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education is power booklet cover
The Independent Working Class Education Project aims to learn the lessons of history to inform current class struggle. Inspired by the Ruskin Students strike of 1909, we organise open informed discussions and look at how interesting presentations can be used in a variety of circumstances.

We offer materials and contacts and always try to operate in a non-sectarian way; we are not committed to any particular political current.

IWCE Project hopes to:

  • Respect the role of the working class in making history, and in making the future
  • Seek to offer a diverse range of education materials and approaches for trade union and other working class and progressive movement groups

We want to rebuild the tradition of independent working-class education (IWCE) that used to exist across many parts of England, Scotland and Wales.

This tradition goes back to the industrial revolution and the growth of a modern working class. Attempts by the employers to use adult education to buy workers off go back almost as far.

Educational initiatives by and for workers themselves probably reached their high point in the early 1900s, with the setting-up of the Plebs' League (1908), the 'strike' by students at Ruskin College (1909), and the founding of the Scottish Labour College. (1916). By the General Strike, more than 30,000 workers were studying regularly in classes run by the National Council for Labour Colleges, which took over from the Plebs League in 1921. But from 1926 onwards decline set in.

Both the Plebs' League and the Scottish Labour College believed that activists should learn about the history of workers' attempts to organise, about economics seen from the workers' side, and about how to think out complex issues for yourself. They were against trusting the bosses to provide education in these areas, and they rejected attempts by the Oxford University Extension Delegacy and the Workers' Educational Association to foster class collaboration.

Between the 1950s and 2010 the powers-that-be extended university education to wider and wider circles of people. Some of this was to do with producing scientists and technical personnel for industry but some of it, especially in the humanities and social sciences, was about trying to cream off and neutralise sections of the working class; in short, an expanded version of the strategy that goes back to 1909 and beyond.

When it came to power in 2010 the Coalition began to move decisively away from that strategy. It has abolished state funding for all university teaching other than in science, technology and maths, and raised by 300 per cent the level of fees brought in under Tony Blair. Meanwhile, the need of working-class people in general, and activists in particular, for valid education in such areas as history, economics and philosophy is greater than ever.

We can't deal with this situation by copying what people did in the past. We need to base ourselves on the same principles as them, but also to take account of the changed situation. This includes the export of industrial production to lower wage economies overseas, and the destruction of jobs - and hence of union power bases - for example, in coalmining, steel, shipbuilding, engineering, car-making, the docks and printing - and all the demoralisation that goes with this. It also includes terrifying damage to the environment. We need urgently to redefine IWCE for the present day and the future, and rebuild it accordingly.

'Working-class' now must mean wage earners - and those who desperately need to become wage earners - in every field, including the service and public sectors, and many of those who are nominally self-employed, plus their dependents. 'Education' must mean workers helping one another to become aware of the whole truth and nothing but the truth about how things are and how they might be. And 'independent' must mean controlled by working people themselves. In the world today, effective working-class self-organisation demands IWCE.

Do you share this perspective? If so, we want to work with you, both to think these ideas through further and to start rebuilding valid workers' education.

Please contact us

Plebs Pamphlet