Social Movements in Addressing Global Economic Inequalities

Social Movements in Addressing Global Economic Inequalities

There is no doubt that the world is faced with large-scale economic inequalities owing to such issues as unequal resource allocation. Quite often, people that face intersection inequalities are bound to face exclusion in development. Past experiences have shown that social movements and social justice organizations have an active role in the solving of economic inequalities across the globe (Tarrow, 2011). In part, these gains can be achieved through a demand for change in the status quo with regard to economic policies and constitutional processes. Further, advocacy of affirmative action and enhancement of opportunities can be used to achieve economic equality for millions of underprivileged global citizens. The Greenpeace organization as well as the International Labour Organization has been at the forefront in advocating for global economic equality. Other organizations include the Third World Network and the Make Poverty History organizations. Strengthening these organizations and their role and mandate is pivotal in addressing intersecting global economic inequalities.

The last two decades have witnessed a reemergence of the social movements in policy discussions. Indeed, such organizations have increased the capacity of citizens to revolt against mega development projects that do not benefit the immediate society. Further, citizens are now demanding social services including healthcare and education while instituting ideal visions as was the case in Brazil where the Landless Rural Workers fought for land reforms. Social movements and social justice organizations have been at the forefront in fighting for economic equality on a global scale with involvements in numerous countries. Ideally, global equality can only be achieved through a demand for the respect of basic human rights and by political representation of marginalized groups (Blumer, 1995). These aforementioned methods are all roles of the social movements achieved through civil disobedience, blockades and legal activism. In most cases, social movements have been involved in coalition building to influence economic policy and institutional framework for the benefit of the disadvantaged groups.

While constitutional reforms are largely the responsibility of political parties, social movements have actively engaged in the same. The exploitation of such opportunities is based on the fact that they present a chance of more progressive policy orientations as well as more inclusive economic equalities. Indeed, many social movements have explored the chance of political reforms in embedding economic policies to the highest laws of the land. For instance, the current constitution of India abolished the concept of untouchability by initiating legal safeguards to the benefit of castes and discriminated groups. While the promulgation of the constitution can be viewed as a product of political parties, the role of social movements in these reforms cannot be assumed. The International Labor Organization was actively involved in the proposals of the constitutional draft advocating for the equal treatment of laborers regardless of their social class. Such engagements only serve to bolster the attainment of global economic equality among workers.

Still, the case of Brazil presents a sneak peek into the role of social movements in influencing economic policy frameworks. The 1988 Constitution was largely a product of social movements and civil society organizations that advocated for agrarian reforms in the country. In other countries, social movements have been integral in the passing of laws that inculcate equality across the economic front. A case in point is the promulgation of the Constitution of Ecuador in which peasant movements influenced the making of the laws. Hitherto this involvement, the peasants and indigenous groups had brought down presidents through subsequent revolts (Tarrow, 2011). The role of social movements in this success cannot be overlooked as is evidenced in the enshrining of such principles as food sovereignty and environmental sustainability. Ultimately, the contribution of social movements in such undertakings can be seen in the influence they had on the peasant and indigenous groups and their push for change.

The involvement of social movements in legal advocacy also paints an example of the increasing role played by these organizations in fostering economic equality (McCarthy & Zald, 2007). In India, social movements advocated for the inclusion of poor families in the productivity of the country through a demand for equal employment opportunities. The enactment of the national Rural Employment Guarantee Act is evidence of the success of such involvements. Indeed, the Act resulted from legal advocacy in which the Supreme Court supported social rights and led to the creation of legal basis for employment of rural families. In this arrangement, and following the implementation of the Act, rural poor families had a right to demand paid employment opportunities from their local governments. Further afield, there were revolts against the UK’s Vedanta mining company whose rights were reversed following legal and political pressure from tribal people of the state of Odisha. In the arguments, the company had planned on disposing bauxite deposits on the Nyamgiri Hills that were considered sacred by the local tribal groups.

The involvement of social movements in advocacy does not normally produce immediate effects. Rather, most cases witness the establishment of institutional foundations under which economic equality is achieved (Offe, 2005). Indeed, social movement activism does not only offer short term benefits but also long term consequences on the afflicted groups of people. Most progressive policies initiated in areas of economic and social inequality have resulted from years of social movement activism and advocacy. In Brazil, for instance, quotas in higher education for discriminated groups have been achieved following decades of activism. Most governments have heeded to calls from social movements for the inclusion of marginalized groups in employments thus contributing to global economic equality. Further, the involvement of social movements across different countries has also seen the signing of multilateral agreements that foster equality and inclusion in economic growth. Evidently, social movements have an active role and responsibility in tackling the global economic inequality.

The role of social movements in tackling global economic inequalities cannot be gainsaid. Indeed, increased inequalities have seen the reemergence of social movement groups in the determination of policy that benefits the disadvantaged groups. Part of the roles of social movements in this regard is the demand for change in economic policies and constitutional processes. Addressing the intersecting inequalities in economic growth requires that the social movement organizations be strengthened and their capacity improved (Blumer, 1995). It is not surprising that citizens across the world are now demanding better treatment and inclusion in economic development. This development follows increased support from social movements that aim to build the capacity of afflicted groups to wage revolts and demonstrations against economic oppression. The cases of India, Ecuador and Brazil point to the increasing role of social movements in fighting against global economic inequalities especially against marginalized groups. Through their involvement in legal and political advocacy, social movements have contributed to the achievement of global economic equality.




Blumer, H. (1995). Social movements. In Social movements (pp. 60-83). Palgrave Macmillan UK.

McCarthy, J. D., & Zald, M. N. (2007). Resource mobilization and social movements: A partial theory. American journal of sociology, 82(6), 1212-1241.

Offe, C. (2005). New social movements: challenging the boundaries of institutional politics. Social research, 817-868.

Tarrow, S. G. (2011). Power in movement: Social movements and contentious politics. Cambridge University Press.



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