[Pga_europe_process] "breaking the activist ghetto" - report about a workshop

infoladen infoladen_hanau at gmx.net
Tue Sep 28 17:48:46 CEST 2004

here a report about a workshop during the pga-conference

- and by the way: we are very interested in evaluations, reports on
workshops up to now we did not find much. and what about the
conference-reader? are there more texts that will be included up to

the proposal for some workshops/ meetings during the esf we like very
much - and would like to participate.

greetings from hanau


report about the workshop „breaking the activist ghetto“ at the third
conference of peoples global action in europe by glocal group hanau

The workshop had been devided into two parts. The first part dealt
more generally with questions around the relationship between us as
political activists, who are mainly involved in organising projects
and campaigns and the so called „ordinary people“ who struggle or
(re)appropriate more on daily base, but often without any political
articulation. The second part was more directed to a practical output
– in order to create (in the best case) some action/ campaigns or
whatever which would be based on a deeper east-west-cooperation.

breaking the activist ghetto –
but you first have to build the ghetto to destroy it.

Our starting point in two short thesis:

1.) Migration, daily refuse and struggles around the field of labour
or the different types of pinching/stealing/copying include a
potential of (re)appropriation. All those processes challenge the
system in a way. Although they mostly have no direct political
expression, people just struggle for their own better life, the
demands might be reformistic, some kinds of appropriation could also
be described as criminal... Defining something as being political is
not just a question of hanging a banner with a slogan above the action
or not, but a question of undermining, evading, moving...

2.) As political activists we should relate somehow to those
struggles. We should move in these fields with all the contradictions
that are included. One main aim should be to try to bridge the gaps
that are results of different social backgrounds, of different
starting points why people start to move. We should try to build
references between the different fields of struggles. It is a decision
if we try dealing with all the contradictions that are included. To go
beyond doing shorttime campaigns – which are for shure one necessary
part of our practice but often without bigger outreach, close to a
special lifestile and putting ourselves in an activist ghetto.

When we started to prepare this workshop the circumstances seemed to
be very different to that, what we saw later in the conference itself.
What happened in the days of the conference, especially the
workers-assembly on sunday, the meeting with people from a local roma
community on monday, or tuesdays participation in the strike of the
electricians can be seen as a big step forward from the last european
PGA-conference in Leiden. We didn’t expect that – and we have been
really impressed! But discussing about the questions of relationship,
exchanging experiences about the problems people faced in their
political practice while trying to bridge different struggles, remains
interesting – or even gets more interesting when you really try to do

Present in the workshop were people from: glocal group Hanau; caravan
for the rights of refugees Munich; Aachen; Frankfurt university;
Bremen anti-prison campaign; „abolishing the borders from below“ –
anarchist magazine (have written a lot about labour struggles in
eastern–europe and the anarchist involvement in it); rozbrat-squat and
FA Poznan ( started from the subcultural level around the squat,
having now a  workers initiative); wildcat (magazine) and kolinko
(callcenter-initiative); Vageningen (nl); Berlin (campaign which deals
with unemployment); Moscow anarchist magazine; Darmstadt; Barcelona
(yomango and squat); Hamburg ( for free campaign); Osteuropa AG
Berlin; Longo Mai/ european civic forum; noborder...

In this first round the friend from moscow brought up another thesis
which became one of the most interesting topics in this discussion:
„You first of all have to build a ghetto, and afterwards you have to
destroy it.“ The „ghetto“ is also a save space for feminists, gays,
migrants and other minorities, who have during centuries build such
ghettos in order to preserve their own culture and traditions.  And
also for autonomous and anarchist activists for building
community-structures. The „ghetto“ as structure, to develope an own
infrastructure and also to start communication. A save space to start
with ideas, to come together with others and to be not as isolated as
before. And when you got more strength you have to break this ghetto
again. But in the beginning it is somehow necessary. He explained it
coming from the situation in russia, where there is no activist
ghetto. Which is in his oppinion comparable with many eastern european
countries: „We should get rid of giving too trivial and simplifying
reasons of our failures. Existence of these ghettos is not just due to
our shortsightness and laziness, they fullfill an important function
without which our movement perhaps would not exist. Any movements
raise from defeat of the previous ones, when revolutionary workers‘
movement got crushed from first world war onwards and workers culture
vanished due to television and mass culture, most radical ideas of the
workers‘ movement found shelter underground among counter-culture.
Although unexistence of this ghetto in russia is also an interesting
challenge where any project immediately collides with the mainstream
society, most sucessfull and popular projects seem to be those which
aim to building up this yet unexisting ghetto – space for autonomous
culture and information. This has a certain reason – in order to
destroy the ghetto, it must be built first!“

The experience of Poznan: first there had been really young people
around the squat rozbrat. In the beginning it had been a kind of
ghetto. It had and has lots of subcultural moments... but Poznan is
small, in Barcelona or Berlin it is maybe possible to really live out
of the ghetto for a longer time, but here people had to work – which
made them going in other realities. People started doing things at
their working place, but isolated in different factories. There were
problems with the trade unions... and at that point they could fall
back upon their structures around the squat rozbrat and the FA. Out of
that came the idea of the workers initiative as a syndicat.

In germany the situation is changing: in the 80s autonomous spaces
were seen as the way to change the society. There had been the hope
that it would become more and more of those spaces... Today these
spaces are marginal and under attack. people more and more have to
think about selfreproduction by work, while a lot of gaps in the
system that were used in the years before – like social welfare get
more and more difficult and impossible to live on it. Also because of
that reason other social struggles will become more important for the
radical left in the future – already now there is more interest among
radical left to such struggles than there has been during last few

The discussion touched the limitations of some of those social
struggles be it within demands, like „for better wages“, or the
defendance of workplaces where people are already exploited... but
what is reformist? The demand of minimum income could also be seen as
a reformist one, which came from radical groups. The tendency in the
discussion was more to listen to what the struggeling people think,
why they demand the things how they do it, really to see it as a
process, first to support. Criticism has to come later on when there
exists a relationship. this is somehow a tactical approach. should we
be cautious with radical demands and with utopias? And what to do for
example with sexist or racist remarks? It is often difficult to move
within all these contradictions... About a projekt in Leverkusen
(where secondary strikes were banned, but support group made a
blockade of the subtraktor) there is also lots of scepticism: „Why
should I wake up at 4 AM just to raise someone elses salary a little

„Don’t we have to create new participatory economics, offer an
alternative economic system? Fill it with examples like venezuela,
argentina...?“ – Someone directly contradicted: „Presenting the right
alternatives is also repeating the left wing approach.“ – And
sometimes you begin to hold back your opinions not to scare of people.
An example of another kind of practice: regional inquiry as an open
process. Mapping of social fields to find out what is going on in the
region, in the workplaces, in the neighbourhoods.... and really going
out of the ghetto to make contacts, ask the people who work in the
different sectors, who have an own history of migration, learn from
their experiences. -  „Isn’t it strange, all these discussions about
how to talk to „normal people“? I have a lot of different worlds to
live in besides just the political one.“

The for free campaigns have also another approach: they want to
communicate via the actions. Actions are planned to be not very
confrontative, but try to include more people and give some hints. Not
to explain the system and it’s mistakes, but to give some hints in
order to talk about stuff the people being around can start to
communicate about what they see in the action and about the themes
linked with it. As another example for bridging different sectors the
1st may in barcelona was mentioned were 10.000 people came together
under the topic of precariousness - which hadn’t been seen reduced to
job, but as affecting the whole life. The fact that people out of all
the different fields of struggles (migrants, unions...) came together
lead to a mutual contamination.

Just in the end someone metioned the visible difference in linking
with those daily struggles. While it seems as if in germany the
tendency is to make inquieries, to ask, to look, to map... the
practise in poland seems to be more radical from the beginning on.
They intervene in some of the social struggles like the occupation of
the factory gates in Ozarow or the struggles around eviction of flats
– and than look what is happening within the actions.

The time had been too short to go deeper in all the different
experiences and in all the questions that were linked with these
relationships. For us these will remain very important questions,
although in beograd we broke out in some moments – we’ll have to
practise it more as a network, we’ll have to practise it more in our
local struggles. And we’ll have to think about how to continue the
debates around it, to share our different experiences while moving in

east-west-cooperation – how to bring it into practise

We started the second part of the workshop with three examples of
possible fields for transnational actions. They could be seen really
as examples for different kinds of action-types. we did not have
enough time to go deeper into the idea of „estafette“ and how to bring
more east-west-exchange into that idea. So we concentrated on the two
other topics: 1. The idea of a kind of campaign around seasonal work
in the agricultural sector in andalusia/ spain – as an example of
action arround labour and migration where transnational organising is
really necessary. 2. The struggles against nestle in poland (and in
other easteuropean countries) as an example how a campaign against one
multinational could make sense.

nestle After explaining a lot of details about the privatisation in
which nestle is involved in poland, discussion went more generally
into the dimension of it in different eastern european countries, how
after destroying one regional production - like in the example the
polish sweets-label cupulate – these multinationals move on to the
next country – like romania – to do the same again. Especially how
necessary it would be to have a real transnational campaign against it
which could be used on one hand to inform workers in other countries
factories where the multi plans to go before about the experiences
others have with the problems that will be result of it. And also it
could be combined with different kinds of actions in front of

andalusia There is already an existing plan for an initiative around
the agricultural sector in andalusia, where more organised maroccans
and subsaharians are more and more replaced by polish and romanian
workers (often women), and where a transnational campaign is necessary
to break the ethnical splits and the attempt of the peasants to play
one group aginst each other. Moreover the proposal includes the idea
to make actions against the endprofiteurs of this chain of
exploitation: the big supermarkets all over europe... Of course, the
"heart of the struggle" has to be organised in south of spain and it
seems to be, that some groups and organisations are very busy there.
During the border04-tour that started from the conference in beograd
there had been some more contacts with people in romania and poland
established, who are interested in this topic and who can imagine to
participate at least in a common information-campaign. And a lot of
documentation-material is already available, as texts (mainly made by
european civic forum) as well as films. Soon some of this material
will be available at www.thistuesday.org – which is an
internet-plattform trying to bring together different projects working
on the topic of migration and labour from all over the world.

how to continue this debate?

For us this debate is not ending with this workshop. It remains one of
the most important questions concerning the future of the movement. We
hope there will be some space – be it in the wintermeeting in linz, be
it in any other place and for sure at the next conference.  So here in
short the main essential of our discussion and the questions that
would be worth to go deeper into:

1.) „You first have to built a ghetto, to destroy it.“ – on one hand
autonomous structures have an own importance as spaces to build up own
structures. On the other hand you have to break them, to widen the
horizon of movement.

2.) What about the demands? – where are the imits of some struggles
and how do we deal with it?

3.)  „Don’t we have to create new participatory economics, offer an
alternative economic system? Fill it with examples like Venezuela,
Argentina...?“ – Someone directly contradicted: „Presenting the right
alternatives is also repeating the left wing approach.“ – And
sometimes you begin to hold back your opinions not to scare of people.

4.) An ongoing exchange of experience how people deal with the links
to social struggles in their practice could be useful to contaminate
each other.

5.) east-west-cooperation – how to bring it into practise?
Last not least: The question of a transnational networking process
around these issues remains very important... and PGA might be one
possible tool for it!

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