Monday, 10 July 2017

Interface 9/1: for and about social movements

The latest issue of Interface: a journal for and about social movements is now available free online here.

Themes covered in this issue include different social movement tactics, strategies for movement-building in particular contexts, learning and knowledge production in movements, repression, environmental movements and housing struggles beyond the west (special section).

Ireland is represented by an article on direct action in Dublin and one on the water charges struggle.

Friday, 5 May 2017

"No shortcuts: organizing for power" book launch

You are invited to the book launch of “No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age” by Jane McAlevey on May 18th, 6:30pm at Mandate offices, O’Lehane House, 9 Cavendish Row, Dublin 1.

How do we rebuild power for the many, when all the odds appear stacked against us?

This is the question that US union organiser Jane McAlevey has grappled with in her new book “No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age”, published by Oxford University Press.
Join us for the book launch and get involved in the discussion on how to take things forward in the trade union movement. Copies of the book will be available on the night at a special discounted rate. This is McAlevey’s second visit to Dublin. In 2014, she launched her first book “Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell)” – you can watch the talk here:

This event is sponsored by the Communication Workers’ Union, the Financial Services Union and Mandate Trade Union.

Acclaim for No Shortcuts
“Jane McAlevey is a deeply experienced, uncommonly reflective organizer. In NO SHORTCUTS, McAlevey stresses the distinction between mobilizing and organizing and examines how systematic conflation of the two has reflected and reinforced the labor movement’s decline over recent decades. More than a how-to manual for organizers, NO SHORTCUTS is a serious, grounded rumination on building working-class power. It is a must read for everyone concerned with social justice in the US.”
~Adolph Reed, Jr., Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
“McAlevey’s decades as a labor and community organizer means that she knows what organizers do, or should do. This book lifts the lessons McAlevey takes from that craft into the intellectual realm of power and politics. This book is for anyone who wants a democratic society in which ordinary people share power.”
~Frances Fox Piven, author of Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America
“Whether it is Black Lives Matter, climate change, feeling the Bern, or worker rights, success hinges on the ability to build real and sustainable power. Jane McAlevey gives us both a practical guide and a set of underlying principles to understand how organizing matters more than any other available strategy to grow power, and, what it means to organize. A must read for anyone hoping to create a better world.”
~Dan Clawson, Professor of Sociology, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
“Jane McAlevey is one of the few analysts of social movements today who takes class power and class struggle seriously. McAlevey understands their ineluctable concreteness and force from years of organizing democratic unions that have effectively battled powerful corporations. This is a book for citizens and activists–but also for students and scholars of social movements–who want to understand how the world can and has been changed for the better.”
~Jeff Goodwin, Professor of Sociology, New York University

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):
Planning list:
Email contact:

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 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