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >