Justice is the goal, solidarity is the tool, education is the key!

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Event Report


The Regional Learning Committees in the Eastern, London and South East Regions were able to organise this joint event through funding from the CWU ULF sustainability fund.


The Joint Learning Event was held at the Museum of London.

The venue is at 150 London Wall in the heart of the City of London. We had use of the Terrace and Garden Rooms for the day.  

There was a general theme for the event of informal learning through museums and community groups and the history of Trade Union Learning, which reflected the surroundings of the venue. Stallholders attended from the British Postal Museum and Archive, BT Archive and TUC Library Collection as well as CSV/BBC in Norfolk, UK Online and Unionlearn.

The delegates attending on the day were from the three CWU Regions and included Regional Secretaries, Regional Sub Committee Officers, Branch Officers and ULR’s.  


The event was opened by Barry Francis, SERTUC unionlearn Regional Manager. Barry spoke about the changes that have taken place around training and education provided by the TUC. From an initiative called ‘Bargaining for Skills’ this evolved into the ‘TUC Learning Services’ and then the formation of ‘unionlearn’. Change is ongoing and new skills are always required, political parties have made many changes to strategies and one recent significant change was implemented after the publication of the Moser Report commissioned by the Labour Government in 1998, which highlighted a shortfall in basic skills among the adult population. Around the same time as the Moser report was commissioned, Hilary Benn MP came up with the idea behind the Union Learning Fund. At first there was £50,000 available per project but from the level of results and help provided to those who used the new service the Government added to this year on year. Employers also found the ULF to be useful by increasing the skills of their workforce. The range of opportunities now available include Skills for Life, and progression routes from Further Education to Higher Education, including the Open University, Birkbeck and Greenwich University. A 10% reduction in fees for HE courses attracted 110 applicants for trade union members, and the latest figures show this has now risen to 432.

unionlearn is involved in many varied community learning projects including the legacy of the Olympic Games where the Community and Trade Union Learning Centre was established at the Olympic site in Stratford, and will soon be moving to the Stephen Lawrence Centre in Deptford; a Group Medical Practice in Lambeth Walk; workplace engagement in Health, Work and Wellbeing; Green Skills projects including a Council estate in Brixton where residents were able to build their own Solar Panels for £200 per panel.

Further projects include vulnerable workers and retired members. In all cases Reps are giving members opportunities to develop while the trade union values continue to stay the same of solidarity and caring. Education works -  Educate, Agitate, Organise. Finally Barry thanked all the ULR’s for their continued dedication and hard work.


Richard Ross, Senior Lecturer in Trade Union Studies, London Met University, was the next speaker. Richard gave a whistle stop overview of trade union and workers education, the life blood of trade unionism.

Following the recent publicised comments from the Tory Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell, where he called police officers in Downing Street  ‘Plebs’, Richard explained that the term comes from the name ‘Plebeian’ the ‘ordinary people’ of Ancient Rome.

Around the end of the 19th / beginning of the 20th century the Communist Party started and also the Labour Party was formed from the growth of Unionism. Many unionists had revolutionary ideas and challenged the WEA (Workers Education Association) and Universities who were delivering education aimed at the middle classes. In 1899 Ruskin College was set up by American founders to provide education for working class men, but the college fell into the hands of Oxford University and the WEA. The students didn’t like the type of courses being offered to them and went on strike in 1909. The Trade Union students at Ruskin formed the ‘Plebs League’ and broke away to form the Central Labour College which continued until 1929 when the Secretary ran off with the college funds. Other ‘labour colleges’ were formed and became the National Council of Labour Colleges (NCLC) offering courses to trade union activists in various subjects. The WEA began to lose support so formed their own trade union course programme, but the NCLC was more radical and fought with the WEA to run the TU courses. The NCLC were able to be more radical as they didn’t take any state money whereas the WEA did and were influenced in what they provided by the state.

After 1945 with a new government in place changes made included the introduction of compulsory secondary education. Union membership had fallen steadily from the time of the national strike and there were calls for the restructuring of TU education. This led to the setting up of the TUC Education programme in 1964. The NCLC magazine ‘Plebs’ continued until the 1970’s. The NCLC wanted independent funding of TU education and said that taking government funding meant having to take the ‘strings’ attached.

Richard finished by showing the badge of the NCLC which is a ‘?’ meaning ‘Always question those in power; Don’t take anything for granted’.



The last speaker of the morning session was Graeme Brindred who until recently was the Lead ULR at Norwich Mail Centre running the workplace learning centre in the building. Graeme has run an number of successful course programmes and spoke about the subject of ‘Family History’ and what resources and materials were available online free of charge. Graeme referred to a number of websites including ‘Family Search’ which has worldwide records available along with various other information; the National Archives which has various different subjects for searching for educational, work and army records; Capital Punishment UK; The Workhouse and a number of other websites including Free Reg for registrations transcribed from parish and non-conformist registers; Free BMD for Births, Marriages and Deaths and Free Cen for census information (see links at the end of the report).

Graeme also referred to the importance of knowing the history behind the struggles of the early trade unionists to establish workers rights and that new reps and activists should be shown how relevant this is, and also to the Trade Union Ancestors website which charts the history of where unions evolved from and also your own family history in the trade union movement. (links to the Trade Union Ancestors site are also available from the TUC Library Collection and the CWU Education and Training website).

Graeme finished with a quote from Howard Zinn and American social activist; ‘If you don’t know history, it is as if you were born yesterday.’


After these three presentations the next section of the running order was for those attending to visit each of the stalls and speak to and exchange contact details with the stallholders from the various organisations and obtain information as well as the materials and resources they provided. This continued while the lunch buffet was served.


Continuing after lunch the first speaker of the afternoon was Trish Lavelle. Trish began by saying that due to the surroundings for the event she had looked for historical educational events that had happened on 3rd October but had only been able to find reference to student riots in Mexico City in 1968 and Soweto in 1985.

Trish covered the changes to learning services provided by the CWU since the first bid for ULF in 2002. The set up of the ULF was influenced by the publication of the Moser report in 2001, which identified literacy needs in 1 in 5 of the adult population. Figures for numeracy were even higher. It was seen as being a reflection on an education system that was failing so large amounts of Government funding was made available for Adult Education. In 2003 75% of those at working age had education levels below a GCSE pass, after the Leitch report published in 2007 the Government wanted to get 95% of the population up to a GCSE pass by 2020. In 2009 a national employers skills survey showed that 1/3 were not getting any training, 10 million were not offered any training and you were less likely to get training if you were disabled, older or from an ethnic minority.  

When the CWU started a new ULF Project in 2002 they were looking for learning opportunities at a time when there was a large choice of providers able to deliver a wide range of FE courses free of charge or include a small charge for exams. In 2010 £200m was taken out of FE funding. Very few courses are now free, so with there being less opportunity and more unemployment there is less disposalable income for members to spend on fees to attend courses. Fees are pricing ordinary learners out of education, the disadvantaged are being costed out of FE, fully funded courses are now rare and HE is only for those who can afford to pay. Despite these circumstances affecting the access to learning Trish pointed to many ‘positives’; the number of trained ULR’s carrying out their role; no major decrease in members accessing learning; bargaining for learning with FE colleges being regularly undertaken; development of ULR skills; the range of delivery of learning being expanded; ULR’s obtaining qualifications for tutoring; informal learning becoming a key method of delivery; more effective use of PC’s through IT Skills; use of Social Media network sites and access to free online learning.

Where are we now: The Education and Training Department are less focussed on funding but will bid for further funding if available in the future; there are still concerns over the lack of contribution from employers for training and skills; emphasis is being placed on youth unemployment and education for those up to 18 years old but not on Adult Education needs; the development of the delivery of informal learning will help the CWU reach members needing further training opportunities. 

How do we progress: Utilise the skills of the ULR’s; ULR’s can instigate more training for IR Reps which will lead to better use of facilities in Union Offices; development of online modules (through media such as You Tube) being applied to CWU policies and procedures are accessible and cost effective.


Nick Nicholls, CWU tutor, was next to speak and he emphasised the importance of workers education and its’ history. Previous revolutionary changes in history such as publications that were previously printed in Latin being changed to English opened up education to the working classes.  Similarly ULR’s have opened up learning opportunities for their work colleagues. ULR’s add trade union values to workers educational programmes. Where 50% of the current population are being educated at University that leaves another 50% who need educating through other means. What is happening today where ULR’s are working in their local community to help deliver education reflects on previous occasions in the past where trade unionists set up educational groups. ULR’s have an important role in driving this and can make changes in society by using their own knowledge and experience to integrate and form links and partnerships with other organisations. There has been a recent lack of interest in political issues reflected for instance in low turn outs for CWU NEC elections. The importance of the role of women in trade unions needs to be addressed. 51% of union membership is now women but not at the top level of the unions. ULR’s can instigate necessary changes by giving members the questions that need to be asked. Nick finished by saying that along with the challenge of new technology trade unions need to look to the future and through access to local communities change the perception of trade union activity, and address divisions between poverty and wealth and where education is mainly directed at the middle classes.   


Laura Wigby and Angela Jefford from CSV Community Outreach in the East of England gave an overview of their roles. Laura said that following the Olympic Games the numbers coming forward to apply for volunteering opportunities had increased. The CSV Action Network works with BBC Local Radio to create opportunities to volunteer in the local community. There are various campaigns currently running in conjunction with the BBC and there are Outreach elements of campaigns across all of the country including local history roadshows, behind the scenes at the BBC and many resources for workplace learning. Radio Four have run a ‘Listening Project’ where informal conversations were recorded between friends to chart social history. These are being kept by the British Library and are available online. CSV campaigns offer volunteering opportunities and the chance to learn new skills through community and informal learning. On Saturday 27th October the CSV campaign ‘Make a Difference Day’ will be running with numerous activities arranged to take place in local communities. ‘Stripping it Bare’ is a campaign to address health issues and has another 18 months to run. It is aimed at addressing health issues by engaging with as many people as possible and practical demonstrations at community events and meetings can be arranged as well as presentations in the workplace.

Angela is running a one year project ‘The Professionals’ where you can share your professional or general skills to benefit charities and link to those who will benefit either through a one off engagement or a more permanent arrangement. This creates new volunteering opportunities and helps signpost volunteers to charities that may not have used volunteers before.

The CSV is celebrating 50 years of being in existence by documenting volunteers experiences and charting where have they gone to and what they are doing now. CSV is the largest learning and volunteering charity.

See the attached powerpoint for contact details for Laura and Angela and they can pass on details of projects across different regions.







The final contribution for the day was made by Julie Carr, Museum of London Programming Manager (Adult Learning), who gave an overview of what the Museum has available. There are three sites, London Wall, Museum of London Docklands and Museum of London Archaeology at Shoreditch. The museum surveys the demographic of the 600,000 visitors who attend the sites each year. There are 15 members of staff involved in the learning activities in the museums. Some are on short term contracts for various projects which are aimed at the community to balance who attends and be inclusive. Regular reviews and updates are made to the learning opportunities delivered gathered from research into what people do when they visit a museum and how people learn.

The learner is at the centre of the activities delivered in the Museum. Most adults attend in groups for a sociable occasion so to ensure visitors get what they want the emphasis is on informal and lifelong learning. Different methods of display are used including interactive and self directed learning. There are no hard and fast rules applied as activities can’t be too targeted, a broader spectrum allows adults to use their own knowledge to help them learn more and fits learners who are browsers, followers, searchers and researchers. Adult learners, engage, volunteer, share experiences and inspire projects. 

The Museum has a range of adult courses which include accredited courses, history groups, pocket histories by dateline and recreational short course creative activities.


After the final presentation delegates were able to take their own time to walk round the galleries and displays and various activity sheets were available from the Museum for those who wanted to use them.








Looking back – Family and Social History and the Unions






Ancestry.com - additional resources

1911 Census: http://www.ancestry.co.uk/1911census

Ancestry Tree: http://www.ancestry.co.uk/

Free BMD (Births, Marraiges and Deaths) : http://search.ancestry.co.uk/search/rectype/vital/freebmd/bmd.aspx

War Records: http://search.ancestry.co.uk/search/category.aspx?cat=39













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