The International Alliance of Waste Pickers is a union of waste picker organizations representing more than 460,000 workers across 34 countries
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Waste pickers from around the world demand recognition of their rights as workers

March through the streets of Buenos Aires.

Kicking off the international Congress of waste pickers, a massive march was organized through the streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina by members of the International Alliance of Waste Pickers (IAWP) .

Over a hundred waste pickers, delegates and observers, representing organizations from more than 30 countries from Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America, joined waste pickers from Argentina in a march to commemorate International Workers’ Day and demand recognition as workers alongside social and legal protections. This demonstration by waste pickers joined the general march of the labor movement in Argentina.

A multitude of banners and placards accompanied the demonstrators, including the Congress slogan:

We Are Waste Pickers,
We are Workers,
This is our organization,
United for our rights!

Several banners were spotted at the demonstration, from “We defend the dignity of collection, a pillar of recycling” to “Organized waste pickers will never be stepped on” as well as “Waste creates jobs, opportunities and money”. Some other banners also stated that “The most progressive countries recognise that workers are essential, so they eliminate discrimination and marginalization”. Capturing another shared sentiment among the waste pickers who had gathered there, a banner noted, “The foundations of peaceful recycling are rooted in their commitment to the causes of the informal sector”.

“Reciclador organizado jamás será pisado” or “Organised waste picker will never be stepped on”.

Elbia Pisuña, President of the National Federation of Waste Pickers of Ecuador (RENAREC) shared, “For me this is a very nice, special moment, because we came to support our fellow waste pickers on World Workers’ Day. I got the impression that there are many people fighting for their rights, rights that we have fought for and won for years, but there are also many more to be won. We are also here to make visible the work of human beings who every day are putting their hands in the rubbish, to dream of the possibility that we all have a living wage, because we are responsible for waste not ending up in a landfill or dump, but we are helping the country’s economy and preserving the environment.”

Delegates from India.

Marica Vazquez, from Les Valoristes, Canada, added “We are the International Alliance of Waste Pickers, we are here in Buenos Aires for the First Elective Congress. This is the first time that so many waste pickers from different countries have come together to elect our representatives. We are impressed by the number of people who mobilized on May 1st, which commemorates the murder of workers in the United States for demonstrating for labour laws.”

IAWP delegates are currently in Argentina to attend the IAWP Congress, held this year to elect leadership for the Alliance, from 1st-5th May. The march is part of the opening activities of the 1st Elective Congress of the International Alliance of Waste Pickers. 

This march took place alongside International Workers’ Day, an annual day of gathering when millions of people around the world mobilize to commemorate the martyrs of Chicago, who were executed in 1886 by the police while participating in a mobilization to demand an 8-hour workday. 138 years have passed and, even today, the labor movement around the world continues to fight for their rights.

Opening of the First IAWP Elective Congress

Sesión de apertura del 1er congreso electivo congreso. 1 de mayo de 2024. Buenos Aires, Argentina
Opening plenary of the 1st IAWP elective Congress. May 1, 2024. Buenos Aires, Argentina.

On May 1st, after gathering for and participating in the march for workers in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the first IAWP Elective Congress was formally inaugurated.

The event began with the ratification of procedures such as the validation of the Credentials, Resolutions, Ethics and Independent Electoral Committees.

With respect to the voting procedures, the Congress approved that online voting be allowed. In the case of proxy voting, the Congress rejected the possibility of doing so. As an exception, delegates who were unable to participate in person due to situations beyond their control, were allowed to vote even if the organization had not paid their membership fee.

Welcome from the host country

For her part, María Castillo, Provincial Director of Productive Integration OPISU, emphasized that this Congress seeks to improve the working conditions and living conditions of families. She added, in expectation, that “We will have an important place in important treaties such as the plastic treaty and integrate new actors, in addition to the participation of recyclers in public positions”.

Dina Sánchez, Secretary General, UTEP, emphasized: “We want to give rights to these people who care for the environment, in order to achieve a dignified life. The rich are getting richer and richer thanks to our effort and our work, and in Argentina also because of the pain and suffering that Argentina is going through.”

Leonor Cruz, Gender & Diversity Secretary of CTA Autónoma greeted the Congress, in its unity and diversity, saying that, “It is a day of struggle and of remembering our achievements.” She added, “We are not poor and vulnerable, but we have been violated and impoverished by years and years of public policies. We stopped being who we are to become referents of the place we represent, to carry the voice of women, children, men. And that is why we celebrate this first election. It is important to build more resistance and more popular power.”

As a corollary of the event, each person running for the elective positions at the Alliance presented themselves in front of the Congress briefly.

The event culminated with the cultural night, where folk dances and songs were performed.

A little background on the Congress

The International Alliance of Waste Pickers is in the process of becoming a formal entity, with its constitution approved by waste picker movements in 34 countries around the world in October 2022 and holds its first international elective congress to elect the organization’s officers in 2024.

The Congress being held in this first week of May is the highest decision-making body of the International Alliance of Waste Pickers and is composed of 88 delegates elected from 50 affiliated waste picker organizations, with strategic partners invited as observers and guests.

Among the delegates from participating countries, there are more than 15 languages:

  • Africa: Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, South Africa.
  • Asia-Pacific: Bangladesh,India, Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines.
  • Latin America: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, México, Panama, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, United States.
  • Europe: France, Italy, Turkey.