being political

In this second part of our recording from the Durham Miners Association hall in Redhills a conversation that has been going on for hundreds of years continued. What does it mean to be political at work?


Minus the pom-pom-pom of the Big Meeting brass bands, Hilary Cave, head of education for the NUM during the miners’ strike and me, Elizabeth Cotton, who was in another life head of education for the Miners’ International were invited to talk about the ‘doing it’ of building political processes at work.


We talked about what was on our minds in the kind of tired and modest way that that experienced folk do. No magic solutions, no shiny new organising techniques, just the digested experience of the people we have known and loved who have fought to improve their working lives.


“Education is where the real dissent, differences, diversities and conflicts come up and that is very threatening to organisations, particularly when they are defensive…so there is a conscious downgrading of education, when unions feel they cant take on the real issues…The other thing that happens in education settings is that we start to humanise and relate to each other in a very human way. There’s an incredible paradox in trade unions about how education is treated because the value of the work is so important and thats evident to the people that are in the room. Most people are worried about how do you do this? – its not an ideological debate…its a psychological war thats going on and its a practical one too – what do we do?”


“As I get older I get more purist about it and I think the reality of saying what brought you here today? or, what do you think? Free Association if you’re Freud or freedom of association for trade unions, just the political power of those methods….Thats what keeps me going as an activist because…relationality is the big problem for all of us. How do we have relationships with people we work with who are different fro us who we don’t agree with. I use the ideas of Freud and Freire every day of my life.”


“ But there’s a push and a pull in communities – you’re in the community but in any community there’s huge diversity there’s huge conflict and there are people who are sort of in and sort of out..which is why if you want to do anything you have to face some uncomfortable truths…it’s a really provocative discussion but its a really important one if we want to move on…”


There is a place for podiums and positioning in politics – as 15 minutes of Dennis Skinner in full flow on a rainy day in Durham can testify. But in the everyday of working life our capacity to build relationships with each other in a way where we can draw and hold the lines of decent work matter much more.


Not posturing, just being political.


To hear an extract of this conversation between Hilary and Elizabeth click here.

To hear the full conversation click here.

The event was organised by the Independent Working Class Education Network.


Leave a Reply