The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) in partnership with the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU) support worker education as part of its commitment to working class unions and other working-class movements. Since its inception in 2014, NALSU has played a pivotal role in worker education in the Eastern Cape. With a team of core staff, post-graduate students and academics drawn from a range of departments (Sociology, History, and Economics and Economic History) at Rhodes University, NALSU runs a large seminar programme (the Eastern Cape Worker Education Project), which draws in activists, unionists, students and academics from Makhanda, and is research-active, including policy issues. Currently, NALSU’s Eastern Cape Worker Education Project has evolved from a broad commitment to worker education to an established winter school series -the Vuyisile Mini Winter Schools, named after Vuyisile Mini, a well-known Eastern Cape trade unionist who was particularly active in Port Elizabeth and who was executed in 1964 for his role in the anti-apartheid armed struggle. With funding from FES, each winter school congregates approximately 50 participants from a range of unions – mainly from East London, Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage – for four days of discussions and debates. The participants are fully-funded, and reside at Rhodes University residences for the duration. This year’s (2019) Vuyisile Mini Winter School focused on understanding the structure of the South African state, party-state relations and working-class political agency. A direct consideration of particular state structure and its implication for societal transformation was important for a number of reasons.
Primarily, the proliferation of low-wage employment and the persistence of mass unemployment, and a wave of industrial conflict including the deaths of striking miners at the hands of police in 2012, have inspired a description of South Africa’s local government sphere as managing local dissent rather than representing the interests of the working class. Moreover, the dominant discourse of “state capture,” the split in the COSATU unions over relations with political parties, and South Africa’s ongoing development impasses all require a rethink of questions on the possibilities for the exercise of, and potential modalities of, working class political agency and how these questions interact with the debates about economic policy choices. Click here to read more.