Hundreds debate a global economy 'for the 99%'
James O'Nions, World Development Movement (Photo:www.mikefryer.com)
Hilary Wainwright, Transnational Institute
An Economy for the 99% brought together local and global economic justice activists from around the UK. Speakers from Manchester community groups and trade unions were joined by activists from Egypt, Ireland and the Spanish ‘indignados’ movement. There were video messages from Chile and the United States as well as more than a dozen workshops on different aspects of the economy and the movement.
Understanding the 1%
A workshop on ‘Can the 1% save the world?’ looked into the detail of what aid and development actually are - do they really benefit people in Southern countries? Do they even benefit ordinary people here in Europe?
Sarah Bracking from Manchester University showed how increasing amounts of aid are being pushed through financial markets with little or no understanding of development and no way to judge how successful a project has been other than how much money it's made. A lot of this aid is pushed through tax havens, preventing Southern countries from using income they desperately need.
Andy Bowman from the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC), gave a specific example - the Gates Foundation - and looked at the way their work promotes a privatised form of development. The problem isn't simply that we feel uncomfortable with development being at the behest of the super-rich, but that the work of foundations like Gates actually promotes a method of development responsible for great inequality.
Mick Moran, also from CRESC gave a real boost of optimism to the room. He explained how this development model has also contorted society here in the UK, bringing vast inequality. But the financial drivers of this development have never been more unpopular, and never has social change been so acceptable to the British public.
The financial crisis
A packed-out session sought to understand the root causes of the financial crisis and what is likely to happen next. Academic David Harvey's animated lecture was shown articulating his view that the excessive power of financial capital and falling wages led to more lending and debt.
Adam Leaver from the University of Manchester explained how the debt of the British private sector dwarfs that of the government. And Tim Jones from Jubilee Debt Campaign set the current crisis in a context of 30 years of debt crises from Latin America and Africa in the 1980s and 1990s, to East Asia in the mid-1990s and the US and Europe today.
Forty minutes of questions and answers developed these views, and highlighted alternative solutions, such as Argentina defaulting on its debt in 2001, and the Icelandic people saying no to a bailout of Iceland's banks foreign debts.
Whose debt is it anyway? looked at a movement sweeping Europe and the Mediterranean - calling on governments to 'open their books' and show citizens where debts came from, who they benefited and the impact that repayment will have on societies. By allowing us to fully comprehend 'who owes who' it can enable societies to make informed decisions about their economic policies.
Nessa Ní Chasaide, Debt Justice Action (Photo: www.mikefryer.com)
Dina Makram Ebeid from the Popular Campaign to Drop Egypt's Debt spoke about the growing campaign to audit Mubarack-era debt, rather than taking on new IMF loans to recycle this debt. An audit would be the first stage in not paying odious debts, and forming a truly democratic economic policy.
Nessa Ní Chasaide from Debt Justice Action in Ireland spoke about her move from being a 'third world' debt campaigner to campaigning on the injustices of debt as a global phenomena and learning the lessons of our Southern colleagues. She told us that Ireland did carry out a debt audit, and have used that to inform a political strategy - first and foremost to form a coalition capable of challenging some of Ireland's debts. Primarily they were working on a campaign not to pay the debts of so-called zombie bank Anglo-Irish.
A buzzing session on Europe's new movements against the economy of the 1% heard from Almudena Serpis about how the Spanish 'indignados' movement developed from a situation of high unemployment and austerity measures, and its system of direct democracy based on local popular assemblies. Joe Tenner of Occupy Sheffield described the experience of 100 days of occupation in a less high-profile encampment than that at St Paul's. The audience debated what has been most valuable about these movements so far, what links the movement across nations, and how to continue the momentum in their communities.
Almudena Serpis from the Spanish 'indignados' (Photo:www.mikefryer.com)
Revolutions in North Africa - for economic justice
Another 'movements' workshop looked at the popular uprisings across North Africa and the struggle for economic justice in the region.
Jack Shenker, The Guardian's Egypt correspondent gave an in-depth insight into the economic, social and political situation in Egypt before and after the uprising that overthrew Mubarak a year ago, from the price of housing to the role of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), and negotiations around new IMF loans to Egypt.
Nadia Idle, co-editor of Tweets from Tahrir , talked about activism and the call for economic justice in the region. How can people in the UK mobilise here and support grassroots movements in Egypt? What kind of solidarity can we have with people in Egypt? She explained how important it is for people in Egypt to see that solidarity actions and mobilisations in the UK are still taking place a year after Tahrir Square and gave the participants inspiration on how to engage in these issues.
Activism and the Law
One of the campaigning skills sessions looked at how campaigners can use Judicial Reviews as part of their campaign. Rosa Curling, an expert in Public Law at Leigh Day, went through the process of Judicial Reviews, financing court cases and the importance of campaigning around the legal process.
Many participants were focused on legal challenges over local government cuts. Download the Quick and Easy Guide to Judicial Reviews.
The final plenary was an inspiring end to the day. Dina Makram Ebeid reflected on Egypt and the challenge of talking about Egypt as an inspiring example, when the military continue to kill and a neoliberal regime is still in place.
She talked about how important it is to create spaces where alternative ideas and networks can be built up so that when political change does come the support structures exist to sustain it.
She also reminded us that even in Egypt, people did not all believe that the revolution would start when it did, because for years people had been working, sometimes on things which might have seemed small or unconnected, but which eventually contributed to the revolution.
Nick Dearden followed by talking about how the challenge that lies before us is to change people's values, to get them to recognise that the economic system is responsible for destroying lives across the world.
Photos and Audio
- For audio from some of the other sessions at the event, see the World Development Movement website >>
- See more photos from the event >>
(Photos by World Development Movement unless otherwise indicated)