Monday, 15 June 2015

'A World to Win'

ON 29th-31st May the Independent Working Class Education (IWCE) Network, held a residential course at Northern College under the title ‘A World to Win – Learning from the past, making the future.’  Present were rank-and-file trade unionists from around the country, from a range of different unions.

The IWCE Network has put on a number of seminars over the last three years or so, all of which have given various working-class activists a valuable platform to discuss a wide range of issues, historical and current, facing the workers’ movement. The ideas behind IWCE are ably expressed in Colin Waugh’s pamphlet on the history of the Plebs’ League, which evolved into the Labour Colleges movement, which kept the banner of IWCE alive for over half a century:

For me, the IWCE Network has raised several important issues:

•Learning our history: It has been refreshing to hear from worker-intellectuals who are studying particular individuals, events, or time periods which have been forgotten, even in the mainstream narratives of British labour history. Many presentations and talks have rehabilitated parts of our collective history while managing to steer clear of the ‘these-are-the-lessons-for-today-comrades’ language which often dominates historical study on the left.

•The limits of trade union education: Many comrades, including those with extensive experience in the field, have mentioned the problems of official trade union education in conversation over the last couple of years. Its reliance on the state and its focus on improving the skillsets of individuals (whether as trade unionists or simply as workers) can serve to undermine the ‘independence’ of working class education.

•The need to take a step back: The most refreshing thing about the IWCE Network events, the residential weekend in particular, is how they enable workplace activists and community campaigners to step back from the day-to-day tasks that face all of us and think more widely about the whys and hows of what we are doing.

•How we educate each other: Many comrades have given presentations about various aspects of radical pedagogy, and have reported back from local participatory educational initiative which they are involved in. Over the weekend, we were also set research projects which we then had to present to the wider group, on topics of our choice, which made it so much more interesting, unexpected, and involving than if it had been simply a series of lectures.

Some ideas for the Network going forward might include:

•A ‘mapping’ exercise identifying all the local workers’ educational initiatives we are aware of, including reading groups, radical arts groups, union-run political education initiatives, labour history societies, etc… so that we can identify more partners to work with in future.

•The encouragement of more local initiatives. ‘Political schools’ or festivals for example, which could be run by trades councils or jointly by interested union branches.

•Continuing with more innovative ways of learning – getting people to question and test ideas in an open forum, getting people used to defending and justifying ideas and not accepting received wisdom, whether from inside or outside the labour movement.

•Reaching out to what I suspect is a significant number of younger activists who will be interested in the project, including those active in trade union Young Members’ sections, trainee/recently qualified teachers and classroom assistants, those involved in the emerging industrial struggles of post-graduate teaching assistants, etc.

No comments: