By Silke Roth
My long-standing interest in coalitions and the integration of diverse constituencies in social movement organizations has always been informed by an intersectional perspective. Intersectionality refers to the fact that individuals and groups experience multiple forms of privilege and discrimination which inform one another. This has significant implications for social movement scholars as it problematizes what is meant by gender inequality, class differences or racial privilege. How do race and class matter for women’s movements? How are gender and race addressed in the labour movement? And what role do gender and class play in civil rights movements? Of course, race, class and gender are only a few dimensions of inequality and difference. Intersectionality can be understood as a frame of analysis (Cho, Crenshaw and McCall 2013) or as structural or political intersectionality (Crenshaw 1991). These analytical approaches to intersectionality are of central interest to scholars of social movements as they concern the construction of collective identities (which experiences are put into the foreground, which are downplayed or excluded?), the framing of agendas and the choice of strategies. Crenshaw (1991) employs the notion of political intersectionality to highlight that women of colour sit at the intersection of potentially conflicting agendas of (white) women’s movements and (male dominated) civil rights movements and are potentially marginalised by both movements.
Coalitions as Political Intersectionality
Political intersectionality is expressed in coalition-building to potentially overcome multiple marginalization (Cole 2008). Intersectional perspectives are necessary to understand how inclusive social movements are and to identify and to address inequality and power relations within social movements, social movement organisations and coalitions. The problem is not just how homogenous or heterogeneous a group is, but whether some voices are louder or play a bigger role in framing the agenda while others are marginalised. My research has addressed the intersection between class and gender and the relationship between women’s and the labour movements (Ferree and Roth 1998, Roth 2003), with a particular interest in the position of racial-ethnic minorities, Roth 2005, Roth 2008, Agustin and Roth 2011). Furthermore, I have looked at the contact between Eastern and Western feminists (Roth 2007, Roth 2008). Coalition building and inclusion require conscious efforts of building trust, recognizing joint interests, respecting different cultures and acknowledging power differentials, for example the creation of an ‘intentional space’ to diversity of participating organisations and to assure that those affected by systems of inequality are taking on a leading role (Juris 2008). In my analysis of the Coalition of Labour Union Women, I have looked at caucuses as ‘safe spaces’ for minority women as well as for women in the male-dominated labour movement (Roth 2003, Roth 2005, Roth 2008).
Anti-Austerity Protests as Bridging Events
Anti-austerity protests might have a particular potential for bringing together cross-class and in other respects heterogeneous coalitions. Clare Saunders, Cristiana Olcese and I have analysed Occupy London as a ‘safe space’ (Roth, Saunders and Olcese 2014) that brought together new and veteran activists from a wide range of backgrounds and organizational affiliations. This protest event began in October 2011 with an attempt by about 300 protesters to occupy London Stock Exchange (LSX) in Paternoster Square, taking action under the slogan ‘we are the 99%’. Occupy was not organized by formal organizations, but by individuals associated with UK Uncut and the Camp for Climate Action and people who were not associated with any protest groups. We perceive anti-austerity protests as bridging events that bring together heterogeneous constituencies (Saunders, Roth and Olcese 2015) and have compared Occupy to two other protest events. The Fund our Future march was organized by the National Union of Students (NUS) (representing seven million students) and the University and College Union (UCU) (about 120.000 members) and addressed the rise in student fees and increasing privatization of education. It took place in central London on 10 November 2010 and attracted over 50,000 participants. The Trade Union Congress (TUC), which comprises 54 affiliated unions representing 6.2 million working people, initiated the March for an Alternative that took place on 26 March 2011 and was attended by at least 250,000 people. The demonstration was organized in opposition to the UK government’s austerity program of spending cuts and in support of a deficit reduction program based on fair tax and time for growth to raise tax. Occupy London was a more spontaneous protest action than the other two protest events. All three protest events mobilized a diverse range of participants, but Occupy, although considerably smaller, was more successful than the other two at bringing together a diverse range of participants with respect to age and organizational affiliation.
Women also formed anti-austerity coalitions in Britain between 2010 and 2012, including the coalition Women Against the Cuts which included Southall Black Sisters, Million Women Rise, Fawcett Society, London Feminist Network and Women Against Fundamentalism and which joined protest events such as the TUC March for an Alternative. Women’s organisations have monitored and responded to austerity in Britain with campaigns such as ‘Cutting Women Out’, while the Women’s Budget Group regularly published critical analyses of the UK budgets and their consequences for women. Budget cuts have significantly affected the funding for organisations addressing violence and domestic abuse, in particular smaller organisations have been affected. Austerity measures such as budget cuts in the third sector might undermine solidarity and coalition building among organisations pursuing different social justice agendas (Bassel and Emejulu 2014).
Coalitions and International Solidarity
While we can observe solidarity and cross-movement coalitions in the anti-austerity protests in contemporary Britain, these tend to focus on domestic issues rather than on international solidarity with those affected by austerity in other European countries, in particular Spain, Greece and the former socialist countries, who suffered from the economic downturn. But Europe goes beyond the 28 members states of the European Union (EU), the EU candidate countries and other European countries, it also is intertwined with the former colonies of European Empires, with aid receiving countries and encompasses the diversity of migrants coming to Europe. The Syrian refugee crisis of 2015 mobilised international solidarity and brought together a range of different actors, including human rights groups, humanitarian organisations, faith-based groups and diaspora groups. Broad coalitions go beyond advocacy and protest and include service providing groups as well as faith-based organizations. This indicates that a study of coalitions needs to bridge disciplinary boundaries and join social movement scholarship with research on civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations in other disciplines and research fields.