This paper was submitted to the 1973 Durban Strikes Celebrating 50 Years Conference

South African trade unions have a long and rich history of inventing creative approaches to workers’ education.  The period following the 1973 strikes and the rebirth and growth of the labour movement in the 1970s and early 1980s was a particularly fertile period when workers took the lead as educators not only of their fellow union members, but also as ‘teachers’ of youth, women and student movements of what a democratic, accountable, radical adult education means in practice. Much of the character of workers’ education during these insurgent times has been lost with the decline in the union movement in the last two decades, but there remain some innovative new forms of radical pedagogy that have emerged with new forms of worker organisation.

Amongst the many histories and contemporary studies of the South African labour movement, there have been relatively few that have focused on the history of workers’ education. This is unfortunate as there is much to be learned from this history.  However, there exist a few important contributions – in many cases, critical contributions - to our collective ‘archive’ of radical workers’ education. We would like to offer a presentation that surveys some of these studies of the history of workers’ education in South Africa, analyses what can be gained in terms of reclaiming the rich traditions of radical workers’ education in our country, and points to some of the un- and under-researched areas that could bear fruit in the future.

Together with others who may attend the conference, we will reflect critically on our own publications (Cooper & Hamilton  (eds.) (2020) Renewing Workers’ Education: A Radical Vision; and Cooper (2020) Workers’ education in the global South: Radical Adult Education at the Crossroads.) as well as the contributions of others, including some PhD studies that are really worthy of being published in more widely accessible forms.

Linda Cooper is Assoc/Professor Emeritus in the School of Education at UCT, where she lectured in adult education for many years. She has a long history of involvement in trade union education, and has published widely on this subject.

Sheri Hamilton is a lecturer in Education and Curriculum Studies at the University of Johannesburg. She is a political activist and has worked in adult education most of her life, focusing on workers’ education