An assemblage of critical researchers, community and trade union activists has been emerging over the past year to question current government policies that privatise and raise the cost of post-compulsory education, which will effectively exclude working class students from further and higher education. Current policies undermine critical and political education by instrumentalising knowledge and supporting only that which is valuable to ‘the market’.
Inspired by the debates in the ‘uncut’ and ‘occupy’ movements around the globe, this group held an Open Day in Leeds on 6 July to talk about what has been happening to adult and workers’ education. We are interested in resisting the privatisation and dismantling of higher, further, trade union and community education, all of which should be funded by the state and free for all.
At the Open Day we offered three workshops, headed Education, Communities, and Work, to invite discussions on how we can create spaces, networks and shared experiences to form the basis of a struggle against the commodification of education.
The Education strand discussed how to build on radical traditions so that learning is creative, innovative and critical. We asked: Who owns education and what is it for? How can we organise ourselves and alternative voices? How do we make ‘real’ education? Our discussion sat within understandings of the crisis in work, education and community, but we agreed that change can be an opportunity to build on our stocks of experience and knowledge, take risks and challenge our assumptions about education. Our strength lies in our capacity to network in continuous dialogue, our commitment to knowledge as power and to education as a ‘resource of hope’.
The Work strand held discussions around the key issues we face in the workplace today. This includes feelings of lack of control, fragmenting collegiality due to loss of positions and instability. Young people and public sector workers are increasingly vulnerable. We talked about the international trade union movement and the International Labour Organisation’s Decent Work agenda and concluded that decent working conditions must be available to all workers, a struggle in times of global austerity. The desire to find pleasure and learning in the workplace continues, however. These commitments informed the drive to involve local trade unions in the campaign for placing education at the heart of work.
The Community Action strand explored the concept of community education for a social purpose – to improve the capacity of individuals and communities to relate to the world around them as active, critical engaged citizens. A wide range of ideas and issues emerged from this discussion, in particular urgency in establishing learning partnerships that could come about through support from the Skills Funding Agency, local authorities, local employers, trade unions, ULF, Lottery, and the ESF. There was acknowledgement of the potential barriers particularly around funding, recruitment and successful engagement with disenfranchised/socially excluded. Our Action Plan includes making better use of community facilities, stirring up the potential of people to improve their lives in small ways, identifying issues communities care about through agreement on workable strategies for dealing with these, and striking a balance between individual and collective needs.
The group has formed links with the Independent Working Class Education Project and People’s Political Economy. We have spoken about our project at the For a Public University workshop 15 June 2012 at Nottingham University, Critical Labour Studies at Ruskin College 2-3 March 2013, at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford 20 April 2013 and Networked Labour in Amsterdam 7–9 May 2013. We intend to continue to network with likeminded social forces with the specific intention to hold this government to account for its current attack on education, and to look for workable alternatives. Please join us by joining the Education4Action Google group and/or emailing Cilla Ross, c.ross at londonmet.ac.uk. Our next meeting is on 20 August at noon at the People’s History Museum in Manchester.
Brian Chadwick, Jo Cutter, Kirsten Forkert, Miguel Martinez Lucio, Phoebe Moore, Alan Roe, Cilla Ross, John Stirling and Steve Walker contributed to this report