The History and Future of the Labour Party: Where’s it been? Where’s it going? 6 February, Croydon

The History and Future of the Labour Party:

Where’s it been? Where’s it going?

Independent Working Class Education

South of England Day School

 Saturday 6 February . 10am-4pm

 Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Rd, Croydon

 Draft programme

10.00    Registration

10.20    Aims of the Day: to learn from the past and make the future: Keith Venables

10.45    Chartism to Labourism: Colin Waugh

11.30    Croydon labour movement 1880-1914: Sean Creighton (Croydon Radical History Network)

12.15    1930s ILP


1.15      1945 post war settlement: what did Labour government do right?  What did they do wrong?

2.15       Surviving the 1980s: Christine Jordan

3.00       2016 Corbyn: what does it mean?

4.00         End.

Colin Waugh is author of ‘Plebs’: the Lost Legacy of Independent Working-Class Education’, and member ofeditorial board of Post-16 Educator journal: 

Places are limited. Cost £20 (£10.00 Concessions) inc. lunch. Payable in advance. More details will be sent to applicants. Further details from

 Sponsors include: Croydon Unite Retired Members branch; Croydon Radical History Network


What is ICWE?

The IWCE Network (Independent Working Class Education) started 5 years ago at Ruskin College, Oxford, as part of the commemoration of the Ruskin student revolt in 1909. This led to the establishment of the PLEBS League and the National Labour College movement providing labour movement run further and higher education. It was considered that the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) was not independent enough from its middle class supporters and later from receiving funding from local and central government.

The commemoration highlighted the problems of present day working class education within the labour movement. A group of labour movement supporters who were or had been school and college teachers and community history activists set up the IWCE informal network.

Since its formation it has held more than 3 dozen day seminars with around 50 speakers in England, Wales and Scotland. All events have been open, non-sectarian and participatory. They have examined topics such as:

  • ‘Can family history be radical history?’
  • ‘Learning in unions’
  • ‘RMT’s continuation of the IWCE tradition today’
  • ‘How pre-WW1 socialist groups educated their members’
  • ‘Narrowing participation for the many: where next?’
  • ‘Should we be trying to build ‘popular universities?’
  • Socialist Education and NCLC
  • Linking IWCE and FE/HE
  • The TUC Library
  • William Cuffay (black Chartist leader)
  • ‘The war on learning, teaching and thinking: critical pedagogy for radically different future’
  • Science, Technology and Class Struggle
  • The Matchwomen’s struggle: what can we learn for today?
  • The main trade union branch at Fords, Dagenham
  • Working class education holdings at Modern Records Centre, Warwick University.

ICWE has run 3 very successful residentials, one in Northern College, one near Loughborough for GFTU (General Federation of Trade Unions) and RMT Executive with a team of 9 IWCE Tutors, who give their time free. The May 2015 residential at Northern College in Barnsley was titled ‘A World to Win: learning from the past; making the future. It explored from  Tolpuddle to “Beer and Sandwiches”, from Peterloo to Grunwick.

The first Women Making History event was held on 19 September at Unite the Union, Unite House in London. The programme included talks on What the record says, Past and Future, Women, Work and Unions, and What does this mean for today?

Further information can be seen on IWCE’s website at

What does the IWCE Project stand for?

‘The Independent Working Class Education Project aims to learn the lessons of history to inform current class struggle. Inspired by the Ruskin Students strike of 1909, we organise open informed discussions and look at how interesting presentations can be used in a variety of circumstances.

We offer materials and contacts and always try to operate in a non-sectarian way; we are not committed to any particular political current.

IWCE Project hopes to:

  • Respect the role of the working class in making history, and in making the future
  • Seek to offer a diverse range of education materials and approaches for trade union and other working class and progressive movement groups

We want to rebuild the tradition of independent working-class education (IWCE) that used to exist across many parts of England, Scotland and Wales.

This tradition goes back to the industrial revolution and the growth of a modern working class. Attempts by the employers to use adult education to buy workers off go back almost as far.

Educational initiatives by and for workers themselves probably reached their high point in the early 1900s, with the setting-up of the Plebs’ League (1908), the ‘strike’ by students at Ruskin College (1909), and the founding of the Scottish Labour College. (1916). By the General Strike, more than 30,000 workers were studying regularly in classes run by the National Council for Labour Colleges, which took over from the Plebs League in 1921. But from 1926 onwards decline set in.

Both the Plebs’ League and the Scottish Labour College believed that activists should learn about the history of workers’ attempts to organise, about economics seen from the workers’ side, and about how to think out complex issues for yourself. They were against trusting the bosses to provide education in these areas, and they rejected attempts by the Oxford University Extension Delegacy and the Workers’ Educational Association to foster class collaboration.

Between the 1950s and 2010 the powers-that-be extended university education to wider and wider circles of people. Some of this was to do with producing scientists and technical personnel for industry but some of it, especially in the humanities and social sciences, was about trying to cream off and neutralise sections of the working class; in short, an expanded version of the strategy that goes back to 1909 and beyond.

When it came to power in 2010 the Coalition began to move decisively away from that strategy. It has abolished state funding for all university teaching other than in science, technology and maths, and raised by 300 per cent the level of fees brought in under Tony Blair. Meanwhile, the need of working-class people in general, and activists in particular, for valid education in such areas as history, economics and philosophy is greater than ever.

We can’t deal with this situation by copying what people did in the past. We need to base ourselves on the same principles as them, but also to take account of the changed situation. This includes the export of industrial production to lower wage economies overseas, and the destruction of jobs – and hence of union power bases – for example, in coalmining, steel, shipbuilding, engineering, car-making, the docks and printing – and all the demoralisation that goes with this. It also includes terrifying damage to the environment. We need urgently to redefine IWCE for the present day and the future, and rebuild it accordingly.

‘Working-class’ now must mean wage earners – and those who desperately need to become wage earners – in every field, including the service and public sectors, and many of those who are nominally self-employed, plus their dependents. ‘Education’ must mean workers helping one another to become aware of the whole truth and nothing but the truth about how things are and how they might be. And ‘independent’ must mean controlled by working people themselves. In the world today, effective working-class self-organisation demands IWCE.’



About seancreighton1947

Since moving to Norbury in July 2011 I have been active on local economy issues with Croydon TUC and Croydon Assembly, and am a member of the latter's Environment Forum. I am a member of the 5 Norbury Residents Associations Joint Planning Committee, and a Governor of Norbury Manor Primary School. I write for Croydon Citizen at I co-ordinate the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History Networks and advise the North East People's History Project.. I give history talks and lead history walks. I retired in 2012 having worked in the community/voluntary sector and on heritage projects. My history interests include labour movement, mutuality, Black British, slavery & abolition, Edwardian roller skating and the social and political use of music and song. I have a particular interest in the histories of Battersea and Wandsworth, Croydon and Lambeth. I have a publishing imprint History & Social Action Publications.
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2 Responses to The History and Future of the Labour Party: Where’s it been? Where’s it going? 6 February, Croydon

  1. Pingback: Croydon Events & News at 11 January | History & Social Action News and Events

  2. Pingback: What’s On at Ruskin House? | History & Social Action News and Events

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