History and context
ILRIG was founded in 1983 as a labour service organisation dedicated to research, education, training, and production of popular materials in the interests of then advancing unions and workers power.
ILRIG has generally focused on international labour, economic and political issues in the context of contributing to solidarity amongst workers across the globe. In its early years ILRIG became known for the publication of popular worker history materials, particularly booklet histories of workers in Botswana, Brazil, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, and Bolivia.
In more recent years ILRIG’s overall focus has shifted to the process of globalisation, with a number of projects linked to contributing to a working class critique of the free market and the exploration of alternatives to TNC dominance. ILRIG’s constituency has also changed in recent years with its orientation now jointly towards the emerging social movements and the trade unions, with a view to facilitating greater unity between these two initiatives within the working class.
The Context of ILRIG’s Work
The 21st century world economy has a number of characteristics which have impacted on developments in South Africa and the greater African region:
– The global spread of neo-liberal economics, characterised by deregulation, privatisation, industrial restructuring and cuts in social spending;
– The growth and increased mobility of global corporate power, including South African transnational corporations, with about forty percent of all world trade taking place within individual transnational corporations;
– The liberalisation of international investment and trade relations, engineered through the World Trade Organisation and the domination of finance markets and speculation over production.
– The reorganisation and flexibilisation of production and work, resulting in a small layer of permanently employed workers in contrast to a majority of unskilled and casualised or informalised workers.
– The generally negative impact of these developments on women in particular, and the increased incorporation of women into waged work, but in informalised, poorly paid and vulnerable working conditions.
South Africa has radically opened its economy to and championed the cause of its own transitional companies and for TNCs internationally. These neo-liberal economic policies have impacted on the lives of millions of ordinary South Africans leaving them poorer and less serviced while the wealth gap increases. This has had serious implications for working people and the poor in South Africa, and for women in particular. And as South African companies become dominant investors in Africa the neo-liberal policies of privatisation and cost recovery have been exported. Social movements, trade unions, women’s organisations and other community-based organisations in South and Southern Africa are therefore faced with important challenges. There is a critical need for capacity building in order to challenge the current neo-liberal policies and to seek alternatives which place people’s needs before profits.
Since South Africa’s reinsertion into the world economy there is a growing need for organisations to understand their experiences in a global context, to draw from the experiences of organisations world-wide in the development of strategies, and to build international worker solidarity.