What is workers’ education? – Stevie Nolan

Our answer to the question “What is the purpose of workers’ education?” is of course dependent on the broader question of “What is the purpose of trade unions?” Are unions a collective defence of interests aimed at advancing the terms and conditions of members (and only members), or are they a means of challenging capitalism and providing a political vehicle for advancing towards socialism? Is it reform or revolution?

In Ireland the answer has always been fairly clear. We have never seen ourselves as being in a struggle against capital; we rarely even use the language of “capital” and “labour,” and when we do it’s largely symbolic and used with a less-than-convincing clenched fist and a poor rendition of “The International.”

The reformist approach, understood as varieties of social democracy, is in retreat, if not entirely dead. Over the last forty years we have seen the emergence of a new phase in capitalist development that has included a dominant role for finance capital, the defeat of organised labour, deregulation, low taxes, massive and continuous privatisation, and the end of the welfare compromise.

Whether we know it as neo-liberalism, the great risk shift, or the end of history, what we see is the full-spectrum domination of free-market theory. But it’s not enough to have a market economy: what we’re seeing emerge is a free-market society. This is the kind of society where we teach entrepreneurialism to five-year-olds and where universities no longer engage in critical debate and democratic discourse but instead install derivatives trading-rooms in departments of “economic management.”

Read the full paper here http://www.tuleftforum.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Workers-Education-Stevie-Nolan.pdf