Sunday, July 23, 2006

still improving myself and inflicting it on others

Thisis my second assignment for the course.
It’s a comparative book review of The Third Contract: Theory and Practice in Trade Union Training by Michael Newman and Thinking Union by D’arcy Martin.

It’s easier to find perspective by having more than one viewpoint: two eyes to look at the world, two books discussing labour education. D’arcy Martin wrote about how his own experiences as a union educator and activist helped him understand the regional and national union movement in his book, Thinking Union: Activism and Education in Canada’s Labour Movement. Michael Newman wrote in his book The Third Contract: Theory and Practice in Trade Union Training about the methods and theories of union education, illustrating the concepts with his own experiences and other examples from educators. It is easy to draw from each book a sense of how much these men value union learning and the process of adult education.
From one book, the reader gains a solid impression of one man’s union experiences as an educator in Canada; from the other, the reader begins to see Australian union training with some historical and international context and various individual reactions.
The first chapter of Thinking Union is an introduction outlining a few of the changes Martin observed in labour education between 1978 and 1994. Martin opens the book with his daughters’ viewpoints on what they saw as his work when they were little, and his experience being arrested on a picket line. His older daughter had been asking since she was three if every office or meeting was “the union.” He took the six-year-old to a demonstration on Capitol Hill where a hundred thousand people gathered peacefully. “Papi, this must be the union.”[i] His younger daughter described her father’s work for her primary schoolteacher: “He teaches workers how to talk back.”[ii] After his arrest, Martin was first acquitted of obstructing police and then convicted when the Crown appealed. The transition in his mind and views – and how he represented himself – helped Martin understand that solidarity can change and inform his own life, not only those he educates.
These very personal moments tell us not only what Martin was doing and trying to do as a union educator, but how he was perceived.
Each chapter in Thinking Union outlines time in D’arcy Martin’s life as a labour educator, starting from March 1978 when he was hired by the Steelworkers union, a ten-month study leave he took in 1984-85, his work with the CWC, a leave in 1988-89, his work with the CEF and a voluntary leave from the CEF in 1992-93 to complete his Ed.D thesis: Street Smart: Learning in the Union Culture. The thesis is described by Martin as “a more theoretical and lengthy version of this book.”[iii]
Martin doesn’t spend an excess of words per chapter on theories, detailing instead his experiences. Chapter two describes his initiation into his work with the Steelworkers. In 1979 the union began a “back to the locals” campaign for union education, focusing on five areas: increased and updated courses for stewards, teaching by local union course leaders, increasing financial support for education, making locations and scheduling more accessible, and coordinating courses among the national, regional and local levels. Martin found the “back to the locals” campaign not only served the Steelworkers well, but by integrating his experiences during this campaign into his education work, it had a lasting personal positive effect on his union work and his thesis.
Chapter three describes elements of union culture through ten dynamics, or cross-currents. “Each of these pairs represents…a creative tension,” says Martin, who thinks they “help us identify personal experiences and supports and barriers in the movement.”[iv] He lists these dichotomies as: diverse/cohesive, oppressive/affirmative, passionate/bureaucratized, informal/accountable, subordinate/adversarial, oral/literal, voluntary/professional, rebellious/disciplined, collective/contentious, and servicing/mobilizing. For each he has an example of a worker’s experience. Studying each of these dynamics reveals how much he learned about how dialogue and cooperation are a unionist’s greatest tools.
In chapter four, Martin details his experiences teaching courses on facing management and on gender politics. He learned how integrating creative elements into presentations can challenge domination and encourage co-operation. As the collapse of the US steel industry shrank the union’s membership figures, layoffs among union staff became necessary for the first time, causing even more tensions. By the summer of 1983, Martin was ready for the unpaid year’s study leave he had negotiated on being hired. During this time he and his wife separated and agreed to divorce.
In his fifth chapter, called “Civil War Times”, Martin describes his frustration and anger over tensions in the Steelworkers union. As head of education, he was directed in 1985 to participate in a campaign to unseat an Ontario district director, Bob Pattison, who advocated more Canadian autonomy from the American union executive. “My ability to put my job on the line was strengthened by my professional training, which meant I could get a job elsewhere, either in the union movement or outside,” Martin acknowledged on p.75. “Certainly the fact that I had other employment options, and better paying ones at that, strengthened my resolve at this critical time … and no doubt reinforced the uneasiness of the Steelworkers leadership about ‘academics.’” After eight years of work with the Steelworkers, Martin was fired, but in 1986 he took the best of several job offers, and became education representative for the Communications and Electrical Workers of Canada (CWC).
Chapter six shows Martin’s re-discovery of the basics through facilitating grassroots courses in health and safety, and grievance handling, and through a grueling 1988 strike against Bell Canada. “When artists and unionists meet properly, the result is greater than the sum of the parts,” Martin believes. “…New learning experiences.”[v] After the strike, the union resources were strained, so Martin took a study leave to write the first draft of this book.
When he came back to work, it was not to grassroots campaigns but to working on matters of public policy. In chapter seven, he describes working with Fred Pomeroy on a report for the Ontario Premier’s Council on Technology. Martin identifies five levels of social bargaining: the workplace, the sector, the local community, the province and Canada-wide. He found that a union’s work on public policy “can feed back … guiding and inspiring action at the grassroots level.”[vi]
In November 1992, the CWC merged with the Canadian Paperworkers Union and the Energy and Chemical Workers Union to form the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP). Chapter eight details Martin’s experiences on the CEP’s National Education Committee, working through his programs to meet the needs of educators, program participants and the program sponsors – the union leaders.
In chapter nine, Martin returns to the informal/accountable dichotomy, using anecdotes to describe the CEP’s ongoing education program efforts “to develop cohesion out of diversity.”[vii] Making peace with the people who had fired him from the Steelworkers was an important but gradual transition for Martin, helping him organize five themes – identity, historical awareness, process politics, a developed imagination and a critical spirit – into his plans for his future as a labor educator.
Each chapter in Thinking Union is prefaced with a stanza of a poem or song lyric, or a brief excerpt of prose less formal than the main text. Martin has integrated into each chapter pieces of creative or personal writing from people whose art has affected him. His endnotes and bibliography reference many formal books and articles on unions and labour education, but it is the poems about feelings and interactions that stand out as the book is read.
For a book which is more about the practice of labour education than one man’s experience, it’s better to turn to Michael Newman’s book. The Third Contract: Theory and Practice in Trade Union Training comes from a different perspective. Newman doesn’t pretend to be a dispassionate observer – he clearly participated with enthusiasm in the learning experiences he describes. The difference here is that in this text Newman describes the learning experience and the method, not his own experience and what he learned of methods (as Martin did). As Newman writes in the introduction, this book is his “attempt to examine the differences between trade union training and other forms of adult education and training, and to interpret some question of the theorists from the worlds of adult education, community adult education, and human resource development in a way that makes their thinking and practice relevant to unionists.” [viii]
The Third Contract is made up of seven parts, each including one to nine of a total of thirty-three chapters. Some chapters are only three or four pages long. Each chapter is readable as a small learning unit, and as a reader progresses through the book there are references to terms and history detailed in earlier chapters.
“Part 1: Union Training” has six chapters, called “In the Training Room”, “The Trainers”, “Participants”, “Union Culture”, “Language and Methods”, and “Management Training, Adult Education and Union Training.” Rather than give a bald definition of training, Newman describes “how a union trainer might conduct a number of sessions dealing with negotiation.”[ix] The goal of the trainer is to get the participants at the end to ask a question Newman considers “crucial to the evaluation of any union activity: Did we make a gain for our members?”[x] The interactions of trainer and participants in these and other chapters show varying amounts of enthusiasm and participation. And in chapter 6, Newman outlines his simplified models which compare management training (authority comes from management to trainer to employees) to adult education (almost egalitarian, interactive learning between educators and students) and to union training (interactions between the union and trainer, trainer and participants, and participants and their union). It is this last interaction that most deeply impresses Newman, and defines for him the crucial difference about union training.
The single chapter in “Part 2: Traditions in Adult Education and Training” covers “History, Models, Theory and Politics.” It’s a brief summary that gives readers some idea of why certain ideological methods were and are being used, and very useful because history classes often only cover wars and the names of kings.
“Part 3: The Liberal Tradition” has three chapters, on “Adult Education in the Nineteenth Century”, “Adult Education in the Twentieth Century” and “Union Training and the Liberal Tradition.” These chapters detail not only a variety of approaches and goals, but reveal how short the history of modern union learning really is. We are still making a useful vocabulary for its study.
“Part 4: In the Mechanistic Mode” has six chapters, called “Continuity, Sequence and Integration”, “Credos, Categories and a Planning Framework”, “Adult Experience and Educational Need”, “Skills, Jobs, Competencies and Performance Objectives”, “Aims and Objectives” and “A Hierarchy of Learning.” Newman not only outlines behaviourist methods of training but points out that training workers in skills can have unforeseen results for union officials and autocratic managers. “Training people in the skills of problem-solving related to their immediate duties is fine, but turning them into problem-solvers is another thing altogether... After all, people who integrate analytical skills into their whole way of behaving and who see the world in terms of problems to solve have an ideology that may threaten those who try to restrict and control them.”[xi]
In “Part 5: From Psychotherapy”, there are eight chapters: “Working with Groups”, “Experience and Reflection”, “Dangers and Difficulties”, “Change”, “The Bosses Came”, “Transformative Learning”, “Transformation or Conversion”, and “Personal Transformation and Social Change.” These chapters are about the process of engaging “in a debate not only about the rights or wrongs of … new approaches to industrial relations but about our emotions, about the ideas and values and assumptions upon which we built our lives.”[xii] The tools and vocabulary to deal with psychological pathologies are also tools for health, of great use in education and unionism as well. Newman tries “to see union members as having needs, not because of any real or supposed deficiencies, but because the world around them is changing.”[xiii]
“Part 6: Community Development and Social Action” has nine chapters: “Violence, Social Action and Learning”, “Committed and Inspired Practitioners”, “An Aboriginal Course”, “Education and Oppression”, “Naming Industrial Worlds”, “Theory and Practice”, “Finding Voice”, “Feminism and Trade Union Training” and “Enrolled Nurses’ Conference” in which Newman describes the first Australian conference for nurses’ aides – an event that gave a tremendous feeling of solidarity for participants, “secure… in the company of people with common experiences.”[xiv] That feeling of solidarity informs each of these chapters, where Newman discusses places (such as Highlander, Antigonish, Tranby) and people (including Freire, Horton, Coady and Thompson). At the end of this part, any reader who hasn’t set up a grass-roots program of some kind would feel ashamed of being a slacker when there are so many opportunities and challenges.
At the end, “Part 7: Purpose” has the single chapter “The Third Contract” in which Newman points out that while most Australian union training reflects a Labourist viewpoint (politically centrist, pragmatic and working towards a gradual change in “the conditions of workers, and therefore society”[xv]), union trainers who draw on the community development tradition of adult education are working with more Radical viewpoints which work towards revolutionary changes. Newman still identifies himself as a union trainer though he trains only part-time and works in Adult Education at the University of Technology. “…Such is the experience of training within the union context,” says Newman, “that I doubt I shall ever lose that sense of identification, nor would ever want to.” [xvi]
Experience is always personal, and can emphasize the individual in ways that illustrate how a sense of community can be fostered or undermined. Education is a connection that not only improves the individual but links people into a community. Newman’s approach to union training covers a lot of years and ideologies to define the changing modern experience in Australia. Martin’s take on the topic tells us where he’s been in Canada during some of the same years of change. Together, these books provoke lingering thought – and that’s always a success in the book world.

[i] Martin, D’arcy. Thinking Union: Activism and Education in Canada’s Labour Movement. Between the Lines, 1995. p5.
[ii]Ibid. p.1.
[iii]Ibid. Acknowledgements, p ix.
[iv]Ibid. p 30.
[v]Ibid, p 94.
[vi]Ibid, p 108.
[vii]Ibid, p 126.
[viii]Newman, Martin. The Third Contract: Theory and Practice in Trade Union Training. Center for Popular Education, Sydney, 1993. p vii.
[ix] Ibid, p 3.
[x] Ibid, p 7.
[xi] Ibid, p 88.
[xii] Ibid, p 168.
[xiii] Ibid, p 158.
[xiv] Ibid, p 263.
[xv] Ibid, p 267.
[xvi] Ibid, p viii.

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