Affiliate Pages|IFWEA Executive Committee

Champions of Worker Education


"Paulo Freire’s work has influenced people working in education, community development, community health and many other fields. Freire developed an approach to education that links the identification of issues to positive action for change and development. While Freire’s original work was in adult literacy, his approach leads us to think about how we can ‘read’ the society around us.

For Freire, the educational process is never neutral. People can be passive recipients of knowledge — whatever the content — or they can engage in a ‘problem-posing’ approach in which they become active participants. As part of this approach, it is essential that people link knowledge to action so that they actively work to change their societies at a local level and beyond."


 PERU - José Carlos Mariátegui

"José Carlos Mariátegui La Chira (14 June 1894 – 16 April 1930) was a Peruvian journalist, political philosopher, and activist. A prolific writer before his early death at age 35, he is considered one of the most influential Latin American socialists of the 20th century. Mariátegui's most famous work, Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality (1928), is still widely read in South America. An avowed, self-taught Marxist, he insisted that a socialist revolution should evolve organically in Latin America on the basis of local conditions and practices, not the result of mechanically applying a European formula."


USA - A.J. Muste 

 "A.J Muste (1885- 1967) was a political activist, often regarded as America’s Ghandi. He was an antiwar, labor movement leader. He led the textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts in a successful, non-violent strike. He also co-founded the American Workers Party at the height of the Great Depression. Muste discarded his previous Christian pacifism to become a Marxist, although he didn’t support everything that had to do with Marxism and its revolutionary activities. He could not reconcile with violence as a means, or the idea of class war and temporary dictatorship of the working class. His tactic of peaceful civil disobedience became very popular, and he protested against the arms race, and the war in Vietnam. He was also involved in the Civil Rights Movement. His message was “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way”. In 1956 he founded a magazine, “Liberation” which was an anti-war forum and was the member of the War Resisters League"



 USA - Harry Van Arsdale Junior

"Harry Van Arsdale Jr. (1905-1986) was born during a 33-month lock out of Building Tradesmen, by the Building and Construction Industry of New York City. The memories of his father being unemployed and the effect it had on his family remained with him throughout his life. It was the determination to insure workers and their families would have better lives, that drove him to be a trade union leader, a concerned citizen and internationalist. He was responsible for the first multi-employer plan in the construction industry in 1941; paid holidays, paid vacation, the establishment of annuity funds for workers and the founding of the Joint Industry Board of the Electrical Industry. He also established educational scholarships for member’s children in 1949. Later, in 1961, he instituted an affirmative action program to enable minorities to enter electrical trade. He became the first president of the New York City Central Labor Council and served as President until his death in 1986 and expanded the role of labor throughout New York City. He organized good will study tours to Puerto Rico in 1958 to observe and understand the difficulties Puerto Rican immigrants were experiencing in the work place. Similar tours were conducted to other countries. Harry began a drive to establish a Labor College in New York City which was established in 1971 as part of State University of New York, Empire State College. As a result, labour leaders and members can go to college and earn Associate, Bachelor and Masters decrees in labour studies"


USA - Myles Horton 


"Myles Horton (1905-1990) was an environmental activist and civil rights activist. Growing up with limited financial resources, he was taught by his parents to value others in his community as well as the power of organizing. He founded the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, that focused on labor organizing civil rights and advocacy for the poor. He was inspired by progressive Danish schools. Despite several attacks against the Highlander Folk School, the institution made strides in labor organizing and civil rights movement work, actively opposing segregation. Horton studied theology, and after that travelled to Europe and scrutinized the folk schools of Denmark which emphasized social engagement over dogmatic, academic styles of learning. Therefore, he founded a school in Tennessee which focused on people sharing and analysing their experiences, using revelations to effect social change and initiate self-growth. The school later became a place for discussing Civil Rights Movement strategies. Highlander became a unique oasis in the legally segregated state, where black and white citizens freely co-mingled. Some of the people who attended and/or taught there was Rosa Parks, Pete Seeger, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Fannie Lou Hamer."


INDIA - Ela Bhatt   
 "Ela Bhatt, the founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), is widely recognized as one of the world's most remarkable pioneers and entrepreneurial forces in grassroots development. Known as the "gentle revolutionary," and a follower of the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, she has dedicated her life to improving the lives of India's poorest and most oppressed citizens and here she talks to us about girls' education."

INDIA - Mahatma Gandhi  

"Mahatma (meaning “great soul”) Ghandi (1869- 1948) was born in Porbandar, Gujarat in North West India. He got a one-year contract of work in South Africa, that resulted in 21 years living in South Africa railing against the injustice of racial segregation in the Apartheid South Africa. On his return to India in 1916, Ghandi developed his practice of non-violent civic disobedience further, for instance, raising awareness of oppressive practices in Bihar in 1918 where the local population was oppressed by their largely British masters. He encouraged the oppressed villagers to improve their own circumstances, leading peaceful strikes and protests. His birthday the 2nd of October, is celebrated as a National Holiday in India every year"


 NORWAY / SWEDEN - Elise Ottesen-Jensen

“Elise Ottesen-Jensen, also known as Ottar (2 January 1886- 4 September 1973) was a Norweigan- Swedish sex educator, journalist and anarchist agitator. Her main mission was to fight for women’s rights to understand and control their own body and sexuality. She was a member of the Swedish anarcho-syndicalist union Central Organisation of the Workers of Sweden. Her followers consider her as a pioneer in the field of women’s rights and feminism. Ottesen-Jensen had a motto that was :

“I dream of the day when every new born child is welcome, when men and women are equal, and when sexuality is an expression of intimacy, joy and tenderness”.

She made several attempts to organize working class women, who started asking for advice regarding sexuality, like “Do I always have to when my husband wants to?” She and her husband moved to Sweden, and Elise travelled from south to north of Sweden, teaching female workers how to avoid pregnancy. She advocated sexual pleasure for women, gay rights, repealing the law against contraceptives, free abortion etc. which made her risk harsh penalties. She was one of the founders to the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU) and became its first President.”



"Maja Sandler (born 1877- dead 1971) was a Swedish Activist for humanitarian operations. She was married to a Swedish former prime minister Richard Sandler (prime minster between 1925-1926). Together they started ABF- the Swedish Federation of Workers Education Association. In the beginning of her life she was a stranger to the ideas of the labour movement, but later became a great admirer of it. She took several humanitarian initiatives, for instance, Save the Children and the Women’s Committee for the Children of Spain under the Spanish civil war. When she turned 70 years old she was honoured and given a price by the Swedish government and the Norwegian king for her humanitarian operations in Norway under the occupation during the Second World War. Since she’s a women, there’s not easy to find facts about Maja, compared to her husband Richard Sandler, but she was very known for her warm, wise and kind personality."



SWEDEN - Oscar Olsson

“Oscar Ulrik Bernahardin Olsson (4th of July 1877- 25:th January 1950) created the first study circle in Sweden in 1902 as part of the International Order of Good Templars.

The features of the study circle were according to Olsson: people studied in small groups, often at home, study material was rare, teachers were not considered a necessary prerequisite of study but rather leaders of groups that organized the session and had no theoretical qualifications, people supplemented their studies by attending lectures or meetings, circle member had no previous qualifications, they learnt to discuss, argue, show consideration for others, accept defeat and share responsibility, experiences a sense of community and identity, knowledge they acquired through the study circles could be directly related to their everyday life and the studies began at the initial cognitive level of the members and were guided by their needs.

Study circles empowered and emancipated the working class, since higher education was not a possibility to them due to financial reasons and because young people had to provide for their whole family when they were physically able to. Through the study circle they could gain knowledge without financial necessities.


As Olson put it “The emancipation of the working class should be a task for the workers themselves.”



“Rickard Johannes Sandler (29 January 1884- 12 November 1964) was a Swedish Social Democratic politician. He began in the government without a portfolio in 1920-1923, then minister for Trade, Prime mister after the death of Hjalmar Branting in 1925, and ultimately as Minister for foreign affairs from 1932 to 1939. He was one of the youngest prime minsters Sweden has ever had, starting his admission at an age of only 41 years old. Before that he went to Uppsala University and received a Bachelor of Arts degree and worked as a teacher at the same school as his father in Kramfors, Sweden.


Sandler was an intellectual leader and one of the founders of The Workers’ Workers’ Educational Association (ABF) in 1912. He was the main writer of the Marxist-oriented party programme of the Social Democratic Party in 1920. He published material that was widely spread, called “The society as it is” (1911).


Sandler is said to have a position in the “middle”, which means not too far to the left and not too far to the right. When the Social Democrats during its conference in 1929 demanded socialism á la the Soveit Union, the party board together with Richard Sandler managed to stop it. This is considered as an important development for the Social Democratic movement as a reformist movement, and beginning of the later Prime Minister Per-Albin Hanssons’ view of Sweden as “the Peoples home”, as contrast to more radical reforms.”



UNITED KINGDOM - Raphael Samuel

"Raphael Samuel was the son of Jewish parents, born in London in 1934. Since his mom was an active member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, he joined the party very young. Together with other communists like E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill, Edmund Dell etc. they formed the Communist Party Historians’ Group. Samuel also became a tutor at Ruskin College in 1962. In 1967 Raphael Samuel established the History Workshop movement and played a major role in the life of the History Workshop Journal that began publishing in 1975.

The socialist historian Keith Fleet,has argued: "Raphael Samuel was one of the most prominent historians in the country to support history from below - the attempt to actively recover the history of ordinary people and their movements. In many ways this was a step forward from the sometimes rather rigid orthodoxies of more mechanical Marxist histories."




At IFWEA's 22nd General Conference, members gave input on the question:


 "Who is the most important pioneer or originator of your workers' education or association?"

Here are some of the global Champions of Worker Education that were recognised:




  • BRAZIL - Paulo Freire 

  • PERU -   José Carlos Mariátegui



  • USA - Myles Horton

  • USA - Harry Van Arsdale Junior



  • INDIA - Ela Bhatt

  • INDIA - Mahatma Gandhi



  • NORWAY / SWEDEN - Elise Ottesen-Jensen

  • SWEDEN - Maja Sandler

  • SWEDEN - Oscar Olsson

  • SWEDEN - Rickard Sandler

  • UK - Raphael Samuel



USA - Empire State College - Workers' Art Coalition's Jaime Lopez
HONG KONG - Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Union's Stanley Ho
SWEDEN - ABF's Ewa Lantz
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