The Birth of a New Global Movement

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by Jonathan Neale

(SWP Online)

Copenhagen saw the birth of a new global movement.

The first reason was the demonstration on Saturday. The official police estimate was that there were 100,000 marchers.

The march was long, loud, cold, bouncy, and energetic, about half Danes and half foreigners. I moved up and down the line, and everywhere people were chanting. This time the slogans were about climate, not some other issue, and they sounded and felt organic, rising up from the movement.

Every type of person was there. I marched with the Belgian unions, who kneeled and banged their green hard hats on the road and then rose and ran shouting, again and again. With the Swedish communists and their red flags. With the British campaign and our greenhouse, chanting, ‘Leave the Oil in the Soil, Leave the Coal in the Hole.’ The Danish WWF chanted that with us, and then taught us ‘Wa, Wa, Wa, PANDA!’

People were happy. No one had expected 100,000. For the activists gathered from around the world, this was the largest climate demonstration they had ever seen, by far.

From then on we knew a new global movement was possible.

Climate Justice Now

The second reason for the new movement was the coming together of Climate Justice Now and Climate Justice Action.

People came to Copenhagen from all over the world as part of ‘NGO’ charities and campaigns. 25,000 of them had passes for the Bella Centre where the governments were meeting. This was part of a long term policy of coopting NGOs.

This time, the more radical NGOs were loosely organised in a Climate Justice Now network, including Friends of the Earth International, Via Campesina (the peasants), Jubilee South (Christian debt campaigners), Focus on the Global South, Attac France, and individuals from many more NGOs.

But radicalism spread well beyond them inside the Bella Centre By the second day, African delegates were demonstrating in the halls, chanting ‘We Will Not Die Quietly’. There were regular small outbursts, and security began interrogating and banning people.

Climate Justice Action

Outside Climate Justice Action worked in concert with Climate Justice Now. CJ Action were the direct action people – the largest group was Climate Camp from Britain.

Their big demo was planned for the last Wednesday. CJ Action would try to march up to and through the police lines at the Bella Centre CJ Now would lead a walkout from inside the Bella Centre

The authorities inside, probably controlled by the Americans, were increasingly angry and worried about the resistance. The Saturday demo had been very large. Demonstrations inside were unprecedented.

Moreover, the American government knew they were going to put the boot in when Obama came. So they started closing down.

From Saturday on the Danish police were arresting large groups and holding them without charge for 12 hours, about 2,000 in all. They also arrested, charged and refused to bail the main leaders of DJ Action.

With the joint demo looming, the UN announced that the NGOs would have to give up 80% of their passes for the last four days. Almost all the US trade union delegates, for instance, were locked out.

The night before the CJ demo inside and action outside, Friends of the Earth International met and decided not to join the demo. The next morning they arrived at the Centre to discover that all their delegates had been banned from the Centre The same happened to Tkk, Tkk, Tkk – a coalition including Greenpeace, Oxfam and WWF.


On Wednesday two hundred people demonstrated inside. If the UN had not cut out most delegates, it would have been two thousand.

Outside two thousand marched towards police lines. The numbers were small because it was nine in the morning on a working day and people were understandably afraid of the police.

There were ten rows of police, pepper gas in the face, beatings, and no chance of getting through.

It was disorganised, chaotic, and frightening. But it was an enormous success. The world saw police brutality, outraged delegates, and a serious and brave resistance.


After that most CJ Now and CJ Action activists talked of building a united global movement in each country. By Saturday, with the scale of the betrayal slowly sinking in, we met and planned how to do that.

Unity between those two forces will draw in much wider numbers of people. There was general agreement on this too. People had seen that the Saturday march was fifty times bigger than the direct action. They know we will need an enormous, serious and militant movement to even begin to move the world leaders.

I am sure that there will be meetings in most towns in Britain during January to begin building this new alliance. In some places, that will be many organisations coming together formally. In others, it will be smaller networks meeting informally.

If you want to be part of that process, get on the phone and start finding people.

There are two forces we have to mobilise beyond the obvious. One is the 100,000 who came on the London march on December 5. The leadership of that march was shamefully congratulatory of Brown and Milliband. That must never happen again.

But there were enormous numbers on their first march. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, for instance, brought 4,000 people on coaches. Do not forget to call your local bird watchers.

The other force is unions, because that is how to mobilise workers, the majority of society.

Unions were largely absent from the London demo and Climate Justice Now. But they were the stewards on the great Copenhagen demo of 100,000.

Our best chance now of building a mass movement that can do something about climate change is the fight for One Million Climate Jobs. Remember, every CWU and PCS branch has already been sent a copy of the pamphlet. Don’t forget to ring the branch secretaries.

Some people will be hopeless after Copenhagen. Some NGO leaders will be whipped into line. But many will be enraged, and moved to action.

For the first time, it is possible to build a global movement, and a movement in your town.

This is only the beginning. It will be a long fight. The rulers of the world have made clear it is no longer about polar bears, no longer fluffy, no longer nice. Everyone involved will be have to work with new people, in different ways, well outside their comfort zone.

This is now a struggle, between the activists and the rulers of the world. We must make it a struggle between the people and the rulers.

It is about the poor, and the Global South. But don’t kid yourself. It is also about Greece, Australia, New Orleans, Mississippi, London, Liverpool, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and many more.

North and South we will make the rulers of the world hear the cry of Copenhagen: We will not die quietly.

Jonathan Neale is the author of Stop Global Warming: Change the World (Bookmarks, 2008)