International Labour Research and Information Group (ILRIG)
ILRIG was founded in 1983 as a labour service organisation. For many years it was linked to the Sociology Department of the University of Cape Town. In 2003 ILRIG became an independent NGO providing education, publications and research for the labour and social movements in South and Southern Africa.
The main focus of ILRIG’s work is globalization and its attempt to restructure class relations so as to restore capitalist profitability through mechanisms such as deregulation, privatization, cuts in social spending and the mobility of transnational corporations. The reorganization and flexibilisation of work has resulted in a shrinking layer of permanently employed workers with benefits and an increase in casual, insecure, informal work. The harmful impact of this on the working class, and often women in particular, has been felt internationally, including in South Africa – especially since the opening up of its economy and its implementation neo-liberal economic policies.
ILRIG sees itself as part of the forces trying to build an alternative to the neo-liberal agenda by building the capacities, understandings, analyses and organizational power of social movements, trade unions and community-based organizations in Southern Africa and by building worker solidarity internationally.
ILRIG sees its purpose as building the capacities of trade unions, community organisations and social movements to respond to the challenges of neo-liberal globalization as well as to build democratic and participatory alternatives.
ILRIG's education work aims to bring the experiences and lessons of working class struggles in other countries to Southern African organizations to draw on. Through its education work, ILRIG aims to draw on and deepen participants’ understandings of the causes of the problems they face as workers and activists. Along with this, the aim is to contribute towards working class self-organisation and collective action to change society. In this way, popular education work should also be an organizing tool.
Originally ILRIG mostly worked with trade union members. In recent years, this shifted to working with new social movements, community groups and trade unions – often trying to build greater unity between workplace and community struggles. All of the organizations and activists that ILRIG works with are in struggle against neo-liberal capitalism and other forms of oppression.
The focus of ILRIG’s education work is international socio-economic issues and politics, concentrating on globalisation and its impact on the working class in South and Southern Africa
Some of the topics explored, include:
- How capitalism works
- Understanding the current capitalist crisis
- The role of the state and its impact on the working class
- State policies and the struggles over basic services
- Neo-liberalism and the restructuring of the working class
- Neo-liberalism and its impact on working class communities
- New forms of organising in the workplace place
- Gender and capitalism
- Movement building in the neoliberal era
- Alternatives to neo-liberal capitalism
ILRIG also receives requests for workshops on particular topics from organizations.
ILRIG’s approach stresses democratic participation and interaction and is geared towards building strong, active formations of the working class able to self-organise, take action and develop alternatives to the neo-liberal agenda. ILRIG’s approach recognizes that the working class learn in struggle and come to more formalized learning spaces with a wealth of knowledge and experiences that needs to be tapped into and drawn on as the starting point.
TOOLS AND PROCESSES
ILRIG facilitates education workshops. In the workshops, tools such as the following are drawn on:
- question posing
- buzz groups
- role play
- educational games
- social mapping
- group discussions
ILRIG runs monthly public forums on topical working class issues such as the current crisis in COSATU. These forums have a more ‘traditional’ format with a panel followed by questions and comments from the floor.
Since 2002 ILRIG has convened an annual Globalisation School - a week long event which draws activists from all over Africa and elsewhere to a school combining debate, learning and cultural activities. The ILRIG schools are characterized by heated debates, impassioned dialogue, sharing of experiences of struggle, contestation of political programmes – a combination of emotion and intellect drawn on in dialogue. Rooms are often filled with timelines of struggle, timelines of capitalist development and images and symbols of struggle. Facilitators play the role of posing questions, summarizing discussion and guiding discussion forward, commenting on the process e.g. if there is a lack of women’s participation in discussion. It is a space for organizations and activists in struggle to come together, learn from each other, debate with each other and build greater bonds of solidarity.
ILRIG also produces publications as a popular education tool. There are a series of popular booklets designed to be easy for activists to learn from and use as a tool in running their own workshops. ILRIG also produces a monthly Workers World News, which is distributed to organizations across South Africa.
Understanding of popular education
ILRIG understands popular education as a process of drawing on ordinary people’s own experiences and knowledge in order for them to reflect upon and deepen their understandings. New knowledge is added where necessary in order to assist with deepening critical analysis. The process is aimed at developing self-organisation and action amongst popular organizations. In this way, popular education is understood as a deeply political process, which strengthens the capacity of popular organizations to challenge and restructure oppressive and exploitative power relations in society and develop alternatives. The philosophy of Paulo Freire is drawn upon, the history of workers education in South Africa as well as learning from comrades along the way.