Inequality: possible joint working in 2015

Last Friday saw an exploratory meeting that came out of discussions at the Progressive Development Forum (but which are ultimately aimed at a broader audience) in order to explore what appetite there might be for joint work around the issue of inequality in 2015, which is both a general election year and also the starting off point for the post-MDG era. The meeting heard short presentations from Health Poverty Action, Oxfam, TUC, Bond and the Gender & Development Network before breaking into more general discussion. A total of 30 people from trade unions, NGOs and networks participated and several more sent in apologies, with a request that they be kept informed of outcomes from the meeting. These brief notes aim to provide that feedback.

General observations
Inequality is now referenced as a key theme in many international bodies, including even the World Economic Forum and IMF. Within the post-2015 agenda there has also been much focus on inequality (including gender inequality) and on individual measures to tackle it. The issue is clearly in the public and political eye, but this in no way implies that it will be addressed in the ways we would wish. We must aim for much bolder political interventions, building on the high level of public support that exists for radical measures of redistribution.

It was widely agreed that the key focus for us is on inequality of power – which then brings in the full range of inequalities not covered by measures of income or wealth inequality (useful though those measures may be as a way of bringing the issue to the broader public). Most particularly, a focus on inequality of power highlights inequalities of gender, race, class, age or disability that are not captured by measures of income or wealth inequality, especially when those measures are aggregated at the household level. It also highlights the threat posed by the massive growth in corporate power, something too often glossed over by those working with multinational corporations in CSR and other business enterprise schemes.

It was noted that there are currently attempts from the side of governments to play off these various inequalities against each other, making it important that we hold to an intersectional understanding that confronts all inequalities together, not privileging one over another.

The focus on inequality brings together the local and global in a positive challenge to the traditional isolation of ‘international development’ as an issue in Britain – as well as its traditional depoliticisation. This means that inequality also has the potential to reframe public understanding of the global justice / solidarity agenda away from altruistic statements of concern for the Other and towards political action at home, thereby uniting struggles against inequality within Britain with those in the rest of the world.

This is particularly useful as a means to link up in support of campaigns against inequality amongst migrant workers in Britain, such as the 3 Cosas campaign within the University of London or campaigns for a living wage in other high-profile institutions.

Existing work
The meeting heard how those working on the post-2015 agenda had been discussing the above themes in the context of the SDGs that are expected to supersede the MDGs. That discussion is far advanced already, and there was little sense in the room that people saw engaging with it as a priority, even if any joint activities we might plan for the future clearly need to take account of that broader context.

In the context of the 2015 general election in Britain, party manifestos should be finalised in the period following this May’s European Parliament election. The meeting was reminded that the international development sector in Britain had tended in the past to default to a lowest common denominator of calling for ‘more and better aid’, which had allowed the political parties in turn to focus on development finance in their manifestos rather than on policies that would bring structural change. It was felt that falling back on this default position had partly been down to our failure to put in the effort to identify any better joint demand in advance.

Starting in June this year, Bond is planning to draw together a sector-wide manifesto which is again expected to include development finance as one of the calls, even if not necessarily the lead demand. Bond is also organising its own meetings at the moment to explore joint working in 2015, with a view to holding public events in the early part of next year. Bond’s 2014 annual conference (scheduled for 10 November) should also have a space for discussion of how to use the political opportunity thrown up by the 2015 general election.

Possible areas for joint working
There were different thoughts as to how to take forward any joint work on inequality, the simplest being that we would each agree to use the framing of inequality in our individual organisations’ campaigns / advocacy in 2015. One more ambitious possibility would be for like-minded groups to work up a joint manifesto listing policy measures that we would like to see introduced in Britain and globally to address inequality, while a further possibility would be to ensure that inequality becomes the lead frame (with supporting policy demands) in the Bond manifesto mentioned above. The ideas listed here show the range of suggestions that people came up with (in brainstorming mode, and therefore not necessarily agreed on by all participants):

• make joint calls for specific measures to tackle inequality (e.g. a billionaire’s tax or a statutory living wage, etc)
• up the ante on inequality before any broader or weaker post-MDG campaign is launched from elsewhere
• keep repeating that this is a cause we are committed to for the long haul, as a call for solidarity not charity
• check what messages on inequality resonate with the public / with activists, and share that intelligence between us
• emphasise that inequality is a deliberate programme manufactured by and for the rich, not a coincidental occurrence
• tell positive stories about tackling inequality, and focus on building popular support for solutions to inequality, not just exposing problems
• remind people of what dystopian consequences inequality can lead to when societies fall apart (rise of the far right in Greece, Ukraine…)
• expose the insane scandal of scale / consequences of inequality, i.e. putting communications first
• seek to impact public opinion by taking the message to 60 million people as target audience
• be clear on the long-term objective of shifting away from the charity / aid framing of ‘rich givers’ and ‘poor receivers’
• rebuild the moral debate on inequality

The following solution fields / pillars might be included in any joint manifesto (ours or Bond’s) as key measures to tackle inequality – with specific policy demands:

• tax justice
• public services / public procurement
• corporate accountability / regulation
• living wage / decent work
• trade union rights
• social norms
• trade justice / market regulation
• reproductive rights

Again, no agreement was sought that policy demands related to all the above would necessarily be appropriate for a manifesto on tackling inequality. However, it was noted that some concrete demands are useful for campaigns / advocacy work around any general election, just as prioritisation between those demands helps to avoid ending up with a huge shopping list.

Next meeting: 29 April 2014, 1330-1700
Participants were keen to build on the momentum generated by this initial meeting, and to work out what we might do together in the months leading into 2015.

The next meeting will take place on 29 April 2014, 1330-1700; venue now fixed for NCVO. Details will be circulated on the Progressive Development Forum riseup list (an open list that anyone can join, as below) and the meeting will again be an open one that all are welcome to attend, with the aim of broadening attendance beyond just those who have attended this one.

In the meantime, individual participants agreed to find out more about what Bond is planning, and about any other relevant initiatives being planned by other groups. Again, it would be good to circulate that information via the riseup list:



About John Hilary

Executive Director at War on Want
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