The Workers College
The Workers’ College is a public benefit organisation established in the early 1990s. It was formed by trade unions and community organisations coming together to serve the educational needs and deepen the politics of workers.
The programmes are deliberately accessible to members of trade unions and community organisations and the content is practically linked to issues in the workplace and community. The learning processes aim to be interactive, inclusive and participatory. The College promotes learning that is based on a recognition of prior learning, skills and experiences acquired through participants’ organisations and daily struggles.
The culture of the college is drawn from the tradition of community and trade union activism, promoting values such as selflessness, community service and a commitment to the working class struggles.
The Workers College views worker education from an activist perspective and sees it as being about raising working class consciousness, promoting the values of activism, and furthering social change.
The Workers College is based on the values of critical thinking, openness, democracy, and non-discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion or political affiliation.
The College aims to:
- Provide adult learners with opportunities for learning as well as deepen their understanding of the role of trade union and community struggles in the transformation of society;
- Develop worker and community leaders;
- Maintain a progressive platform to promote debates on a range of issues from a working class perspective;
- Challenge the current dominant formal educational practices that disregard indigenous knowledge and the knowledge and skills that working class individuals acquire outside of formal learning;
- Build on participants’ struggle knowledge, experiences and skills to redress the historical imbalances in education.
The College aims to equip working class participants with analytical tools that will help them to interpret their world, and act upon it from a working class perspective so as to build working class struggles and organisations with the ultimate aim of creating a classless, socialist society.
The Workers College Diplomas and Degrees are for members of trade unions and community organisations in South Africa and Africa who have received support for their participation from their organisations. The College does not accept participants as individuals, participants have to be representatives of organisations and are accountable to them.
The Workers College focuses on trade union rights education and theoretical and ideological education to better understand class society, the everyday struggles of the working class and how to change society.
The Workers College runs a Diploma Programme and a Degree Programme. There are currently four Diploma Programmes, with six modules each, including the generic modules of “Activism” and “Field Work”. The Diploma courses are:
- Labour Studies Diploma (LSD) – focuses on labour law and industrial relations in a trade union context, with a particular focus on gender;
- Labour Economics Diploma (LED) –focuses on the understanding of economic concepts, the challenges of globalisation, the political context within which communities and trade union organisations exist and developing strategies around these issues;
- Political and Social Development Diploma (PSDD) – focuses on deepening participants’ understanding of contemporary debates, thus enabling them to be more self reliant, developing community participation and activism;
- Gender and Labour Studies Diploma (GLSD) – Engages with the concept of gender; explores the development of Gender policies and practices; critically reflects on the role of women within organisations, communities and society; examines the role of women in workplaces their exploitation and oppression and develops strategies around these issues.
The College attempts to develop reading, writing, critical thinking, research, analysis and report writing skills in all its diplomas.
The College also offers a Social Sciences Degree Programme, the Industrial and Working Life Programme. The programme is run jointly with the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The degree includes courses that develop skills such as research methods, computer literacy, and theoretical knowledge.
The Workers College understands itself as carrying forward the tradition of workers education in which class analysis and class struggle are at the centre.
Workers education is understood as a product of worker struggles and experiences accumulated in the course of their daily interaction with reality. Thus knowledge and theories are rooted in people’s everyday struggles.
Further, knowledge is understood as a tool to analyse, interpret and act on material conditions in order to change them. Knowledge is a tool to reveal the causes of unequal social, political, economic power relations in society and how hegemonic ideas reproduce these inequalities.
The Workers College blends popular education and formal education. The College degree programe contests formal education challenging the institution to recognize the knowledge, skills and experiences of the working class. While teaching processes are more interactive they often remain traditional in format and delivery.
Processes and tools
The Workers College draws on a range of educational tools and processes from formal and popular education methods, including:
- Field work e.g. researching informal street traders in Durban;
- Group work;
The Workers College draws on prior knowledge and experiences, moving from experiences to concepts and analyses to action.
Understanding of popular education
Staff at Workers College understand popular education as part of working class struggle. Through struggle people learn skills and knowledge; popular education is part of the process of bringing this to the fore. The state of popular education is directly related to the state of people’s struggles. One staff member stated:
“Popular education is not something that comes from the outside to enrich people’s struggles. It is a product of those struggles as people grapple with the challenges they face in the course of struggle – they develop creative means to overcome those challenges”