In the year 2022, Workers’ College will be 31. A tremendous accomplishment in an ever-changing climate, taking a step back to reflect upon the past is important for planning for the future.
Since its establishment, the Workers’ College has led the way in developing the kind of worker education that is both rigorous and rooted in the lived experiences of students from the working-class. As it looks to the future, it must not lose sight of the uniqueness of this approach. Looking back on the evolution of trade union education, the transformation over the last quarter of a century has been notably instrumental in changing the material conditions of many. However, the capitalist system whose only rationale is to maximise profit remains a persistent danger that can undermine the advances gained by the working-class. As a result, our communities, many of whom are also on the precipice of poverty, will suffer and if this goes unchecked, it will be to the detriment of the freedoms achieved since 1994.
In the battle for social and economic justice in South Africa, the Workers’ College has made a significant contribution to the formation of active leaders in unions and communities. It is therefore essential that we keep this at the heart of our services and products as we forge on in the battle. The Workers’ College fundamentals are clear, contributions to shop steward education must focus on the shop steward as a leader, activist, educator, and spokesperson. Programmes to this effect were created to be implemented in 2019 and the trainings focused on outcomes, so that at the end of all the training, an all-rounder shop steward that can wear many hats of organizing workers to represent, a shop steward who knows how to defend and extend workers’ rights, and a shop steward who can approach management with a pure understanding of capitalist tendencies. A well-trained shop steward who understands the basics of collective bargaining, how to effectively negotiate wage and working conditions, and how to resolve workplace conflicts is vital.
While It is in the best interests of workers and the economy that shop stewards be enrolled in this training as it will empower them to better represent their fellow workers, there must also be discussions and conversations regarding ideas and techniques for advancing the working-class’s interests. These engaging seminars have in the past been a crucial part of the College’s night-school lecture series which have sparked debate and resolution to the pressing problems of the day. After a hiatus of many years, this will be brought back in 2023.
2022 seen the College declare its revolutionary intentions of becoming a world-renowned Socialist University. Accreditation has therefore been of central importance and attempts to formalise our higher education status and join the ranks of our public institutions as a peer institution is underway with the Council of Higher Education, with the concurrent registration of Workers’ College with the Registrar of Private Higher Education Institutions. The Workers’ College has also developed in-house degrees that are pending accreditation with the Council of Higher Education and these degree programmes would be made up of five streams – Political Studies, Industrial Sociology, Sociology, Gender Studies and Community and Development Studies.
While the accreditation and quality assurance methods have provided otherwise unorthodox education and training a sense of credibility and legitimacy, maintaining the revolutionary character of the College has been of paramount importance. At present, there are the three traditional programmes (Higher Certificate in Labour Studies, Higher Certificate in Labour Economics and Advanced Certificate in Labour Law) that are Provisionally Accredited by the Council for Higher Education. In using the module-based approach, we have had both the freedom to create programmes for unions and communities that are specifically tailored to fit their requirements, while still maintaining the learning’s certification and portability. As a result, students are credited and able to study anywhere in South Africa and throughout the world as the Workers’ College programmes are not only recognized but have opened the doors to doors to vertical and horizontal articulation. Other programmes confirmed and introduced as of April 2022 include the Community Development Worker (NQF level 4), Occupational Health and Safety Practitioner (NQF level 5) and the Training and Development Practitioner (NQF level 5) certificates from QCTO. We have also requested recognition from Services SETA in Labour Relations Practice NQF level 5 and wait for positive feedback to continue adding educational value to our constituency.
The long-term strategy of partnering with recognized institutions is not a fresh path as it dates back to the programme accreditation with Ruskin College. However, the important first step in collaborating with UKZN began when the Industrial Working Life Degree Programme was established twenty-one years ago within the School of Social Sciences at UKZN. It is noteworthy to mention that courses are still delivered in the same structure and collaborative attitude that both institutions have promoted for years as an important part of their partnership and that this long-standing relationship with UKZN has inspired other collaborative quests which seek to open more doors to learning through similar arrangements with other schools within UKZN. At an advanced stage, a MoU between the College and the School of Law and Management Studies has been signed by the College and awaits final approval from UKZN. Another such kind of partnership between the School of Built Environment and Development Studies has also begun with promising prospects. These agreements in the different schools would broaden the range of disciplines learners could choose from.
The old ‘two heads are better than one’ adage has been the cornerstone of our activities as we believe that collective action garners the necessary might to safeguard and advance workers philosophy while overturning the tide and dogma in creating a socialist reality. Therefore, an existing partnership with Durban University of Technology (DUT) has been resuscitated and cooperative programs between Unisa and DUT have been widened, resulting in a step up to the pace at which collaborations are taking place and opportunities for workers increased. The Workers’ College also has established relations with the following SETAs: Services SETA, HWSETA, CATHSSETA, W&RSETA, CHIETA, LGSETA, CHIETA, TETA and ETDPSETA. These collaborations have put into fruition training programmes benefiting workers and the College looks forward to continuing with progressive projects that take such works forward. In 2022, the College resuscitated 2017 discussions with the Department of Employment and Labour on providing training for Inspectors. Discussions with the Department of Safety and Liaison are also at an advanced stage on a possible collaboration which the College remains hopeful about the prospects.
Our movement has always thrived on knowledge and because there will always be a need for new information based on the experiences and context of the working-class, it has become critical that we contribute to the creation of new knowledge that is based on those same experiences and contexts. There are numerous educational institutions in our country that adhere to an orthodoxy on concepts that do not help or promote the working-class that the true lived experience of the working-class would help fight this dogma. Therefore, in 2020, the Workers’ College formed a research department to lead this endeavour.
As the sixth pillar to the Workers’ College conceptualization of workers education, in a short space of time, the newly established Research Department is functional with a number of projects underway. From a documentary and book project that will showcase the History of the College, there is also a research project with HWSETA at a national level that is investigating the Covid-19 impact on workers within the Health and Welfare Sector. Drawing from the experiences and perceptions of shop stewards from participating organizations (namely DENOSA, NEHAWU, HOSPERSA, NUPSAW and PSA), it is envisioned that the findings of the study will help to advance the working-class narrative. Further championing the working-class cause, a provincial research study spearheaded by COSATU in collaboration with the College, Moses Kotane Institute and the University of KwaZulu-Natal will also examine the impact of COVID-19 on the working-class in KZN. The alignment of these research activities within the College both furthers and cements the College’s core existential role of challenging the current dominate discourse and we look forward to informing policy both provincially and nationally on evidence-based findings. As the Workers’ College solidifies its research capabilities, there are intentions to establish a Workers’ College Publication Press because of the importance of maintaining the revolutionary content of the work produced by the working-class.
In keeping abreast with the technological developments of the day and ensuring a well-rounded educational experience for workers and community members, the Workers’ College has embarked on a digitization process. This process has included a total overhaul of systems internally and externally and though it remains an ongoing process, achievements to date include the following: Introduction of the Integrated Campus Administration System, Introduction of Moodle, a Learner Management System, Migration from the Manual Server to the Cloud System, Increasing the internet speed from 4Mbps to 60 Mbps, Research Software: Survey Monkey and SPSS data analysis software. Introducing these digital products and services across the organisation will unleash inherent value and improve administration, teaching and learning and research activities which are all pertinent to the working-class to take up space in society and knowledge production.
These accomplishments have been no easy feat and as we continue in our goal to enhance the College’s visibility, maximise engagement with stakeholders and reposition ourselves, we do so with the commitment to realize becoming a hub of quality, cutting edge workers’ education in Africa and the Global Community. A huge part of this also includes launching a digital library which is in the works as we work tirelessly to finetune and fundraise for this specialized academic library offering that would provide readily available access to relevant and progressive informative content anytime, anywhere.
Workers’ College has come a long way. Repositioning the organisation and ensuring compliance, relevance, and contribution to all things educational in Worker Education has been enhanced. Worker Education is a vibrant community, and we have forged new connections and rekindled old ones. For working-class education in general, and for the College in particular, the year 2022 promises to be an exciting one. To the College, the labour movement and the working-class are at a strategic advantage as the application and implementation of accreditation, technological processes is such that our people have at the centre of the transformation to democratize access and learning.
We would want to express our gratitude to all the organizations that have helped make this trip possible for us. The Department of Higher Education and Training, the National Skills Fund, and the Department of Labour, the Workers College’s longest-standing backer, all deserve special gratitude. In addition, our gratitude extends to other funders like HWSETA, TETA, CHIETA, W&RSETA and CATHSSETA. Moreover, the Board and Council of the Worker’s College is recognized for their contributions to the establishment and direction of the College during the last 31 years. Our gratitude goes out to the present Board, led by Comrade Phumlani Duma, who has shown great foresight in leading the organization throughout the turbulent era of Covid-19 and adaptation of the 4IR’s new normal. Staff and visiting lecturers who have contributed enthusiasm, expertise, and dedication to what they do here at the College has had a significant impact on how students learn. Of course, the Workers’ College’s existence may also be attributed to its participants. In the battle and in the study group, they have provided a tremendous deal of energy and frequently unselfish dedication. Congratulations and best wishes for a good academic year in 2022 to everyone who is already enrolled in the programme and those who will be in attendance.
Comrade Dominic Siyabonga Msiya
Director and Principal
Workers’ College SA