The Working Structure and Culture of ATTAC France
By: Jessie Lin
I had a lot of expectations for my experience at ATTAC once I knew I was coming. After all, they are one of the leading alter-globalist organizations in the world as well as the ones that proposed the implementation of the Tobin Tax. We often imagine how an organization functions before being involved with it, whether it’s volunteer work or a job position. I had done some research on ATTAC before coming here. However, not surprisingly, there is always a disparity with reality (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.) Since my arrival until now, I realized that there is much to learn about this grandiose association and its internal structure.
The structure of ATTAC is a bit difficult to comprehend at first. The association has bases in more than 50 countries around the world. There is also an alliance of ATTAC Europe. To my surprise though, there is not a lot of cooperation among the different European ATTAC associations. With current problems and ongoing debates on public debt and austerity measures throughout Europe, there hasn’t been any type of collaboration across country borders. ATTAC has a strong base in Germany and Spain, if a coalition is formed together with ATTAC France they could have a strong voice to be heard in Brussels.
The ATTAC headquarters in France is based in Paris, however, there are 170 local committees throughout France with more than 10,000 members, each with its own agenda and events. The members and committees are directed by a Council of Administration (CA), which comprises of 35 members. The CA and the local committees meet and discuss three times a year in what they call the “La Conférence nationale des Comités locaux (CNCL).” Currently there are two co-presidents, who were voted in by the members at the annual General Assembly. The current team here at the main office consists of six people, of which three are part-time. None of the members of the CA actually work here at ATTAC. This becomes a problem sometimes, especially since much of our internal affairs are overseen and decided by one of the head of the CA.
ATTAC has many campaigns in progress; however, it recently has been dominated by issues surrounding disarming the financial market and the public debt. With the many international forums and conferences coming this year, including the Water Forum in Marseilles, and the Rio + 20 in Brazil, environmental issues are also at the top of the agenda, which are mostly what I will be working on.
Most of the campaigns are headed by ATTAC’s members and activists, who we call “militants.” None of the office staff, other than me, assist on these projects. Like the members of CA, the ATTAC militants don’t work for ATTAC; rather they occupy themselves with the campaigns and issues outside of their full time job. This is the reason why I still see people coming in and out of the office late into the night. Poor communication and coordination can become a problem between people at the office and the militants, especially when the militants don’t live in Paris. There is often a lack of mutual understanding. Since the militants don’t understand what happens at our office on a day to day basis, sometimes they make demands that are out of our control.
I arrived at ATTAC during a time of a chaotic internal shuffling. The long-time director, along with another employee was quitting in a month, and there were a lot of questions up in the air. I felt lost in the midst of uncertainty especially when nobody had forewarned me the boss was leaving. The projects that we had discussed during our interviewed seemed lost. The interim director didn’t seem to know why I was here and the team in our office didn’t know what to do with me. At the beginning, it was difficult for me to find my role and place here at the home office.
But after some discussions with some members of the CA and getting to know a few internal ATTAC contacts at meetings and our annual General Assembly, I was able to communicate directly with the militants involved in the ongoing projects and campaigns. However, trying to organize and coordinate a meeting is a challenge in itself. For example, in the beginning of December I contacted our co-President in regards to an issue that really interests me. She and I were finally able to meet and discuss at the end of the month. After contacting other members in the ATTAC network who are interested, the group meeting was finally planned for the end of January.
As I’ve found out, many things take initiation and action. Many of our members and militants are busy, so it requires a lot of pushing and reminders for them to listen to you or even just to know who you are. I have since started sending emails to people presenting myself and why I am here at ATTAC. This is one of the many cultural differences that I’ve noticed. It is ok to be direct; it’s acceptable to make demands or ask for help; and it’s ok to be rejected.
I have also started to participate in many meetings to be familiarized with the militants and to know what is currently being discussed. Opportunities are not handed to you; you have to seek for it. And with many upcoming international conferences coming up this year such as the Water Forum in Marseilles, and the Rio + 20 in Brazil, I cannot wait to explore the many options of participation. Even though things started slowly for me, it is finally time for the ball to start rolling!
Welcome to ATTAC Headquarters!