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Put People First! campaign day

09 September 2009

As the G20 Finance Ministers began two-day London talks on the 4th September, Share The World's Resources joined the Put People First coalition in a day of campaigning and discussion to advocate for a fairer economic and financial system.

As G20 Finance Ministers met in London on 4-5 September, campaigners from the Put People First coalition took part in a media stunt warning government leaders to “Stop letting money rule the world”.

Share The World’s Resources joined a small group of campaigners who exhibited a throne of money outside Lloyds Bank in London, some dressed in masks and suits to represent the most powerful world leaders.

The Put People First campaign day was held as British chancellor Alistair Darling and other G20 finance ministers began two-day talks on the global financial crisis – their first meeting in London since the G20 summit in April.

The Put People First coalition, involving a platform of anti-poverty and environmental campaign groups, trade unions and faith organisations, gave a united message that further job losses resulting from the financial crisis can be avoided by new economic policies designed to put people before corporate profits. Organisers said that if governments stick to the free market practices that caused the global slump, the G20 would condemn millions more people to unemployment and condemn the planet to devastating climate change.

John Hilary, executive director of War on Want, said: “The G20 has done nothing to address the root causes of the global economic crisis. Despite the fact that lax regulation of banks led to the financial meltdown, G20 leaders are now calling for more deregulation of financial markets through the Doha round of world trade talks.

“It is time to call an end to the free market fundamentalism which has caused so much poverty and suffering in the world.”

A media briefing for the G20 finance ministers’ meeting stated that we need a radically new vision for the global economy – one which breaks with the failed economic policies of the past and delivers decent jobs and public services for all, an end to poverty and inequality and a green economy.

Campaign Day

Following the protest, campaigners took part in a walking tour of companies and institutions in London that have contributed to the economic crisis, including Lloyds, RBS and International Financial Services, London. Around 50 London-based activists later attended a conference with speakers from the Bretton Woods Project, Friends of the Earth, the Jubilee Debt Campaign and War on Want.

Peter Chowla from the Bretton Woods Project said the economic crisis is a significant moment in history and an opportunity for fundamental change. He said the role of campaigners should be to seize this opportunity and present alternatives for politicians to create a better world.

Asad Rehman from Friends of the Earth said that the global justice movement can take advantage of this opportunity by participating in the debate on economic reforms and getting its voice heard. Instead of asking what is possible and then defining policy demands, campaigners and non-governmental organisations must dare to be visionary and define the world we want in certain terms, he said.

Nick Dearden from Jubilee Debt Campaign proposed a radical democratisation of the economic and financial system - a global economy of the people, by the people, for the people.

In a breakout session following the talks, campaigners were split into three groups to facilitate discussion on effective campaigning. One of the main themes of discussions was the difficulty of ‘pulling all the strands together’ in the context of uniting organisations with different priorities under one umbrella.

Campaigners were informed that the Put People First Coalition is already facing problems in unity, and will not continue past the end of the year. Jubilee Debt Campaign director Nick Dearden stressed that many NGO’s involved in the coalition are open to forming a successor campaign to Put People First in 2010.

In a report issued in March, Put People First issued policy recommendations on the global financial crisis following an unprecedented collaboration between a wide spectrum of civil society organisations with millions of members from across the nation. The report called on the UK government to show its commitment to putting people first by signaling an historic break with the failed policies of the past, and the start of a new system that seeks to make the economy work for people and the planet.

Summary of Put People First campaign day:

Speaker: Peter Chowla from the Bretton Woods Project

World leaders and policy makers have accepted at least in rhetoric that free market theory is flawed, and have publicly stated so many times. The rising importance of the G20 relative to the prior prevalence of the G7/8 means that developing countries are becoming more involved in the global decision making process, providing the global justice movement with potential allies and improving the probability of more democratic decision making.

However, despite the change in rhetoric and the widespread questioning of the foundations on which our financial system and economic structure are based, policy directions are not changing accordingly, and we are seeing more of the same policies that caused the global financial crisis. Executive bonuses are continuing uncapped, for example, and financial and trade liberalisation is still being encouraged. In essence, policy is still promoting economic activity that is not socially useful.

The lack of consistency between the words and actions of world leaders suggests that in acknowledging the flaws of free market theory, leaders have been left unsure about where to turn and do not have any new ideas to replace the old ones. The role of civil society should be to take this historic opportunity and present alternatives for politicians to create the world we want.

Speaker: Asad Rehman from Friends of the Earth

The mainstream press is frequently reporting on issues concerning the economy, the climate, poverty and inequality, while the rhetoric of world leaders is also focusing upon these issues, thereby affording campaigners an opportunity to participate in this debate and get our voices heard. 

Instead of asking what is possible and then defining our policy demands, civil society must dare to be visionary and define the world we want in certain terms. In order to be effective campaigners need to be able to link movements together through a common platform like Put People First. Campaigners then need to agree on common objectives, as scattered protests won’t achieve wide-scale change. Movements in the Global North also need to link up with and support movements in the South, from which activists can learn a lot given that these groups have extensive experience of successful grassroots campaigning on the ‘frontline’ of issues.

The Copenhagen climate talks will be dominated by corporate lobbyists, so campaigners need to be united if NGOs or progressive voices are to counter this force. Issues of debt, climate and poverty, or jobs, justice and climate can provide a coherent link between Northern NGOs and campaign objectives – it is only through a strong and united voice that civil society will be heard. 

In the context of the recent bank bailouts we can also dare to ask for more. As many NGOs have recently highlighted, the sum required to end world poverty is dwarfed by the amount that was rallied to bailout the banks. 

Given recent events we can therefore aim higher and ask for more, and we need to do this in a united and coherent way as part of a global movement. 

Campaign Discussions

Following the speakers there was a chance for questions, followed by the audience being split up into three groups to facilitate discussion on effective campaigning.

In feedback session afterwards, the main issues discussed were how to coordinate local campaign groups and garner support for them. Many participants spoke of having limited success in involving the general public rather than the activist community. It was mentioned by a number of people that it is not enough to ask people just to sign a postcard or petition, and that the public needs to be engaged in a sustainable way to achieve momentum for the Put People First campaign and the movement for change. Local campaign groups have been a key medium used by some organisations with varying success; whereas the activist community will pull together, it is often extremely difficult to engage other sectors of society or the general public.

Another main theme of the discussions was the difficulty of ‘pulling all the strands together’ in the context of uniting organisations with different priorities under one umbrella. This lack of ability to unite effectively is a key problem for the UK NGO community and one that is proving difficult to overcome.

Further Resources