This week may very well mark a critical turning point in the movement against corporate globalization in Canada. Since last year in Quebec City there has been a growing division on the issue of diversity of tactics between anti-capitalist direct action activists on the one side and the labour movement and more moderate groups like the Council of Canadians on the other. These divisions grew deeper after September 11, when even minor violence became much riskier and less acceptable to moderate groups.
In opposition to the G8 meeting in remote Kananaskis, the two wings of the movement organized in two separate cities. The more radical direct action wing, lead by Montreal’s CLAC (Anti-Capitalist Convergence) and Toronto’s OCAP (Ontario Coalition against Anti-Poverty) organized two days of marches in Ottawa. The labour movement and anti-globalization NGO’s organized almost of week of actions, including a People’s Summit in Calgary, the nearest city to Kananskis.
Taken together the demonstrations were a successful protest against the G8, especially given the lengths to which the Canadian government had gone to prevent protest altogether. Not only was the meeting itself in a remote location where five checkpoints prevented anyone getting anywhere near the leaders but also the City of Calgary refused permits for city parks and the federal government paid off a farmer who had rented land to the protesters near the Summit site.
Most of the media has focussed on the welcome absence of violence. For whatever reason, the RCMP, made a decision to leave the riot cops in the closet until they were needed. No visible cops, no violence. In Calgary, police on bicycles even distributed water to protesters. In Ottawa, community police mingled with demonstrators on the edges of the march.
There has also been a profound discussion in the movement about “diversity of tactics.” Anarchist groups insist that imposing an agreement on non-violent tactics on a demonstration is authoritarian and divisive and that only the principle of diversity of tactics will ensure that everyone can participate. But in practice, their refusal to exclude violent tactics has deepened divisions with the labour movement.
On the other hand, more conservative elements in the labour movement were only too happy to sit on their hands or organize their own actions without having to deal with the unruly anarchists. Adopting the practices of either group cannot solve the clash in politics and political culture. There has to be compromise and in Ottawa there was.
Unwilling to compromise for unity with the more moderate wing of the anti-corporate globalization movement, direct action activists and leaders were willing to compromise to ensure the involvement of immigrant and refugee communities. The result was that for the first time, the demonstrators started to reflect the colours of the community.
The theme of the Ottawa march, “No-one is Illegal,” spoke to the interests of immigrant communities particularly in light of the repressive new immigration law. The anarchist organizers of the CLAC agreed to no direct action in Thursday’s march in response to the request of Palestinians and other vulnerable groups. Despite the rhetoric of diversity of tactics, there was an actual agreement that the Thursday march would be without confrontation.
Since the threat of violence at demonstrations has been at the root of divisions in the movement, the peaceful nature of both Calgary and Ottawa actions should provide a basis for a reconvergence of the movement.
“The largest anti-war demonstration in Ottawa since September 11,” famed activist Jaggi Singh said triumphantly, “and the radical hooligans organized it.”
There were about 2,000 marching on Thursday in Ottawa and about 3,000 on the day before. Even taken together, the Calgary/Ottawa marches were much smaller than the massive march in Quebec City last year of almost 70,000.
The Ottawa march was organized as an explicitly anti-capitalist action; although many who marched were far from drawing those conclusions. What was missing was the labour movement. Conspicuous by their absence too were many local Ottawa activists who had organized for the G20, where their differences with the CLAC resulted in two different actions.
The labour movement focussed on a march last weekend in Calgary, a typically conservative town. While Calgary had never seen 2500 people in the streets before, the march was modest by movement standards. The rest of the week in Calgary saw daily actions, including a naked protest against the GAPâ€”I’d rather wear nothing that wear GAP clothes. The People’s Summit, called the G6 billion, also had an important impact in the media and on participants.
The anti-capitalist organizers of the Ottawa march can claim a victory for their ability to successfully mobilize and broaden the movement to immigrant communities and people of colour. In Calgary labour and community groups were equally successful in a creative, well organized series of actions that managed to overcome serious state imposed barriers to freedom of assembly.
Imagine what could be accomplished if both wings of the movement came back together again respecting their differences but working in concert to build the kind of mass movement against corporate globalization and war that is sweeping Europe and Latin America.
Judy Rebick is the publisher of rabble.ca. Reports about both the Calgary and Ottawa protests can be found at www.rabble.ca.