FYI – my first assignment for the course I just finished on the history of Labour Education in Canada and the world.
It's posted here because John Herbert requested my assignments be posted.
Modern Canadian labour education emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century. Throughout this hundred years, the purposes and practises of labour education changed. To discuss Canadian labour education during the twentieth century, it’s necessary first to define labour education and its origins, before outlining the main themes in its Canadian history.
Labour education is defined by Bruce Spencer in Unions and Learning in a Global Economy as “education with the central purpose of supporting the union organizationally,”[i] with the training of union representatives as its main characteristic. He recognizes that this vision of labour education relies heavily upon earlier forms of worker education.
Informal education takes place casually, mostly in small conversations. Formal education takes place in courses offered for credit by universities and colleges. Non-formal education as defined by Jeffrey Taylor (in his book Union Learning: Canadian Labour Education in the Twentieth Century[ii]) includes non-credit courses from colleges and universities as well as programmes presented by unions and other organizations.
Labour education is one of the responsibilities of unions and workers’ associations. It begins with worker education in basic skills related to the work at hand, but is distinct from vocational training. Closely related is adult education in basic life skills, including basic literacy and primary education. Adult education in the humanities as well is seen by most labour educators as necessary to encourage the development of workers as capable citizens; for some educators it is considered necessary in order to replace the fourth area of labour education. That area is instruction in the history and issues of the union movement and training in skills needed as a union member, activist or organizer. It is this union history and training which comes to mind first for many people, and certainly for Spencer, when defining labour education.
The contracts under which labour educators are hired are described by Michael Newman in The Third Contract: Theory and Practice in Trade Union Trading as not only the formal work contract but also “the relationships and sets of obligations, both formal and informal, that will exist between all the parties – everyone – involved in a program of adult learning.”[iii] Trainers could be hired by management, for example, and the hierarchical responsibility for the content, objectives and instructional delivery would be imposed from management via the trainer to the employees. By contrast, an adult educator providing non-credit adult education interacts with the learner on a two-way basis, presenting material the learner needs in methods that are successful for this experience. But a union trainer enters a complex interaction with both the union and the participants of a learning program. The union employs the trainer, but this two-way relationship involves feedback, reporting and discussion of union policy as well as training matters. The trainer works with the participants on a two-way basis much like an adult educator works with learners. The “third contract” as described by Newman enables or requires the union member participants to report directly to the union, giving evaluations which bypass the trainer. This discourages the adoption of a hierarchical structure wherein the trainer or the union might “assume a position of authority or control… treating participants as manipulable employees.”[iv] It also gradually equips participants with the skills to be active in union affairs, so that any personal improvement will improve the union as well.
Modern labour education in Canada is traced by Taylor[v] back to England and the efforts of reformers during the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. A case could be made for some informal labour education being done in England by 17th century activists such as the Levellers, Diggers, Ranters, Ravers and in the 1810s by Luddites. These worker-centred movements were rigorously suppressed by the authorities.[vi]
With the emergence of reformers among the propertied class, labour education began to be promoted to capitalists and legislators as a tool to keep capitalist owners firmly in control of industry while avoiding a worker revolution. The goal was to manufacture consent through education; for some reformers this would be a real consent by informed and capable worker-citizens, while for others it would be a de facto consent by workers who would know only what they were told. Noam Chomsky, in Media Control: the Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, cites Walter Lippmann in his definition of manufacturing consent: “that is, bring about agreement on the part of the public for things that they didn’t want[,]by the new techniques of propaganda.”[vii]
Since unions first began organizing in Canada in the early nineteenth century, informal labour education began through individual craft-based trade unions. An idea imported from Great Britain during the 1830s was that of mechanics’ institutes, used to deliver scientific and technical background. Over three hundred of these institutes, “founded and administered by employers and professionals… to ensure that workers accepted… the power relationships of the new industrial order”[viii], were operating across Canada by 1895. But the institutes faded in importance, and many became local libraries instead as that century ended. Two ideas were imported from the United States in the later 1800s. The Knights of Labor allowed workers of any skill, gender or ethnicity to join, “protecting and enhancing the nobility of human labour in the face of… growing inequality and poverty.”[ix] Their newspapers were distributed among some four hundred assemblies west of the Maritimes, but the Knights of Labour failed to thrive past the 1900s. A new union voice came from the American Federation of Labour, emphasizing collective bargaining for trade-based unions. And for general labourers in the early years of the twentieth century, the Industrial Workers of the World (known as Wobblies) strove for a general strike and a new egalitarian democracy.
In Canada, labour education has been a tool of Communists and Wobblies, reformists, and Catholics armed with an 1891 encyclical from Pope Leo XIII (“which held that workers in industrial societies had certain rights and that capital had certain responsibilities towards labour.”)[x] It has always been conducted for the worker’s benefit, even when it also meets the goals of management or the collective bargaining unit. But the intent of the educator has varied among three goals: working towards the workers’ revolution deposing the capitalists, working to avoid the revolution and keep the capitalists firmly in power, or working to make the revolution unnecessary because of integrated societal changes in labour, capitalist methods and the economy. These disparate worldviews produce some results in harmony when all agree on the honour and dignity of the labourer, the worth of the work being done, and the value of shared skills which improve society as well as individuals. It has not escaped notice on all sides that the worker may be taught rhetoric and buzzwords as well as methods and tools.
That is because labour education is primarily a verbal experience, whether it uses minimal or modern technology. It took place in conversations between workers standing in picket lines after the First World War, and from the 1930s to 1970s it led to developments in radio programming and audio-visual technology for bringing learning experiences to larger groups and to small study groups in isolated locations. But from early in the century, some formal labour education was conducted at a university standard, often by university instructors working on their own time with unions, or graduates teaching independently.
In 1901, Frontier College began teaching literacy and citizenship from a social gospel perspective. Their labourer-teachers were normally university students living and working in logging camps and on railway crews, teaching labourers and immigrants. Another religious perspective was shown by the Catholic church in Quebec, which sponsored an annual labour festival, and study circles which led to the founding of L’Ecole Social Populaire. This was followed in 1918 by the Cercle Leo XIII, an education centre with some non-formal programmes. Outside of these efforts, most labour education was done from a secular perspective.
Canadian labour education in trade unions grew between 1918 and 1946 with the Workers’ Educational Association as a central coordinator of a national movement. The WEA began in Toronto in 1918 as “a voluntary association governed by trade unionists, university professors and members of the public[,]modelled on the parent British body formed in 1903.”[xi] From a few evening classes in university-level instruction, labour education expanded to encompass a range of activities from weekend institutes to summer schools, and eventually the use of visual media. The tutorial method was the main focus, as well as study circles and radio broadcasts with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation during the 1930s, when a women’s auxiliary and free classes for the unemployed were organized. Though the United Auto Workers and communist-led unions were the most active unions within the WEA, a genuine effort was made to provide non-sectarian service for the whole labour movement.
Though secular universities did few classes in labour education at this time, and those mostly with the WEA, the extension department of St Francis Xavier University (in Antigonish, Nova Scotia) began instead during the 1920s and 1930 to develop their own programmes of labour education, organizing collectives which did not challenge capitalist society. It was a direct response to the effectiveness of the education being done by Communists in small study groups.
The fear of Communism causing a complete social and economic upheaval may seem ludicrous from a twenty-first century perspective, where the Communist Party of Canada took only a few hundred votes in the latest federal election. But in 1918 Canada, Soviet Russia was viewed from a very different perspective than it is in the new millennium after the collapse of the Soviet regime. China’s revolution looked like the beginning of a landslide change in Asia. Also, church attendance was more common in Canada between the wars than it has become after the year 2000, and Communism was perceived as being violently anti-Christian; even Mennonite and Hutterite collectives were looked on with suspicion by other Protestant churches and particularly by Catholics.[xii]
During this period, university educators and trade unions with social democratic leadership began to develop a social democrat aspect of labour education that would emerge after 1946 as a major focus. As well, after World War II Canadian unions and their efforts in labour education were strongly influenced by American unions, focusing on collective bargaining and industrial relations training. This concentration during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s is seen by Taylor as coming “at the expense of general education for the broader membership.”[xiii]
In Winnipeg, the WEA worked with the University of Manitoba until 1950, operating a series of low-tuition evening courses for union members, with university academic instructors. After that date the local WEA re-formed as the Manitoba Labor Institute. The Canadian Congress of Labour also used the campus as a venue for its weekend institutes.
St. Francis Xavier University continued its “ideological commitment to countering the influence of communism among the Nova Scotia working class.”[xiv]
Some (but not all) of the content of Communist labour education was compatible with the Canadian social democratic movement. The social democrats began in 1946 to put greater emphasis into developing a working political party, first the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and then the New Democratic Party. The result was the creation of labour laws at the provincial and federal levels, laws which reflect many goals of social democrats and even of Communist activists from the early part of the century. With union support, the NDP has won provincial elections and been a successful third party in federal elections. But with time the NDP has become independent of the union movement. At the end of November 2005, the NDP changed its party organization so that unions may no longer sign up block memberships, but only individuals may join the party.[xv]
While a social democratic party was evolving, the federal government took a more active interest in labour education. During the Second World War, The National Film Board was developed as not only a propaganda arm for the war effort but as a place where educational materials could be created and distributed. The science of films was developing, and the NFB promoted use of the filmstrip, a visual aid that was more affordable than films and could be matched with lectures and audio recordings. With the federal Department of Labour, from 1950 to 1956 the NFB produced Labour in Canada, a series of films covering aspects of collective bargaining. These and other films were used as standard teaching materials until the 1970s.
During the 1950s and 1960s internal union education programs were developed in the absence of much interest from post-secondary institutions. When the Canada Labour Congress formed in 1956 with the merger of the Canadian Congress of Labour and the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada, some of the CLC’s labour educators began to integrate facilitating skills, such as role-playing games and discussion groups, from adult education classes and the psychotherapy movement, to supplement formal lectures and imposed curricula. Peer education has a long history in union training, but its informality is most effective when integrated with texts fostering understanding of broad social issues.[xvi]
During the 1970s there were considerable efforts made to promote the equality of the races and sexes in union education. As the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) began to represent a worker population that included more and more women workers, promoting the equality of women became more natural. When particular efforts were made in some unions to integrate matters of interest to female workers into general training for all shop stewards, rather than keeping such material separate in courses devoted to women’s interests, male workers sometimes protested that change was coming too quickly.[xvii] But for female workers equality is still coming too slow, and even after the century ended, average wages for women are less than three-quarters of average wages paid for men. However, provisions against racism and sexual harassment have become workplace and human rights standards across Canada.
In the 1970s Canadian universities and community colleges began to approach labour education as being compatible with their own emerging goals of life-long learning integrated with a worker’s primary occupation. Unfortunately, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and other large union groups had been disappointed by earlier, unsuccessful efforts to develop labour education programmes in co-operation with universities, and had developed their own training centres. The United Auto Workers negotiated paid educational leave for their workers in their contracts, but the CLC sought government funding. The Labour College of Canada received federal grant money, as did the Labour Education and Studies Centre (with its Ottawa base and four regional centres). When the grants were withdrawn after twenty years, the Labour College of Canada scrambled to raise its own funds, but also realized its part-time educators enjoyed more solidarity with students than their union bosses.[xviii] In general, large union groups regarded formal post-secondary courses as competing with their own learning centres. At that time, the only university able to implement a successful program in labour education in co-operation with provincial and regional union groups was St. Francis Xavier University.
Beginning in the 1970s in Alberta, Athabasca University developed efficient and effective programmes in distance education, and by the 1990s had become a certificate and degree-granting institution. The teaching staff used “a wide range of labour-related courses…to provide post-secondary educational opportunities to trade unionists”[xix] across Canada and in other countries, with the co-operation of labour organizations and other programmes.
In the mid-1980s, the Canadian Union of Public Employees began using an online conferencing system called Solinet. Marc Belanger put a text-based conferencing and e-mail system onto a computer at CUPE’s Ottawa headquarters and linked it to the datapac system which gave dial-up modem access from across the country, using local area codes. By 1992, CUPE was presenting online credit and non-credit courses in labour education in co-operation with Athabasca University. This communications network was intended for use by the whole labour community, and in 1995 via the World Wide Web, this network became accessible to anyone with internet access, allowing not only text access but graphics, images, video and sound.
CUPE had become not only the first union but possibly the first national group to develop organized use of their own computer communications system.[xx] Their example was quickly followed by other labour and professional organizations, including such small groups as SF Canada, the national association of professional authors of science fiction and fantasy, many of which took advantage of members’ access to mainframes and servers at universities.[xxi] These smaller networks survived, though CUPE took down Solinet in 1999 when Belanger moved on to a new position with the International Labour Organization.
The role of Canadian universities in labour education continued to change during the 1990s. Capilano College in British Columbia developed a strong programme and eventually won the co-operation of the Canadian Labour Congress. Simon Fraser University announced their development of a bachelor’s degree in labour studies. The University of Manitoba put pressure on the Manitoba Federation of Labour to attract more paying participants for the continuing education programme. And when the federal government withdrew its funding in 1997, St Francis Xavier University ended its Atlantic Region Labour Education Centre and put its effort instead into popular education projects in the developing world through the Coady International Institute.[xxii]
Athabasca University cooperated with programmes in the University of Manitoba and Laurentian University, in hopes of fostering a network across the country of labour studies programmes in collaboration. In South Ontario, colleges and universities developed certificate and degree programmes. As university and college labour studies programmes began to make formal recognition of learning acquired in the workplace and other training, discussions of Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) were conducted with representatives from unions, employers and government. At the end of the 1990s, the New Approaches to Lifelong Learning research network “concluded that PLAR should recognize the skills and knowledge that workers had acquired”[xxiii] without undermining collective bargaining provisions.
The time seemed ripe for a coalition of labour educators, but though university-based labour educators formed the Canadian Labour Education and Research Association in 1994, by 1999 this national association had not been very productive. Many members were active instead in the federal government’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, which funded research networks in training and education. Any effective coalition of labour educators in future will have to integrate labour-based trainers as well, to promote recognition of lifelong learning in work environments as well as academic training.[xxiv]
Canadian labour education during the twentieth century achieved many worthy goals for both union and non-union workers. Many opportunities were identified for improving both the content and the delivery of labour education. The perception of unions by the general public gradually improved through the century, so for some Canadians, unions are now seen as a positive element in work environments. Labour education has also fostered the general expectation among all Canadian workers (whether union members or not) that good work conditions are now to be expected as a natural condition of employment. During the latter part of the century labour education has been vital part of the effort to recognize the equality of women and women’s work, and the positive elements of multiculturalism in a nation largely populated by immigrants from many countries. With cooperation among labour educators in the future, labour education will be able to succeed consistently.
[i] Spencer, Bruce. Unions and Learning in a Global Economy Thompson, 2002. preface p. 11.
[ii] Taylor, Jeffrey M. Union Learning: Canadian Labour Education in the Twentieth Century. Thomson Educational Publishing, 2001,p. 4.
[iii] Newman, Michael. The Third Contract: Theory and Practice in Trade Union Training, Centre for Popular Education, Sydney NSW. 11th printing, 2002. p. 25.
[iv] Ibid, p. 39.
[v] Taylor, Jeffrey M. Union Learning: Canadian Labour Education in the Twentieth Century. Thomson Educational Publishing, 2001,p. 4.
[vi] Author uncredited, “Levellers” www.levellers.org/lev.htm Accessed December, 2005.
[vii] Chomsky, Noam. Media Control: the Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, 2nd edition, Seven Stories Press, ch.5 p.20.
[viii] Taylor, Jeffrey M. Union Learning: Canadian Labour Education in the Twentieth Century. Thomson Educational Publishing, 2001, pp 9-10.
[ix] Ibid, p.11.
[x] Ibid, p 13.
[xi] Ibid, p. 23.
[xii] Johanson, Paula. Unpublished notes from interviews with Mennonite families in Alberta and Manitoba, 1985-2004.
[xiii] Taylor, Jeffrey M. Union Learning: Canadian Labour Education in the Twentieth Century. Thomson Educational Publishing, 2001, p 248.
[xiv] Ibid, p84.
[xv] The World At Six news report, CBC Radio One, November 30, 2005.
[xvi] Taylor, Jeffrey M. Union Learning: Canadian Labour Education in the Twentieth Century. Thomson Educational Publishing, 2001, p.233
[xvii] Ibid, p. 163.
[xviii] Ibid, p.243
[xix] Ibid, p.225.
[xx] Ibid, p. 226.
[xxi] Trudel, Jean-Louis and Johanson, Paula. Conversations on the SF Canada listserver with the list manager, 1994-2005.
[xxii] Taylor, Jeffrey M. Union Learning: Canadian Labour Education in the Twentieth Century. Thomson Educational Publishing, 2001, p231.
[xxiii] Ibid, p. 228.
[xxiv] Ibid, pp.249-50.