The International Labour Research and Information Group (ILRIG) is an NGO dedicated to research, education, training and the production of popular materials for the labour and community movements in South and Southern Africa. The main focus of our work is to assist movements find new and different ways of organising based on a radical democracy, feminism and egalitarianism that can become a counter-power to capitalism, class rule, nation states, populism, authoritarianism, patriarchy and racism. There is an alternative!
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 the early 2000s, ILRIG’s overall focus 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 also changed with an orientation jointly towards community movements and worker formations, with a view to facilitating greater unity between these two initiatives within the working class.
Within the last few years, globalisation has begun breaking down as an ideology. It is being replaced by an openly authoritarian form of neoliberalism based at the nation state level. This has been accompanied by the rise in popularity in regressive politics including xenophobia, ultra-nationalism and in some places even fascism. Indeed, populism of different sorts, which only offers false hope to the working class, has also arisen.
In this context, the need to build mass movements based on progressive politics, principles, values and ethics that can be a counter-power to capitalism, populism, authoritarianism, class rule, racism, sexism and the nation state is more important than ever. Through its research, popular education, School and Provincial Platforms ILRIG’s energy is focused on assisting to build such a movement.
THE CONTEXT OF ILRIG’S WORK
The context globally and in South Africa has radically changed over the last few years. The system of globalisation has been in decline and a form of neoliberal authoritarianism at a national level has begun to emerge in many countries in the world.
The capitalist crisis has also deepened and the ruling classes and states worldwide have increasingly attacked the working class. Inequality between classes as a result is at an unprecedented level historically. While this has seen some rise in progressive struggles, it has not been uniformly so. Indeed, a fragmented working class now exists due to neoliberalism. Politics based on identity have often taken the place of class struggle and any unified progressive project is hard to maintain. Neoliberalism has also attempted to create individualised workers and consumers and a section of the population that is unemployed, which has made it difficult to undertake collective organising as differences are emphasised as opposed to commonalities.
In this fragmented and crisis ridden context, regressive politics that have tapped into anger and fear have also arisen. As part of this, demagogic politicians and parties have provided a false sense of belonging to sector of the population based on the most regressive ideas of ultra-nationalism, racism, sexism, authoritarianism, bigotry and even fascism. This has included politicians in Brazil, Philippines, and the United States of America.
Humanity and our fellow beings also face an existential crisis in the form of climate change and the mass extinction of species brought about by centuries long class rule, states and capitalism. In terms of the ecology, we are at a cross-roads and if we go down the road of continued capitalism the results will likely be catastrophic.
In South Africa the working class, and black working class in particular, faces continued racial oppression and exploitation as a class. In recent years this has had major implications:
- Unemployment has reached record levels in 2020, especially as COVID 19 has exacerbated the capitalist crisis
- Informal settlements and poor housing conditions are rife
- The reorganisation and flexibilisation of production and work, resulting in a small layer of permanently employed workers in contrast to a majority of unskilled, casualised, informalised or unemployed 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
- Communities that are fragmenting under the pressure caused by neoliberal capitalism and its ideology of individualism
- The rise of xenophobia under conditions of poverty and increased competition caused by neoliberalism
- The rise of an authoritarian populism that is specific to South Africa and that will potentially lead the working class down a dead end road.
There is, however, also hope. Resistance still continues in South Africa. This, however, needs to galvanise into a mass movement that can offer the working class a home based on progressive ethics, values, practices and principles in which feminism is central and the humanity of all is recognised and cherished. This is vital: if such as home cannot be built regressive politics will thrive.
Hope also exists in experiments internationally, such as the Rojava Revolution, that are based on egalitarianism, women’s liberation, the ecology and a caring society. Seeds in fact exist everywhere which could flourish into new movements that could not only save the world, but change the world for the better.
Through its work, ILRIG provides tools of analysis for activists to deepen their understanding of the above context, chart a way forward for self-organising based on progressive principles, values and ethics and to share information and insight into radically democratic working class mass movements internationally and a revolution in the case of Rojava to also inspire. It is this that shapes the current areas of work of ILRIG.
AREAS OF WORK
Our work is focused around supporting the self-organisation of four main groups (these are not mutually exclusive): communities, workers, women and youth.
Through ILRIG’s education programmes and research we aim to bring the experiences of working and poor people in other countries to Southern African organisations, and to draw on this information to inform the search for alternative policies. ILRIG’s objective is also to assist in the development of strong bonds of international solidarity between social movements and trade unions. ILRIG conducts its research in collaboration with organisations and networks internationally. We take this information to organisations by running education courses and training programmes, and producing popular publications.
Since 2002 ILRIG has convened an annual Political School – a week-long event which draws activists from all over Africa and elsewhere to an occasion combining debate and learning and cultural events. In addition to publishing popular booklets on international issues, ILRIG also produces a quarterly newsletter called Workers World News.