posted by: McLibel Support Campaign/ London Greenpeace
post: 5 Caledonian Rd, London N1 9DX, UK
tel/fax: +44 (0) 171 713 1269
WHAT CAN BE LEARNED FROM McLIBEL ?
Around the world there is a war being waged on society by a powerful
minority who seek to control and use other people, animals and the planet in
order to make profits for themselves. But many around the world are
fighting back, for ecological sustainability and for freedom for all people
and animals. Increasingly companies are turning to the courts to suppress
this dissent and opposition. But the thousands of people around the world
who participated in the McLibel battle have demonstrated that when people
are organised and defiant these corporations do not succeed in getting
everything their own way, and that court cases can instead be used as an
opportunity to draw the issues to the attention of many more people.
In September 1990 McDonald's issued libel writs in order to suppress the
distribution (at that time in the thousands) of London Greenpeace
anti-McDonald's leaflets, and with the wider aim of frightening off and
silencing all other critics of the company. Instead the leafletting has
mushroomed since the writs were served and there is a much greater public
awareness of what McDonald's really represents - for us it is a symbol of a
whole system geared to ruthless exploitation and profit. The 'McSpotlight'
Internet site, with over 75 million 'hits' in its first 3 1/2 years, has
enabled campaigners, researchers, journalists and interested people
world-wide to have immediate access to a huge range of anti-McDonald's
material and news.
This victory in defiance of McDonalds' threats demonstrates the power that
ordinary people have when they believe in themselves and decide to fight
back against the powerful institutions who currently control our lives and
The company had predicted that the case would last '3-4 weeks', but instead
it was turned into an extensive public tribunal in which corporate 'McWorld'
was put on trial. McDonald's spent an estimated £10 million as against a
defence total of £35,000 raised from public donations. Despite all the cards
being stacked against them, and the vast amount of work involved, it was an
amazing and empowering experience for the defendants (and for others too).
People rallied round to help out in all kinds of practical ways: as
witnesses; helping with admin; giving legal advice; sending copies of press
cuttings & company documents, money and even just messages of support. The
defendants were determined to be seen as fighters rather than passive
'victims'. Representing themselves in such a huge trial was exhausting but
was also the most rewarding aspect of the trial, giving them the opportunity
to challenge corporate propaganda head on, bring out previously secret
information about the company and put forward an alternative world view.
Critics of McDonald's and of the food industry in general were completely
vindicated by the evidence, the judge making some damning major findings
against the company's core business practices. Following this McDonald's
capitulated by abandoning all efforts to get costs, damages or an injunction
to stop the leafleting (which had been their primary aim).
But none of this would have been effective without the actions of thousands
of ordinary people continuing to distribute leaflets, ensuring that the
public heard the other side of the story to that spun by McDonald's. The
McLibel Support Campaign was set up by volunteers to galvanise public
interest and support, to help with legal finances and practical tasks, but
amazingly for most of the time it was run from an office in someone's
bedroom. Despite this it succeeded in ensuring that the private and often
seemingly obscure legal battle in the courtroom became a public issue
fought and won in the court of public opinion and on the street.
Regular supporters' mailouts, hundreds of e-mailings and numerous
international 'Days of Action' were organised to ensure the public got to
hear about the issues. Although the media (establishment and alternative)
were consistently contacted and given reports of what was going on, the
capitalist media largely trivialised or ignored the case, focussing on the
personal side rather than the real issues. The campaign, with varying
success, also made links with residents' associations opposing plans for new
McDonald's stores, gave encouragement to kids wanting to circulate
anti-Ronald leaflets, and made contacts with disgruntled employees.
So, despite being up against one of the most successful propaganda
organisations in the world, campaigners were able to throw the company so
much on the defensive that after the trial their usual sophisticated PR was
reduced to an embarrassed silence on the subject. The courts were also shown
to be powerless in the face of mass defiance.
DIY VICTORY: This was a real DIY victory, echoing other recent movements
defying legal suppression - e.g. over issues of free speech, rights to
organise and demonstrate, and to party, Poll Tax, environmental and animal
actions, occupations of empty homes and buildings, and workers' struggles.
We can all benefit from those movements which have gone before, giving us
the perspective and strength to be able to fight and win current battles and
ultimately, the long war for a better world. Social inequalities and
controls, and conflict and environmental destruction are serious and growing
problems, so public discontent and opposition is bound to increase - as will
our contact with the courts. Rather than be intimidated by repression, we
should see it as a sign of our success and be even more determined to fight
We need to create a new society by taking direct control of our lives,
workplaces, streets, neighbourhoods and land. Together ordinary people can
reclaim our world, currently based on the greed and power of a minority, and
create an anarchist society based on strong and free communities, the
sharing of precious resources and respect for all life.
Further details of the case and the campaign, or about London Greenpeace,
from 'McSpotlight' - available on CD-Rom. Also available: 'McLibel: Burger
Culture On Trial' (Pan Books, Macmillian press, £5.99) and the superb
documentary 'McLibel: Two Worlds Collide' (53 mins - from One Off
Productions, 0171 692 4997)
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