IFWEA 23RD GENERAL CONFERENCE 2019: DAY TWO, 3 December 2019, Cape Town

IFWEA 23RD GENERAL CONFERENCE 2019: DAY TWO, 3 December 2019, Cape Town

Morning Address

After GS Sahra Ryklief started off with the morning with a rousing version of the South African struggle anthem Malibongwe igama lamaKhosikazi, the morning opening address was presented by Mavis Koogotsitse, Executive Secretary, SATUC, on Countering xenophobic attacks in South Africa: A Southern African approach.

She started off by explaining how she became involved in the trade union movement. “I had just finished university, and moved to a new job in a town in Botswana with my small daughter Donatella. We lived in company housing. I had a Zimbabwean neighbour, and our kids went to school together. One day our neighbour, who was a teacher came to visit, and she started crying. Something had happened, she had spanked a child. She was Zimbabwean, and had no protection in this situation.”

“The dynamics of situation were complicated. The teacher was dismissed. We put up an appeal. Eventually the teacher was reinstated, but the school did not want to work with her so she took a package. The whole situation sparked my interest in how, as a society, we can look after each other.”

Mavis said: “We don’t only protect a certain type of worker, we protect all workers.”

She went to say: “In South Africa, you have strong big unions, and also a lot of immigrants from Malawi, Zimbabwe, etc where there also strong unions. When there is conflict, it can get violent.

“Xenophobic incidents in SA started in 2008, and have been recurring. Then there are counter attacks in countries such as Nigeria, DRC and Zambia. This causes regional instability and threatens socio-economic integration.”

Mavis listed several reasons for the volatile situation, including irregular migration within the SADC region and the continent at large. The STATS SA 2016 Community Survey shows that Zimbabwe, Mocambique, Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland and Namibia were among the top 10 “sending countries”, followed by the DRC and India. Drivers of this migration include escalation of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

Common sectors of work include informal and rural sectors, agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining and domestic work; these categories of workers face various employment related risks.

Basically, migrants often take jobs that nobody else wants to do. And protection on paper does not equal protection in reality.

One solution, Mavis proposed, was to adapt domestic legislation and/or bilateral multilateral agreements to extend social protection.

How to get there? “Trade unions in SADC should take an active role condemning and curbing discrimination and violence,” said Mavis. She also proposed that migration needs to be top of SATUCC’s agenda; that there is a need to enhance unity and solidarity among all workers; and to campaign for and demand the ratification of SADC protocols on the facilitation of the movement of persons and on employment and labour.

“Where migrant populations exist we need to give them a voice so as to enhance their protection and reduce exploitation. We have set a target – to organise 20 000 workers a year,” said Mavis.

“It is important to strive for solidarity across borders,” she concluded.

Sahra Ryklief asked conference to rise to the challenge. “We all recognise that this is happening to migrant workers all over the world. Which brings us to a challenge – what can we do as educators, and what solidarity can we provide?”

The second Morning Session was moderated by Saliem Patel and covered the topic Revitalising Worker Education: Taking from the past, educating for the future.

First up, Kirsi Maki spoke on TSL – 100 years of workers’ education. She opened with a poem by Bertolt Brecht, In Praise of Learning, written nearly 100 years ago – and she introduced her colleagues from Finland. She explained what was happening in Finland a century ago – the country had been under Russian rule, so independence was very new when TSL was formed. There had been war, with left wing against right wing, and prison camps where hundreds were kept, and some killed. TSL felt – never again. The philosophy was pursued that workers have a right to study and be active citizens in this very new republic. “TSL advocated education for peace, solidarity and social change, and encouraged people to participate in and influence society,” said Kirsi. “From the very beginning, TSL has been part of the international labour and education movements.”

Her presentation included video footage showing the TSL 100 years celebrations, including a 600-people party in Helsinki with music and singing.

Next up, Sheri Davis from the Rutgers Center for Innovation in Worker Organisation spoke about the WILL (Women Innovating Labor Leadership) Empower programme.

“I came to East London, South Africa to work on a programme about gender based violence, which influenced my life choices,” Sheri said in opening, then explaining that WILL is jointly held by both Rutgers University and Georgetown University.

“In building up the WILL Empower programme, it was a case of knowing where we wanted to go. And we needed to start off with a good crew, which we built – our WILL Empower Advisory Council represents a diversity of voices,” she said.

Sheri asked three questions of delegates:

Do you think women have everything they need to be worker leaders?

Are the systems set up to support achieving women’s success as labour leaders?

Are we on track towards achieving gender parity in the labour leadership?

With the majority of conference delegates responding “no” to all three questions, she followed by explaining why the need for women’s leadership now, and why women of colour leadership matters.

She then broke down the four approaches that the WILL Empower programme uses:

  • Apprenticeships
  • Cohorts of Learning and Mentoring: Emerging leaders/Executive leadership
  • Innovation Fellowship(s)
  • Future of Labor Interactive Project (FLIP).

John Meinert of the ABF Norden then spoke on The Nordic Folk High School in Geneva. He explained about the school board, which creates the space for a unique network. The aim of the Geneva School is to give young trade unionists and activists more knowledge about the Nordic labour movement, the global labour movement, the ILO and the ILC, and how to get international tools and build networks. The school has four integrated parts, which were explained in some detail. The presentation included two videos showing what the school and facilities look like, and a comedy report on the school!

The session was closed by Wisborn Malaya of ZICEA, who spoke about his experience with Study Circles for Informal Traders.

ZICEA was formed in 2012, after ZCTU came and started to help organise informal workers in Zimbabwe.

Wisborn explained: “We ran a study circle programme in 2018 for 30 people, with the aim of educating informal workers to know and understand how they can fight and defend their rights; and to have informal workers share their lived realities in the world of work.”

Participants included women, youth, men and people with disabilities. The programme used a discuss-and-share participatory method. Areas covered included violence and harassment, the importance of study circles, informal economy organisation, the purpose of worker associations or trade unions, and constitutional rights in the country.

Outcomes of the study circle included informal workers becoming more aware of laws affecting them, and how to fight for their rights, as well as increased networking and solidarity.

Wisborn said that “practical examples of violence and harassment that we collected were used as evidence at the ILO Geneva 2019 conference to strengthen evidence for the need to include protection of women, youth and PWD in the informal economy from violence and harassment in the workplace”.

The final impact, he said, is that Convention 190 supplemented by Recommendation 205 was passed, recognising the protection of informal workers from violence and harassment in the world of work.

See IFWEA 23rd General Conference 2019 Gallery for pictures

Formal General Conference Proceedings Resume

Lunch Hour Displays of IFWEA Education Programme Work

During the IFWEA 23rd General Conference 2019 second day lunch hour, Saliem Patel and Renaldi Prinsloo of the IFWEA Education Programme, together with intern Milla Leppannen and ABF assistants Niklas Skeppar and Linnea Wennberg, plus Executive Committee member Juan Carlos Vargas, showcased aspects of the four key IFWEA programmes – The Foundations Skills for Social Change Programme, Youth Globalisation Awareness Programme (YGAP), Study Circles for Social Change and the Online Labour Academy (OLA).

See IFWEA 23rd General Conference 2019 Gallery for pictures

Workshop Three

Towards an IFWEA theory of change: Group learning as education for empowerment. Dr Maura Adshead and Dr Sarah Jay, University of Limerick.

The two presenters promised to “show the magic that happens when worker educators do their thing”.

What happens when learning happens in an innovative way? There is evidence of significant transformational change, a whole other layer to the learning, but how much has this to do with context? It has been noted that group atmosphere and context make a difference. In fact, from a social/psychological perspective, we learn better if we share a social identity. We learn more effectively when we are compatible with others, than by ourselves. Conversely, we battle to learn when we don’t identify with a social group.

Both Dr Maura Adshead and Dr Sarah Jay said that “we all have the need to belong – plus the need for distinction from others. We can self-define as individuals, or on a social level – us and we. Groups are important – for how we see ourselves, how we express who we are. For mobilisation, leaders need groups.”

As an example – Greta Thurnberg is sometimes portrayed as an individual – but also is a figurehead for collective, mass action.

The power of social identities is important. Groups can be good for well-being. Groups can boost learning.

The conference then broke into small groups of four or so people, to share tricks and tips for group-building.

Techniques included:

“Before starting to use group ‘tricks’, find out how long the group will work together, the size of the group, those sorts of facts.”

“When doing training with people from mixed groups, some ‘top’ some ‘not’ – we get them to write all their titles (at work, church etc), then you officially “derobe” them – and take their positions away. You say from now on, we are all the same. Then you go around the room and find out the likes and dislikes of people – find out who you click with.”

“Try to respect people’s views, traditions, backgrounds and appreciate what brings them together, what unites them. Even if they have things that are different, there are often more things that are the same.”

“Getting people to film a skit or mime, then showing it back to them afterwards gets people to bond. Group meditation also helps.”

“We use a form of form of tai chi exercises, which is useful to collectively hold the group. Also, it’s good to work more on the floor – like writing flip charts.”

“Group activity – ice breakers. If you have a group, and you want to start a campaign, then get each one to create a slogan. Singing and dancing, also role plays. Artefacts are useful – they are often symbolic, with discussion around the artefact. Each one contributes.”

“Work the body (sing and dance); share the power in the room; break the ice/armour; and acknowledge the stakes.”

“Create a candy bar – each group says what goes into making a candy bar. Then it all gets broken down, all assumptions removed, and a new candy bar must be created.”

Educating for empowerment, develops collective empowerment, which promotes global social responsibility. Tools for evaluating education for empowerment include a variety of measures such as social change identity, left political orientation, self efficacy, populism and collective empowerment.

“It’s a good way of learning inside the group.”

The research shows that what you do makes a difference …

Workshop Four

Towards an IFWEA theory of Change: From individual to group learning to collective action and learning from experience.  Professor Susan J. Schurman.

How does “social change” happen? There are different kinds of knowledge – like tacit knowledge, where you just know how things work. But what happens when you don’t know how something works – do you just repeat what you know in the hopes of learning something, or do you change?

“Only individuals have the biological capability to learn from experience. Collectives can only learn through communication among individuals. Organised collectivities are designed to control access to information and communication based on distribution of power,” said Professor Susan J. Schurman.

But how do we as worker educators think we are going to change the world?

“Change is always the result of learning from experience,” said Professor Schurman. “But there is no guarantee that people learn valid lessons from their experience. Because learning valid lessons requires questions and reflection.”

Exercise: Make a group of four people. Tell a story that lasts four minutes:

  • Think back to when you first crossed the bridge from bystander to become and activist for some type of social change
  • What was the thing that motivated you?
  • What did you do?
  • How did it make you feel?

After sharing, said Professor Schurman asked: “What did you learn from the stories you heard?”

“Our stories were all way back, 10 or 15 years, and it was experiencing injustice that made us go ‘boom’. We got angry. And we felt powerful.”

“Our stories were also from way back – when we were young. We all had an experience that made us feel a sense of responsibility, towards others. We felt a responsibility to help others because the world was unjust.”

“After finishing high school I tried to mobilise people, even though they had a different religion. I feel motivated after hearing what others have said here. And I still have a commitment to help others.”

“There wasn’t any one moment when we became socially active, it was more embedded in our lives. And there are many moments when we get re-converted. And perhaps some of this was driven by guilt.”

“I experienced a lot of anger and rage, because the more we were social activists, the more repression we experienced (in apartheid South Africa).”

“We said enough is enough, we need to take action into our own hands (in apartheid South Africa). On the other side, my comrades here (from other countries) grew up as activists because their families were activists or trade unionists. We are all fighting for the same things – equality, decency.”

“I experienced exhilaration and excitement as a social activist (fighting apartheid).”

For most people at the conference, the move towards social activism came at quite a young age, noted Professor Schurman. And it generated quite a lot of different feelings – hope, pride, excitement, empowerment, rage and anger.

“We need to channel our feelings and emotions away from destruction to construction. We are ultimately driven by our emotions. And if we don’t connect with people on that level, they won’t want to get involved with us,” she said.

There are two types of learning from experience – knowledge acquisition (such as how we learn in school); and knowledge creation (which is about developing new knowledge, often challenging or overturning accepted knowledge). And when we question, we also start challenging accepted knowledge.

“What happened to everyone in this room, is that you were confronted by entities that were blocking you, you got motivated mostly by anger at some kind of injustice. And now we are trying to build a global sense of solidarity, and trying to develop our strategy to intervene and provide resources and capabilities to individuals and to groups. And to give them the tools to change situations they are faced with,” said Professor Schurman.