Emmaus International

For a movement such as Emmaus, what are the issues and challenges of the global fight against poverty?

Gustave Massiah1. Poverty cannot be correctly understood and defeated if we forget to take the global context into account. Understanding poverty - although poverty pre-dates globalisation, we cannot understand poverty today if we fail to consider globalisation. Acting on poverty - daily, local and immediate action is one of the founding principles of Emmaus. Local action is both necessary and indispensable but the sum of our local actions alone does not match the size of the challenge we are faced with. In-depth action that meets up to this challenge will only be possible if we have long-term action on the local, national and global levels.

2. In the fight against poverty and exclusion we must start with the excluded and the poorest. “Whatever you do for me but without me, you do against me” (Gandhi, Mandela). To ensure that the most excluded become involved in this fight we must move on from mere recognition of the situation and create a social movement. This is a necessary condition to ensure we attack the root of the problem and that our action is radical, and only then could we start to talk about alliances.

3. Poverty and exclusion say a lot about the nature of our societies. Traditional societies long suffered from a type of poverty where they had no luxuries; modern societies have created a type of poverty where the poorest lack even the basics. The explosion of inequality and the limitless power of the rich and powerful are characteristic of today’s societies and capitalist globalisation.   

4. Inequalities are at the heart of the current development of our societies. Even when there is more wealth and “growth” there is still more inequality. Our societies aren’t getting poorer but the rich are getting richer. This leads to inequality, poverty, unemployment, insecurity, discrimination, racism and exclusion.

5. To fight poverty we must fight against discrimination. In our societies the poor are not poor by chance – women, young people from poor backgrounds, foreigners and immigrants are all more likely to be poor… There is a structural link between discrimination, including forms of segregation (such as spatial segregation), and inequality; and the same is true of discrimination and poverty. It’s by fighting against discrimination, and thus fighting poverty, that we will be able to build a different society.

6. We need a strategic approach to our fight against poverty. A strategy would enable us to link our immediate action and emergency responses with long-term objectives for a transformed society. Campaigning helps prolong daily action and mobilisations, and it targets all the powers – political, economic, ideological, cultural. Emmaus can develop its campaigning based on its strategy and objectives. We must understand the contradictions of the situation and look for alliances based on our strategy and objectives. Campaigning is built up with mobilisations, based on fights and resistance, whilst never forgetting that “resisting is building”. Campaigning is built on egalitarian public policies, alternative practices and cultural fights.

7. The objective is to eradicate poverty for societies free from exclusion. The scope is key here – the objective is not just to help a few poor people to have a few less poor, a few less excluded. The belief that we will put an end to poverty little by little is a pipe dream, this gradual progression is not a solution. The danger is that the rich join up with the middle classes and those who have been lifted out of poverty against the poorest. The objective is to think up a new society free from poverty and exclusion.

8. Poverty and inequality are inherently linked to the structure of global society. Poverty is not just an issue for one given society and, in addition, it is difficult to apply economic policies on a country by country basis. A link between the global, the national and the local should be included in each and every policy. The limits of our ecosystems restricts the growth model based on constantly increasing production - the response of the dominants to this issue is to limit the consumption of the poorest, thus reinforcing poverty and inequality.

9. The ideology of security mainly threatens the poor and the excluded. Insecurity is becoming worse in countries all across the world. This feeling of insecurity is based on real risks: social insecurity and the fear of being unemployed, homelessness, ecological insecurity and other forms of insecurity. The response of the ideology of security to these dangers is that they must be fought by repressing freedoms. In the current security tendency we can see a resurgence of the 19th century belief that “the working class is dangerous”. The fight against poverty also means fighting against the criminalisation of poverty and fighting against the penalties inflicted on the entire social movement.

10. The fight against poverty is part of the fight for access to rights for all and the struggle for equal rights. We must be capable of imagining this fight on a global level – it involves redistribution, national and global taxation and global forms of redistribution.
The fight against poverty is waged via political battles and ideological battles. Political corruption is like a rot on our societies. Such corruption is the result of the fusion of the political and financial classes, with the resultant absence of autonomy in our politicians and increasing defiance against politics. If democracy accepts poverty and exclusion then democracy cannot be strengthened, it cannot even exist. The first task in the fight against poverty is the empowerment of the poor, this would also allow for the recognition of the most basic right: the right to individual and collective dignity.

4 April 2016