IFWEA 23RD GENERAL CONFERENCE 2019: DAY THREE, 4 December 2019, Cape Town

IFWEA 23RD GENERAL CONFERENCE 2019: DAY THREE, 4 December 2019, Cape Town

Day Three of the IFWEA 23rd General Conference 2019 was opened with a storytelling session moderated by Carla Katz. First to tell her tale was Namrata Bali from IASEW in India, who spoke about her experience during a drought when the women of her village were required to cook and clean for a visiting group of men from the council. But the women had many other chores to do, so they didn’t. They were slapped with two bans – a 10 000 rupee fine, and the women were not allowed to leave their homes. But they didn’t take it quietly. “The lesson that I learnt was that even if you think you don’t have a voice, women can still use their powers,” she said.

Fiona Gandiwa Magaya from ZCTU in Zimbabwe said: “I used to think that to be a good woman, I must be married and be nice to my husband. So I did that, and life was good – but then my husband started restricting me in terms of time and where I could go. And then he became violent. I would have bruises from him, but I would lie to others and say I bumped myself on a door. In 1995 I joined the union, and got training. I realised I lacked the confidence to speak out. MY life changed. Today, I am happy – I got divorced, and I learnt to speak out for myself, for my children, for the voiceless.”

Lynne Dodson from ESC in the USA said: “I’ve had lots of ‘aha’ moments in my life – and this was one. I was charged with helping to organise a rally/march in Seattle during the WTO. On the day of the rally, there were thousands of unionists in town, and we left the stadium to march. But the authorities were waiting with tear gas and stun grenades – so we thought we should turn around. But then we thought imagine if we, 80 000 of us, marched downtown together, to join up with our students who were waiting for us. Eventually 1000 of us went downtown. I was scared. But we shut the WTO down. And it reminded me of one of my favourite quotes by Audre Lorde: ‘When I use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.’ ”

Pao and Nimol Vorn from Cambodia told a story about helping a woman getting an agreement with the owner of the market where she worked, teaching her to negotiate, to know her rights, to join a union.

Kirsi Maki from TSL Finland told her Finland story: “This is a story about learning disabilities. I used to work at a university before TSL. I used to lecture. At TSL I my first course I ran was on training for trainers. I was careful not to act like a university lecturer. But my time management was awful. For example, I assumed my students knew how to use an iPad, and if they didn’t it took long to show them. I also asked them to read two or three page of work, but for some it took quick, for others it took longer, which was embarrassing for them. On the 4th day, I decided to share a secret with the students – I have dyslexia, which I had hidden from the university all those years. It was liberating to admit this. For the first time I felt I was a trade union trainer, not a university lecturer anymore.  We spoke about learning disabilities, and I felt we were all on the same side. It was very empowering.”

Workshop Five

Economic myths and realities for labour activists. Presented by Dr Michael Merrill.

This workshop is a participatory introduction to Activist Economics, an online course in IFWEA’s Foundation Skills for Social Change certificate programme. This introductory workshop explores contrasts between orthodox economics and a more socially-conscious political economy. It also provides tools and perspectives to strengthen arguments for a more democratic economy.

The Activist Economics course can be found on OLA by clicking here.

Aims of the first session:

  • To share what we are doing
  • To demystify economics for our communities
  • To foster more emancipatory economic narratives.

Aims of the second session:

  • To engage in a learning activity used in Activist Economics course.

Part One

Sharing and discussing – what does economics mean to you?

Delegates were asked how many offered courses which fostered a critical or emancipatory economic perspective? Responses included:

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions offers two economics courses

Namrata Bali from  IASEW says they offer a very basic course on the informal economy, the formal economy and women’s contribution to the economy.

Empire State College offers an economics for workers course.

Nina Tatiana Langat from LEARN in the Philippines say they offer basic courses not necessarily focused on economics, but on co-operatives, and an analysis of economic systems in relation to co-operatives.

The conference was broken up into small groups, with delegates being asked to discuss the following topic – What do you want from the economy that you are not getting, and what is in the way of you not getting it?

“Economics is just too complicated and people don’t understand it.”

There is supposedly a scarcity of jobs and resources – this myth is deliberate and perpetuated even from school level, and sued as a tool. This is not scientific it is political.”

“Myth: economics is for the clever people, it’s difficult. We should be finding ways to mainstream our own innovative approach on economics.”

“Economics is a scary subject to touch. Sometimes race can be a factor, where someone who is white can be paid more than someone who is black.”

“Workers are profit makers, and bosses are profit beneficiaries.”

“The gig economy is a threat to the Nordic model, and both politicians and unionists need to be better prepared.”

“Informal economy workers are criminals who evade taxes – this is one of those myths. It’s a big no. Informal economy workers are not criminals, they are workers who are discriminated against because of the way they operate, and deserve government support to be legalised.”

“Myth: To provide the growing demand for energy, it is too expensive to switch to alternative energy.”

“Myth: If you do not have an employer, you are not a worker and cannot make demands like a worker.”

“The understanding economics was quite high in our group, and people could see the benefits of participating and understanding the economy.”

“Myth: Wages are low because workers are unskilled. Truth: Wages are low because labour is cheap and workers are exploited.”

“Myth: Trade unions disrupt the economy, are lazy and whine. Truth: Workers should be able to decide how wealth is distributed.”

“Myth: Governments keep wages down to keep the economy afloat.”

Part Two

Elementary forms of cooperation and exchange: Definitions and implications

An introduction to an analytic framework that was developed because of anthropological experience.

Barter | Reciprocity | Coordination | Gift

Exercise: What belongs in these categories, and what is missing.

Conference delegates debated the issue.

Dr Merrill pointed out that an economic debate in a conventional setting would be dominated by “economics experts”, but the setting he was creating, at the conference, was designed to break down these barriers .

Formal Conference Proceedings Resume

Closure of emergency motions to conference.

IFWEA Strategic Plan and Programme 2020 – 2023

General Secretary Sahra Ryklief presented the strategy proposal for the next four years:

Vision: A world where all working people have access to lifelong learning opportunities which enable them to claim and exercise their inalienable democratic rights, responsibilities and freedoms as global citizens. (Stays the same.)

Mission Statement: IFWEA is building a global knowledge community.  We facilitate global co-operation between worker educators so as to advance the frontiers of knowledge, education methodology and practice.  Our beneficiaries are democratic worker organisations promoting freedom, justice and equality for all. (Stays the same.)

Context: See Reports and Plans


  • Providing educational and methodological support
  • Developing strategic partnerships between labour education NGOs, TUs and MBOs with the same vision of freedom, justice and equality for all.

Theory of Action:

Individuals targeted | Group (study circles, affiliates) | Organisation (association, alliance building)| Institution (government, NEDLAC etc).

Content (the what): Thematic areas, Pedagogy, Foundation Skills for Social Change

Space (the where): Online, Study Circles, Workshops and Conferences, YGAP.

Process (the how): Popular and participatory education methods, Dialogues, Guidance and mentorship, Facilitating the sharing of life, work and organisation experience.

Strategic Objectives:

1: Advancing trade union policies on protections, regulations and livelihoods in informal and vulnerable forms of work.

  1. Developing methodologies and tools for workers’ education and social communication in the globalised era of digitalisation.

We have built the foundation to do this.


  • Expand educational opportunities for grassroots leaders
  • Expand global network of educators
  • Expand YGAP
  • Provide online resources
  • Popular education methods
  • Online learning methods
  • Curriculum development
  • Support from the Secretariat

Methods and ethos:

  • Transparent, open and participative governance
  • Expansion of global and regional activities
  • Replenish EC members
  • Activities cognisant of gender power relations
  • Raise the profile of women leaders
  • Promote equality and justice
  • Dialogue and inclusive participation
  • Non-violent methods
  • A common aim to promote and advance education
  • Strengthening of relationships.

Additionally: We require an emphatic rejection of corruption

Questions asked of delegates:

What do you think will work about the strategic plan?

What do you think is NOT relevant?

Do you think your organisation can benefit/contribute from/to the plan?


  • Good clear plan, easy to understand, but very dependent on member organisations, hence methods and ethos very important
  • IFWEA should maybe be lobbying for a global voice
  • Would be nice to share our successes and challenges together on some kind of online platform
  • Two years ago, OLA was not user-friendly. Perhaps we can look at ways to optimise the system
  • Hope to improve the gap between organisations and IFWEA
  • Crucial for us to make sure that information gets to targeted workers
  • Perhaps a focus on immigrant worker and xenophobia.

Read more here

Discussed and adopted

Budget and Affiliation Fees 2020 – 2023

Michael Hands presented the budget and affiliation fees projections for 2020 – 2023

Read more here

Discussed and adopted

Report from the Resolutions Committee

Three Resolutions from the Executive – read here

Discussed and adopted

Motions Tabled, Debated and Adopted

Four emergency motions:

  1. To express our solidarity with ASI and its struggle to defend freedom of association in Venezuela, and to urge the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to cease any and all hostile acts against independent trade union organisations and their leaders; and to comply with the recommendations of the ILO Inquest Commission by accepting the trade union registration of the ASI.
  2. To support the right of freedom of association of the students of Pakistan and support the demand of the Students Action Committee for the repeal of the ban on student unions in Pakistan.
  3. To support the demands of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions that the Hong Kong government observe ILO C087 and ICESCR to guarantee Hong Kong workers’ rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and strike, and further, that all workers dismissed for political reasons be reinstated.
  4. To express our solidarity with the efforts of Bolivian workers and their organisations to engage in processes of social dialogue as they seek to re-establish social and political stability in Bolivia.

Discussed and adopted

Election of Executive Committee

Sue Schurman – President

Sahra Ryklief – General Secretary

Helen Pettersson – Vice President

Namrata Bali – Vice President

Giovanna Larco – Vice President

Claus Larsen-Jansen – Executive Member

John Meinert Jacobsen – Executive Member

Khalid Mahmood – Executive Member

Maira Vannuchi – Executive Member

Maura Adshead – Executive Member

Trenton Elsley – Executive Member

Wisborn Malaya – Executive Member

Monica Widman-Lundmark – Executive Member



Closing Speeches: President and General Secretary

Sue Schurman and Sahra Ryklief made the closing speeches for the IFWEA 23rd General Conference 2019.

General Secretary Sahra Ryklief she said was privileged to have the opportunity to give a vote of thanks. Firstly, she thanked the delegates and affiliates in the room. She said she felt energised by the conference. Also, she gave huge thanks to the Olaf Palme Centre, who made such a big contribution to the conference. Then she thanked the IFWEA Conference Team, all those who contributed to the Conference Programme, to the newly elected Executive Committee members, and those who would be leaving the committee. Finally, a huge vote of thanks to the staff at the hotel – who are not unionised.

President Sue Schurman said that if one has people, talented people, committed to fighting injustice, then one has the resources to get more resources that are needed. And we have the ability to become truly global. We know how to build movements, we know how to organise – and for those who’ve forgotten, we have been reminded how to organise, once again, by what is happening in the world. We have lost a lot of our rich affiliates from the north – our task now is to overcome that. There is so much content – but content is just words unless we are sure of how to frame them, in a way that embodies our values. Populists know to bypass the thinking brain and will tell you who to be angry at, and how. We don’t work that way – we are all members of a much bigger group – the human family. There is no other organisation out there that is thinking about this – this is it. Though we have grown, we must grow bigger and stronger.

Close of conference