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Cross-Borders, Cross-Movement Alliances
in the Late 1990s

Aaron Pollack (


The efforts of the EZLN to promote international networks is but one example of a new trend toward ‘cross-border, cross-movement’ organizing that has occurred in the middle and late 1990s. What can be presently observed in the field of international organizing is an increased cross-movement coordination as well as a greater focus on regional and ‘global’ organizing that is a response to global economic restructuring and both the regionalization and the globalization of the world economy that this entails. These initiatives involve a number of interchanges between NGO led movements, ‘livelihood movements’ and some strands of labor. 

The principal reasons for this convergence are outlined in Chapter Three: the marginalization of much of the world population through continued global neoliberal restructuring; an increasing frustration on the part of many NGOs regarding their new and contradictory roles; the continued weak bargaining position of labor unions that organize alone and only on a national level. By the late 90s, these three factors are already established facts and different forms of ‘cross-border, cross-movement’ organizing have been tested. 

The newest factor to enter into these alliances is the presence of many diverse groups, such as the EZLN, that do not necessarily subscribe to modern conceptions of ‘liberalism’, ‘Marxism’, ‘radical democracy’, or ‘civil society’. While these groups are present in the present forms of international organizing, they are marginalized within the new initiatives, recognized but still outside the mainstream of discussions. Thus while women, indigenous people and other ‘others’ are invited to participate, it is usually understood that they act as specific groups, with group-specific goals, not easily integrated into the ‘political’ and ‘economic’ issues which are almost always seen as most important and somehow separate.

A key factor in the recent growth in the strength and capacity of these various organizations and networks is the increase in technological capabilities which permits more rapid transfer of information. These changes could be observed in the solidarity and human rights movements during the 70s, 80s, and 90s that used first FAX and then email to pass information to one another and as a means of putting immediate pressure on state and interstate actors regarding concrete and urgent actions. These technological changes have vastly changed the possibilities for international organizing, particularly in situations where public outcry can have the effect of changing state policy such as the case of the struggle of the EZLN (Lins Ribiero 1998: 344). The quick passing of information among NGOs and other organizations also simplifies the definition of common positions for lobbying purposes (Lins Ribiero 1998: 341). The new technologies also speed up the availability of counterinformation which can be used to contradict false (or the absence of) reporting in mainstream news services. 

Access to this new technology tends to reflect already existing relations of power, both internationally and within organizations, particularly in poorer parts of the world (Lins Ribiero 

1998: 342). However, in those few contexts where all have equal access to email (See note 49), it can make for a more horizontal sharing of information among organizers and movement members. 

At the same time the use of email and the internet reinforces the tendencies toward individualization within modern contexts where each person acts is able to take political action from his or her home, without any ‘personal’ interchange. This builds upon the already existing ‘membership organizations’ cum social movements developed in the US and expanded to Europe which consist of donors who may also take on the role of ‘letter writers’ and ‘voters’. The creation of ‘social movements’ that express themselves through emails, faxes, and (every so often) votes, is reflective of the ‘depersonalization’ of the modern world. After years of mass movements, and calls for ‘direct democracy’ etc. it seems that capitalism and modernity have succeeded in commodifying and rationalizing the ‘new social movements’ as well.

The use of email and internet sites as means of information exchange are nonetheless incredibly important in the increasing use of ‘network’ forms of organizing which are more horizontal in nature. This can imply a network of people that form a single group or organization, and also a network of groups and organizations. This type of organizing is by no means new to the internet, and is found in anarchist, and more recently, Western feminist forms of organization. Nonetheless, the new technologies have made it as easy to ‘network’ with an unknown comrade across the world as with an old friend across town.

This chapter will look at four particular phenomena in present ‘cross-border, cross-movement’ organizing, identifying them as parts of a trend toward increased global/international social movement organizing. These four phenomena are each unique, but all come from trajectories which are, in some part, common. The Encounters and Network against Neoliberalism and for Humanity, NGO networks and the International Forum on Globalization, the Santiago Counter-Summit and the People’s Global Alliance (PGA) all represent moments of coordination/interchange by social movements in response to neoliberal economic restructuring. The first three of these are rooted in the Americas and can all claim a common root in anti-NAFTA organizing. The PGA, in turn, can claim some of its own roots in the Encounters. 

Encounters against Neoliberalism and for Humanity

For one week, during the summer of 1996, the First Encounter Against Neoliberalism and for Humanity was held in Chiapas, Mexico, organized by the EZLN and with the attendance of about 3,000 participants, principally from Europe, Mexico and the US, with significant representation from the rest of Latin America, and very little from the remainder of the world. The Second Encounter was held one year later in different parts of the Spanish State, with approximately 2,000 participants, primarily from Europe again, but with participants from approximately 70 nations (Simoncini 1998:167). 

The EZLN and ‘civil society’, background on the first Encounter

The first Encounter was planned and organized by the EZLN, principally to increase pressure on the Mexican government with whom they were at that time holding peace negotiations, but also to promote an interchange among those who shared the idea(l)s reflected in the title of the Encounter. Inasmuch as it was part of the political strategy of the EZLN, it followed on a number of similar events involving Mexican and international ‘civil society’. 

Mexican society had become involved in the struggle of the EZLN immediately after the uprising in 1994. It was the large public mobilizations by Mexicans (Castells et al. 1995-6:23), as well as internationally, coupled with the Mexican government’s desire to avoid the international scandal of a bloodbath on the heels of the country’s entry into both NAFTA and the OECD, which led President Salinas to call a unilateral cease-fire just 12 days after the uprising began. The same type of social response, both in Mexico and internationally (Wager & Schulz 1995: 34-5) would stop a military offensive in February of 1995 and would be active in slowing the violence in the spring of 1998 after the Acteal massacre in which 45 indigenous peasants were killed by paramilitary forces while they prayed in their village church in December of 1997.

In addition to the relationship between the EZLN and Mexican society, there were also long-standing contacts between the EZLN and international supporters, particularly prominent were those of Europe and North America, with notable presence of Latin Americans as well. These contacts, for the most part were indirect, with the majority of international support constructed on the indigenous rights networks, human rights networks, Central American solidarity networks, and, in North America, on the anti-NAFTA organizing of the early 1990s. After the initial mainstream press coverage of the uprising, it was the networks, built principally upon email and the internet, that kept information flowing internationally and allowed massive international responses to particular events as discussed above

By the time of the first Encounter in mid-1996, the EZLN had long been maintaining public interactions with different social movements and ‘civil society’ groups to maintain themselves in the public spotlight, to look for possible alliances and to push forward a broadbased grassroots campaign for democratizing Mexico. 

The Encounters

In addition to providing a show of international solidarity for the EZLN, the First Encounter succeeded in creating a space for interchange between activists and a bit of hope in the dark days of the consolidating new world order. Like the Indigenous Congress of Chiapas in 1974, the first Encounter was able to establish and strengthen ties between different groups which previously had little knowledge of each others work. It was not designed to create a new organization, but rather to allow for discussion, disagreement and a free flow of information among participants.

The discussions at the First Encounter were dominated by the West, both in terms of participants and in terms of content. This was also reflected in the Latin American presence which was primarily of European extract and worldview. The presence of the members of the EZLN, who participated minimally in discussions, preferring to listen (or sleep - at times) did little to change the overwhelmingly Western tone of the discussions in which I participated. Nonetheless, the communities in which the Encounter was physically located had some effect on the ambiance of the event as a whole.

The organizers of the event had tried to make sure that all potential categories of the ‘marginalized’ could have a chance to discuss their specific issues. In this sense the Encounter was inclusive, if not always successfully, or without a great deal of discussion and disagreement. Though the Encounter was organized in a ‘democratic’ manner, in the sense that enough tables and sub-tables were arranged such that all could have a chance to participate, many forms of exclusion were to be found within the Encounter itself. The European tone of the discussions meant that often those who spoke were those who were quickest to interrupt, while those who would politely wait their turn would never have an opportunity to speak. Additionally, the traditional hierarchies of power (male/female, North/South, modern/non-modern) were present, with the obvious but nonetheless striking twist that any Mayan with a bandanna or ski mask was given infinite respect, giving credence to the Zapatista slogan: ‘we cover our faces in order to be heard’.

The operative conclusions of the First Encounter were three: to create a network against neoliberalism and for humanity, to realize a global poll on agreement or disagreement with the baseline ideas of the Encounter, and to organize a Second Encounter, somewhere in Europe, the following year. The first conclusion was already in place, the second was almost universally ignored and the third was to prove a burdensome task. 

Over the next year, different European organizations, principally Chiapas solidarity committees, came together to discuss the organization of the Second Encounter. Before these meetings began, however, the solidarity movement itself began to split, and was weakened, principally because of differing ideas regarding the type of relationships the solidarity committees should have with national political parties in France, Italy and Spain, the three countries which had sent the most participants to the First Encounter (Albertani & Ranieri 1998).

The dominant line among the European organizers was for self-organization, implying less funds, but more freedom of expression. The principal lines of discussion among those involved in planning the Encounter were those who supported a continued focus on Chiapas, those who wanted to give emphasis to the idea of ‘Europe’ as it was being promoted by the Maastricht treaty of the European Union, others who considered the situation of immigrants in Europe to be a priority, and some who, ‘going against the accusation of abstraction’, wanted to discuss new forms of social and political action (agire politico) (Albertani & Ranieri: 1998: 20). In the end, the invitation to the Encounter was broad, allowing for discussion of a variety of themes, including all of those mentioned above.

The Second Encounter itself was again heavily dominated by Europeans (at least this time we were in Europe) and, although the theme of the Encounter was ‘A World in Which Many Worlds Fit’, the discussion was yet more overridingly European. One weakness in the first Encounter, the limited number of participants from outside Europe and Latin America, was improved upon, but not enough to change the general dynamic. The ‘traditional’ forms of doing politics and types of discussion were even more visible than in the previous Encounter. Those who adopted these strategies (controlling the microphone, controlling the translations, behind closed doors negotiations to reach particular goals, etc.) had a relatively easy time of it as many others present not only weren’t playing by those rules, but weren’t even aware that anyone else was. The general sense after the Encounter was one of disappointment, partially because of unrealistic expectations, but also because of some poor organizing decisions and the ‘traditional’ forms of politics mentioned above.

The greatest frustrations centered around very different ideas of what the Encounter was about. While for some it was to be an encounter, a meeting, an interchange; for others it should have been a step, a movement toward the construction of an organization, however nebulous that might be. The Encounter had taken as a general theme, to be discussed at all tables, the construction of the ‘network against neoliberalism and for humanity’ agreed upon at the end of the first Encounter. The ongoing discussions about this, and eventual conclusion to let the already existing networks continue to function, without any form of centralization or greater coordination, reflected a consistent tension throughout the Encounter between those who wanted to create structures and those who opposed that initiative. 

The ‘intergalactic encounters’ (as they have been affectionately called) were, in the end, only that. They were initiatives toward interchange, without any designs at unification. On a political level, there is no organization, no one to be ‘included’ or ‘coopted’; nor is any participant responsible (morally or otherwise) for the actions of any other. The lack of a centralized decisionmaking structure should make unified action more difficult but between December and February of 1998, protests against the Acteal massacre took place in over fifty countries, through the ‘network’ (Simoncini: 1998: 10). 

The Encounters have been organized as a response to neoliberalism but also in favor of plural, alternative constructions. Because they are organized neither in relation to UN Conferences, nor to address a specific IFI, they are not circumscribed by the reach or implications of these institutions, though Encounter participants may well address those structures in their daily struggles.

NGO networks

In Chapter 3, I briefly discussed some of the dynamics of ‘NGO led advocacy movements’. Many of the larger European and US based NGOs play more important roles in this type of coordination, both because of access to finances and because of the traditional North-South power relations which are generally the same in the NGO world (Krut 1997: esp. 13-17). As mentioned in Chapter 3, NGOs, whether large or small, local or transnational, are faced with serious contradictions brought on by their change in roles over the past fifteen years.

These changes accompany the ever-increasing visibility of NGOs in an ‘advocacy’ role on an international level, having gained access to UN sponsored conferences as well as having some input into World Bank project planning and implementation (Nelson 1996). The strength of the NGOs in both of these camps is based on their ability to network internationally, an ability that has been constructed over the past twenty-five years, and particularly over the last fifteen. These networks are very broad in nature and include many different actors who, though they may at times disagree, share common goals.

The different advocacy networks (environment, women, human rights, development-related) have developed in parallel fashion over the past twenty years, taking advantage of both increased possibilities for communication and increased funding from private foundations and governments. Over the past decade, NGO networks have expanded through, and around, the UN conferences and the NGO forums that have accompanied them as well as other meetings organized by the NGOs. 

The focus of the campaigns of the ‘development related’ NGO networks has tended to be against Multinational corporationsor the World Bank (Nelson 1996; Rich 1994: esp. 107-147), the latter often organized through pressure on the US congress (see Chapter 3). Although the historical dominance of US-based NGOs at the apex of many of these networks (Nelson 1996: 608-9), particularly those focused on the Bretton Woods Institutions (BWI) located in Washington, has recently been weakened as organizations from other parts of the world have begun to take on lobbying roles in Washington, they still retain a great deal of power (Jordan & van Tuijl 1998; Nelson 1996: 616). This situation is one of many that feeds into the generalized impression of a power imbalance between Northern and Southern NGOs (Krut 1997: 13).

The histories of the ‘development-related’ networks and the environmental networks have at times overlapped. The environmental network grew out of specific campaigns which brought together advocacy NGOs working through international channels and grassroots organizations working locally. ‘Development-related’ NGOs have formed networks that draw on experiences of North-South cooperation and have often allied with environmental NGOs in anti-World Bank Campaigns (Nelson 1996: 615). Some of the strongest, internationally oriented environmental NGOs became closely engaged with the ‘development-related’ networks during the ‘Fifty Years is Enough’ campaign in the mid-1990s against the BWI (Nelson 1996: 615-6; Danaher 1994).

Human rights networks grew incredibly during the 1970s and 80s after financial support for this type of organization expanded initially from North American foundations and later supported by European NGOs as well. This paralleled the high level of interest in the subject shown by the Carter administration, joining its voice to that of some Western European countries already active in this regard in the UN system. International human rights networks have since continued to be closely intertwined with national governments (Keck & Sikkink 1998: 102).

Women’s networks have been primarily built upon the many contacts made at the various UN Conferences on Women since 1975 (Chen 1995; Keck & Sikkink 1998: 169). Amongst women’s organizations, a number of issue specific networks have been formed internationally (Keck & Sikkink 1998: 167-170) and a great deal of emphasis has been placed on the participation of women in the various UN organized conferences organized during the 1990s.

The overlap between networks/movements has increased over the last decade, both because of cross-participation in the various UN conferences and because of coordination during certain campaigns. One example of crossover has been the unification of international women’s organizing around the issue of violence against women, tying the issue to the idea of women’s rights as human rights. In other situations such as the Ogoni struggle against Shell Oil in Nigeria, that of the rubber tappers and indigenous people of the Brazilian Amazon against continued capitalist expansion and state development programs, issues of development, environment and human rights are all present, as are issues of indigenous peoples.

International Forum on Globalization

In 1994, a number of advocates and activists, active in different organizations, particularly those connected to ‘development-related’ and environmental networks, formed the International Forum on Globalization (IFG), which traces its own roots to the struggles against NAFTA and the GATT (IFG doc. 1 n.d.). The principal work of the Forum seems to be that of a network, interchanging information and participating in campaigns, though it does produce some of its own materials about ‘corporate rule’ and social movement organizing. The Forum’s understanding of ‘globalization’ is closely related to a vision of ‘corporate rule’ in which corporations have recently taken political power from states. In its documents, the Forum directs itself to social movements, and states that ‘we can no longer apply a piecemeal approach to what has become a systemic problem’ (Clarke n.d : par. 6). The task of dismantling corporate rule requires ‘enabl(ing) social movement activists to develop their own analyses and strategies for tackling systems of corporate rule in their own countries and regions.’ (Clarke n.d.: par. 7).The role of the IFG in that particular process is to provide the tools that local organizations can use to understand corporate rule. 

People’s Global Alliance against Free Trade and the World Trade Organization

The People’s Global Alliance against Free Trade and the World Trade Organization (PGA) is a broad alliance of social movements which held its first general conference in February of 1998, to plan actions in protest of the biannual WTO meeting in May of the same year. The widely disparate groups present at the first meeting, from 54 nations, is comparable to that of the Encounters described above, with the difference that the organizations present were less likely to use violent forms of struggle, principally because one of the four guiding principles of the PGA is non-violence. The non-OECD countries were well represented at the meeting, with 22 Third World countries present, and 8 nations from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

The Conference was marked by a division among Marxists, liberals and others, resulting in long discussions about terminology, and the ‘manifesto’ of the PGA shows that mix. Though the Marxist elements dominate, ‘corporate rule’, ‘patriarchy’, and ‘cultural homogenization’ are also discussed in the final document (PGA 1998).

While the PGA draws on many sources, including NGO networks, the Encounters against Neoliberalism and grassroots movements from many parts of the world, it is much more centralized than the Encounters, or the previous campaigns organized by NGO led groups. The degree of organizational structure was another widely discussed point at the meeting, with some groups even promoting symbols and slogans to be adopted by the Alliance. The tension within the PGA around the issue of centralization is an ongoing one reflected in the difference between these proposals and the initial convocation of the Conference which called for the creation of ‘a global instrument of communication and coordination for those who fight against the destruction of humanity and the planet by ‘free’ trade and construct local alternatives to globalization’ (PGA 1997). Nonetheless, in terms of discussion, the PGA meeting was much more structured and goal oriented than the Encounters, putting ideological disagreements onto a different terrain as the results would form part of the Alliance’s manifesto. Whereas the Encounters had been almost solely a question of interchange, networking and discussion, the PGA meetings had those elements plus the preplanned goals of writing a collective manifesto, planning for the May events, and deciding on a new convenors committee. Whereas both the PGA and the Encounters brought together organizations and individuals who usually act in a manner more similar to the hammock that Gustavo Esteva (1987) has proposed, the PGA has tried to create a more solid framework.

The strategies for action of the PGA were to realize both local and centralized actions against the WTO during its meeting in later May 1998. This meant that actions were held at the site of the WTO meeting in Geneva, but also in other parts of the world. This type of ‘global’ centralized and decentralized actions was something new, though it obviously built upon centralized actions taken at BWI meetings as well as the Amsterdam alternative summit of 1997.

The May demonstrations in Geneva were violently repressed by the Swiss police and several participants were jailed and some foreigners expelled from the country. A few months later, an office used by the alliance as well as the homes of several organizers were raided and information and computers were confiscated. This crackdown was an effort by the Swiss government to crush a nascent organization dedicated to non-violent protest against a supra-national institution made up of member states supposedly representative of their populations

Since its formation, the PGA has also included more conservative organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) which have more experience in bargaining with intergovernmental organizations. Following the recommendations of Scholte (1998), it is possible to imagine (parts of) the PGA being pulled into a consultative role in the WTO, allowing for NGO input into WTO policy. This would be a repeat of the NGO entrance into World Bank circles since the late 1980s.

Santiago Summit

Drawing on the history of the parallel meetings held at the annual BWI conferences, and the 1997 alternative summit in Amsterdam, in April of 1998 a counter-Summit of the Americas was held in Santiago Chile, parallel to the Summit of the Americas attended by heads of state from all the Americas. Some of those in Santiago had also been present at the PGA Conference in Geneva. The event, discussed briefly in Chapter 3, showed an incipient alliance between labor and other social movements which had begun in a 1997 meeting at Belo Horizonte, Brazil which had called for the creation of a ‘hemispheric social alliance’ (Bendaña 1998).

The recent counter-Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile, bringing together indigenous movements, women’s groups, environmental organizations and others, was principally sponsored by the AFL-CIO and its Latin America affiliates in the Interamerican Regional Workers Organization (ORIT). The presence of the labor organizations at this forum seems to be related to the fact that labor was excluded from the formal talks on the creation of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), while business had been welcomed (Bendaña 1998). This shift reflects the increasing weakness of labor organization in relation to capital, and may signal 1) the recognition, from the perspective of US labor (at least), that it can no longer confide in the corporatist alliances of the past and 2) if it is to continue to have any continued strength, it would need to create alliances with other actors. 

This new tendency in labor organizing is also built upon a history of cross-border and cross-movement organizing in the struggle against the passage of NAFTA in the early 1990s (Gabriel & McDonald 1994). Though the movement failed, important connections were made which later played a key role in continued cross-border labor organizing (Brecher & Costello 1994: 156-7) and in international support for the EZLN after the Chiapas uprising in 1994 (Cleaver 1998: 627).

Nonetheless, the fact that First World labor organizations have suddenly become aware of their own need to organize with Third World workers should not be accepted without further analysis. The desires of labor as expressed in Santiago are unclear. At the Counter-Summit, labor resisted the more radical positions, and at the other ‘labor’ counter-summit, also in Santiago at the same time, leaders were nearly united in unquestioning fealty to the rule of the market (Bendaña 1998). Labor’s involvement in the Counter Summit could be seen as a gesture toward other social movements and as a threat for heads of state that had excluded labor from the FTAA talks.

The Counter-Summit also involved many other groups with much more radical agendas, and a split was visible. Though the Final Declaration’ of the Summit called for ‘fair trade, regulated investment, and a conscious consumer strategy which privileges national development projects’ (People’s Summit 1998: par.3), more creative proposals were often voiced by the floor. 


The different initiatives described above all show a recognition of the consequences produced by neoliberal global restructuring and are attempts to respond to those problems. These are attempts to create broad networks/coalitions/alliances which address both regional and global actors that continue to take power from national governments. All of these efforts are built upon previously existing networks and maintain network forms of organization, though some elements involved with the PGA, and some of the groups involved in the Santiago summit, are attempting to create more structured organizations.


On the level of strategy, the IFG offers local construction of economic alternatives and a ‘new protectionism’, while the PGA proposes more or less the same with the addition direct action (civil disobedience) on the local level as well as coordinated internationally, to protest corporate power, symbolized by the WTO. The Encounters welcome local construction as well as all forms of local resistance, violent or not, and informal solidarity amongst all groups. The NGO alliances have, up until now, proposed ‘alternative development’ forms of local construction and heavy lobbying on international decisionmakers. The Santiago summit, internally divided, promotes local construction while also calling for inclusion into the FTAA. These strategies offer strengths and weaknesses and reflect the ever present social movement choices of negotiation, protest or autonomous construction. 

The trend described above toward unification of the NGO led movements and livelihood movements, as well as the increasingly confrontative postures taken by them, has recently been alluded to by several authors. Zadek & Gatward (1995: 199), equating the anti-WTO protests in India and the Chiapas rebellion, see them as ‘model[s] for one form of resistance to what [is] seen as the high handed approach taken by TNGOs’ (Transnational Non-Governmental Organizations). Though they seem to misplace the causes for grassroots frustration, placing them on the shoulders of unresponsive TNGOs, their comments show both a self criticism toward the large Northern NGOs and a recognition of the limitations of the strategies undertaken by many of them. The increasing frustration with the present state of affairs is also mentioned by Krut (1997: 35) referring to an ‘NGO observer’ who predicts an increase in ‘"uncivil" behaviour from workers and communities directed at TNCs’ (Transnational Corporations). The author points to an increasing awareness among NGO’s that their access to UN conferences and multilateral discussions leads to more interesting discussions than conclusions (Krut 1997: 38).

Esteva & Prakesh (1998: 29-31) make a clear distinction between the actions of the Zapatistas and anti-WTO protests in India. In what appears to be a reference to the People’s Global Alliance, or similar efforts, they criticize these initiatives, commenting that organizing ‘against the GATT or the World Bank, at their headquarters or their jamborees, seems to be useless or counterproductive’(1998: 31) because they serve to ‘clothe the emperor’, giving legitimacy to power by recognizing it. They correctly point out that the more resistance is focused against international actors, the more bureaucracy is put in place by these actors to try and coopt/include those in opposition, legitimating themselves in the process. The Zapatistas, according to these authors, while recognizing that the issues which affect them on a local level are global in nature, direct themselves toward the local problem, while also appreciating the importance of international solidarity between organizations in struggle (Esteva & Prakesh 1998: 35-36).

Epistemological openness and movement goals

In her discussion of the International Forum on Globalization (IFG), Lynch (1998) points out that it pulls together liberal thinking with more ‘radical’ or ‘critical thinking’, reflecting a long term alliance in many parts of the world that has at times been subsumed into the term ‘progressive’, but which should not be taken for granted. This is true for the various initiatives here under discussion as well, though, as Lynch (1998:166) points out, there is also the reality of the many other interpretations of the world, beginning to be voiced through these different initiatives. 

Understanding global restructuring, etc. as a retreat from the ideals of social justice that modernity has promised, while ostensibly promoting liberal democratic forms of government, makes it possible to understand the possibility for shifts in old alliances as well as the appearance of new actors. In this context, the openness of labor toward other social movements, as it was in the NAFTA battles and seems to be in the Santiago counter-Summit, becomes clear. The movement by ‘liberal progressives’ toward assuming the unusual position that that ‘corporations [capital] rule[s] the world’ is a recognition that liberal democracy has failed to control capitalism and explains their new openness to discussions which open onto the economic terrain. These shifts are coupled with increasing grassroots initiatives which do not share modern interpretations, though their struggles may be similar or parallel.

One principal dividing point regarding goals of the various initiatives discussed above, is whether new global or regional economic structures (WTO, MAI, FTAA, Maastricht) presently in effect or under proposal, are reformable or whether they should be rejected. While all the groups promote increased local political and economic control, there are a plethora of opinions about what type of alternatives can be imagined that move beyond the local. Imagining such structures is especially difficult for those groups which are dependent on the global or regional structures as they stand, and somewhat easier for those who stand on the edges or outside of them. 

For this reason, those NGOs (Northern or Southern) which are largely dependent on funding by a State (their own or another) are less likely to promote alternatives which could imply an end to such funding. In the same respect, trade unions will have more difficulty in considering systemic changes that would imply moving away from a consumer society. In differing degrees, both of these groups have positions which are deeply embedded in the existing system. The projects of both of these groups are largely (though not solely) to complete modernity. They propose (or at least accept) the necessary changes necessary for modernity that would make it more inclusive and more responsible about environmental problems, but a reworking of the system could be threatening economically as well as epistemologically.

The problem of what I term ‘epistemological openness’ in terms of cross-cultural dialogue, or even international organizing has been discussed by many though what seems to be occurring now is that these discussions are taking place at the level of international organizing among many different types of groups, from grassroots movements to international NGOs (Lynch 1998: 166). The unfortunate truth is that the epistemological hegemony of modernity still limits the influence of alternative perspectives. This was brought to the fore at the indigenous table of the PGA conference in which several indigenous activists complained about the fact that they were not integrated into the other tables, but were isolated. This implied that their perspective was added to the broader discussions as that of a specific group (as were the women, the students, etc.) and that their input into the ‘manifesto’, and into the conference as a whole, could not question the modern assumptions which underlined the whole conference. This same procedure seems to have occurred in the Santiago counter-summit and was largely the case at both Encounters. As long as women are talking about ‘women’s issues’ and indigenous people are talking about ‘Indigenous issues’, their opinions, and epistemological viewpoints, will remain outside of the central discussions.

This lack of discussion is negative, both from the perspective of effectively eliminating some voices from the discussion and in terms of reducing the possibilities of creating new visions for the future that don’t all emanate from the West, or re-interpretations of the same. Unlike the modern West, most peoples of the world have been forced to integrate Western, modern ideas into their own understandings of the world. The West, on the other hand, wielding the epistemological power that it does, has not been forced to take into account any others and only now is beginning to listen to other voices. If these voices could be heard in the context of protest/construction proposed by the various initiatives discussed in this chapter, the possibilities for more creative forms of resistance and future visions will be broadened.


The different initiatives presented above represent an increasingly radical challenge to the process of global restructuring as implemented by the international financial institutions and supported by the G-7. All of them focus on combining local forms of resistance with local forms of construction and shy away from hierarchical structures. They share a certain amount of common history and, most probably, contacts. Beyond that, all attempt at bringing in widely disparate groups, recognizing the diversity of actors, history, etc.

Strategies of engagement with capital and the state used by the different initiatives, or participants in them, move from armed revolution to civil disobedience and efforts at national and international lobbying. The goals are also quite varied, perhaps as much within each initiative as between them, ranging from Fordism to local autonomy (and perhaps even some who would call for the dictatorship of the proletariat). 

These initiatives go far beyond isolated instances of struggle, or fringe groups with no popular backing. They are reflective of an extremely wide spectrum of interests who all reject neoliberal policies. Their efforts at mobilizing in new forms reflect a frustration with old ones, both on the radical and reformist left. These initiatives are part of a process and their eventual outcomes are far from defined, but they represent other ways forward. One aspect of their success will be judged by the degree that these groups can, as a collective body, successfully promote change, while at the same time recognizing as strengths the specificities of the groups involved. This involves not only that all groups be present, but that perspectives are listened to and considered. It may be from these perspectives that it will become possible to begin a real questioning of modernity from without as well as from within.

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