Cosatu's policy on worker education, 1985-1992 : changes and continuities



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University of Cape Town

The South African literature on worker education notes developments in Cosatu's approach to education from the 1980's to the 1990's. I critically explore the changes and continuities evident in Cosatu's policy on worker education from 1985 to 1992. I examined the national documentation produced by Cosatu during these years and conducted selected interviews with 11 people in the Western Cape who were active in Cosatu during this period. I qualitatively categorise and analyse the information on Cosatu's policy. Secondary data, together with the interviews provide both illustrative and contextual information on the policy, practice and politics of Cosatu at that time. The approach to worker education contained in the policy from 1985 to 1988 can be distinguished from that of the 1989-1992 period. Cosatu's policy on worker education in the 1985-1988 period contained a critique of capitalist education, an argument that education should contribute to socialist transformation, and the assertion of an 'alternative' education founded on progressive principles. In the 1989-1992 period some of the progressive principles evident in the 1985-1988 policy on worker education were still asserted. However there were stark changes from the earlier policy. The 1989-1992 policy asserted that education should assist with reconstructing the economy and developing individual careers. Cosatu was no longer promoting an alternative to the existing capitalist education, but was pushing for workers to have greater access to this system. I characterise the dominant approach to worker education of the 1985-1988 period as 'radical' or 'transformatory', whereas the 1989-1992 period increasingly manifested elements of a 'service' and 'instrumental' approach, which I characterise as 'reformist'.

Bibliography: leaves 164-176.