Academic journal article McGill Journal of Education (Online)

Worker Education in South Africa: Lessons and Contradictions/formation Des Travailleurs En Afrique Du Sud : Lecons et Contradictions

Academic journal article McGill Journal of Education (Online)

Worker Education in South Africa: Lessons and Contradictions/formation Des Travailleurs En Afrique Du Sud : Lecons et Contradictions

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. Worker education played a crucial role in the development of the trade union movement in South Africa and in the broader struggle for social transformation. This article reviews key moments and dynamics in the trajectory of worker education in South Africa. We argue that international developments, the rise of neoliberalism, and the negotiated compromise between the African National Congress (ANC) and the apartheid state, as well as corporatism resulted in changes to worker education. While the latter as it existed in the past has weakened, the centre of gravity has shifted to community organizations where various forms of learning and creativity continue. Despite the challenges and setbacks of recent years, there remains a significant legacy and influence of the traditions of worker education and militant trade unionism in South Africa, which can and should be drawn upon.

FORMATION ORMATION DES TRAVAILLEURS TRAVAILLEURS TRAVAILLEURS EN AFRI QUE DU SUD : LEÇONS ET CO NTRADICTIONS

RÉSUMÉ. La formation des travailleurs a joué un rôle déterminant dans le développement du mouvement syndicaliste en Afrique du Sud et dans l'ensemble des luttes pour la transformation sociale. Cet article survole les moments-clés et les dynamiques de l'évolution de la formation des travailleurs en Afrique du Sud. Nous soutenons que les développements sur le plan international, la montée du néolibéralisme et les compromis négociés entre le Congrès national africain (ANC) et le gouvernement d'apartheid, ainsi que le corporatisme, ont provoqué des changements dans la formation des travailleurs. Alors que la forme sous laquelle elle existait dans le passé s'est affaiblie, le coeur de ses activités réside désormais au sein d'organisations communautaires, où des formes diverses d'apprentissages et de créativité se poursuivent. Malgré les défis et les échecs au cours des dernières années, il reste encore un héritage important et une influence des traditions de la formation des travailleurs et du mouvement militant syndicaliste en Afrique du Sud, desquels il est possible et essentiel de s'inspirer.

Worker education played a crucial role in the development of the trade union movement in South Africa and in the broader struggle for social transformation - especially in the two decades since the re-emergence of worker militancy in the early 1970s. Despite that rich tradition, worker education has suffered a serious decline in the post-apartheid years. In order to understand this decline and draw the appropriate lessons, it is vital to view South Africa's experience with worker education against the backdrop of the socio-economic and political shifts that accompanied the end of apartheid, and to grasp the economic and ideological agendas that inform worker education discourses and practices. It is also useful to review both the richness of the worker education tradition that played this vital role, as well as some of the key points in its trajectory.

Worker education was simultaneously a consequence, a platform, a site, and a weapon of struggle for the oppressed people of South Africa generally and the black working class in particular. With its humble origins in the adult night schools education movement throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the tradition of South African workers and their allies to provide emancipatory, politically meaningful learning for themselves and others would eventually achieve their fullest expression in the dynamic 1980s, with its dramatic upsurge in literacy programs, workers' cultural manifestations, and educational efforts to support trade union organizing and industrial action. These activities both arose out of and catalysed the vibrancy in the union organizing of those years, which would ultimately play a crucial role in putting an end to white minority rule.

The strike wave of 1972-73 and the Soweto uprising in 1976 led to the legalization of black union structures (albeit within tight constraints) by the apartheid state in a failed attempt to control workers and tame their militancy. …

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