1920s >> 1928 >> no-284-april-1928

The Failure of the Labour Colleges

In July, 1925, we wrote on the significant action of the National Council of Labour Colleges in joining its old enemy, the Workers’ Educational Association, in an education scheme sponsored by the Trades Union Congress. We pointed out that the acceptance of money from the Trade Unions to co-operate with such bodies as the W.E.A. and Ruskin College meant the passing of the independence of the “Movement for Independent Working-class Education.” The “Plebs’ League” tried to derive comfort from the fact that, while urging the N.C.L.C. to accept the scheme, they themselves were not bound in any way and could continue their independent propaganda and criticism.

 Time has justified our warning. The “Plebs’ League” has ceased to exist as an independent body and three years later others, including men in the N.C.L.C. itself, are recognising the truth of what we then anticipated.

In the Sunday Worker (22nd January) is a letter from Mr. W. N. Dias, Tutor Edinburgh District, Scottish Labour College, commenting on a book review in which T. A. Jackson had directed attention to the essential weakness of the position of the N.C.L.C.

Mr. Dias wrote as follows :—

“Contact with the local Labour Colleges convinces one that there is a gradual desertion of the whole position taken up by the Labour College Movement in the past, and it is gradually becoming another edition of the old W.E.A., which years ago it (rightly) condemned.”

In a subsequent issue of the Sunday Worker, a correspondent, who is described as being “prominently connected with the N.C.L.C.,” gives further support to our criticism. The N.C.L.C., he says :—

“is now fast becoming merely a piece of educational machinery, hitched on to the Trade Union machine, with its own staff of officials concerned mainly with administrative work . . . the N.C.L.C. is tending to come increasingly under the control and influence of this bureaucracy (i.e., the trade union officials) which finances it” (4th March).

In particular the N.C.L.C., as we long ago pointed out, cannot hope to receive Trade Union money if at the same time it exposes the part played by Labour and Trade Union leaders in supporting the capitalist system and its ways. The N.C.L.C. had to choose and it chose the money in preference to the independence. We wrote in 1925 :—

“The price of independence in the existing state of working class indifference and political backwardness is to be left outside the main field of trade union educational activity; and the N.C.L.C. and the Plebs have just decided that the price is too great.”

The significance of that step is now becoming evident.


(Socialist Standard, April 1928)

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