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Nestle’s Theft of Water: When Boycotts are Not Enough Part II

April 11, 2018

On Monday, we posted an article discussing why boycotting Nestle, in light of their most recent theft of Michigan’s water, would not be enough if we really want to stop what the corporation is doing. 

The responses I received from that post were rather instructive and worth discussing here in Part II on the matter of Nestle’s theft of water in Michigan.

One response stated:

I’m not sure what the point is in boycotting Nestle? It’s up to us, the voters, to get rid of lawmakers who made it possible for this to happen. Let’s work to turn Michigan blue again!

In fact, there were several calls to get Governor Synder out and to vote for Democrats. First, Snyder will be out at the end of the year because of term limits. Second, people to seem to have a short memory when it comes to partisan politics, since the Granholm administration also granted massive water extraction rights to the Nestle Corporation’s Ice Mountain bottling plant.

Third, just voting for Democrats does not guarantee that such blatant forms of corporate theft will end. I am not aware of any Democrat running for state office who is taking a strong anti-corporate position. What I have been seeing is that even “progressive” Democrats are talking about business responsibility and businesses being sustainable. There is no sustainable approach to the theft of water by the likes of Nestle. We need to stop them from extracting any more water and making money off of something that should never be a commodity.

In the article posted on Monday, we discussed the importance of using and developing tactics and strategies. Another person suggested that I contact environmental groups and get them on board with using direct action to actually stop Nestle from extracting one more drop of water from Michigan.

On the surface this may sound like a logical thing to do, but there are few environmental groups that have actually come out against Nestle’s extraction of water from Michigan. For example, the largest environmental group in the state, the Michigan Environmental Council, recently said, “Industries that profit from their use of Michigan’s waters should not be the ones to decide whether the amount they use is appropriate.” This is not a definite commitment to opposing corporations like Nestle from extracting water. In the statement they released, they seemed to be more concerned about ending public input. While the public should have a say in this matter, it didn’t seem to make a difference considering that the DEQ received comments from 81,020 people and only 75 supported Nestle’s plan of extraction.

Secondly, most environmental organizations, especially those that are non-profits do not endorse using direct action as a tactic to stop environmental destruction. To advocate for direct action, these environmental groups would probably not be able to apply for grants from foundations and they would likely lose membership of a disproportionately white, economically privileged group of supporters.

A third major theme from those who responded to the article was the complete lack of understanding of how effective social movement have been in US history. Several responders still wanted to push for voting as the means to create change. One of the main points from Howard Zinn’s, A People’s History of the United States, is that whenever there has been any substantial change in the US, it has come about because of social movements using direct action.

  • The Abolitionist Movement used direct action – slave revolts, the Underground Railroad and work stoppages as mechanism to directly impact the profit making imperative of plantations. Armed uprising was also a tactic, which was then used on a large scale by the North, called the Civil War.
  • The Labor Movement used direct action – marches, wildcat strikes, work stoppages and industrial sabotage to win better wages, the 8 hour work day, worker safety protections, benefits and pensions. Any labor laws that were passes were the result of the labor movement threatening a massive shut down of capitalism, especially during the administration of FDR. There were literally thousands of strikes happening in the early 1930s.(See Jeremy Brecher’s book, Strike)
  • The Civil Rights Movement used direct action – to desegregate the buses, lunch counters, education, ect. with marches, civil disobedience, sit ins, boycotts, and strikes. Whatever civil rights legislation that was passed, was only passed because the Johnson administration was forced to pass those laws by the movement for black freedom.
  • The farmworkers movement then and now was not sending their time getting politicians elected, they were using direct action – marches, boycotts, strikes, sit ins, etc – to get better wages and better working conditions. They weren’t appealing to politicians, they were confronting agribusiness.

It has been said by many that electoral politics is the graveyard of social movements. We tend to agree. Let’s be about the business of movement building, not wasting our time and money to get people elected.

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