Independent Working-Class Education: a world to win

Submitted by cathy n on 11 June, 2015 - 9:34 Author: Matt Weekes

Hosted by educationalists and labour movement activists at Northern College on the last weekend of May, the IWCE's "A World To Win" was an excellent event which discussed key moments in the development of trade unionism in this country - from the Combination Acts to modern blacklisting, violent rioting in 1700s Liverpool to the GMB organising in ASDA.

We also discussed the nature of what working class education should entail and considered Marxist economics, industrial history and philosophy. Practically, we set the basis for facilitating IWCE forums and talks in our towns and cities in the future.

Key to the weekend's success was the open and enquiring approach taken by the participants, the flexibility in how we learned and presented that information, and the combination of detailed history, such as the Ruskin College strike of 1909, through to the broad perspective of class struggle and the role of the state since 1800.

A workshop hosted by GMB activist Dave Berry, was important in helping to understand the class character of the state, to question the trade off between the state’s protection of workers and its facilitation of exploitation, and to what extent we as workers want to be brought in to companies’ decision-making or the labour market to be regulated.

The tension between maintaining the independence of workers in dealing with Capital in the face of the lure of a "protective" state at times when our movement is weak, is an important one to be aware of. Personally, having grown up in an Old Labour household and with much longing for post-War statist solutions on the left, it was very useful to explore how and why governments get involved in industrial relations.

Exploring the contradictory politics of the pioneers of British socialism at the turn of the last century was also informative. Anti-Semitic tropes appear in Edward Carpenter’s writing, despite his endeavors to spread humanistic politics and early synthesis of socialism and ecology, and support for women’s liberation. Robert Blatchford, whose Clarion magazine and associated leisure clubs were important in integrating revolutionary ideas in the normal, social routines of workers’ lives – initiatives that are really inspiring – also took a chauvinistic pro-war position in 1914 and was virulently xenophobic. Contradictions and reactionary ideas in our movement’s history are important to acknowledge, to ensure a continual development of ideas and strategies and avoid misty-eyed nostalgia that is likely to lead to stagnation at a time when we vitally need militancy and vitality.

We need to encourage greater reflection of our movement's history, if only to realise that the fights we are facing now: in organising precarious workers, in supporting migrants’ rights, in challenging bourgeois education are not new and that whilst we cannot simply reproduce past struggles, we can draw both strength and practical guidance from them. Educating ourselves in a dynamic and inclusive way is vital, and as the IWCE says: there's a world to win.

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