Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF)

Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF)


* Established in 1940 by Saul Alinsky
* Trains community organizers in the tactics of revolutionary social change that its founder outlined
* Favors the constant growth of federal welfare spending
* Supports the advancement of a “living-wage” movement

Established in 1940 by Saul Alinsky, the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) is a Chicago-based community-organizing network consisting of 59 affiliate groups located in 21 U.S. states as well as Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

IAF’s mission is to “build organizations whose primary purpose is power — the ability to act — and whose chief product is social change.” Toward that end, an IAF training institute — which Saul Alinsky himself launched in 1969 as a “school for professional radicals” — trains community organizers in the tactics of revolutionary social change that its founder outlined. The institute has been headed by ex-seminarian Edward Chambers ever since Alinsky’s death in 1972. Its leadership-training programs consist of intensive 10-day sessions that are held two to three times each year. IAF also offers a 90-day internship program for aspiring organizers.

IAF is not a grassroots network; its local affiliates are created as the result of careful planning by its national leadership. According to the Rev. Johnny Youngblood, a former leader of the New York IAF local known as East Brooklyn Churches: “We are not a grassroots organization. Grass roots are shallow roots. Grass roots are fragile roots. Our roots are deep roots.”

IAF describes itself as “non-ideological and strictly non-partisan, but proudly, publicly, and persistently political.” As onetime IAF organizer Arnold Graf has stated:

“In places like San Antonio and Baltimore, we are as close to being a political party as anybody is. We go around organizing people, getting them to agree on an agenda, registering them to vote, interviewing candidates on whether they support our agenda. We’re not a political party, but that’s what political parties do.”

Similarly, Arizona’s IAF local — known as the Pima County Interfaith Council — is officially a Political Action Committee whose mission is “the collection and exercise of political power and influence.”

In its quest to bring about social change, IAF targets specific communities and seeks to “buil[d] a political base within … the sector of voluntary institutions that includes religious congregations, labor locals, homeowner groups, recovery groups, parents associations, settlement houses, immigrant societies, schools, seminaries, orders of men and women religious, and others.” Once it has gained a foothold inside any of those entities, IAF sets out to “identify, recruit, train, and develop leaders in every corner of every community” where it has a presence.

IAF strives most aggressively to bring religious institutions into its fold, on the theory that church affiliations will help inject the network not only with access to large amounts of cash, but also with perceived moral credibility. As the IAF handbook states:

“… [O]ne of the largest reservoirs of untapped power is the institution of the parish and congregation. Religious institutions form the center of the organization. They have the people, the values, and the money.”

IAF endeavors to establish a series of “new social realities” that include:

  • the continued growth of its Nehemiah Housing program, which has helped thousands of low-income people purchase taxpayer-subsidized “affordable housing” units in Brooklyn, the South Bronx, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC
  • the establishment of so-called “Alliance Schools” that are geared for teenage students (mostly in the southern and southwestern U.S.) who have previously experienced social or scholastic difficulties because of their sexuality, appearance, or beliefs
  • the constant growth of federal welfare spending
  • the advancement of a “living-wage” movement demanding that every worker earn enough to allow him or her “to have a share of earthly goods sufficient for oneself and one’s family.” (IAF claims credit for having “conceived, designed, and implemented” America’s first living-wage bill, in Baltimore, in 1994. Other living-wage ordinances were subsequently promoted by IAF affiliates in New York, Texas, and Arizona.)

Moreover, IAF’s “model for education reform” calls for America’s school system to undergo a “systemic change” — where parental control over a child’s schooling is usurped by “the entire community” which “must be meaningfully involved in the public education system and held accountable for its results.” One IAF paper on education crystalizes its premise that teachers and childcare workers (whose salaries are paid by taxpayers) should play an ever-larger role in the upbringing of youngsters:

“Schools must be prepared to teach parents how to play a supportive role. In some cases this might mean making provision for parenting education…. Increasingly, schools will find it important to employ social workers who can coordinate necessary services and to intervene on behalf of a child in need…. Schools will need to help working families make provision for after-school childcare, and day care for pre-schoolers.”

IAF receives large amounts of funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). Fellow CCHD donees include the Direct Action and Research Training Center (DART), the Gamaliel Foundation, the Midwest Academy, and People Improving Communities Through Organizing (PICO). IAF has been an influential model for each of those organizations.

For additional information on IAF, click here.

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