Industrial Areas Foundation

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The Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) is a national community organizing network established in 1940 by Saul Alinsky. IAF provides training and consultation, furnishes organizers, and develops national strategy for its affiliated broad-based community organizations. Including the West / Southwest IAF and Metro IAF, the Industrial Areas Foundation consists of 65 affiliates functioning in the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia. It describes its chief purpose as power and its chief product as social change. The Industrial Areas Foundation does not provide direct services, but through its organizing has created notable entities for workforce development (Project QUEST, Capital IDEA, Project IOWA, VIDA, ARRIBA, NOVA, Skills Quest, Capital IDEA - Houston, AZ Career Pathways and JobPath), cooperative healthcare (Common Ground Healthcare), and housing development for middle-class families (Nehemiah Project in East Brooklyn and The Road Home Program in New Orleans). The Industrial Areas Foundation designed and passed the US' first living wage bill in Baltimore in 1994 and raised the wages of millions since then through municipal living wage policies for public sector workers and as requirements for local tax abatements and economic incentives.


Alinsky's first organizing project was the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, founded in 1939 as the Packinghouse Workers union was organizing Chicago's meatpacking industry.[1] Based on his work with Back of the Yards, Alinsky laid out his vision for "People's Organizations" in his book Reveille for Radicals in 1946. After World War II Alinsky met Fred Ross in California, and in 1949 agreed to back his plan to organize the Community Service Organization in Mexican-American communities. Ross introduced house-meetings as an organizing technique, and built a network of 30 CSOs in California with energetic young organizers Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.[2]

In Chicago, Alinsky developed a team of organizers including journalist Nicholas von Hoffman, ex-seminarian Edward T. Chambers, and Tom Gaudette, who developed such groups as the Organization for the Southwest Community (1959 – 1972), The Woodlawn Organization (1961–present), and the Northwest Community Organization (1962 – present).[3] The Woodlawn Organization (TWO) received national attention through Charles Silberman's best-selling Crisis in Black and White in 1964, which traced the roots of oppression and violence in northern inner city areas. In his concluding chapter, "The Revolt Against Welfare Colonialism," Silberman portrayed TWO as an example of poor blacks reclaiming their dignity through self-organization.[4] Alinsky's experience in Rochester, New York from 1965 to 1969 with the organization FIGHT and its battle with Eastman Kodak company was more controversial and less successful.[5]

In 1969 Alinsky was able to establish a formal IAF organizer training program, run by Chambers and Dick Harmon, with a grant from Gordon Sherman of Midas Muffler company.[6] Alinsky published a successful book, Rules for Radicals, in 1971, updating his earlier vision. Alinsky died unexpectedly of a heart attack in June 1972.[7]

After Alinsky[edit]

After Alinsky's death, his long-time associate and designated successor Ed Chambers became executive director. Chambers began to place systematic training of organizers and local leaders at the center of IAF's work. He also began to shift the organizing model of "the modern IAF"[8] toward the congregation-based community organization developed in San Antonio, Texas by Ernesto Cortes, Jr. called Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS).[9] Cortes recruited lay leaders, including many women, from the Catholic parishes that were members of COPS. Relational meetings or "one-on-ones" became an important technique of exploring values, motivation, and self-interest of potential leaders. Chambers and Cortes emphasized a long-term relationship between IAF and such groups as COPS, in contrast to the "three years and out" that Alinsky had once imagined.[10] As IAF began to expand to other cities in Texas, it moved to develop multi-racial, broad-based organizations spanning metropolitan areas, and including African American, Latino, and Anglo churches. Eventually its network of local groups in Texas linked together as Texas Interfaith to have an impact on state government.[11][12] In 1979 Chambers moved the IAF headquarters to New York after the Archdiocese of Chicago cut its support for IAF.[13] In 1996 IAF moved its national headquarters back to Chicago to develop a new affiliate in that metropolitan area and expand its work in the South, Southwest and Midwest].[14]

IAF developed successful projects along the East Coast with East Brooklyn Congregations, which pioneered the affordable housing project called Nehemiah Homes, and BUILD in Baltimore which also developed Nehemiah housing for low-income people.[15]

The "modern IAF" has been an influential model for other networks of broad-based community organizations, including PICO National Network, Gamaliel Foundation, and Direct Action and Research Training Center (DART).

IAF claims responsibility for the success of the first living wage law in Baltimore in 1994, followed by New York City in 1996, Tucson in 1998, the Rio Grande Valley in the late 1990's and early 2000s[16] and, most recently, in Austin, Texas.


IAF's legal authority rests in a Board of Trustees, which functions more as an advisory body, recently including such notables as Jean Bethke Elshtain and the late Monsignor John Joseph Egan. IAF's first Board of Trustees included Catholic bishop Bernard James Sheil, Kathryn Lewis (daughter of coal miners union leader John L. Lewis), and philanthropist Marshall Field III.[17][18] Chambers retired as executive director in 2009, but remains on the board of directors. The senior regional organizers, including Cortes, Arnold Graf, Michael Gecan, and Sr. Christine Stephens, presently act as a team of co-directors.[19][20]


The national IAF conducts an intensive 8-day leadership training program annually, alternating the venue between Chicago and Los Angeles, and also has a 90-day organizer internship program. IAF's "iron rule of organizing" ("Never do for others what they can do for themselves")[21] emphasizes developing new leaders from within local organizations.


IAF affiliates with web pages are listed below.









  1. ^ Horwitt, Let Them Call Me Rebel, ch. 7, pp. 67-76.
  2. ^ Horwitt, Let Them Call Me Rebel, pp. 222-238.
  3. ^ IAF: 50 Years Organizing for Change, p. 8.
  4. ^ Horwitt, Let Them Call Me Rebel, ch. 24, pp. 425-449.
  5. ^ Horwitt, Let Them Call Me Rebel, ch. 25, pp. 450-505.
  6. ^ Horwitt, Let Them Call Me Rebel, pp. 516-518.
  7. ^ Horwitt, Let Them Call Me Rebel, p. 539.
  8. ^ IAF: 50 Years Organizing for Change, p. 7.
  9. ^ Rogers, Cold Anger, pp. 33-78, 93-126,157-182.
  10. ^ Horwitt, Let Them Call Me Rebel, p. 545.
  11. ^ Warren, Dry Bones Rattling, pp. 30-71.
  12. ^ Greider, Who Will Tell the People?, Ch. 10, "Democratic Promise," pp. 222-241.
  13. ^ Warren, Dry Bones Rattling, p. 47.
  14. ^ Warren, Dry Bones Rattling, p. 7.
  15. ^ IAF: 50 Years Organizing for Change, p. 12.
  16. ^ “Report on the Impact of the Valley Interfaith Living Wage Campaign,” MIT (2000)
  17. ^ IAF: 50 Years Organizing for Change, p. 7.
  18. ^ Horwitt, Let Them Call Me Rebel, pp. 102-103.
  19. ^ Warren, Dry Bones Rattling, p. 265, endnote 5.
  20. ^ Horwitt, Let Them Call Me Rebel, p. 545.
  21. ^ IAF: 50 Years Organizing for Change, p. 17.


External links[edit]