Wednesday, 06 July 2016 12:36

Trade Union Education at the MML

Redeveloping education for the working class movement; a statement of intent December 2015


Developments over the past couple of years are forcing a profound reconsideration of the nature of education within the trade union and labour movement.


# Government support for the Union Learning Fund has been cut by 35 per cent.  Future funding is likely to suffer even bigger reductions – with more restrictive conditions being imposed on what is taught

# The government’s Trade Union Bill is seeking to attack many of the fundamental principles of collective bargaining and  to undermine the rationale of the trade union movement

# Within the wider Labour Movement there is a new awareness of the need for education that enables people to challenge the political assumptions of austerity and to attack the arguments about the nature of our society that underlie the TU Bill.

Education within the Union Learning Fund has been very important in providing training and support for tens of thousands of union representatives within the workplace. It has also set important new standards for the quality of education.

At the same time its scope has been restricted by the limits prescribed by the government and, in general, it has not been able to provide a wider understanding of the political and economic system that was a strength of much trade union education up till the 1970s and 80s. 


Where does the MML fit in ?

We would say precisely on the terms laid down by its founders: to develop an understanding of Marxism within the trade union and Labour Movement and at the same time to develop an appreciation of the history of that movement.

Promoting Marxism may seem a rather narrow, even sectarian remit. The Trustees of MML would, however, argue it is quite the reverse. 

Historically Marxism provided a major part of the world view that united the British Labour movement in its crucial early years of development. While there were differences over how to achieve a socialist society, all sections of the Second International, of which the British Labour Party was part, endorsed socialism as their objective and subscribed to Marx’s analysis of capitalist society. Ramsay MacDonald, the first Labour Prime Minister, wrote a textbook on socialism endorsing Marxist economics.  In 1948 the Labour Party published its own edition of the 1848 Communist Manifesto.

It offers an understanding of our society that directly challenges that of our Conservative government and all who have sought to govern within neo-liberal perspectives – and indeed all orthodox economic perspectives that ultimately make profitability the test for economic and social policy.  

Marxism, on the contrary, gets to the heart of our society’s economic contradictions and of the way its necessary structure, the private ownership of the means of production, requires the maintenance and enforcement of fundamental inequalities, of property, of gender and of race, and of ideologies that glorify individualism and greed. 

Marxism, by contrast, talks about class in terms of future social transformation: of uniting all who labour by hand or brain around the ideals derived from collective action for justice and social change.  It was precisely this vision that motivated past generations of trade unionists through the hardships required to build our movement.

This is why today MML has begun enhancing its education for the trade union and labour movement – moving beyond its traditional lectures series delivered in the Hall of the Library and providing more focused education on both Marxism and on the history of our movement – particularly as represented in the archives of the Library.

These steps are outlined on the following pages. They include:

  • Taster courses specifically designed for trade union activists
  • Tutored on-line courses that broaden availability
  • Sessions for school students designed to provide an understanding of the labour movement
  • Using the resources of the Library, documentary, oral, film and visual, to bring back an understanding of the movement’s history and its relevance today


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