Worker Education

There today, in most workers organisations, old and young, exists a wide gap in political consciousness and critical thinking within workers organisation, between its leadership and its membership, between its top line leadership and its next line. Given this gap, the challenges before workers’ organisations are manifold:

– How do they address the contradiction of addressing larger political questions on one hand and addressing shopfloor issues on the other?
– How do they relate to other social movements?
– How do they address questions of self-organising?
– How do they address questions of divisions within the workforce?
– Where do they start?
– Who do they target?
– How to attract young workers, provide a level plane for migrant workers, women workers, and other marginalised workers?

The challenge before the workers’ organisations is not just of content and access but also of the form of education. And on the other hand, there lies the fundamental contradiction between addressing the larger questions of political economy and focussing on daily shopfloor issues. The fact that today the greatest challenge before the working class is the divisions in it created by divisions in gender, in caste, by language, by region, by religion, between precarious workers and permanent workers and of course by political affiliation. The understanding that each of these divisions feed into the other to create disunity among workers is only skin deep. Thus these are issues that never gain priority in the articulation of needs for worker education by the leadership of workers’ organisations. Thus the need for a new method that is participatory, which locates itself in work and yet addresses the larger questions within the framework of capitalism.

Hence we look at an integrated model of worker education that uses workplace issues as the point of entry and collectively explore roots of such issues and develop responses from a larger understanding of the issue. The model attempts to equip workers in grassroot organisations with analytical tools that will help in interpreting the world they live in from a workers’ perspective.
The Health Mapping exercise in collaboration with Transnational Information Exchange from Germany with auto workers in Pune and Chennai and garment workers in Chennai, Bangalore and in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh is one such tool to experiment this method. This tool uses issues of health as the point of entry. The tool challenges the existing framework of negotiating higher wages for higher productivity at the cost of one’s own health and long term social impacts. This also allows in moving the discussion on health from the perspective of an individual worker to a collective problem caused by the conditions of work at the workplace. Thus it allowed us to locate a simple and common problem, e.g., a back ache, that affects a worker in everyday life, in her work, e.g. due to sitting in a particular posture for a long while, and then frame it in the larger question of need for higher work intensity for higher profits and simultaneous need for new management techniques and high supervision to achieve this. This tool further allowed us to talk about issues that remain unspoken in trade union meetings. How does workplace stress and physical exhaustion affect our life beyond the workplace? The conflicts between the demands at workplace and that of home give rise to contradiction with norms of patriarchy, of caste relations. Innate xenophobic fears surface. This creates the space for discussion on these issues and hence addressing these in the long run.