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Direct action is a method and a theory of stopping socially objectionable practices using immediately available means, such as strikes, boycotts, sit-ins[?], sabotage, terrorism, etc. Those employing direct action aim to either
  • obstruct practices they consider wrong with the aim of bringing economic, political, or social pressure on the offending government or business. Here the goal is to apply enough pressure to compel the target to negotiate or to simply stop or change the objectionable practice; or
  • act with whatever resources and methods are within their power, either on their own or as part of a group, in order to solve problems, rather than, for example, electing representatives to solve those problems.

History The theory of direct action developed primarily in the context of labor struggles. In his 1920 book, Direct Action[?], William Mellor[?] placed direct action firmly in the struggle between worker and employer for control "over the economic life of society." Mellor defined direct action "as the use of some form of economic power for securing of ends desired by those who possess that power." Mellor considered direct action a tool of both owners and workers. For this reason he included within his definition lock-outs[?] and cartels, as well as strikes and sabotage.

By the middle of the 20th century, the sphere of direct action had undoubtedly expanded, though the meaning of the term had perhaps contracted. Most campaigns for social change -- notable those seeking suffrage, improved working conditions, civil rights, an end to abortion, and environmental protection -- employ at least some types of violent or non-violent direct action.

Non-violent direct action[?]

For many, non-violent direct action (NVDA) is inspired by Ghandi's teachings of Satyagraha (or truth force), and is often viewed as a tool that the less powerful use against those with more power. In 1963, civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr. described the goal of NVDA in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail: "Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored."

NVDA has also been employed by the anti-nuclear movement, for instance, during the 1980s many groups that were opposed to the introduction of Cruise missiles into the UK employed tactics such as breaking into and occupying US air bases, blocking roads in order to prevent the movement of military convoys, disruption of building works related to military projects and so forth. Many groups also set up semi-permanent 'peace camps[?]' outside air bases such as Molesworth[?] and Greenham Common[?].

Animal rights groups such as the Animal Liberation Front[?] have also used the tactics of NVDA, such as breaking into laboratories where animal experiments are carried out and physically removing ('liberating') the animals from the premises. However it is argued that the ALF have largely abandoned their commitment to non-violence in more recent years.

Direct action and anarchism

As a principle, direct action is central to many strands of anarchist theory, especially anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-pacifism.

"Direct Action" has also been the moniker of at least two "Urban Guerilla" groups, the French Action Directe[?] and the Canadian group more popularly known as the Squamish Five.

See also: general strike, Civil disobedience



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