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  • Writer's pictureIWW Ireland

Fáilte go hÉirinn Zapatistas: IWW engagement with Zapatistas

During the Zapatista delegation’s tour of Ireland, IWW representatives attended a workshop on “Labour struggles in and beyond capitalism”. The Zapatistas are a libertarian indigenous people group from Chiapas in Mexico. Since their 1994 revolution, they have maintained an anti-capitalist rural society. Whilst their struggle is not fully recognised by the Mexican government (whom the Zapatistas refer to as ‘the bad government’), international solidarity from comrades has encouraged them in their cause.

On their tour of Ireland, the Zapatistas spent time in the south, before dividing into two groups; one heading to the north of Ireland and Scotland, and the other heading to Wales and England. On their last day in Dublin, they hosted two speaking and listening sessions with a translator.

The majority of the time in the labour discussion groups was spent listening to Zapitasta testimonies. After each of the comrades were introduced, they took turns explaining their history and governmental structure. Talking through the slavery their great-great-great grandparents endured following the colonisation of their land right up to the present day.

When the Zapatistas began organising underground in the early 1980s, those involved were all men. This early, group was small and their method was admittedly unsustainable. When the men would come home from training, the women in their villages would ask why they were covered in mud and bruises. The inclusion of women in combat training was a turning point for the Zapatistas. It spread their cause and ensured that their ideology was inclusive to all aspects of life (from work to home to art and culture) and all genders.

Until 1994, the Zapatistas remained clandestine. On 1st January 1994, they went public, releasing their First Declaration and Revolutionary Laws from the Lacandon Jungle. The Zapatistas sought to draw attention to the damaging impact of neoliberalism to both the people and the land. Of the few official laws they have today, they focus on the protection of indigenous people, ending landholding, protection of natural resources, equality of the genders, and banning use of drugs and alcohol which they deem damaging to their community.

In the aftermath of the 1994 revolution, military troops drove the Zapatista people to the nearby mountains where they were forced to live for many months. Following an election in 2001, attempted negotiations with the bad government lead to a withdrawal of the Mexican army. Rejecting the compromises required by the bad government, the Zapatistas were able to create their 32 new autonomous municipalities in Chiapas. Today these municipalities remain where they ask nothing of and receive nothing from the bad government.

Having acted out what so much of the organising across the world aspires towards, the Zapatistas are a constant source of inspiration to all those seeking a better world within the old. In explaining their structures and elections which seek to represent peoples and not replace, the Zapatistas reject the neoliberal lifestyle that is the norm in the western world. There is no 9-5 workweek, only work that needs doing. Art is part of life and must be sans nepotism. As an agrarian people, they fear for our natural world and see threat to it as a reason to seek out international community.

The Zapatista’s “Declaration for Life” booklet, which is being distributed by Active Distribution and available at your friendly neighbourhood radical bookshop, News From Nowhere. All proceeds will support the Zapatista tour. Credit: Scotland Zapatista (

Sitting with them in Dublin, they ask simple questions which require lots of thought; “how do you organise across your cities?”, “how can you work together within your different organisations?”, “how do you show each other solidarity?”.

Each representative has different answers. As a global solidarity union, IWW members can relate to the need for supporting the international community. We share experiences from the recent Blood Money campaign and how incarcerated workers in the north of Ireland issued a solidarity statement with the garment workers in Myanmar. Another comrade contextualises how solidarity practice can only work when the connections between struggles are made explicit. “We live in a world like the one of your ‘bad government’. There are many people who see the problems. There are few who see how all the problems are connected,” they say.

In telling their stories to a room full of comrades, they act as role models and challengers to how we organise in and across Ireland. There is so much work to be done, so much solidarity to show. There is a housing crisis. There is so much wage theft. There are so many people in precarious work. The poisoning of the rivers and seas is deadly. Yet, here is an example of a world built within ours that is striving forwards. Someone calls the Zapatistas a light, but they rebut that their light is our light. That is the whole point, they say, “organise, together”.

For updates on Ireland leg of the European Tour click here

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