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Educational History: Gramsci and Independent Working Class Education by Colin Waugh

The 1909 ‘strike’ (actually a boycott of specific lectures) by trade union-sponsored students at Ruskin College, in Oxford but not part of the university, is, to my knowledge, unique. As I tried to show in my 2009 pamphlet ‘Plebs’: The Lost Legacy of Independent Working-Class Education, these students, mainly mineworkers and railway-workers – in short, core members of the working class – took on the ruling class, in the shape of an alliance between the Oxford University Extension Delegacy and the Workers’ Educational Association, over the nature of adult education.

Was it to be, as these organisations hoped, a means for producing a compliant layer amongst working-class activists, and thereby for blunting the edge of class struggle? Or was it to be a means by which workers could pursue that struggle more effectively? In the lead-up to the ‘strike’, the students, with former students, organised the League of the ‘Plebs’, and began to put in place a national structure of ‘labour colleges’ (ie part time classes in working-class heartlands), while after it they set up the Central Labour College (in effect an institution for training tutors for those classes) and a publications structure. Read more