CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

Papers from Transnational Activism and National Movements Workshop

On April 11-12, 2011 the Political Science Department and Center for Inter-American Policy and Research at Tulane University hosted a workshop led by Lydian Professor Eduardo Silva entitled:

BRIDGING THE DIVIDE: TRANSNATIONAL ACTIVISM AND NATIONAL MOVEMENTS

Image Credit: LA JORNADA, Foto: OSCAR ALVAREZ

The workshop, open to the public, addressed a significant literature gap on transnational and national movements that resist neoliberal globalization. Eight scholars from Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Canada and the U.S. examined how growing involvement in transnational networks influences the organizational development, strategies, tactics, power resources, and effectiveness of participating national movements with respect to their domestic political and policy objectives.

Below is a compilation of the papers resulting from this workshop. Additional papers will be posted as they are made available.

Marisa von Bülow, Political Science, University of Brasilia, Brazil
The Problem of Coherence: the Dilemmas of Activism across the National and Transnational Scales
Abstract: The most common forms of transnational trade campaigns that we have seen flourish since the 1990s typically gathered a broad spectrum of civil society actors around a simple frame, usually coalescing against an international negotiation, or in protest of a specific initiative. Increasingly, though, civil society actors that engage in such campaigns have had to face the challenge to formulate alternative proposals. This challenge relates to the key issue of effectiveness of transnational collective action, going beyond “just saying no” to building new possibilities. Based on the experience of transnational networks of trade challengers in the Americas, this article argues that civil society actors face a basic problem when responding to these pressures: the problem of coherence across scales. They waver between proposals that lead to more global governance, and others that aim at strengthening national capabilities and domestic public policies. The cases of labor unions and environmental NGOs that have challenged free trade agreements in the Americas in the past twenty years shows that this problem is felt across the North-South divide, as well as across issue areas. It is also felt both by domestic actors that engage in transnational initiatives and by more globalized actors.

Rose Spalding, Political Science, DePaul University
Transnational Activism and National Action: El Salvador’s Anti-Mining Movement
Abstract: Using the case of the anti-mining movement in El Salvador, this paper analyzes the ways in which national level networks adapt and deploy resources mobilized through transnational alliances in order to build a domestic resistance movement. It explores strategies and frames through which local community groups, environmental rights organizations, epistemic allies, and the Catholic Church leadership, each with their own set of interlinked transnational alliances, stitched together a reform coalition that fueled national policy change. Using analysis that extends beyond upward and downward scale shifts to include horizontal shifts in ideas and repertoires, this work highlights the kinds of resources that local organizations extract from transnational allies. It identifies different types of international nongovernmental organizations, including one variation (the domesticating INGO) that is particularly well adapted for national level collaboration. Arguing for the utility of a politically embedded campaign analysis, this study explores the intersection between social movements and formal politics, giving special attention to critical junctures when electoral calculations foster elite realignment and national policy change.

José Antonio Lucero, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington
Seeing Like a NGO: Encountering Development and Indigenous Politics in the Andes
Abstract: Drawing inspiration from the critical literature on “post-development,” this paper explores the global and local nature of Indigenous politics through a comparative political and ethnographic analysis of “development encounters” between Indigenous peoples and their international supporters. Building on field research in Bolivia and Peru, this paper examines the role of US and European non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Indigenous politics, and of Indigenous organizations in NGO politics. Examining international cooperation (cooperación internacional) as a “contact zone,” I argue that network and structural theories of transnational politics should be complemented by cultural analyses of the very notions of development and indigeneity. Though progressive NGOs enable transnational networks of solidarity and activism, their “ways of seeing” often (re)produce tensions between and among Indigenous communities and their transnational advocates.

Kimberly Nolan García, Division of International Studies, Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económica, México
Transnational Tensions: Network Dynamics and Local Labor Rights Movements
Abstract: This paper evaluates the impact of participation in transnational movements on local efforts to promote democratic unionization in the garment export sector in Puebla, Mexico. It explores the difficulties of recreating the successful cases of transnational advocacy when local level actors take over leadership and strategy development roles. The paper compares levels of transnational support for workers’ efforts to register an independent union in three assembly plants to emphasize that access to network resources conditioned the ability of local actors to meet movement goals once the network was led by local labor rights groups. In the first factory, Kukdong, deep transnational support, the provision of material resources, and the inclusion of key groups in the network ultimately led state officials to recognize the incipient worker’s organization as an independent union. However, once local advocates attempted to recreate this success at the local level in two additional factories —first at Matamoros Garment, and finally at Tarrant Ajalpan—the absence of key network participants meant that the relative lack of material resources, organizing expertise, and network contacts disadvantaged the local labor rights groups, ultimately leading to the collapse of these two unionization campaigns. As such, the chapter uses the lessons from the Puebla cases to emphasize how network dynamics, and specifically, how access to organizational resources once networks move to the local level, can condition when transnational advocacy ends in cases of failure.

Federico Rossi, Social and Political Studies, European University Institute, Italy
Juggling Multiple Agendas in the Struggle Against Neoliberalism: The Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina, 2002-2010
Abstract: This paper analyzes the virtually ‘parallel agendas’ that the Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina (CTA) developed at the national, continental and international levels for almost a decade. The CTA played a key role in the resistance to neoliberal reforms on the national level. While carrying out these activities, it also participated in the main continental campaign against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). However, these were largely parallel agendas in which the CTA’s transnational activism did not significantly influence its domestic strategic plans. The paper will show how although the CTA was actively participating in the continental campaigns against neoliberal globalization, its participation in these campaigns was the result of a nationally-focused agenda. Moreover, since the 1990s, the only CTA program of action at the international relations has been on the Mercado Común del Sur (MERCOSUR), and has not suffered from any significant changes as a result of the CTA participation in the campaigns against the FTAA. The goal of this paper is therefore to study and analyze the reasons for the CTA application of three contemporary parallel agendas of action in an attempt to answer the problem of the influence of transnational activism on national contentious actors during their resistance to neoliberalism.

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