Based in London, War On Want (WOW) is dedicated to “fighting for a world without poverty” and ridding the earth of military conflict. “The only war worth fighting is the war on poverty,” says the organization’s motto.
WOW’s roots can be traced back to February 1951, when the British publisher and socialist Victor Gollancz published a letter in The Guardian asking people to join an international struggle against poverty, calling for a negotiated settlement to the Korean War, and advocating the creation of an international fund “to turn swords into ploughshares.” Gollancz asked all those who supported his vision to send him a postcard with the simple word “yes” printed on it; he received some 5,000 replies. One of the respondents was future Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who coined the name “War On Want” for the fledgling movement.
In the early 1960s, WOW’s attention was focused on its campaign for the forgiveness of Third World debt.
In the 1970s the organization campaigned for workers’ rights on tea plantations and for the end of South African apartheid. It also “helped to expose the scandal of baby foods companies marketing powdered milk as a healthier option than breast milk to mothers in the developing world.” According to WOW, such milk substitutes were “a more dangerous and expensive option for these mothers who had no access to safe drinking water and sterilization facilities.”
In the 1980s WOW focused on the role of women in the developing world and supported “the liberation movements in Eritrea, South Africa and Western Sahara.”
In the 1990s War On Want’s major concern was “the need to respond to issues raised by globalization.” Favoring a socialist economic model, WOW “worked in partnership with progressive governments and organizations to … deliver a more equal distribution of wealth.” In 1999 War on Want representatives marched at the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle, demanding “fair access for goods from developing countries to the [W]est.”
War On Want’s current programs include the following:
Trade Justice: “[T]he rules of the global economy have been set up to serve the interests of big business, not people’s needs. … We need a rules-based system for world trade, but it must serve the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable, not lead to their increased marginalization as the WTO negotiations are now doing.”
Corporate Accountability: “The globalization of the world’s economy means corporations have gained more and more power. Too often, multinational companies harm local communities, damage the environment and violate workers’ rights … Business is ethically unequipped to deliver for people and the environment.” WOW singles out for reprobation three companies in particular: (a) Caterpillar, which sells bulldozers to the Israeli army, which in turn “uses them in the illegally occupied territories … ‘to destroy [Palestinian] agricultural farms … as well as numerous homes and sometimes human lives’”; (b) Wal-Mart, which “[bases its] business strategy … on low prices, but it achieves these low prices by forcing down working conditions for its employees, adopting anti-union policies and squeezing suppliers in developing countries”; and (c) Coca-Cola, which “has built a global empire … [but] has been accused of dehydrating local communities in its pursuit of water resources to feed its own plants, drying up farmers’ wells and destroying local agriculture.”
Corporations and Conflict: “Multinational corporations are complicit in wars throughout the world, putting profit before people and often legitimizing and fueling the conflict … whether through supplying military hardware to armed forces or running mercenary armies on behalf of combatant states.”
Palestine: “Palestine is in the grip of a humanitarian catastrophe. … This crisis is a direct result of Israel’s military occupation of Palestine and its recent intensification of action against the Palestinian people. Israel is tightening its noose around Palestinians living in the West Bank through the continued expansion of settlements and the construction of the Separation Wall on occupied Palestinian land.”
Western Sahara: “On 31 October 1975, Morocco and Mauritania invaded Western Sahara as Spain (the former colonial power) looked on. The Saharawi people were expelled from their homes by force, including the use of napalm. Most fled to the Algerian desert. Mauritania withdrew its claim to Western Sahara in 1979 and left. But Morocco stayed. The Saharawi people declared their own Republic in exile, which is now recognized by 60 other states. Yet the world still refuses to uphold international law and bring the Occupation to an end.”
Privatization: “The privatization of public services in developing countries is hampering the global fight against poverty. The evidence shows that the poor are denied access to essential services when multinationals take over. Private companies have failed to extend services to ensure that the poorest people can access them … Governments are best placed to provide public services on the scale needed to tackle poverty and ensure access and affordability for all.”
War On Want’s Chairwoman is Pat Ingram, formerly a member of the National Executive Committee and the International Committee of UNISON (Britain’s largest trade union). WOW’s Chief Executive is Louise Richards, who said in November 2005: “People have increasingly come to realize the Iraq war was about oil, profits and plunder. … [O]ur report gives detailed evidence to show Iraq’s oil profits are well within the sights of the oil multinationals.”
WOW’s most notable former official is British Member of Parliament George Galloway, who served as the organization’s General Secretary from 1983 to 1987.
War On Want considers the Union of Palestine Medical Relief Committees to be one of its partner organizations.