Ateliers > Education ouvrière




Working Group: Workers’ Education

Knowledge is power. Workers’ Education for Emancipation

Organisateurs : Jenny Jansson et Jonas Söderqvist, Uppsala University.

With few exceptions all labor movements worldwide have arranged workers’ education. The
structure and purpose of these educations have differed between countries and a range of different
study activities have been practiced such as labor colleges, peoples’ high schools, study circles,
lectures, and correspondence courses, to mention a few. The educational settings also served several
purposes; in the Nordic countries, workers’ education pronounced the enlightenment of the working
class. In these countries, raising the cultural awareness of workers became the main goal. In
countries where the university extension movement was strong, like in the UK, workers’ education
was a way for the labor movement to compensate for the low formal education among the workers.
It became a bridge to formal higher education and, thus, enabled upward class mobility. Last but not
least, workers’ education has constituted the institutions in which the political schooling of the
working class took place. Education arranged by the labor movement aimed to ensure that all
members had sufficient skills to run the organizations and to represent labor parties in
parliamentarian institutions as well as being well‐versed in ideology.
In these two sessions we aim to analyze workers’ education in different countries and from different
perspectives. We welcome contributions from various disciplines, case studies as well as comparative
studies. We encourage papers that focus on how different labor movement organizations arranged
workers’ education (such as educational practices, teaching methods etc.), the implications of
workers’ education, either for the individual worker or for trade unions or political parties (such as
social mobility or class formation), the scope of workers education in different countries, or analyses
of what was taught in these educational settings.

Session 1 : Jeudi 2 novembre, 14h-15h30


Education and societal change – the Past Futures within the Educational Policies and Activities of the Finnish Social Democratic Labour Movement

Elina Hakoniemi

Workers’ education in the Nordic countries has been linked with the expansion of Bildung and
enlightenment among the working class. In addition, education, culture and Bildung have been
central also in the politics of the Nordic social democratic parties. These political ideas and the
workers’ education have not been separate, as the parties too practiced worker’s education, and the
same people were often active in education activities as well as politics. However, party politics and
worker’s education have not been studied together.
The paper combines the outlooks of workers’ education and social democratic education policies in
Finland. The Finnish case is studied within a Nordic context, especially by comparing it to Sweden.
The research question is: what futures have been aimed for with the educational policies and
activities of the Finnish social democratic party (SDP) and the workers’ educational association (TSL).
The outlook emphasises the role of education as a tool for societal change. This opens a window to
study education as a part of broader societal development: the development of the Nordic model of
education and welfare state. The paper studies the period of time from the mobilization of the
labour movement in the late 19th century to the educational reforms of the 1960s—1970s.
The paper argues that in the social democratic educational ideas public compulsory education and
liberal popular education have formed an entity with two diverse visions for the future: 1) classconscious
workers fulfilling the Marxian historical task of the class, and 2) self‐governed citizens
being able to participate actively in the society. After the Second World War these objectives were
joined into a new vision for the future: 3) the reform of compulsory education increasing social
democrat’s possibilities to act in the society with the workers’ education providing the content for
the actions. These past futures provide new knowledge about social democratic educational thought
and the relationship between the movement and the state. In addition, by integrating the labour
movement’s perspective to welfare studies the paper offers a new outlook to the development of
the Nordic model.


“Culture is a tool for developing an awareness of civil society, politics
and class in the worker” ‐ Popular instruction and education in Italy

Elena Musiani, adjunct professor, University of Bologna,

In Italy, it was the first decade following unification (1861) that saw the beginning of mutual societies
as well as the birth of an increasing number of worker associations along the lines of their British
counterparts and French secours mutuel. Thanks to these associations, the initial ideas and
experiments addressing the need to “instruct and educate” the working class were developed: from
Education Committees and libraries to popular universities and vocational courses. During the early
years of Italian nation building, such bodies took up the role of popular education in the place of the
still fragile Italian State. The paper proposes to present a picture of this process spanning over the
entire second half of the nineteenth century that saw the start of the building of post‐unification
Italian society. Among the various tasks facing the ruling liberal class was that of “making” Italian
citizens on the basis of lay and positivist principles lying at the heart of political construction in Italy.
The project foresaw in first place the building of a new pedagogy of the lay and patriotic nation,
which assumed forms of popular education addressed at creating a culture for the masses. Such a
culture was seen as a form of moral and intellectual emancipation and elevation, as well as a
prerequisite for social and political emancipation. The basic aims of courses were to teach people to
sign their name in order to be able to exercise their right to vote, and then to teach reading and
writing skills.
There are numerous examples of such institutes and the paper proposes to first analyze their general
development, to then provide a detailed analysis, in particular of the history of the Società Operaia di
Bologna, which was established in 1860. The Society set up an education committee (Comitato per
l’istruzione) with the aim to commit itself to the “cultural and moral elevation of the workers” by
means of courses and lectures for adults by illustrious professors from the University of Bologna.
From this Committee the “Lega per l’istruzione del popolo” was born, an offshoot of which was the
establishment of the people’s university “Giuseppe Garibaldi”. Finally, the paper proposes to analyze
the initial work carried out by women’s friendly societies (Società mutualistiche femminili) whose
aims included allowing young ladies of the lower levels of society to have access to a basic level of
education, and to establish vocational schools providing courses ranging from needlework to the
basics of nursing.


Educate to Help the Class, or Leave Them Behind?
Motifs among the participants in the first classes at Brunnsvik Folk
College, Sweden 1906‐1920

Jonas Söderqvist, PhD candidate, Department of Economic History, Uppsala University

To pursue your dreams, to leave your small home town and make it in the Big City. These are
narratives common to people living in the 21st century. But among some of the students at Brunnsvik
Folk College in the early years of the 20th century, this individualistic approach was frowned upon.
You should put your new knowledge to use in the class struggle, not pursue some romantic dream, or
think you suddenly had become better than the masses.
As the Swedish labour movement grew stronger, the need for more theoretically skilled organizers
became important. But access to education higher than primary level had not been attainable for
everyone in Sweden in the late 1800s. This was however changing rapidly. Among the new forms of
educational institutions were the folkhögskolor (folk colleges, or folk high‐schools), started by
organizations in the civil society, or private persons for philanthropic reasons. They quickly became
important institutions as they opened up higher forms of education to new groups in society. One of
these institutions was Brunnsvik.
This paper examines the motifs of the students at Brunnsvik. What expectations did they have of the
education? What expectations did their comrades in the local trade unions or political organizations
have, when they raised money to send one of their peers to attend the school? And how were the
students received when they came home? An investigation of the students’ background will shed
light on who they were when they enrolled at Brunnsvik: their political background, educational
achievements, social class, and any previous occupations. How would they benefit from further
education and what were their future prospects? Did their time at Brunnsvik improve their life
chances? Was the education a tool for personal emancipation, or for the emancipation of the whole
labour movement?
By using memoirs, letters, interviews, debates and protocols from local branches, this study will shed
light on some of these issues.



The Cooperative Movement and the Education of Working Men and
Women: Provision by a Local Society in Lincoln, England, 1861‐1914

Andrew J.H. Jackson, PhD, Bishop Grosseteste University

In the second half of the nineteenth century the provision of better education for working‐class men
and women became one of the various and broad‐ranging set of pre‐occupations of the cooperative
movement in Britain. Much early cooperation was economic, concerning alternative means of
production and distribution. However, local societies also turned themselves towards other forms of
societal improvement, including creating the facilities and contexts that would promote and support
the education and learning of adults. The archive of the Lincoln Equitable Co‐operative Industrial
Society offers a rich body of source material for a micro‐historical investigation of the expansion and
diversification of one local cooperative up to the First World War. This paper illuminates what is a
relatively under‐researched area, that is, exploration of the complexities, dynamism and
phenomenology of local cooperative adult education, and the significance of what it had to offer the
development of the labour movement in particular places.
Four dimensions emerge from the analysis of the Lincoln Society experience. The first is the diverse
and complex interrelations of causal elements, from the local to the national and beyond, and from
the unique to the more generally evident. Second, local cooperative education was aimed internally:
reminding members of the ethos of the movement and keeping at bay ‘uncooperative’ instincts and
tendencies; also enabling them to contribute effectively and appropriately to the efficient and
democratic work of the Society. Externally, the educational agenda sought to defend the activities of
cooperative societies and to propagandise and, in so doing, attract new members and extend the
reach of its services. Third, like adult education more broadly in this formative period, its content was
broadly threefold, incorporating the instilling of higher level philosophical and quasi‐religious
thinking, as expressed in the founding ideals of cooperation; imparting practical information, and
teaching technical and domestic skills; and informing and facilitating political and social reformist
action and intervention. Finally, education and learning was undertaken and accomplished through a
range of means: publications were evidently both intellectual and instructive, along with a The
Library, Reading Room and other built facilities; social gatherings and more formal courses; and the
popular Women’s Guilds.


Session 2 : Jeudi 2 novembre, 16h-17h30


Learning to fight Cold War battles: The Foreign Policy Education of
young Danish and Norwegian Social Democrats after WWII

Anders Dalsager, PhD candidate, the Danish National Archives and the University of Southern

From the beginning of the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States engaged in an intensive
propaganda war to win the hearts and minds of the youth all over the world. In this situation, the
Social Democratic Youth organizations in Scandinavia intensified their efforts to educate selected
young labour leaders and activists in foreign policy issues and to school them in dealing with
international organizations. This quite often happened with US assistance – but the aim of the
educational efforts was not only to develop the youth organizations’ strength in the traditional
struggle against Communism on a national level – but also to take part in transnational networks to
limit Soviet influence on a global scale – and to promote Social Democracy as a Democratic, ”Third
Way” between US Capitalism and Eastern European Stalinism.
By focusing on the education of members of the Danish Social Democratic Youth
(”Danmarks Socialdemokratiske Ungdom”, DSU) and the Norwegian Worker’s Youth League
(”Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylking”, AUF) in foreign policy issues and international activism, this paper
will show how the external pressure from a major international conflict motivated the two Labour
Movement youth organizations to improve their educational programmes – and how this again made
it possible for young leaders with working class backgrounds to act in international settings. In this
way, educational efforts in organizations in the Labour movement enabled its leaders to increase
their reach and influence political conflicts in areas previously far beyond their reach.


Ideological Schooling and Images of the worker: comparing
educational material from the German and the Swedish labor

Jenny Jansson, PhD, Department of Government, Uppsala University


Workers’ education became an important part of trade unions’ activities at the turn of the former
century. Not only did workers’ education aim to compensate the workers for low formal education
and to provide union members with sufficient organizational skills to run the organizations, it also
had the potential to be an instrument for the political and ideological schooling of the working class.
It has been claimed that workers’ education constitutes an important arena in which identity
formation processes take place. The educational settings often offered an opportunity to reflect and
discuss the aim of the labor movement, societal issues, and democracy. Therefore, studying what
was taught in these educations from a comparative perspective could help us understand national
differences between labor movements. Ideological schooling ought to have been particularly
important in the crucial time period 1900‐1930s, when the labor movement split up into different
factions and, in many countries, was also put under pressure from right‐wing and fascist movements.
How did different labor movements practice workers’ education and what was the content of the
ideological schooling in this time period?
In this paper I analyze and compare workers’ education in the Swedish and the German trade union
movements during the first decades of the 20th century. More specifically, I analyze the educational
material used in courses for trade union studies organized by the trade union movement. The
German and the Swedish labor movements developed in very different directions after the First
World War. The German labor movement was severely torn by internal ideological conflicts. Later in
the 1930s if was forced into exile by the Nazi regime. The Swedish labor movement, on the other
hand, also experienced ideological splits during the 1910s but after 1940 the Swedish trade union
movement was more or less united by the reformist branch. These very different circumstances
make it particularly interesting to examine in what way (if any) external and internal pressure
impacted the content of workers’ education and the ideological schooling of the working class. The
comparison of these cases can contribute to our understanding of ideological awareness among the
rank and file, the construction of collective identities and discipline in the movement, and the
ideological link between the trade union movement and political parties.



Preparing for the future: governance by educational films

Lina Rahm, PhD candidate, Linköping University,

This paper examines educational films about computerisation aimed at workers in the early 1980s.
Early on, the unions, and their respective study associations, became important actors in not only
passing on knowledge about computers, but also in conveying how computers should be framed. The
aim of this article is to problematize the role computers played in educational films, which are here
subsequently seen as attempts to shape a desired future for workers.
In the early 1980s, the Swedish Trade Union Confederation produced a number of information films
on computers, workers and the future. These movies were intended to be used within so‐called
study circles. At times, they were also broadcast through public service broadcasting. By taking part
in these study circles, workers were supposed to gain more traction in order to influence their own
work environments as well as the general future of computerisation in society. The study circles were
also described as creating a readiness for workers so that they would not be startled by any changes
suggested by employers, and to be able to articulate demands of their own.
The films show how computers were predicted to have societally transformative potentials. The
education of workers was consequently seen as an urgent endeavour, both in order to prepare them
for a changing working life, but also to create a unified worker’s movement capable of influencing
computerisation at large.



Educating workers during the “structural change”.
Trade Unions, “learning disabilities” and workers’ subjectification in
the vocational training system in the 1960s and 1970s.

Jan Kellershohn, PhD candidate, Institute for Social Movements, Ruhr‐University Bochum


In the analysis of workers’ education and definition of its subject, historiography mostly follows the
self‐description of actors from the workers’ movement. Hence, it defines workers’ education
relatively narrow in relation to its opposites, for instance the official school system, vocational
training courses or other “bourgeois” opportunities for education. This perspective implicitly
supposes that modern capitalism and Fordism automatically down‐skill workers and labour.
Consequently, workers’ education would be necessary in order to prevent such tendencies.
Contrarily to this approach, my contribution aims at showing the bias of this dichotomist view,
emphasising that trade unions as such were a constitutive part of the system to which workers’
education should offer an alternative. By analysing the historical role of trade unions in the
vocational training system in German heavy industry during the first decades of the so called
“structural change” (1960s and 1970s), my paper follows two central arguments: first, with the far
reaching laws of industrial codetermination in German heavy industry, the trade unions also gained
influence on the conceptualisation of vocational training systems. Consequently, they were trying to
implement ideals of emancipation etc. This became even more crucial during the expansion of the
educational sector in Germany and western Europe after 1960. Second, this process engendered a
specific dialectic: on the one hand, education became widely accepted by both, trade unions and
companies, as a tool for emancipation and as a tool to overcome the structural crisis of heavy
industry. On the other hand, this new symbolic role of education yielded a problematisation trade
unions and companies had to deal with: how to define the workers’ ability to be educated? Trade
unions and companies answered to this question by a new form of workers’ and pupils
subjectification, by the creation of the “learning disabled” subject.
By examining the discursive constellation of “learning disabilities”, I argue that the success story of
(workers’) education since the 1960s generated an epistemic apparatus, not only to redefine the
“winner” of the “structural change” but also the “loser”. German trade unions must be regarded as
cornerstone of these “politics of knowledge”, blurring the line between the different education
systems. Finally, via the level of the ECSC this process was not limited to West Germany but had
structural parallels in other European countries such as France.




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