Sociale bevægelser

Ian Manners

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The world consists not only of economic superpowers, says Professor Ian Manners from Roskilde University. Social movements have a crucial impact on what the world of the future will look like.

The EU's economic power has been significantly reduced, not least in relation to a country like China. Is it realistic that the EU can exert pressure on China in human rights?

It depends on how you think the world looks like. If you think that the world now and in the future will be dominated by five major global economic powers, China, India, Russia, U.S., E.U. and perhaps Brazil and South Africa, we are in serious trouble. If so, the promotion of trade-related social and human rights which the EU wants is a dead duck. But I think if you actually look at how much activism taking place, you see a world not only of economic superpowers. And it has probably never done. If you think about what ended the Cold War, it was a progressive social movement. It's a very different way of looking at what global politics looks like.

When I do research in this area, I am not only interested in interviewing people in Brussels and in developing countries. I am interested in getting a sense of all the social networks at work. It's not just the "facebook generation", it is a generation of people who are much more open and able to engage in dialogue and to understand that there are different levels of power in the global economy.

How should we go about it in your opinion, if we want to change in any of these structures, i.e. us as an NGO, and you as a scholar?

In my experience the first stage to inform the Western public. The next stage is to change government policy. Something like it was in the 1990s when some NGOs went international and got a great deal of power. The challenge of the 21st century is to move beyond mere activism and forward to a broader collaboration that creates attention along the production chain. This is important, no matter whether it is human rights, the environment, or social rights. The problems we are trying to address are way ahead of us. We are 30 years behind. If you look at the first changes in the value chain of the automobile industry, these started the first outsourcing in the 1970s. We're just trying to catch up the lost ground.

For me it, one of the most interesting cases was the apartheid cause, in relation to how to conduct sanctions. The smart move, from a British perspective, was to ask the ANC: What should we do? The ANC at that time was based in London. The ANC said that, of course, all the big companies must boycott, but the main area was sports. Boycott South African sport, so that it will bring the cause into the living rooms of white South Africa. It says something about the importance of developing much stronger grassroots and international contacts.

What about the importance of organized labour? Historically, this has had an enormous impact on living conditions.

Definitely. People talk about the French Revolution as the beginning of human rights. It is clearly important. But the greatest progress in the last hundred years of social rights has come through labour rights. The core of what makes Europe Europe is this social perspective.

So this becomes a challenge when you transfer it to the global level. Other actors have increasingly mobilized across borders through transnational corporations, transnational capital, international trade organizations and activist groups. The only missing link is the group of unions that, excuse my generalization, are largely very grounded and very local. It is a huge disadvantage. When people outside of Europe ask: "What are the two sides?" You end up basically with NGO groups.

I really think if we look forward, let's say in 50 years, and look at the future global production and our global society, so the question becomes: How can we ensure that developments in the economic global society lead to fewer conflicts, less polarization, less injustice. Somewhere in the story, there must be room for representation of workers, and it implies a stronger connection with unionized groups. We are talking here not only about relations with China and Southeast Asia, but also Japan and the United States. Historically, the U.S. has a strong organization in the early industrial sectors. But it has collapsed in the 1980s technological revolution with the support of more or less all of the political spectrum. So maybe Occupy-Wall Street may be a way forward.

Can the EU do anything to promote this?

It the "the Arab Spring", among others events, that have shown that the people we really need to work with, are partners on the ground. It is not only NGOs but also other forms of social movements. And this is where unions come in. Not because they are for democracy or against the government, but because they are natural centers of organization if you are trying to encourage a broad-based civil society in countries that have suffered from 50-100 years of post-colonialism, where their social organizations were destroyed by authoritarian regimes.

The lesson here is extremely interesting, that new thinking about how we go about it and how it can be part of development policy. There has been a tendency to focus too much on CSR without thinking that something is missing here between NGOs and CSR. It is this sector, the sector of organized labour.
Bidragets oversatte titelSocial movements
Publikationsdato31 jan. 2012
StatusUdgivet - 31 jan. 2012

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Senest ændret: 31/01/2012

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