A Course Through This Crisis

Francis Stuart introduces a radical education programme that uncovers why capitalism isn’t working.

STUC course logo

In 2021 STUC Congress resolved to “bring forward a programme of political education designed to win a deeper understanding of the case for the ‘People’s Recovery’ and work with affiliates to ensure sharing of best practice across the Scottish Trade Union Movement.”

This, and further Congress resolutions in 2022, were recognition that while there is a vast range of important education undertaken within and by the trade union movement, there is a lack of collective, political and economic education. This wasn’t always the case. Political education has always been integral to producing generations of trade union activists and leaders. If we fail to plant the seeds of political education, we fail to nourish and grow our movement.

We are at a crossroads. The last eighteen months have seen a resurgence of trade union activity. In Scotland, workers have won more than £1.2 billion through taking or threatening to take strike action. Workers would not have received that money had they simply accepted what bosses and governments first offered. But the success of this strike wave won’t only be counted in the numbers of pounds won into people’s pockets. It will be counted in the numbers of people who become politicised, develop their class consciousness, and begin to organise within and across workplaces and communities. That is why the STUC’s Organising Group has begun a programme of political education starting with a course on the cost of living crisis.

Rather than the traditional teacher/student model, the course has been designed on the basis that everything we do, we do together. The course includes a mix of games, videos, photos, artefacts, presentations, and case studies, all of which can be delivered in-person or online, over the course of a day or in three separate modules.

The first module covers the drivers of the cost of living crisis: prices, pay and profits. We look at what has happened to prices and wages over the last year, examine the difference in inflation indexes, and discuss the problems with the ruling class response of raising interest rates. We examine how social care companies, rolling- stock train companies and big energy companies are extracting profits through ever-more complicated financial engineering. Then we look at the language we use to fight back against this.

The second module situates the cost of living crisis in historical context. We use a photo-wall exercise to look at significant political and economic events as well as workers’ disputes over the past seventy years. We hear from Stiofán Ó Nualláin of Trademark Belfast, the anti-sectarian arm of the Irish Trade Union Congress, on globalisation, the banking crash and capitalist crises. We discuss the pros and cons of the post-war social democratic consensus, New Labour, and devolution.

The third module maps wealth and power in Scotland. We explore how money flows in and out of our communities, look at who holds wealth in Scotland (and how we can get our hands on it), and learn how to influence decision-makers by developing model campaigns on issues such as night buses in Glasgow, care homes in Aberdeen, and free school meals in Edinburgh.

In conjunction with Unite, Glasgow Trades Council, South Lanarkshire Trades Council, Glasgow Strike Solidarity, and Edinburgh Trade Unions in Communities, the course has now been delivered to more than 100 people. Recognising the need to build the pool of tutors in our movement we have also delivered tutor training and briefing sessions on the course materials.

The feedback has been tremendous. In the words of participants, the course is an ‘eye opener’ that helps ‘explain why capitalism isn’t working’. It ‘lays bare the ideological propaganda people are forced to believe around “there is no money”, and exposes the system with concrete examples.’ It ‘underlines the situation we currently face and provides possible solutions’, and ‘is exactly what we need as an introduction to political education and to political economy.’ It draws on examples from the Scottish economy that are ‘educational and tangible’, while the module on what drives the cost of living crisis reveals ‘the logic of neo-liberal capitalism on our day-to-day lives’. Meanwhile, ‘the people’s history photo exercise showed possibilities achieved by working class solidarity’ and was a great way to exchanged ‘embodied stories of class struggle.’

The STUC has plans to develop more political education on topics such as a Just Transition as well as Race, Class and Imperialism. But in the immediate term we want to roll the Cost of Living course out as far and wide as possible. Because of the importance of political education to our movement – we are offering the training up for free.

If you would like to have the course delivered in your branch, workplace or community, or to volunteer to help tutor the course or simply find out more, contact Francis Stuart at fstuart@stuc.org.uk.

Francis Stuart is a Senior Policy Officer at the Scottish Trades Union Congress.