Global Justice in a time of Austerity
in just 6 weeks time, I’m running an event of a fairly unprecedented scale at York Friend’s Meeting House, drawing together over a dozen local campaign groups for an afternoon of talks and discussions spanning the length and width of “Global Justice”. All this seemed so much more urgent before the cuts became the defining issue of the moment, and now its hard to even feel excited about the range of issues beyond our doorstep.
When I first posed the idea of a forum on this scale, I suggested that the overriding question to be posed by the day is “What can we in York do to make the world a more just place?”. I defined four over-arching, interconnected strands to the challenge: economic justice, the environment, peace and human rights. We know, for instance, that war adversely affects all the other three, and that without a liveable environment, the pursuit of the other three is largely academic.
None of the issues currently included in the program has gone away, and it is certainly the case that we need reminding of this. It would be easy for us to forget the immense suffering in other parts of the world as we focus in on rising poverty and inequality in our own society, and indeed it is perfectly plausible that a sense of closing ranks might come about. But this ignores history entirely, and indeed that real and present connection between the policies we are facing and those being faced by people around the world. In a globalised world, we simply cannot ignore the similarities between the processes and policies being imposed on our lives and those of others around the world.
It was perhaps fortuitous that Christian Aid were already tackling the issue of tax injustice months before UKUnCut brought attention to the Vodafone situation. The failure of multinationals to pay taxes around the world has a negative effect greater than the positive work of all aid agencies, so at a simplistic level at least, if companies were forced to account for their taxes on a country by country basis, we could see who is failing to be a good global citizen. But the problem isn’t just “over there”, its “over here” too. Its one issue, not two, even though we might have different recourse to criticise depending on whether the tax was owed to our government or another.
Global Justice struggles have a lot to teach us in the context of challenging the Neo-Liberal policies that have bought war, poverty, human rights abuses and environmental degradation to billions already around the world. And unless we can provide some kind of global response, we have little chance of ever truly tackling this phase in human history. Sure, campaigns like Make Poverty History have lacked a systemic analysis of the rise of global poverty, but movements in the Global South are often far more acutely aware of what is going on around them in the world of economics and global politics than we in British movements have been.
I hope that the Global Justice Forum on 19th February will be well attended, and that the discussions will flow freely. Getting people from very different activist cultures and political outlooks, most with a natural sense that their issue is more important than the rest (hence they give it so much time and attention), to work together on a conference is naturally very difficult. Groups with limited resources find themselves short of time, whilst groups with very large resources don’t necessarily see an event that covers many issues as a useful exercise. But thankfully many people have contributed ideas and contacts that mean the event isn’t too impacted by my general failure to engage with Human Rights movements, for instance. If it comes off well, the event will have bought attention to small groups, depth to our understanding of bigger group’s efforts and a sense of commonality in our pursuit of a better world.
Make a date and come along…
(The event will last from 10am to 4.30pm at the Friend’s Meeting House, Friargate. Entry is £5 or £3 concessions for students, pensioners and the unemployed).