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Education as Change

On-line version ISSN 1947-9417
Print version ISSN 1682-3206

Educ. as change vol.22 n.2 Pretoria  2018

http://dx.doi.org/10.25159/1947-9417/3806 

ARTICLES

 

Building workers' education in the context of the struggle against racial capitalism: The role of labour support organisations

 

 

Mondli Hlatshwayo

University of Johannesburg, South Africa mshlatshwayo@uj.ac.za. https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6533-8585

 

 


ABSTRACT

In South Africa, with few exceptions, scholarship on the modern labour movement which emerged after the Durban strikes of 1973 tends to focus on trade unions that constituted the labour movement, strikes, collective bargaining, and workplace changes. While all these topics covered by labour scholars are of great importance, there is less emphasis on the role played by labour support organisations (LSOs) which, in some cases, predate the formation of the major trade unions. Based on an analysis of historical writings, some archival and internet sources, this article critically discusses the contribution of LSOs and their use of workers' education to build and strengthen trade unions, which became one of the critical forces in the struggles against racial capitalism in the 1980s. In particular, it critically examines the work of the Urban Training Project (UTP) and the South African Committee for Higher Education (SACHED) workers' education programmes as a contribution to building the labour movement. The relationship between trade unions which had elaborated structures of accountability and LSOs which were staffed by a relatively small layer of activists also led to debates about accountability and mandates.

Keywords: workers' education; trade unions; labour support organisations; non-governmental organisations


 

 

Introduction

Labour studies literature has tended to focus on trade unions as institutions of workers that had a national presence and were able to develop organisational infrastructure, with the main purpose being struggle for social and economic justice in the context of racial capitalism (Buhlungu 2010; Forrest 2011; Friedman 1987; von Holdt 2003; Webster 1985). With few exceptions (Lowry 1999; Luckett, Walters, and von Kotze 2017; Motala 2017), there has not been much debate and discussion on the role played by labour support organisations (LSOs) as institutions for workers' education in the context of the struggle against apartheid. Where some discussion on LSOs has occurred, it has tended to be sectarian in the sense that certain political currents which operate within the labour movement would overemphasise their role to the extent that the role of workers-who are the actual crafters of history-is downplayed (Byrne and Ulrich 2016; Maree 2006). For example, LSOs that had progressive Christian and Black Consciousness influences like the Urban Training Project (UTP) tend to be ignored as if they never played any role in the reconstruction of the modern labour movement (Lowry 1999).

Different types of institutions supported the labour movement in the 1970s and 1980s. Some of them were university-based, some operated outside what was a constraining university context, and others were linked to progressive churches. Different political and ideological persuasions influenced the work of the LSO inside and outside universities, but all of them were committed to building a democratic South Africa that was to be free from various forms of social and economic oppression. According to Vally (1994, 88), those LSOs that operated in the universities were regarded as "extension" projects of sociology or adult education departments at the University of the Witwatersrand, the University of Cape Town, and the then Natal University, for example. The projects were beneficial to the labour movement and workers, as academics and researchers were compelled to rethink their conception of knowledge. Popular education methods, which emphasised workers as social agents capable of defining knowledge and changing their conditions, became part of the teaching methodologies used by academics. Unions were also able to use university venues, resources, and materials to advance the interests and rights of workers. However, the projects were not part of the mainstream activities of universities, and there was often a feeling that academics and researchers were part of an elite not bound by principles of workers' control and democracy (Hlatshwayo 2009). Some of the courses offered by the projects issued workers with certificates, and this was often seen as promoting individualism which may have created a tiny layer of union leadership that was considered to be "knowledgeable" (Vally 1994).

In this article, I focus on those that operated outside of universities, but this is not intended to undermine or downplay the role played by LSOs that operated in universities (Vally 1994). This article examines the role played by the Urban Training Project (UTP) and the Labour and Community Project (LACOM) of the South African Committee for Higher Education (SACHED), as well as workers' education under the auspices of Khanya College, which was initiated as a SACHED project in 1986.

The first part of the article argues that labour studies have tended to ignore LSOs as institutions of labour that used workers' education as a tool for building trade unions which later became a grassroots force in the struggle against apartheid and the various aspects of its economic oppression. It was workers' education institutions like the UTP and others which used education to organise workers when the liberation movements and other anti-apartheid formations were banned. As I will discuss, this work faced a number of challenges, including constant harassment and victimisation by the apartheid security forces.

Against all odds, LSOs like the UTP initiated and supported the formation of a number of trade unions that were to play a major role in struggles in the workplaces and in the broader antiapartheid movement. In addition, there were contradictions and debates between trade unions and the LSOs about the role of LSOs as organisations constituted by a small layer of activists who had to deliver workers' education to trade unions that were mass organisations with structures based on mandates and report-backs.

The article begins by providing an historical overview of workers' education and institutions that supported it during and since the early phases of racial capitalism, and outlining the significance of this contribution by reviewing the literature on the significance of workers' education and the role of institutions which offered this education. There is also a short discussion on the state of archives used as a data source for this article. Subsequently, I will examine the workers' education courses and activities of the UTP and SACHED's LACOM and Khanya College, followed by a discussion which seeks to draw broad lessons based on the contributions made by these LSOs.

 

Workers' Education and Institutions: An Historical Overview

Attempts to provide education which sought to build workers' power to fight social and economic injustices date back to the early 1900s when activists produced and distributed "accessible educational material" in the form of the Voice of Labour, a publication which supported the work and struggles of trade unions and small groups of socialists (Luckett et al. 2016). The International Socialist League, which later constituted itself as the Communist Party of South Africa, organised and facilitated workers' education in the form of night schools in 1919 (Luckett, Walters, and von Kotze 2017; Vally, Treat, and Wa Bofelo 2013). According to Luckett, Walters, and von Kotze (2017, 262),

Later on, the struggle against apartheid was punctuated by moments such as the launch of the Defiance Campaign and the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) in 1952. In 1956, the first national SACTU [South African Congress of Trade Unions] school was convened, where young workers and organizers learnt from the experiences of veteran trade unionists such as Ray Alexander, John Nkadimeng and Eli Weinberg.

The Sharpeville massacre in 1960 was followed by the banning of the liberation movements and the detention of activists, including those who belonged to SACTU (a trade union federation aligned to the Congress Movement led by the African National Congress). This led to SACTU establishing its structures in exile and becoming part of the campaigns to isolate the apartheid regime (Luckhardt and Wall 1980). Despite intense repression in the 1960s, a number of organisations and institutions tried to make links with workers who earned low wages and worked in workplaces described by von Holdt (2003) as "apartheid workplace regimes," which sought to replicate national apartheid policies and practices in the workplace.

Consistent with attempts to revive workers' education under extreme conditions of repression, activists of the South African Students' Organisation (SASO), influenced in part by Paulo Freire, who emphasised a dialogical approach to education between the oppressed and the progressive intellectuals, launched the Black Workers Project in 1972. In 1971, some students belonging to the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) and Rick Turner, a left-wing academic who was later assassinated, formed a wages commission which mobilised workers for wage increases and other issues related to working conditions (Vally, Treat, and Wa Bofelo 2013).

Different forms of workers' organisations in the mining and the manufacturing sectors which were concerned with social and economic issues date back to colonisation and the emergence of racial capitalism in South Africa. LSOs or what can also be regarded as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) tend to predate the modern labour movement which emerged as a result of the Durban strikes of 1973 (Hlatshwayo 2009; Vally 1994). Formed by small groups of professional activists, LSOs were working-class institutions which sought to use workers' education to raise consciousness using a dialogical approach among workers with the view to strengthen struggles against racial capitalism in the 1970s and the 1980s (Khanya College 2005a; Lowry 1999). Although these institutions were initiated by middle-class activists and staffed by intellectuals who tended to have formal education, they were part of what can be regarded as institutions of the working class: they sought to play a critical role in the mass movement by helping to deepen the understanding of the history of working-class struggles in South Africa and other parts of the world, responding intellectually to the immediate needs of workers and trade unions and introducing debates and discussions about the importance of democracy within trade unions and in society at large (Hlatshwayo 2009).

Workers' education was also about helping workers to build their own organisation to help their wage struggles in the workplace and in their places of residence. As one of the cases discussed here will show, LSOs were also instrumental in the formation of trade unions. Founded in 1971 (2 years before the historic Durban strikes), the Urban Training Project (UTP) provided education to workers and contributed to the formation of predecessors of maj or unions like the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU) (Lowry 1999).

The work of the LSOs which began in the 1970s was given an impetus by the Durban strikes of 1973. Over 100 000 workers participated in strikes in Durban and surrounding areas during a period of three months, propelling the formation of trade unions, and a shop steward movement which was a basic unit for organising workers on the shop floor. In addition, in the 1980s in areas like Alexandra in the north of Johannesburg, shop stewards and union leaders began to make the connections between working-class struggles in residential areas and shop-floor issues by forming civic institutions which began to demand access to basic services like water, housing and electricity (Forrest 2011; Vally, Treat, and Wa Bofelo 2013).

 

The Significance of This Contribution

The significance of this article, in part, lies in the fact that South African labour studies has tended to focus generally on trade unions which, of course, played a major role in the struggles against racial capitalism, especially in the 1980s (Baskin 1991; Bezuidenhout and Tshoaedi 2017; Buhlungu 2010; Buhlungu and Tshoaedi 2012; 2013; Satgar and Southhall 2015; Webster, Lambert, and Bezuidenhout 2010). These contributions help deepen our understanding of trade unions, the changing social composition of union membership, gender and trade unions, unions and politics, and challenges facing the unions. However, they rarely examine the role played by labour support organisations (LSOs), predating the Durban strikes. It was also some of the LSOs which were institutions of the working class that supported workers during and after the Durban strikes. While the article does not want to exaggerate the role played by the LSOs, it can be argued that their research and educational programmes provided trade unions and working-class organisations with necessary intellectual ammunition in the struggle against racial capitalism in the 1980s. For example, the Labour Research Services (LRS), an LSO based in Cape Town, conducted research that helped trade unions to formulate wage demands which were part of union struggles and strikes in the 1980s (Hlatshwayo 2013). LSOs also learnt from workers, shop stewards and trade unions that were part of their programmes. It was this co-creation of knowledge that helped strengthen the organisations of the working class and unions in the 1980s.

Buhlungu (2004) correctly cautions against a triumphalist view of labour history which seeks to argue that a certain political current or group of activists with a particular political approach was solely responsible for the building of the modern labour movement which shaped and influenced working-class politics in the workplace and within communities. Buhlungu (2004) suggests that in addition to the role played by the LSOs in the rebuilding of the labour movement, it was workers who participated in strikes, made sacrifices, suffered setbacks and won some victories who were the foundation of the modern labour movement. Buhlungu (2004, 133) elaborates: "the building of the democratic union tradition in South Africa is not just an outcome of intellectual influences but significantly was shaped by the workers' 'lived experiences.'" Consistent with Buhlungu's assessment, this article does not seek to elevate the contributions made by the LSOs above that of workers who in their numbers shaped industrial relations through strikes and other forms of collective actions.

Workers' education facilitated by the LSOs and other intellectuals associated with workers and trade unions was catalytic in the process of formulating collective and organisational responses to working conditions, low wages and other forms of oppression that workers had to deal with. LSOs did not just deliver workers' education programmes on living and working conditions of workers. They were also instrumental in the building of trade unions which later coordinated their struggles and built their own structures. Vally, Treat, and Wa Bofelo (2013, 473) elaborate,

UTP and IIE [Institute for Industrial Education] were instrumental or closely involved in the formation of the Council of Unions of South Africa (CUSA) and the Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU) respectively, the forerunners of the National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).

Workers' education facilitated by the LSOs had organisational and political ends. The building of strong shop-floor organisations to defend and advance the interests of workers in the workplace with shop stewards being the leading element was one of the key tasks identified by the LSOs. There was a realisation that shop-floor organising based on concrete issues such as wages, anti-racism, and health and safety issues laid the foundation for building trade unions which had to be accountable to workers and their membership. Workers' education could not ignore big political questions which expressed themselves in the form of racial oppression and apartheid. Although there were differences with the labour movement about strategic and tactical approaches to be adopted as a response to racism and apartheid, there was a general agreement that it had to be dismantled and that workers' education had a critical role to play in the process of fighting apartheid and transforming society (Khanya College 2005a).

Cooper (2005, 5), in discussing the political nature of workers' education and its role in political consciousness-raising, argues,

The political orientation of some sections of the labour movement was echoed in an emerging philosophy of education and knowledge, which included the following principles: that workers have knowledge of value that emerges out of their collective experience and is rooted in organisation and action; that workers' education is partisan and political and should adopt a working class view of the world; that workers should control their own education programmes; and that the purpose of such education is to empower the oppressed and transform society.

This conception of knowledge as articulated by Cooper (2005) placed a huge burden on LSOs as they were not allowed to conceptualise trade unions, shop stewards and workers as people who knew nothing and needed to be saved educationally by the LSOs (Cooper 2007; Freire 2000). Therefore, the methodological approach to be adopted by LSOs had to be democratic and participatory. Cooper (2005, 5) further explains, "the trade unions also began to espouse a methodological approach that placed priority on workers' experiences as a source of knowledge, encouraged active learner participation, and blurred the boundaries between educator and learner."

Some studies have sought to examine the role of workers' education in workers' struggles during apartheid and in post-apartheid South Africa. All these studies show that workers' education was dynamic and driven by the desire to establish an egalitarian society. Unlike traditional education which viewed workers or learners as people with no knowledge at all, workers' education correctly assumed that workers were a source of knowledge as they experienced oppression in the workplace and in the communities daily. Therefore, the role of facilitators or educators was to provide a platform for workers to share their experiences among themselves, and that process also educated the educators by compelling them to reshape and refocus their methodology and knowledge. Educators, with access to knowledge captured in books and other platforms, brought that knowledge to workers and shop stewards. Workers' knowledge and that of educators was synthesised to create new knowledge which helped shape workers' struggles. As will be shown by the two cases discussed in this article, there were contradictions and debates, especially about the role of LSOs, which were sometimes viewed by some, for various reasons, as "outsiders" (Cooper 2005; Hlatshwayo 2009; Walters 1988).

Groundbreaking scholarship on workers' education is emerging and bemoans the decline of workers' education in post-apartheid South Africa-a period characterised by fragmentation and general weaknesses of trade unions. Unlike in the past where an emphasis was on building collective responses to economic and social oppression, workers' education in post-apartheid South Africa seems to be largely linked to individual career advancement, which seeks to enable shop stewards to use qualifications to occupy top positions in management and in government. The career advancement of an individual trade unionist or a shop steward is influenced by the fact that the democratic dispensation has created a blurring of the lines between trade unions, management and the state. During apartheid, occupying an influential position in the state was seen as "selling out," as the apartheid regime was not legitimate. This is not to argue that there are no contemporary attempts to use workers' education to build organisations and campaigns to advance the collective interests of workers (Cooper 2005; Hamilton 2014; 2017; Vally, Treat, and Wa Bofelo 2013). In a way, and largely based on archival sources, this contribution takes the reader back to the 1970s and the 1980s and shows that institutions of workers' education provided participatory forms of education driven by collective interests such as struggling against low wages and poor working conditions within the broad anti-apartheid struggle.

 

A Note on the LSOs and Archives

The SACHED archive is housed at the University of Cape Town's library in Cape Town (there is a section at the William Cullen Library as well). The catalogue of the materials held by the library is also available online, making it easier to find publications, images and audio-visual sources produced by SACHED and its LACOM. From a workers' education perspective-and in regard to LACOM in particular-some of the books and publications available in the archive include debates on South African labour history, the history of trade unions in South Africa, biographies of worker leaders, manuals on running workshops, and gender equity and parenting (African Studies Library Pamphlet Collection 2018a). Documents on Khanya College's LACOM were found at Khanya College's House of Movements, a building which houses Khanya College, a resource centre and other organisations in Johannesburg. The sources are catalogued and kept at the resource centre and can be accessed by the public and activists. The University of Cape Town also has a limited collection of UTP's materials. However, there is a book on the history of UTP written by Lowry (1999), pamphlets on workers' rights, and a research paper on the impact of apartheid policies on black workers and black people (African Studies Library Pamphlet Collection 2018b). Most of the sources used in this article on the UTP's history were collected from activists who were part of the labour movement in the 1980s and the 1990s. Attempts were made to find the UTP's official archive, but this proved to be a difficult task. Perhaps this is because the activists who were part of the history of the organisation are now old and retired, and therefore not easy to reach.

 

The Urban Training Project

The formation of the UTP emerged after the Trade Union Council of South Africa (TUCSA) changed its constitution in 1969 to exclude black trade unions. TUCSA African Advisory Committee's Eric Tyacke, activists of the Young Christian Workers (YCW) and the worker leaders of the Engineering and Allied Workers' Union (EAWU) were initiators of the UTP as a workers' education project in 1971. According to Sithole and Ndlovu (2006, 198), "Its [UTP's] initial plan was not to be a trade union or worker-controlled organisation; it assumed this role only when money, provided by foreign sources to assist existing as well as new African worker organisations, was pumped into it." Young Christian Workers (YCW), an organisation of young workers whose aim was to educate workers about their rights and interests, played a major role in the formation of the UTP, which began as a committee of five activists, but later expanded to include activists from different backgrounds. Taycke, who was the UTP's founding director, was largely influenced by his YCW activism, which had structures in many black townships (Lowry 1999).

The UTP published a workers' calendar in isiZulu, English, and seSotho, languages that were generally spoken by the majority of workers. Initially, between 10 000 and 20 000 copies of the calendars were distributed. Relying heavily on illustrations with a minimum amount of text, calendars were used as an educational tool. Taycke elaborated, "We decided on a calendar because it would not be kept in people's pockets but in their homes, so that when visitors came it could be a discussion point" (cited in Seftel 1983, 56). The calendars were initially distributed in churches, and later unions distributed them in factories and other workplaces. The calendars focused on different themes, but the aim was to use the contents of the calendars to educate workers about their rights, working conditions and the need to use collective organisational power to improve workers' conditions. In 1973, the calendar had to cover issues and topics that responded to workers who were trying to form unions after the Durban strikes. The calendars also led to workers visiting UTP offices to seek assistance about forming trade unions to respond to workers' needs and demands. As workers began to form unions, calendars had to focus on the roles and duties of trade unions and shop stewards. The UTP also used the calendars to confirm to workers that the liaison committees supported by management were not genuine representatives of workers (UTP 1975; Vally 1994).

Courses that formed part of UTP workers' education were constituted by four two-hour sessions. Covering various topics that sought to build a democratic and a caring trade union movement, the courses were conducted in languages chosen by workers. Role-plays, simulation games, group discussions, buzz groups, and plenary sessions were part of seminar sessions. Although courses had a structure, they could be adapted to suit workers' needs and interests. As the union movement grew in the late 1970s and early 1980s, courses became residential and were run over four to five days (Lowry 1999; Vally 1994).

The UTP's educational work was underpinned by principles of popular education, which were promoted by Paulo Freire (2000), who put an emphasis on workers or the masses as critical sources of knowledge and emancipatory education as a dialogue between educators and learners. Based on these broad principles, the UTP developed its own principles of workers' education. These included workers' education being active and not divorced from activism, being based on the needs of workers, helping to build their power and class independence, with the goal of emancipating them (UTP 1985). These principles also emphasised the significance of lived experiences of workers featuring in education processes. According to Vally (1994), "See, judge and act" was the UTP slogan which helped the organisation to focus its work on providing workers' education which, among other things, led to the formation of unions that were to be part of a vibrant labour movement of South Africa.

The contents of UTP courses were directly related to issues and needs of workers and trade unions. At the beginning, workers' education facilitated by the UTP dealt with the role of a union, the need for workers to control their trade unions, as well as the differences between liaison committees who were controlled and appointed by management, and trade unions that were elected by workers and accountable to them. This phase was crucial in the sense that workers were in a process of forming trade unions and had to grasp the role of worker-controlled trade unions. As the unions were formed and grew to become a formidable force on the shop floor and in various sectors of the economy, UTP workers' education tended to focus on the internal workings of unions, such as the role of shop stewards, accountability, mandates, union constitutions, servicing union members and union finances. As the unions grew in the late 1970s and in the 1980s, education and the work of the UTP focused on collective bargaining, handling grievances, industrial council agreement, and wage determinations. The course for union officials who worked as organisers covered topics like labour law, labour history and recruitment of new union members. Another organisers' course which sought to develop organisers as skilled union officials who understand the history and role of trade unions was also offered. To move away from the presentation of history as the "history of great men," some of the courses dealt with working-class history which viewed history through the lenses of workers and working-class communities (Vally 1994). In the mid-1980s, the UTP offered 14 courses which tended to run over three days. Topics covered ranged from organising, to workers' education, to collective agreements, to negotiation skills and occupational health (UTP 1985).

Until 1976, UTP staff members occupied strategic positions in the unions they helped establish. For example, a branch secretary of the laundry and dry-cleaning union was also a UTP director. Three UTP organisers were secretaries of industrial unions that organised workers in food, chemical and paper industries. This approach was changed in 1976, enabling the UTP staffers to resign from the UTP and become full-time employees of the unions. An executive committee of the UTP was elected by the unions that had a close working relationship with the labour service organisation, granting the unions some control over the programmes and the UTP's functioning (Lowry 1999).

By 1973, the UTP had led the formation of 11 trade unions. Clearly, these were also positive spinoffs of the Durban strikes, which laid the foundations for the formation of trade unions as workers gained confidence, enabling them to form trade unions and other workers' organisations. The unions whose formation was initiated by the UTP formed a coordinating structure called the Consultative Committee of Black Trade Unions (CCOBTU). These unions included the following: the South African Chemical Workers Union (SACWU), the Laundry and Dry Cleaning Workers Union (LDCWU), the Paper, Wood and Allied Workers Union (PPWAWU), the Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU), the Sweet, Food and Allied Workers Union (SFAWU), the Building, Construction and Allied Workers Union (BCAWU), the United Auto and Rubber Workers Union (UARWU), the Engineering and Allied Workers Union (EAWU), the Transport and Allied Workers Union (TAWU), and the National Union of Clothing Workers (NUCW) (Lowry 1999; Vally 1994).

The UTP's impact can also be measured by the number of participants who attended its programmes and seminars along with the unions it helped establish and support. There were about 900 participants in its courses and seminars in 1975, but in 1985, 24 unions with a combined membership of over 200 000 workers used the UTP's services. In addition, UTP's educators and staff members faced harassment, arrests and detention from the apartheid state (Vally 1994).

To implement its educational programmes, the UTP used foreign funding from churches (largely from Germany) and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) to support its activities. Foreign funding from the labour organisations in other countries sought to influence the UTP's political direction. Sithole and Ndlovu 2006, 200) comment:

The ideological drive of overseas financial sponsors, mainly the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the British Trades Union Council (TUC), was primarily behind the UTP's economic reductionism and workerism. A condition for funding was that recipients should keep African workers away from politics. Its "economism" and hostility towards politics alienated the UTP from other groups that were involved in the revival of trade unions during this period. Among those repulsed by the UTP's "economism" were trade unionists of Black Consciousness persuasion such as Drake Koka.

Engaging national politics is an issue that became a source of debate and tension within the labour movement and it did not just affect the UTP. On the one hand, there were those who always saw the immediate connections between workers' daily struggles and the need to defeat apartheid and establish a democratic system. On the other hand, some political currents who were often labelled as "workerists" saw the need to focus on "bread and butter" issues like wages and working conditions and building trade union structures without getting much involved in national politics (Khanya College 2005a).

In the 1980s, the UTP generally serviced unions belonging to the National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU), a trade union federation formed in 1986 and largely influenced by Black Consciousness ideology, and other unions. In the 1990s, there was a debate about the UTP's independence. Some sections of the movement associated with the UTP wanted it to join NACTU and become its education desk. On the other hand, others saw the UTP as a labour service organisation that had to service NACTU and other unions, requiring some autonomy to fulfil such a broad function and role. The UTP collapsed as soon as ICFTU funding dried up. A number of UTP staff members joined NACTU's education department. Others formed a new labour service organisation called Workers Education Project (Vally 1994).

 

SACHED's LACOM and Other Initiatives

I now turn to focus on SACHED's Labour and Community Committee (LACOM), a project which sought to provide community and workers' education. The scope of the work of LACOM will be narrowed down to critically discuss workers' education as delivered by LACOM. Unlike the UTP which emerged as a direct response to working conditions and workers, SACHED's LACOM had its roots in the struggles for quality higher education. SACHED was founded as part of the struggles against apartheid education and specifically the promulgation of the Extension of University Education Act in 1959, which paved the way for students to be further divided and allocated university education according to racial categories. One of the aims of the "bush colleges" or what is now regarded as Historically Black Universities (HBUs) was to train black students to service the apartheid administration in the Bantustans or what was regarded as "homelands" and other apartheid structures. How to respond to these "bush colleges" was a subject for debate as others saw them as one of the sites of struggle against apartheid and its education system (Trimbur 2009). Motala (2018, 189) elaborates,

One of SACHED's early programmes was to enable students to register for courses at the University of London through its external degrees division. This was a response to the idea that apartheid institutions were anathema to the aspirations of those who sought access to higher education and that an alternative should be found for the purpose. Unsurprisingly this "liberal" orientation soon came under scrutiny with the emergence of the Black Consciousness Movement and the radical workers' movement in the 1970s.

SACHED had a flexible organisational model, enabling it to respond to the educational needs of various sections of the oppressed and the working class. Luckett et al. (2016, 262) write about how the organisational approach of SACHED evolved to also encompass the educational needs of workers:

The South African Committee for Higher Education Trust (SACHED), founded in 1958, became the largest and arguably most influential education NGO in South Africa by the 1980s. SACHED was able to respond to the ongoing education crisis and political movement by constantly adjusting curricula to current and local dynamics. One systematic response was the formation of its more radical wing, the Labour and Community Committee (LACOM), which undertook educational work with community organisations and trade unions.

SACHED's orientation was changed to respond to the student uprising of 1976, the workers' movement which emerged in the 1970s and became stronger in the 1980s, and specifically, the generalised mass revolt of that decade. The mass movement led to a development of various programmes by SACHED which had to respond to the demands and the needs of students, workers, trade unions and civic formations. SACHED's response to the uprisings in the 1970s and the 1980s was to develop educational programmes that were anti-racist and inspired by the works of Freire and other radical thinkers who sought to use education to emancipate the oppressed. Although all LACOM staff members had strong political views, there was a general agreement that LACOM had to operate on the basis of non-sectarianism, which meant that the organisation had to serve all workers and unions that were committed to build a workers' movement, regardless of political differences (Motala 2017).

LACOM's political programme responded to the educational needs of shop stewards who belonged to trade union federations such as the Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU) and later the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). According to Luckett, Walters, and von Kotze (2017, 266),

LACOM undertook educational work introducing systematic study of political economy concepts, organising skills, basic technical skills, African history, workers' history and campaign-linked education. Education was embedded in organisations and campaigns, such as the workers' May Day campaign, and seen as part of movement/organisation building.

LACOM's publications and educational programmes covered international and historical issues like the French Revolution. South African political economy topics ranged from the development of capitalism in South Africa to the political and economic crisis during apartheid. Human evolution and science were among the topics regarded as "heavy theory," which were also seen as important issues to be discussed and debated by shop stewards (Motala 2017).

Luckett, Walters, and von Kotze (2017, 266) further contend that workers' education delivered by SACHED was viewed as part of "the collective process" which outweighed "individual self-advancement" as workers and communities were involved in planning workshops and other education events. This collective approach to education found expression in the publications produced by LACOM. Staff members at LACOM did not publish articles and other publications as individuals, but as a LACOM collective.

These publications (written in a language generally accessible to workers in South Africa) were widely distributed (at a small price) at worker rallies, campaign meetings, conferences and other events and were extraordinarily popular. In fact, they were often "sold out" as soon as they were printed. As expected, some of these publications continue to have salience in the light of contemporary debates around the "national question" and the role of the workers' movement (Motala 2018). For example, Freedom from Below is still used by existing LSOs like Khanya College to educate precarious workers about their history in the national liberation and working-class struggles against racial capitalism (Khanya College 2005a; Khanya College 2012). Written from a workers' perspective, LACOM's publications are also meant to show a new generation of workers that the working class and the poor are capable of making their own history through concrete struggles.

Publications at LACOM were written in language easy to understand as the aim was to communicate with workers. There was always an emphasis on the need to explain concepts and events. Illustrations, songs, poems, and the use of storytellers that workers could relate to were some of the approaches LACOM used to explain developments like the political economy of South Africa, working-class struggles during the early phases of capitalism and the social and economic crisis during apartheid. Some publications also had questions which were meant to stimulate debate and discussion among workers and shop stewards (LACOM 1989).

One of LACOM's publications, Freedom from Below, remains one of those groundbreaking popular education resources which sought to raise awareness and stimulate debate about the emergence of the labour movement. Written in simple and accessible language, the book was widely used by LACOM to educate workers, shop stewards and trade union officials about key laws that oppressed workers, the role of unions in the early phases of South African capitalism, the re-emergence of unions in the 1970s after the Durban strikes, and key debates concerning, for example, the union form, unions and politics, union registration with apartheid institutions of collective bargaining, and the role of workers and working-class communities in history (LACOM 1989).

As in the UTP case, LACOM's work was always contested internally and externally, as it was explicitly political. According to Motala (2017, 199),

The critical issue related to whether such a mandate implied an uncritical acceptance of the resolutions and campaigns of the federations and unions, the role of "outside" intellectuals, the meaning and implication of "democratic mandates," the question of leadership and bureaucracy, the role of "service" organisations that were supportive of the workers' movement, and other related issues and how these affected the practices of organizations like SACHED and its LACOM project.

The accusation levelled against LACOM and other service organisations was that they worked with mass organisations and trade unions which operated on the basis of mandates and yet LSOs were not accountable and often had some explicit political ends. The rebuttal to that accusation was that LSOs were part of a broad labour movement, and their accountability ought not to be reduced to the immediate needs and desires of trade unions that were often led by leaders who might also have ends not directly related to the needs and aspirations of workers. Joint programmes agreed upon by trade unions and LACOM were in place, but there were other issues like workers' control that LSOs thought were important in advancing the interests of the working class that needed to be explored educationally, and the autonomy of LSOs enabled them to advance the interests of the movement without being controlled and being tied to the immediate needs of union leadership (Hlatshwayo 2009; Walters 1988).

In 1986, at the height of the struggle against apartheid, SACHED founded Khanya College as one of its projects. Its original aim was to provide activists who were part of the mass movement with opportunities to access university education. Khanya College's students were obliged to work at least half a day a week in a trade union, NGO, community organisation or any structure that was part of the anti-apartheid movement. This was informed by the need to make a connection between education and the collective struggle for liberation. The college was set up as an alternative to other mainstream institutions of higher learning which tended to promote individualism and the value of the capitalist system. The college has operations in Johannesburg and Cape Town (Khanya College 2005b).

SACHED, and with it LACOM, closed its doors by the late 1990s, as part of what has been referred to as the "decimation of the NGO sector" (Luckett, Walters, and von Kotze 2017, 267). The transition to democracy in the 1990s was accompanied by declining donor funding, leading to a collapse of many NGOs that were dependent on these international funds. In addition, many activists were involved in policymaking with the hope that the ANC would be able to implement the demands and working class-friendly policies. After 1994, highly skilled activists who were also part of institutions of workers' education joined government with the aim of contributing to changing the lives of workers and the working class for the better (Hlatshwayo 2009).

In 1992, to revive the work of the defunct LACOM and to respond to the needs of trade unions, community-based organisations and civic formations in the transition from apartheid to democracy, Khanya College decided to establish a community division which later became the Labour and Community Division (also "LACOM"). In 1993, the college became independent of SACHED and officially became the Khanya College Johannesburg Trust (Khanya College 2005b). According to Khanya College (2005b, 12), "The Lacom division specialised in training for civics, unions, student organisations, churches and other community based structure."

Like SACHED's LACOM and UTP, the LACOM of Khanya College had an approach to workers' and community education that was based on Freirean politics and principles which saw workers and communities as social agents capable of using knowledge and organisational and collective power to challenge social and economic structural injustices. All educational activities used the existing knowledge of workers and communities as a foundation for developing new knowledge based on interactions between educators and participants in workshops and seminars (Pape 1997).

In 1992, the Civic Associations of Johannesburg (CAJ) and Khanya College's LACOM implemented a joint educational programme which saw the participation of 40 activists of the civic organisation over close to 65 days. The course was not highly structured. It dealt with practical organisation skills, service delivery issues, the housing question, the role of the local state and political economy issues (Pape 1997; Vally 1994). Due to funding and other challenges, the academic programme came to an end in the mid-1990s, and the work of the college focused on trade unions, community-based organisations, student formations, NGOs and the ecumenical sector. During the transition to democracy, the college became an important intellectual resource for the labour movement which had to respond to the negotiations between the liberation movement and the apartheid regime, violence that was aimed at weakening and even destroying the mass movement organisations, the drafting of the national Constitution, changes in labour laws and other issues of development (Pape 1997).

In the late 1990s, the college ran a certificate programme which targeted shop stewards, organisers, other union officials and community development workers. Accredited by UNISA, the course covered various themes related to development and the role of people's organisations like trade unions and community organisations in development. Khanya's LACOM ran a series of multi-year national programmes in conjunction with SACCAWU that focused on gender and the building of women leaders in a union that had an overwhelmingly huge female membership. Unions like the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) and PPWAWU asked the college to facilitate a week-long national course on the political economy and the development of capitalism in South Africa (Hlatshwayo 2009; Khanya College 2005b).

A former NUMSA worker leader, Moss Manganyi (interview cited in Pape 1997, 306), had the following to say about the college's worker's education programmes:

When we used to attend workshops given by the union, we only heard the views of the working class ... Khanya gives you the difference between the capitalist ideas and working-class ideas. It is up to the delegate to decide ... Khanya is not dictating terms.

Parallel to workshops and courses, Khanya College's LACOM published popular booklets that dealt with various topics ranging from changes in the labour relations laws to a critique of neoliberal polices of the ANC-led government. One the publications produced by the college is titled Ufil' Umuntu, Ufil' Usadikiza: Trade Unions and Struggles for Democracy in South Africa, 1973-2003, which, among other things, updated Freedom from Below, which was also used by some academics to introduce first-year students to the labour movement. As new social movements struggling for access to basic services like water, housing and electricity, and as precarious forms of work emerged in the 2000s, the college began to offer educational programmes that supported the new community-based initiatives and precarious workers employed as community healthcare workers, for instance (Khanya College 2005b; Khanya College 2012).

Funding challenges and the inability to attract highly skilled staff members are some of the obstacles that stand in the way of NGOs like Khanya College. The college argues "NGOs have continued to retreat with most focusing on survival in the context of funding cuts, difficulties of charting political direction in the post-Polokwane era, and difficulties of attracting highly skilled staff committed to social justice" (Khanya College 2012, 1). The funding environment in the 2000s became extremely difficult for NGOs, as Northern donors faced budget cuts caused by a neoliberal political environment that was unfriendly to working people and the poor. Limited resources for the remaining NGOs meant that they could not attract or keep highly skilled employees who ended up leaving NGO jobs for university and government positions that guaranteed security and upward social mobility.

 

Discussion and Conclusion

The role of LSOs is dictated by developments within the working class. For example, the UTP's initial role was to provide workers' education, the main purpose of which was to raise consciousness among workers with the view to help them form unions which later coordinated and led workers' struggles. As shown earlier, the UTP initiated the formation of many trade unions. On the other hand, SACHED's LACOM began to deliver workers' education programmes to the labour movement that was already established and stronger in the 1980s. The UTP shifted from an LSO that established unions to one that provided workers' education and sought to strengthen the existing unions in the 1980s.

Both LACOM and the UTP adopted pedagogical approaches that were premised on meaningful dialogues between educators, shop stewards and workers. This was driven by the epistemological assumption that workers were also bearers of knowledge and self-liberators who merely needed platforms for sharing and generalising experiences with the view to radically transform their living conditions. Despite these radical pedagogical approaches, as unions became stronger and bigger they began questioning the role of LSOs.

Sometimes the debate on LSOs' role initiated by trade union leaders, intentionally and unintentionally, portrayed them as "outsiders." There were bureaucratic attempts to subsume the work of LSOs under the auspices of trade unions which later became implicated in the transition that saw workers being undermined by the post-apartheid state and the capitalists. While LSOs did not disagree about the need to entrench accountability, it appears as if union leaders wanted to control workers' education. In addition, the argument was that some LSOs were dealing with immediate issues facing unions like wages, and that these were accountable directly to structures of trade unions. Others were examining theoretical issues and had adopted a proactive approach to questions and challenges facing the labour movement broadly, and therefore did not have to be directed by a trade union leadership. In other words, a "one size fits all" model of accountability was not going to work (Walters 1988).

Some of the issues pertaining to accountability of progressive NGOs and left-wing intellectuals are still debated and discussed today. Even today, the debate is about the relationship between professionals and NGOs that support struggles for social and economic justice, and social movements comprised of the marginalised and working people. At times, activists belonging to movements feel that NGOs and LSOs are not accountable and seek to impose their political views on the mass movements that have democratic structures and operate on the basis of mandates and direct accountability. In addition to that, and in the context of generalised poverty amongst the working people and the poor who belong to social movements, middle-class professionals in NGOs are seen as a privileged elite that is not carrying the "burden of economic oppression." These are issues that need to be debated by NGOs and social movements, and some agreements on developing a working relationship can be crafted, because both groups or parties are concerned about the need to eliminate all forms of social and economic oppression. In locating LSOs as institutions of the working class, the article has shown that left-wing intellectuals and NGOs-albeit with the noted contradictions-can play different constructive roles in the building of grassroots-based organisations of the working class.

As shown in the article, funding remains one of the obstacles that stand in the way of NGOs and LSOs. Funding is drying up today, and another problem is that donors want to dictate terms and issues to be tackled by NGOs. At the same time, poverty and the rise of precarious work necessitate an increase in the number of NGOs that provide workers' education. Perhaps educators and workers have to think about new funding models that begin to make sure that the work of NGOs or workers' education associations can raise funds domestically and internationally without being derailed by external agendas which tend to channel workers' education in ways that undermine workers' interests. However, it would be a grave error to reduce all the problems to funding. It can be argued that the weakening of the labour movement has also contributed to the decline of many LSOs. The restructuring of the working class in the form of retrenchments, precarious work, technological changes and work reorganisation, and the inability of the established unions to respond to these changes have also contributed to the decline of working-class organisations, and LSOs in particular.

In citing a survey on COSATU shop stewards in 2012, Sikwebu shows that COSATU, for instance, has declined as a leader of the labour movement and working-class communities in general. Sikwebu (2015) elaborates,

The 2012 survey of COSATU shop stewards revealed that just a third of those interviewed participated in community organisations, and that under a quarter had participated in a community protest. The over-reliance on striking deals in Tripartite Alliance summits seemed to have turned the attention from the real task of building the organisation and campaigns from below with other non-labour movements.

It has also been argued by other scholars and activists that other signs of the labour movement's weaknesses include COSATU's inability to organise vulnerable workers, the numerical decline of industrial workers who were the backbone of militancy in the 1980s, the atomisation of workers, the bureaucratisation of unions, and the inability of the unions to wage campaigns and struggles against neoliberal restructuring (Buhlungu 2010; Satgar and Southall 2015). The decline of the unions and the rise of precarious forms of work make a compelling case for the need to strengthen the educational role of the LSOs, as it appears that the tasks of rebuilding the labour movement are similar to those of the early 1970s when organisations of workers were extremely weak or non-existent.

 

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Enver Motala, colleagues at the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation, and the reviewers for commenting on an earlier draft of this article. The Department of Higher Education and Training's Research Development Grant Fund funded the research for the article. However, the views expressed in this article are mine.

 

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