Doug Nicholls on reviving trade union and popular education

We have pleasure in posting Doug’s thoughts on trade union education as a guest blog, accompanied by an advert for an enticing job opportunity with the General Federation of Trade Unions [GFTU] as an Education Officer and the Education for Action programme.


eors-job-advert-education-officer-pdf – the advertisement

jd-education-officer – the job description

gftu-education-in-action-bklt-8-32629 – the programme

Doug Nicholls

Doug Nicholls, General Secretary of the General Federation of Trade Union, believes that trade union education urgently needs a revitalised content and a new method of delivery.
In an article in the Morning Star Dr John Fisher reminded us of the effect of years of state funding for trade union education. He who pays the piper calls the tune. A generation of trade union learners have had the political content stripped from their learning. I argue also that the form of training delivery has mirrored the neutralised content and helped to teach ignorance and obedience.
The Establishment teach their children to rule from an early age, prep school to public school to Oxbridge. At heart they learn the arrogant and confident mannerisms of rulers, an ability to talk about anything as if they know something about it.
They learn some concepts and history; this is why they focus on politics, philosophy and economics (PPE).
Once upon a time the best unions would engage workers in these subjects too. Courses would commence with discussions about the world we wanted to live in and the laws that underpin capitalist economics and a socialist alternative. This was done to develop understandings and convictions that would build our organisations and provide the motivation for learning the skills necessary to win for our members and transform the political scene.
This tradition was then turned on its head. Trade union training got locked into considerations of a very narrow range of technical and vocational areas, tutors became purveyors of information and facts, classes looked more like school rooms than workers discussion circles, qualification replaced empowerment, learners were told what to learn instead of encouraged to learn from their experience, rigid curricula stifled debate. As state-funded adult education disappeared, so elements of trade union training became a poor substitute, signposting learners to dwindling vocational opportunities while the market let rip.



It was all very interesting knowing the detail of redundancy and health and safety legislation, but all very irrelevant if the workplace was closing down as if because of forces of nature or fate. Education proved a thin shield as the post-war social democratic consensus and manufacturing based economy were being transformed into today’s neoliberal nightmare.
While most people feel that austerity is wrong, very few can articulate why it has come about and the political and economic alternative to it. In reality the popular consensus has bought into the whacky idea that the debt and deficit are the cause of our problems.
When bankers say they create wealth, few union reps seem able these days to counter this joke with an assertion of the labour theory of value and remind them that everything in their marble vaults comes from us. The effect of falling rate of profit has been forgotten and our problems attributed superficially to ‘greedy bankers.’
Worse still workers are being decapitated from the body of knowledge of our history of struggle as a Movement. We have to re-construct a living appreciation of our past to accelerate a better future.
There is clearly a desperate need to revive political, philosophical, historical and economic inquiry as the basis for trade union education.
Equally there is a need to modernise the methods of learning delivery to make it inspirational and life changing. A very peculiar thing has happened in Britain in this regard. The progressive debate on how workers learn best and what techniques really inspire them has almost completely bypassed trade union education circles and has been advanced instead in youth and community work, adult education and some school based traditions or radical pedagogy.
This is not the case in many other Labour Movements. They have embraced radical learning theories and methods that enhance the development of progressive politics and solid organisation. At the GFTU we have been looking at some of their work in Latin America, but look too at a book called Education for Changing Unions about the Canadian experience. Consider the work of Paulo Freire or Antonio Gramsci.
The way learning is delivered is as important as what is delivered, sometimes more so. Progressive learning techniques are linked to democratic practice and social change and have a long tradition in Britain going back to the Medieval ‘conventicles’ which argued that the Bible should be translated in English so that ‘the merest ploughboy could read the word of God’. Ultimately their work led to the collapse of the authority of the dominant Latin speaking Catholic Church and the aristocracy it propped up.
It continued through the dissenting churches whose ideas very much aided the birth of the unions, many Sunday schools were in fact very socialist. It flourished in Britain when many women trade unionists developed theories of youth engagement and community work to involve workers outside the workplace in the struggle for reforms. The richness of this tradition around the world can be explored on the fantastic website
The new priesthood of neoliberal pundits and politicians and the crowds of dilettante ‘economists’ who seek ultimately to persuade us that we are too stupid to run society in the interests of the majority, should be replaced by a new generation of deeply educated union activists able to see through the myths and compel us in another direction.
At the GFTU we have opened a forum on our website for all those interested in a progressive future for trade union education to swap notes, share details of good resources and examples and sharpen our minds. Please join the debate there We are also looking for new partners and tutors to join our work delivering the highest quality independent working class education. Let’s change the content and form of trade union education and base it on participative, collective learning to demonstrate another world is possible with a new kind of PPE student in control of our country.



Ironically on the day we post Doug’s piece, there’s a long Guardian read, PPE: the Oxford degree that runs Britain


Youth Work and Youth Services: Our Shared Future: Doug Nicholls ponders

Ahead of next week’s ChooseYouth event, Our Shared Future, on Wednesday, April 13 in London Doug Nicholls offers these challenging thoughts on the present and future, arguing for a radical change in our thinking and direction –

Youth Work and Youth Services: Our Shared Future

Students 4


Some thoughts for our discussion from Doug Nicholls, Chair ChooseYouth

Young people are brilliant. Youth work is brilliant.

Step Forward

The creation of youth services represented a great step forward in the provision of lifelong learning and advanced ways of involving people in collective action and democratic engagement. They help assert fundamental rights and life chances and gave inspiration and joy to millions.

Skilled workers take the side of those they work with. Youth workers are unique advocates of young people’s concerns and they seek to amplify their voice with no prescribed agenda or curriculum. They challenge, nurture and encourage. They enable communities of interest, or neighbourhoods to grow and prosper and fight for social justice.

Our work is political in the sense that it encourages, communal and mutual values, exposes hypocrisy, stereotyping and exploitation and understands that collective solidarity is better than individual suffering. It is political in that it seeks to create and develop positive social relationships. It is truly a process of personal and social education delivered in a popular, participative way.

Democratic work

Our work has been part of the long democratic process of strengthening the voice of the people and empowering them to challenge injustice and develop their knowledge of themselves and their world. It fosters self-confidence and ability and to remove discrimination and oppression.

It gives support, comfort, safety, advice, friendship and help to young people when they need it when other services do not and are not designed to do so.

Because of the struggle of past generations of youth workers the social democratic state was compelled to fund our work. It was never statutory outside Ireland, but it was funded and professionally regarded and publicly inspected through Ofsted.

This led to an infrastructure of services provided by every local authority area linked to voluntary sector providers. Our predecessors fought to end the post code lottery for young people and communities. The idea was that in every area there would be a youth and community service with a senior officer with a budget, a training officer, qualified and experienced full time staff working with part time and volunteer colleagues in well-resourced buildings and in service training and outreach and detached projects.


Youth workers never achieved protection of title and the status of our profession suffered as a result. Student youth workers never received the same level of funding support as teachers and social workers. Despite this the excellence of practice in training and in the field was high.

For the state to fund a form of educational intervention that was entirely based on a voluntary relationship with young people and community groups was a massive achievement and was led over the years by trade unionised workers and voluntary sector organisations and thousands of deeply committed people.

These days have gone.


Undemocratic work

The neoliberal political economy through its dismantling of the previous architecture of social democracy, has sought to privatise and destroy whole sections of what existed before.

Youth work was a conscious target just as the condition of youth and the chances for young people were radically changed. This is the first generation of young people in Britain to have fewer opportunities than those who went before.

Youth services based in local authorities no longer exist in any meaningful way. The resourcing and infrastructure needed for our work has been removed. The final stage in the attack is the attempt to abandon JNC and so remove the particular approach to informal education that it safeguards.

As the money and structures have gone so there has been a move away from forms of youth which seek to emancipate and empower. Outcomes driven, quasi social work ways of working to ‘fix’ the ever increasing number of ‘problems’ that poverty and unemployment and lack of opportunities are forcing on our young people are being developed. New issues like paralysing mental health questions plague young people in every greater degrees and more not less support is needed.

The Youth Service represented a time when society believed that the transition to adulthood was a social thing deserving support through family and public structures, services and culture.

Supported transitions provided the personal and social education that enabled young people to explore ideas, identities, and behaviours. The purpose was the enjoyment of the transition itself, the fun and perplexity of opening new horizons with trusted adults and discovering new life chances. In such a process prejudices that divide and harm common human objectives are challenged.

Social outcomes in an anti-social society.

The outcome of youth work is the happier, more emancipated, more educated, more conscious young person. Youth work outcomes at their best are linked exclusively to the needs of young people. Sometimes the smile on the face of a previously withdrawn and maybe self-harming young person, lacking in self-esteem or clear identity, is the most tangible outcome and inspiring product of months’ of skilful youth work intervention. Youth workers draw out the best in young people.

Youth work’s voluntary engagement with young people was pinnacle of social democratic educational sophistication. Employing professionals to ‘talk’ to young people, befriend them and take their side in communal experiences was a very healthy social development. It expressed social commitments, a communal sense of welfare, a valuing of the young and a way of advancing their interests at a very sophisticated level. Informal education is therefore an advanced, learned skill and set of practices. It was established by practitioners and trade unionists in a long tradition of social learning.

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In or Out of the EU? A Resounding Vote ‘NO’ from Doug Nicholls

I’m not sure to what extent the European debate is animating either youth workers or young people. Is it yet another political issue, about which people shrug their shoulders? Within youth work itself the Community and Youth Workers Union had a long history of opposition to the European Union. In continuity with this critical tradition Doug Nicholls argues powerfully the case for a ‘No’ vote in the coming referendum.


Vote No in the EU referendum.

Doug Nicholls, is Chair of Trade Unionists against the European Union and encourages youth workers to join this debate critically.

One week’s worth of net UK payments into the EU could fund the entire English and Wales Youth Service at 2009 levels for a whole year. Actually the £350 million it would be, is a bit more than the whole youth service spent at the last count.

Youth workers should feel very closely involved in the campaign to leave the EU. Those in UNISON will recall that NALGO as was led the charge against the Maastricht Treaty as it built privatisation and austerity into the EU. Those in CYWU/Unite will recall that for many years it opposed Maastricht then the Single Currency, then the EU constitution masquerading as the Lisbon Treaty. The concern of youth workers originated in concerns about youth unemployment and the EU has been a slo growth zone of mass unemployment since its inception. There are currently 22 million people unemployed in the EU and in some countries there is 50% youth unemployment.

The Youth Service in England and Wales has been one of the long list of victims of neoliberalism, an austerity policy, a class war as Chomsky calls it, designed not just by nasty Tories but ini our neck of the woods by a supranational state called the European Union.

The prospect of some socialists voting yes in the forthcoming EU referendum is a frightening one. The prospects of some sections of British small business and the Tory right leading the no campaign are just as bad. An anti-worker no vote will be as bad as a delusionary pro worker yes vote. Both have profound negative consequences for our Movement and could tighten the chains of the neoliberal project around us.

A resounding no should be coming from the working class socialist movement. That is why campaigners have formed Trade Unionists Against the European Union.

The EU has never worked in our interests here or throughout Europe and the world. The opportunity of the referendum on continuing EU membership offers a real opportunity to say no to austerity and the domination of the banks and to escape the clutches of the most anti-democratic state in the world. It is a major opportunity to express our internationalism and belief that another world is possible. It is possible by voting no also to drive a significant split in the Tories and wound the government.

It was trade unionists and socialists who very much led the campaigns against joining the European Single Currency and youth workers in CYWU played a major role in this, and faced the usual hostility of the media and the reactionaries within our own ranks. But imagine where we would be now if Britain had joined the euro. Voting yes in the referendum will lead to renewed calls to join this single currency club and worsen our situation. You can’t be in the club unless you are part of all of it will be the argument. Forgetting that to change the club rules you have to get 28 countries to simultaneously agree with you.

The hostility of the British people to the continuing EU centralisation and its remoteness from our democratic control and influence has led ultimately to the demand for the referendum. The British people last voted in a referendum on this issue in 1975 when it was a question of joining a Common Market. Although this was a deception even at the time, we have never had chance to vote on the recent key neoliberal Treaties that underpin the EU today. We have never had a chance to vote on whether we want to be part of a political and economic union led by those no one elects who make 50% of our laws. At last we can express our views on these things and to accept them would be ludicrous.

The coming EU referendum provides a very significant chink in the armour of the Tory majority rule and the drive to a more authoritarian, more rampantly neoliberal agenda generally. To miss the opportunity and fail to put the knife in would be tragic indeed.

While the Fixed Term Parliaments Act and the Recall of MPs Act and the current parliamentary composition in Britain mean that it is near impossible to remove this government constitutionally, or by continual protest and opposition, the opportunity of a referendum on the EU provides the people with a unique chance to upset the whole austerity apple cart and end our relationship with its strongest European advocate. To fail to seize this moment with clarity will bring in another forty years of more severe problems for the working people of all EU member states.

The simple historic clarity that the EU is and was always a bosses’ club led by the employers’ Roundtable of Industrialists and the secret machinations of the European Central Bank which primarily benefits Germany, is in danger of slipping away just at the time when the EU is adopting more and more anti worker and anti-trade union measures. Germany is doing well, hardly anyone else is, and Germany has been happy to bring some EU member states to their knees to retain their control, prosperity and power.

Many in the movement believed that the EU was the creator and saviour of manufacturing and other jobs in Britain and the safety net for employment rights. As the chickens come home to roost on these illusions and the EU continues to pile up its mountain of mass unemployment throughout the continent and forces through the break-up of collective bargaining, pensions and workers’ rights, a real world assessment of these matters should take place. The only safe havens the EU creates are for tax avoiders, not workers.

You cannot oppose TTIP and TISA and support the EU. As a supranational neoliberal body hard wired since its inception by austerity and anti-public services policies, the EU has sometimes secretly sometimes overtly developed the mechanisms to override national democracies and sovereignty. Its work to create TTIP is but one recent example. They need TTIP badly and the United States which will benefit greatly from it has long advocated the creation of the EU. If they don’t get it in its current form because of opposition they will get it in other ways.

The EU parliament is toothless. The EU’s politics and economics are entirely determined by the banks and large corporations. It is a super-state with no real electorate, it acts entirely in the interests of capital. The EU’s four founding principles are the freedom of movement of labour, capital, goods and services. These cannot be reformed away from within. The EU exists only to promote these ‘freedoms’. The mass forced emigrations it has caused have led to a tragic and nomadic life for millions.

Some argue that while the EU is entirely neoliberal and constructed in the interests of big business, it can be reformed in the people’s interests. The EU has ensured it is reform proof and its fundamental neoliberal orthodoxy enshrined in its Treaties and its right wing majority make internal reform impossible. The socialist group of MEPs is one of the smallest groups.

In or Out

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Save JNC – Statement from ChooseYouth

Fight For JNC

The January meeting of Chooseyouth learned that unelected officers of the Local Government Association have proposed abandoning the Joint Negotiating Committee for Youth and Community Workers, (the JNC or Pink Book). The meeting unanimously and very strongly agreed to oppose this move and to support the unions and elected employers’ representatives now campaigning to retain and indeed extend the scope of the JNC as an important feature of the battle to save youth work.

The JNC is a unique collective bargaining body that has been central to the growth of Youth Services and the development of the profession of youth work since 1961.

The JNC brings together local authority and voluntary sector employers to negotiate with unions the specific terms and conditions that apply to the role of youth workers, community workers and in many cases play workers.

But it does much more than this. The JNC approves the proposals for qualification courses for our profession as validated by the Education and Training Standards Committees. Historically this has meant that the validation criteria applied when considering training courses help ensure the highest possible standards and the widest access to education and support for students.

As a result of these criteria youth and community training courses have pioneered access to higher education for non-traditional entrants and attained high levels of attainment amongst a student cohort that has for many years been composed of largely mature students returning to learn of who around 30% have been from BME communities, 30% with disabilities and over 50% women. Many students have given up other jobs and undertaken considerable voluntary work to dedicate themselves to our profession. Their commitment fully justifies being awarded the JNC terms and conditions.

Around 75% of local authorities still apply the JNC terms and conditions and an increasing number of enlightened voluntary organisations. There is no real push from real employers to get rid of it. There is just an undemocratic and potentially dangerous move to do so by influential lead officers at the Local Government Association which manages the employers’ side secretariat of the JNC.

Over the years the JNC has been responsible for many developments that have driven youth work and youth services forward.

The JNC embraced the part time workforce and pioneered pro rata terms and conditions for those working less than full time hours. It embraced the teachers’ pension scheme provisions for youth workers. It developed good grading criteria and an appeals system to save employers time and energy in reinventing their own wheels locally.

The JNC became synonymous with the growth of a national Youth Service committed to championing young people and their engagement with personal and social education. To pull the JNC apart is to indicate that this Service and commitment to youth is being abandoned.

Doug Nicholls Chair of Chooseyouth commented: “ I hope everyone concerned about young people and vibrant democratically controlled local authority and voluntary sector services will prioritise some lobbying work to save the JNC. If the JNC goes youth work goes and everyone’s efforts to save what is left and rebuild anew in the future will come to nothing. It is an indication of how unpopular and unnecessary the break up of JNC is that unelected officers have engineered this manoeuvre without the knowledge and support of councillors. Of course a few hard pressed human resource managers in local authorities would prefer one less set of terms and conditions which reward workers well. But the majority of professional youth service leads do not. There is wide recognition that JNC is a helpful tool professionally and industrial relations wise.

The JNC took over 14 years to build. Voluntary sector workers and the early trade unionists campaigned tenaciously for it alongside their campaign to establish public funding for youth work and proper recognition of the importance of youth workers to society. We cannot sit by and let this vital body disappear and we particularly welcome the concern being expressed throughout the profession and by the Universities, good employers and Education and Training Committees.”

All those concerned should make their view known to the following:

LGA Chief Executive – Mark Lloyd is on Twitter @MarkLloydLGA  or generic email –

Chairs of the political groups in LGA:

Lord Porter of Spalding, CBE – LGA Chairman –

Labour Group Leader and LGA Vice-Chair – will be elected on 6th February

Councillor David Hodge – Conservative Group Leader and LGA Vice-Chairman –

Councillor Marianne Overton – Independent Group Leader and LGA Vice-Chairman – cllrm.overton@lincolnshire

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson – Liberal Democrat Group Leader and LGA Vice-Chairman –

the JNC employers’ side employers –
David Algie –
Simon Panell –

Education for Social Change : GFTU initiates new forum for trade union educators

Doug Nicholls draws our attention to this welcome General Federation of Trade Unions [GFTU] initiative. He is keen to develop the influence of  process-led informal education upon the world of trade union education. Indeed he has already got a group of youth and community lecturers involved in the enterprise. He hopes that youth and community workers in general will contribute to the exchange of ideas on the new forum.


In Defence of Greece : Anything to do with In Defence of Youth Work?

Ta to roar magazine

Ta to roar magazine

I don’t think it’s stretching a point to argue that the outcome of the Greek crisis will have repercussions across Europe and beyond. In the end the will of the Greek people as expressed through representative democracy is at odds with the demands of the neo-liberal zealots of the Troika. You will find below a number of pieces supporting this assertion in a more sophisticated vein, including one by a certain Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics and University Professor at Columbia University,  who was Chairman of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers and served as Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the World Bank- hardly a wild-eyed leftie.

It’s worth noting too that in terms of the world of youth work the Community and Youth Workers Union has a staunch tradition of criticism re the Euro and the European Union. Indeed in his E.P.Thompson Memorial lecture of 2000 Doug Nicholls, the Union’s General Secretary, spoke presciently of “the overarching destruction of any meaningful democratic independence in trans national superstates like the European Union”. It is abundantly clear that the clash is ideological. If Syriza with the support of the ‘demos’ is able, even in a small way, to set the Troika back on its heels it would give hope to all those struggling to foster freedom rather than conformity of thought.

Europe’s Attack on Greek Democracy – Joseph E. Stiglitz

And, sure enough, what we are seeing now, 16 years after the eurozone institutionalized those relationships, is the antithesis of democracy: Many European leaders want to see the end of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s leftist government. After all, it is extremely inconvenient to have in Greece a government that is so opposed to the types of policies that have done so much to increase inequality in so many advanced countries, and that is so committed to curbing the unbridled power of wealth. They seem to believe that they can eventually bring down the Greek government by bullying it into accepting an agreement that contravenes its mandate.

In Defence of Greece: 6 Myths Busted – Joseph Leigh, Lewis Bassett and Michael Walker

Events in Greece are coming to a head. Over the weekend the leadership of Syriza offered the Greek people a referendum on whether to accept austerity measures – including cuts to pensions and public sector spending, and labour market de-regulation – as the conditions for obtaining funds with which to service its debt repayments. However, by all accounts Greece may be forced to leave the Eurozone before the end of the week. As Syriza has been consistently represented in the mainstream media as an irresponsible and ideologically-driven leftist government, it is important to unpack the seemingly common sense arguments against Syriza.

Greek referendum: euro crisis explodes into dramatic climax – Jerome Roos

In this respect, the creditors’ intentions are once again crystal clear: shocked and outraged by Tsipras’ unexpected move, they will do everything within their power to obstruct the democratic process and influence the outcome of the vote. Their goal won’t even be to keep Greece inside the Eurozone anymore; their number one priority right now is simply to prevent Syriza from being able to publicly claim a victory — for that would risk emboldening other anti-austerity forces across the continent, most significantly Podemos in Spain. They would rather see Greece go down in flames than cut Syriza some slack.

As it happened – Yanis Varoufakis’ intervention during the 27th June 2015 Eurogroup Meeting

In the Aftermath : ChooseYouth launches campaign of pressure on MPs – If you don’t fight, you won’t win!

Doug Nicholls

Doug Nicholls, Chair of ChooseYouth has issued the following statement as the alliance looks to pressure and hold accountable MPs across the spectrum as to their response to the proposed Young People and Youth Service Bill.

“If you don’t fight you definitely wont win. If you have a go there is always a chance.” So said Doug Nicholls Chair of the Chooseyouth campaign as they launch their campaign to pressurise every MP in Parliament to introduce a new Young People and Youth Service Bill. “This is a real issue about the future of the country. Do we want young people whether in Glasgow, Glamorgan or Gloucester to enjoy personal and social education opportunities outside school and work or the dole queues, or do we want them marginalised and alienated from the political system and stuck at home in poverty with few opportunities? The UK led the world in establishing a modern Youth Service within the education spectrum. This has now been almost completely destroyed, only fragments of excellent practice exist and state funding has been largely withdrawn. The National Citizens Service is good but no substitute for a 365 day a year developmental service rooted in our communities. There is no better illustration as to how the post war social democratic consensus has been broken up than the story of the Youth Service. We want something new and properly secured in statute with sufficient resources and led by skilled youth workers who can motivate and inspire and liberate minds from the traumas of life today. There is more than enough money around to fund the Youth Service and rebuild.”

The campaign will carefully monitor every MPs response and report back to constituencies accordingly.

As a member of the ChooseYouth alliance IDYW will play its part in circulating this information and encouraging its supporters to pressure their Members of Parliament.