The Lilliput Strategy
excerpts from the book
Global Village or Global Pillage
Economic Reconstruction from the Bottom Up
by Jeremy Brecher and Tim Costello
South End Press, 1994
How can those who wish to oppose downward leveling do so effectively?
Many routes seem closed. Local and national governments, political
parties, trade unions, grassroots organizations, farm, environmental,
and other advocacy groups all have been outflanked by global corporations
and markets. International economic institutions like the World
Bank, IMF, and GATT provide few mechanisms by which they can be
held accountable. There is no global government to legislate on
behalf of the world's people.
One starting point for a solution lies in expanding transnational
citizen action. Just as genuine democracy at a local and national
level depends upon people organizing themselves and acting independently
of government-in what is often now called "civil society"-so
transnational citizen action is the key to meeting the problems
of globalization. Indeed, citizen action is even more crucial
in the global realm because the institutions of governance there
are so limited and so undemocratic. Those threatened by globalization
are almost entirely excluded from influence in the emerging global
realm. Transnational citizen action is the means by which they
can start affecting the global players and eventually change the
rules of the game.
Such action, as we saw in the previous chapter, is already
under way. But in most instances it remains fragmented and ineffective.
To transform common problems and common interests into common
goals and action, and to construct a force that can counter downward
leveling, we propose what we call the "Lilliput Strategy."
In Jonathan Swift's satiric fable Gulliver's Travels, the
tiny Lilliputians, only a few inches tall, captured the marauding
Gulliver, many times their height, by tying him down with hundreds
of threads while he slept Gulliver could have crushed any Lilliputian
under the heel of his boot-but the dense network of threads tied
around him held him immobile and powerless. Similarly, facing
powerful global forces and institutions, people can utilize the
relatively modest sources of power available to them and combine
them with often quite different sources of power available to
other participants in other movements and locations. As the tiny
Lilliputians captured Gulliver by tying him with many small pieces
of thread, the Lilliput Strategy weaves many particular actions
designed to prevent downward leveling into a system of rules and
practices which together force upward leveling.
In some ways, the Lilliput Strategy parallels the new strategies
pursued by global corporations. Just as the corporate strategy
creates worldwide production networks linking separate companies,
the Lilliput Strategy envisions strong local grassroots organizations
that embed themselves in a network of mutual aid and strategic
alliances with similar movements around the globe. And just as
the corporate strategy seeks to create governance structures at
local, regional, national, and transnational levels to support
its interests, so the Lilliput Strategy seeks to establish rules
protecting the interests of those whom globalization threatens.
Guidelines for Lilliputian Linking
The illicit Strategy requires a high level of cooperation
among people who are diverse and distant and who have conflicting
as well as common interests. These include geographical and historical
conflicts between countries and regions; divergence among constituencies
and concerns; and gaps between different social spheres, such
as the split between economic and political institutions. Overcoming
such divisions will require synergistic win-win approaches, mutually
beneficial compromises, and agreements to disagree but still cooperate.
It is not just a task for a few leaders, but for thousands and
ultimately millions of people operating on their own initiative.
For at the core of the Lilliput Strategy lies the work of overcoming
divisions by constructing links.
Linking Self-interest with Common Interests
Most individuals are largely powerless in the face of economic
forces beyond their control. But because millions of other people
are affected in the same way, they have a chance to influence
their conditions through collective action. To do so, people must
grasp that the common interest is also their own personal interest.
This happens whenever individuals join a movement, a union, a
party, or any organization pursuing a common goat It happens when
people push for a social objective-say universal health care or
human rights-which benefits them by benefiting all those similarly
situated. It underlies the development of an environmental movement
which seeks to preserve the environment on which all depend.
While free market ideology may debunk the idea of common or
social interests, in effect maintaining-to paraphrase Margaret
Thatcher-that only the interests of individuals are real, the
linking of self-interest and common interests is the starting
point for effective resistance to downward leveling. For example,
when people in one country support the right of workers to organize
and strike in other countries, they are helping others, but they
are also helping themselves by ensuring that they will not have
to compete with those forced to work in degraded conditions.
Linking the Global to the Local
To link self-interest with common global interests, the first
step is to clarify the connections between the immediate conditions
people face and the global processes that are affecting them.
For example, as part of the campaign against ratification of GATT,
the Sierra Club published the study GATT Double Jeopardy: State
Environmental Laws at Risk' which provides state-by-state information
on how GATT could undermine recycling, packaging, fuel efficiency,
and food safety laws. Similarly, in the long and bitter struggle
of workers at the Caterpillar tractor company, the union made
clear the international dimension; as one UAW official explained,
"Cat would like to force workers in different countries to
compete with one another to see who will work for the lowest wage."
In both these instances, the link between local problems and the
forces promoting downward leveling were made clear.
The second step is to link local struggles with global support.
A classic example is the international network of indigenous peoples,
environmental activists, and trade unionists who supported the
struggles of Chico Mendes and the indigenous Amazonian rubber
tappers, ultimately forcing the World Bank to shift its development
policies in the Amazon rainforest. In the case of the Caterpillar
workers, the International Metalworkers Federation convened a
world conference of Caterpillar workers in Peoria, Illinois. UAW
Secretary-Treasurer Bill Casstevens declared, "In the struggle
to win a fair contract at Caterpillar, we need to reach across
national borders. In sum, resist downward harmonization where
you are and help others resist it where they are.
The third step is to link local problems to global solutions.
For example, the International Labor Organization (ILO), a UN
affiliate, has developed an International Labor Code-but the United
States has refused to ratify most of the conventions that make
up the Code. The Code would forbid many of the worst U.S. labor
abuses, such as sweatshop child labor and the firing of union
activists. In one recent case before the ILO, the AFL-CIO charged
the United States with violating international labor standards
by denying full bargaining rights to public employees. In 1993
the ILO upheld the charge that U.S. laws do not meet the "requirements
of the principle of voluntary collective bargaining"-indicating
how an international labor rights system with teeth could provide
a "court of appeals" for abuses here at home.
Village or Global Pillage