A significant part of the repertoire of nonviolent resistance, such as pickets, strikes and boycotts, derives from movements for economic justice in the past. Strikes became widespread in the evolving trade union movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, although there are much earlier examples of workers’ striking for their rights.
Strikes have also often been used to win political goals, such as the right to vote, or as part of nationwide struggles against repressive government – for many examples see Volume I of this Guide (available at: http:// civilresistance.info). But in industrialized and highly unionized countries economic strikes (sometimes supported by sympathetic action by other workers), became a part of the bargaining between unions and employers, though right wing governments have succeeded in imposing restrictions on the legal right to strike. Very many strikes since 1945 have not been either of central political significance or important examples of civil resistance. One exception has been strikes by those suffering discrimination, who are non-unionized or not well supported by trade union leaders. A number of strikes by women workers in the 1960s and 1970s in Britain (by cleaners, non-unionized Asian workers and the Ford Dagenham women’s strike for equal pay) fall into this category. These are covered under Feminist Movements (F.1.b.).
As a result, however, of the move away from heavy industry and the dominance of neoliberal ideology and policies since the 1980s, trade unionism has been weakened in the west – especially in Britain and the USA. So strikes and protests by low paid workers, who may not be guaranteed a fixed minimum of hours at work, have become a new arena for struggle. As a result of the processes of globalization workers in developing countries forced to accept low pay and bad conditions can potentially be supported in their protests by transnational action. Because the economic and movement context changed, this kind of concerted action became more widespread from the 1990s (see sub-section A.5.).
The unemployed cannot exert pressure by withdrawing their labour, but in various times and places they have responded by extended protests demanding government action (or opposing government policies promoting unemployment) – for example during the 1930s Depression the ‘Hooverville’ tent city of the unemployed in Washington DC and the Hunger Marches in Britain. Sometimes those without work have attempted creative solutions, such as occupying factories which have been closed down and running them under the control of the workers (see A.1.b.ii.)
Refusal to pay high rents has long been a tactic of both the rural and urban poor. Recent campaigns against high rents are covered in sub-section A.2. Struggles against forced evictions of the poor in cities are shaped by national circumstances but also in more recent years reflect a global trend towards ‘slum clearance’ to give scope to developers and/or to build facilities for international sporting events (A.2.b). The problem of landlessness, and organized campaigns to extend land ownership are particularly associated with dynamic movements in Latin America, but movements confronting the same problem have arisen also in Asia and Africa (the theme of A.3.).
Local struggles for economic justice have been increasingly affected by economic globalization. Global forces can be the target of urban and land campaigns, but the impact of globalization is even more clearly related to local campaigns against multinational corporations engaged in logging, mining and oil extraction, or selling products which have harmful consequences (examined in sub-section A.4). Globalization does, however, open up possibilities for transnational action to provide solidarity for those most oppressed – campaigns related to the garment industry are a key example (A.5.)
Concerted resistance in many parts of the world marked the ‘Anti-Globalization’ or ‘Global Justice’ Movement which was widely publicized by the demonstrations in Seattle in December 1999 against a meeting of the World Trade Organization. Transnational protests at summits of international bodies promoting a neoliberal global economic order – such as the WTO, IMF, G8, North American Free Trade Agreement – highlighted the scale of this resistance. The Multilateral Agreement on Investment, which promoted stringent policies on debt repayment on the poorest countries, also prompted summit protests (Jubilee 2000 in London), and the World Bank, which provided finance for controversial projects such as dams, has been another target. But the most important resistance to neoliberal policies, such as privatization of water and energy and other key state services, occurred at local and national levels in Africa, Asia, and most dramatically in Latin America. The Global Justice Movement (sub-section A.6) prompted a large literature and became associated with movements for land and against multinationals in many parts of the world. There have also been significant struggles in Africa, Asia and in Latin America against policies of privatization, encouraged by ‘free trade’ agreements and often a condition of IMF and other international financial support (sub-section A.7.) But in its specific organizational form of contesting summits of prominent neoliberal bodies, and annual conferences of its own counter-international, the World Social Forum (and regional bodies) it lost some of its momentum after 2005, especially in the west.
The next wave of western protests against global economic policy was precipitated by the banking crisis of 2008 and resulting deep economic depression. Although sparked by national disasters, these movements – the Indignados and Occupy were prominent – also had a transnational dimension, influencing campaigners elsewhere and infused with awareness of the global nature of the crisis and its causes. Sub-section A.8. covers these protests.
A wide-ranging and radical approach to challenging neoliberal austerity policies, and the whole capitalist system with its destructive ecological and social effects, is discussed in: