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Fostering alliances across progressive movements

The Cross-movement mobilizations series will provide a platform for reflection and research on the conditions under which successful movement alliances evolve.

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The openMovements series invites leading social scientists to share their research results and perspectives on contemporary social struggles.

lead Mass Mobilization at the Chevron Oil Refinery in Richmond, California, USA, 2009. Wikicommons/planet a. Some rights reserved.

The breaking down of alliances, cooperation and social ties, the failure to establish solidarity and support has become a feature of our time, fostered by populist movements that build on a fear of the ‘others’ and of diversity to strengthen their regressive societal projects.

Fostering cross-movement alliances, converging on common targets and forging new visions and pathways for emancipation for the twenty-first century thus constitute particularly urgent challenges for both progressive movements and actors at the local, national and global scales.

More than ever, the hopes for a better world lie in the capacity of progressive actors to forge alliances and work together across progressive movements. Alliances and collaborations are needed across movements’ sectors and topics, notably between movements and trade unions. They are also needed across countries and continents, around a common agenda to restore some of the welfare and democratic institutions, to help to enforce existing ones (e.g. international law is very advanced in many of its aspects) and to support new ones.

Movements always and by definition consist of alliances and mobilization is always cross-movement. This was notably a core feature of the global justice movement, often referred to as “the movement of movements”. But historians remind us that cooperation between the so called ‘old’ and ‘new’ social movements has existed for a long time. More recently, the ‘climate justice movement’ arises out of a deep confluence and strong alliance between social justice and some environmental activists. Together, they have pointed to the strong connections between environmental damage, social injustice and inequality.

At the same time, cross-movement alliances cannot be taken for granted, as the various groups and actors are separated by different ideological positions, a diverse history and development, and are also partially subject to competitive relations. How such cleavages and differences are overcome is a key question with which this series will deal.

It will foreground successful cases of alliances and collaborations between different kinds of movements and actors that focus on different topics. What makes alliance formation possible? What may hinder or prevent these alliances? How do they transform movements and actions, including through trade-offs and unintended consequences?

This series aims to provide a platform for reflection and research on the conditions under which movement alliances evolve, on the success and failure of cross-movement mobilizations at different levels – from local to global – as well as on various topics such as ecology, labour, economy, and urbanization.

The series draws on contributions presented at the international conference “Cross-Movement Mobilizations”, that gathered over a hundred researchers and activists together at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum from April 5 – 8, 2017.

In our first article, Ines Morales Bernardos analyses the potential of as well as the tensions that afflict cross-movement alliances in a urban context. From Kinshasa to New York City, the recent rise in local food movements has provided spaces for the confluence of very different actors based on concrete actions and daily life. This is notably the case in Athens, as Ines Morales Bernardos demonstrates in her contribution. She analyses how concrete projects around local food have not only brought together different actors but opened spaces for autonomy and agency, fostering the building of new solidarities and enhancing emancipatory imaginaries within the city.

How to cite:
Zajak, S. (2017) Fostering alliances across progressive movements, Open Democracy / ISA RC-47: Open Movements, 27 April. https://opendemocracy.net/sabrina-zajak/fostering-alliances-across-progressive-movements
About the author

Sabrina Zajak is junior professor for “globalization conflicts, social movements and labor” at the Ruhr-University Bochum. She works at the Institute for Social Movements on issues of transnational movements and activism; trade unions and NGOs; globalization, governance and labor standards. She is head of the research group “transnational alliances between social movements and trade unions in Europe”. Her most recent book Transnational Activism, Global Labor Governance, and China (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2017)  investigates how trade unions and labour rights NGOs have mobilized together along different pathways while attempting to influence labour standards in Chinese supply chains since 1989.

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