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What is People’s Global Action?
A historical perspective on PGA
have heard the name People’s Global Action, but you may not quite know
what political dynamic and what groups it includes. So here is a quick flashback,
in light of the preparation of PGA Europe’s Belgrade conference, scheduled
for summer 2004, and also to help further develop structures for communication
and exchange among anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist movements. This text
focuses on introducing PGA Europe, but occasionally extends to cover the general
history and worldwide process. The acronym PGAe in this text refers to “PGA
in Europe”. Needless to say, this text does not purport to establish any
kind of orthodoxy, neither regarding the history of PGAe nor regarding its political
goals. No one is empowered to act as a PGAe spokesperson. No one can represent
PGAe. The comments outlined below should therefore be seen as one point of view
among many, and a partial one at that. It is the point of view of a handful
of committed individuals engaged in the broad, complex and fascinating process
that is PGAe.
From the Earliest Days to Counter-summits.
In the wake of the Zapatista insurrection in January 1994, in
Mexico, a number of encounters took place. Among these were the famous “Intergalactic
Encounters against Neo-Liberalism and in favour of Humanity”, held first
in the Chiapas and subsequently in the spanish state. The political context
was glum. The Wall had just fallen and free-market capitalism was - however
briefly -triumphant. The indigenous peoples of the Zapatista movement had created
a shock of hope. It ran round the world.
It was in the aftermath of these encounters that the idea of a worldwide network
for coordination and information exchange among activists first arose in theoretical
discussion - and then in practice. One early goal was to attack the World Trade
Organization. The First Worldwide “People’s Global Action against
WTO and free trade” conference took place in Geneva, in February 1998.
Several hundred representatives of people’s movements from around the
world gathered. They managed to agree on a political manifesto (1).
Amongst the participants were Canadian Postal Workers, Earth First ecologists,
French farmers and anti-nuclear campaigners, Maori, U’wa and Ogoni people,
Korean trades’ unionists, North American native women’s organizations,
radical Ukrainian eco-people, and peasant movements from all continents. Their
manifesto covered such issues as the use of direct action as a means of political
struggle; the establishment of an organisational principles based on decentralisation
and autonomy; and building direct democracy alternatives. This entire structure
was to be moved forward by 12 different groups, called “convenors”,
distributed regionally throughout the planet.
Convenors are collectives
acting as contact, information, and coordination points. They co-organise global
and regional conferences and used to put out the calls for Global Days of decentralised
Action (GDA), notably on the occasion of WTO summits. In the first convenors’
committee there were 3 from Latin America, 1 from western europe, 1 from Eastern
Europe and 2 from Asia. At the time of writing, there are sometimes several
convenors per region, especially in Latin America.
Convenors share their workload with other collectives. The earliest European
convenors were “Reclaim the Streets”, a group with its roots in
radical ecology and road protests that had helped renew anti-capitalist direct
action techniques, notably through the use of street parties as blockades and
by establishing connections with workers’ organisations such as the Liverpool
dockers or London Underground workers. In Asia, convenership work has been done
by organisations like KRRS, an Indian farmers’ union with a membership
of several million, best-known for setting fire to Monsanto GM crop fields,
and the National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements, a national platform of
grassroots movements from the whole country (which includes Narmada Bachao Andolan,
the National Fisherfolk Forum, the Union of Landless Labourers of Andhra Pradesh,
etc). The current Asian convenor is the Krishok Federation (the landless or
otherwise marginalised peasant movement) from Bangladesh. In Latin America,
PGA has gathered very diverse cultures and backgrounds, from CONFEUNASCC, a
small-scale farmers’ union in ecuador, Movimiento de la Juventud Kuna,
the Bolivian cocalero movement in Chapare, to the Colombian Process of Black
And so resistance became as global
as capital global as capital
In May 1998, the first fruits
of PGA were seen in four days of worldwide resistance against the G8 summit
in Great Britain and the WTO summit in Geneva, which was the second Ministerial
Conference since the creation of the WTO, and a celebration of 50 years of GATT
and post-World-War-II capitalist world order. This was the first of a long series
of counter-summits. It included some of the hottest protests that Geneva had
ever seen and in Birmingham participants in the G8 summit were forced to stage
a secret evasion to escape a newly occupied city. Meanwhile, some 200,000 Indian
farmers demonstrated to demand that the WTO be dissolved.
In those days, the dynamic remained locally-based. PGA-initiated Global Days
of Action were decentralized events. One of the most impressive was J18, on
June 18th 1999, an anti-capitalist day to correspond with the G8 summit in Cologne.
Actions were organized in 72 different locations, including the arrival in Cologne
of the Inter-Continental Caravan for Solidarity and Resistance (formed by grassroots
groups from India and other Southern countries) and a festive occupation of
the City of London which ended with the financial centre being ransacked by
a few thousand demonstrators. During this period, the expression “anti-capitalist”
made a massive return both among militants and in the media. The slogan “Capital
is global, the struggle is global” was put into practice.
In Seattle, in November
1999, the closure of the ministerial conference of the WTO showed the effectiveness
of combining the many different direct actions - sometimes highly coordinated,
like the blockades of all the streets leading to the summit - that were organized
by small affinity groups. There were solidarity actions in more than 70 countries.
The so-called “Battle of Seattle” which had radicals at its forefront,
was nonetheless quickly exploited by traditional leftist citizen reform groups
and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), which sought to use it as
a “creation myth” for their new strategies of power-sharing among
trade bodies and “civil society.” In September 2000, the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank summit in Prague, Czech Republic, was PGAe’s
chance to see how well actions using a diversity of tactics, such as street
parties -dancing and mobile confrontation (the pink line), sabotage (the blue
line) and confrontational civil disobedience (the yellow line), could complement
each other. There was also a multitude of preparatory initiatives, such as the
“caravan against capitalism,” a roving series of actions in French-speaking
parts of Europe, initiated by the Reseau Sans Titre (the Untitled Network).
The counter-summits and
global protests rapidly transformed into occasions for mass convergences of
activists from all over, and these convergences have continued to this day,
despite the precedent set by the ominous repression during the G8 summit in
Genoa, Italy. Today’s counter-summits bring together a spectrum of groups,
political parties, and “civil society” NGO’s that is much
broader than just the ensemble of groups involved with PGA. Indeed, it is often
forgotten that the original impetus behind these counter-summits came from radical
groups opposed to lobbying and who denounce the welfare-state and parlementary
“democracy” as much as (neoliberal) capitalism.
The purpose of PGA exchanges
and the PGA network is to connect local groups that agree with the PGA’s
- A very clear rejection
of capitalism, imperialism and feudalism; all trade agreements, institutions
and governments that promote destructive globalisation.
- We reject all forms
and systems of domination and discrimination including, but not limited to,
patriarchy, racism and religious fundamentalism of all creeds. We embrace
the full dignity of all human beings.
- A confrontational attitude,
since we do not think that lobbying can have a major impact in such biased
and undemocratic organisations, in which transnational capital is the only
- A call to direct action
and civil disobedience, support for social movements’ struggles, advocating
forms of resistance which maximize respect for life and oppressed peoples’
rights, as well as the construction of local alternatives to global capitalism.
- An organisational philosophy
based on decentralisation and autonomy.
PGA is a tool for coordination,
not an organization. PGA has no members and does not have and will not have
a juridical personnality. Nor organisation or person represents PGA.
Political developments and other
forms of action.
Apart from mass events,
the frequency of which is determined big capitalist institutions’ calendars,
PGA has also been responsible for the development of other processes, that are
sometimes less well-known. The Intercontinental Caravan enabled some 400 members
of Indian farmers’ organizations and some 50 members of other “third
world” people’s movements to come to Europe and demonstrate outside
major institutions such as the WTO, the IMF, the OECD, NATO and so on, as well
as outside multinational companies’ European headquarters.
They destroyed GM crop fields
and a state research laboratory. Crucially, the caravan enabled these “third
world” groups to build bridges with a variety of European movements.
PGA-inspired Global Days
of Action provided a context within which to develop creative forms of direct
action, even for quite small collectives.
Thus, street parties, blockages, occupations, anti-capitalist carnivals and
so on. The very decentralization and proliferation of contacts between various
groups led to the establishment of participative outward communication tools
such as Indymedia (There are currently more than 130 separate Independent Media
Centers, IMC’s, throughout the world, with many more sub-collectives within
IMC’s as well as “rogue” IMC’s operating independently
from the network; Indymedia has been called “the largest all-volunteer
organization in the world.”). Other internal tools such as PGA’s
internal lists were developed, providing a noticeboard for actions and analyses
round the world.
In July 2002, the international
no-border camp in Strasbourg, France, marked a coming-together of PGAe’s
various organizational modes and approaches to anti-capitalism, as well as practical
actions centered on the theme of immigration and confrontational border-camping
practices that are particular to the international No Border network. The result
was the next (shaky) step in the evolving practices of self-management and autonomous
living, direct democracy, and decentralized actions, involving 2,000 people
over a period of 9 days. This experience would provide a base of experience
that helped to launch the other camps and similar “autonomous villages”
that proliferated during the anti-G8 demonstrations in May and June 2003, in
France and Switzerland.
PGA’s Second Global
Conference took place in Bangalore, India in August 1999. On this occasion,
the network proclaimed its intention of going beyond “free exchange”
of ideas and information, to promote a generalized attack on capitalism and
other forms of domination such as sexism and racism. A decision was reached
to clearly identify the differences between PGA and other anti-globalization
groups whose ideas are fundamentally opposed to ours such as, extreme right-wing
groups, political parties and reformist NGOs. PGA’s 3rd Global Conference
took place in Cochabamba in Bolivia. It stressed the importance of local and
regional processes. Despite these positive developments and after several years
of - perhaps too frenetic - activism, a number of criticisms of the organizational
modes and political goals of PGA were expressed with increasing force. PGAe’s
European conference at Leiden in August 2002 aimed to confront these criticisms
and act on them.
PGAe’s 2nd Conference
The first European PGA conference
took place in the year 2000 in Milan, Italy, and was hosted by the Italian “Ya
Basta!” movement for civil and social disobedience. The second took place
in September, 2002, in the small city of Leiden, Netherlands, and was hosted
by EuroDusnie, an anarchist collective, which was a European co-convener with
the Catalan Movimiento de Resistencia Global (Global Resistance Movement). Lots
of people from across Europe converged to share analyses and discussions; at
least 650 were officially signed up, and many more just attended. One of the
main points of a conference like this was simply to facilitate face-to- face
encounters and to bring to light, even in the eyes of the participants themselves,
the existence of a common movement and a common state of mind. The conference
was also an opportunity to bring about a common understanding of the forces
and struggles represented there, to consider questions the movement faces in
common, and then to move forward with concrete proposals in response to the
question, “What now?”
Our Dutch hosts had put
in place an organizational structure aimed at ensuring the participation of
all those present. All participants were invited to get involved in the cooking
and cleaning; preparing and moderating meetings, workshops and discussions;
creating a daily newsletter summarizing the outcomes of the discussions and
debates. Help was also provided with transport, particularly for groups from
beyond the European Union’s Eastern border, by means of a redistribution
of Western Europeans’ registration fees.
The question of who might
be admitted to the conference was raised, bearing in mind that the purpose of
PGA exchanges and the PGA network is to connect local groups recognizing the
There was no strict mode
of selection, though registration did include a request for reasons for participating.
People were actively encourage to prepare for the conference at a local level.
Discussion days were seriously hard work. They mainly took the form of small
discussion groups on all the many themes suggested by participants, but also
on general strategic questions relevant to the movement as a whole and working
groups of PGAe organizational structures. The issue of how discussion should
be conducted and how decisions should be reached was the subject of lively debate,
with a view to encouraging egalitarian participation and counteracting power-plays.
Techniques used include facilitation, hand-signals, small groups, progressive
consensus and so on.
The tyranny of having no (formal)
The balance between formal
and informal, in the ways that PGAe works as a network, was another main focus
of the structure debates.
PGAe has a strong preference for organic and affinity-based relationships. But
it became equally apparent that the lack of clarity as to “who takes care
of what” makes the distribution of responsibility overly fluid and makes
it unclear exactly how and where decisions are made and makes it difficult for
new people to integrate. This in turn leads to informal hierarchies which are
particularly hard to read because they are invisible. The challenge is therefore
to make it more explicit how the structure works, without rigidity and without
falling back into the bureaucratic and authoritarian structures that we have
been reflexively conditioned to expect. (2)
Finally, the work on the PGAe structures (mailing lists, web-sites, information
relay systems, contact lists, and conference organization) should be done in
a much more formal and open way... so as to invite many more people to get involved.
Faced with the absence of new conveners and the need to clarify the work to
be done on the network structures, a new working-group meeting for PGAe was
held at the Tanneries, an autonomous self-managed space at Dijon in France in
March 2003. It was at this meeting that DSM, a Belgrade-based anti-capitalist
group, offered to act as convenors.
Detailed summaries of discussions and decisions made about PGAe process in Leiden
(3), which were completed in Dijon (4) ,
are available on the web. They are based on the organizational principles of
PGA, which were affirmed at Cochabamba. (5)
The info points...
To move PGAe forward on a large
scale and to promote it on a local basis, the Leiden conference decided to set
up several “info points,” a series of local groups that are involved
in PGAe. Each“info point” group is responsible for spreading information
about the conferences, history and projects of the PGA network to people who
are interested. These info points are not “members” of PGA, because
PGA has no membership, but they do work to make this network more visible, an
important task, considering that the network does not speak as a whole or as
an organization. You can find a contact list for these info points on the net.
European Convenors and Process Group
The role of European convenors
was defined at Leiden as organizers of the European conference, responsible
for making the network visible and dynamic, as well as maintaining its infrastructures
(web site, newsgroups, contact lists) and contacts with the rest of the planet.
At Dijon, it was decided that these tasks could be shared amongst different
collectives interested in committing to PGA and its structures (with particular
reference to infopoints). These collectives constitute the process group.
One of the most powerful tools of the network is the PGA web-site (6),
which compiles a large number of historic texts, announcements, action reports
and reports from PGA conferences. Another tool being developed is the web site
a thematically-structured global archive project, a forum in which to publish
articles on themes and actions.
Three mailing lists have been created as communication tools for PGAe...
list is a forum that all of the collectives involved in the PGAe
structures and decision-making processes (conferences, lists, web-sites, info
points, etc.) should subscribe to.
list is for announcements of and reports from events and actions.
- The pga_europe_discussion
list is for basic texts and debates.
subscribe to these lists, go to the webform. (7)
In Leiden, thematic working
groups were set up, based on PGA principles. One was on water, and another was
on creating alternative forums (“hub” projects) during the various
social forums. Since Dijon, there has been a specific working-group dynamic
focussed on gender.
These discussions posed
the question of the possibilities and limits to a network that claims to be
based on decentralization and autonomy, which has no official membership, offices,
or bank accounts, a network without spokespersons, where nobody speaks in the
name of the network or makes decisions on its behalf. The debate on the role
of PGAe has continued since Leiden and Dijon, and is still far from being resolved.
For some, the crucial point is that, in contrast to political parties and other
coordination structures, PGA should not aim to launch action campaigns in its
own name, even though the encounters between groups, communication structures,
and contact networks that it offers have been able to greatly facilitate the
establishment of concrete common initiatives, even recently such as the global
day of action in December 2002 in solidarity with Argentina’s popular
uprising or some of the anti-G8 blockades and events in 2003.
This doesn’t mean that PGA conferences, convenors, or simply groups in
the network can’t take the initiative of launching propositions or campaigns
to the whole network. On the contrary, the originality and dynamism of PGA is
that - thanks to a minimal agreement on goals and means of action and coordinated
autonomy - it is a network capable of inspiring action. (In practice, the origin
of propositions have been quite decentralised. The calls for action during Seattle
or Prague for example where first made by local groups there, and picked up
after by the convenors.) In contrast to traditional organisations, not only
propositions can come from anywhere, but there is also no effort to make the
actions appear as an international action of PGA. The action is that of the
organisations that take it up, acting locally in their own name. For this reason
the network as such goes relatively unnoticed, which does not make it necessarily
less efficient than a traditional kind of organisation. It is certainly not
PGAe’s goal tomake consensual decisions on global strategy for world revolution.
Apart from the hallmarks and manifesto, PGA groups can disagree on all kinds
of things (particular forms of action or going to Social Forums, for instance)
without having to split or argue endlessly. Thus some groups can try a political
hypothesis and come back to discuss it after. For some, PGAe shouldn’t
officially decide anything but its own structure and the manner in which to
set up gatherings, lists, web sites, and other means of communication. To people
of this opinion, PGAe is basically a means of exchange between various groups
who share a commitment to its principles. There is considerable potential here,
since it enables regional and global moments of coordination; it provides a
means of getting to know each other, of contrasting our various approaches to
political theories and struggles, of sharing ideas for action, contacts and
resources, of providing ourselves with quality time to judge the success of
our actions and to engage in thematic analysis. Despite this emphasis on decentralized
and autonomous action, others also feel that, PGAe ought also to be able to
regularly find ways to put forward campaigns and coordinated days of action,
in its own name. The issue remains under discussion.
Other debates in progress within
Breaking out of the activist ghetto...
The question of how to open
up our groups and networks, which can sometimes ossify into closed tribes, rigid
in our identity politics, has many facets. How do we break out of the“ghetto”
of hard-line activists who are totally sure of the truth of their mission and
the justness of their means, without diluting the radical hopes of our struggles
and practices? By casting an analytical eye to the makeup of our meetings, in
Europe at least, we can see that they are primarily made up of activist“specialists,”
between 20 and 30 years old (even if there are a few grey heads here and there)
and a hegemony of middle-class white folks. These observations reveal the lack
of ties to other categories of people, notably immigrants and undocumented migrants,
but also more generally the working class. This contradiction is problematic
for our struggles, in Europe at least, within a network that calls itself “People’s
Global Action” .(8)
Overview of the reflections on strategy...
There were several themes
of the discussions and political campaigns opened up during the Leiden conference.
However, a few major questions focussed the debates. Here is an overview. The
counter-summits and global summit protests, which since 1998 have made up a
common playing-field for the movement, have since Spring 2000 been the object
of various criticisms: the trap of the spiral of repression, the lack of focus
on local struggles, the exploitation of the movement by leftist “civil
society” and reform groups, the search for unitary consensus among the
masses rather than fundamental analysis, our loss of the element of surprise,
the loss of our choice over the place and time of our actions, and the lack
of the constant renewal that is necessary to keep our actions effective. Since
Seattle, some activists have argued that we ought to leave the the counter-summits
to the unions and the NGO’s. Many people who have experience with concrete
direct action want to redevelop the element of surprise, using other forms of
action and in territories that are less fenced in by the forces of repression.
Others say, this is all true, but can we simply abandon the terrain to the cops
and reformists, when we know that this huge magnet which we have created is
still drawing thousands of people, many of whom are basically looking for us
and not for reformist bla-bla. And how can we say that we want to break out
of the ghetto and talk with all kinds of people, but not want to talk with people
from the base of ATTAC, for example, or other people who come ? The debate continues...
It was also said it was no longer enough to identify the enemy as being mainly
made up of bigmultinational corporations and financial institutions. We should
refocus our critic of the state and social control. as well as of all forms
of domination within human relationships (including consumerism, sexism, racism,
discrimination on the basis of sexuality, and other systems of oppression),
and of the ways that these systems of domination are integrated in our own realities,
in our daily lives and at the various scales of social interaction in which
we play a part. By varying our tactics and our fields of discourse, by staying
inventive and unpredictable, we can still shake our contemporaries out of their
resignation and alienation.
People spoke of developing structures to support autonomous communities and
self-sufficiency, silly actions and public art, street assemblies, sporadic
or permanent caravans, action camps, occupations or new international days of
action at places and times of our choosing.
The importance of experiments in self-management, of squats and other zones
of temporary autonomy, currently under threat in Europe, were stressed. Various
forms of camouflage and other anti-repression techniques were suggested in order
to avoid the pigeon-holes (or cages) in which they are attempting to contain
us, with false claims of terrorism.
Without media stars, experts, or professional theoreticians, PGA is moving forward,
thanks to the multiple gifts brought to the network by the creativity of individuals,
with the goal of creating common frameworks for collective action, among those
who have no desire to be recognized within the Left of political parties and
institutional labor unions, with their long line of hierarchical and dogmatic
PGAe’s Belgrade Conference,
in the summer of 2004, will provide another opportunity of continuing these
debates, as well as discovering new faces and new projects.
of structurelessness by jo freeman
/_postconference _/ pp_plenarydecision.htm#P3
a detailed analysis of racism within PGA, see the People’s Global Radio
interview with Maria Teresa Santana, at https://global.so36.net/2002/09/377.html
Calling all grassroots anti-capitalist
movements, groups and collectives......
The 3rd European conference
of the Peoples' Global Action (PGA) network: from the 23rd until the 29th of
July 2004 in Serbia, Post-Yugoslavia. More info at: See