Pedagogy of Solidarity: Educating for an interracial working class movement. Winnie Ng. Journal of Workplace Learning 24,7/8
Purpose â€“ This paper aims to report on the authorâ€™s recent research examining the meaning and practices of educating for solidarity, specifically from anti-racism and decolonizing perspective. The research is part of the critical exploration on new educational approaches on solidarity building among workers and trade union members in the broader political and economic context of neoliberalism. Design/methodology/approach â€“ Utilizing the research methodologies of participatory action research, arts-informed research and critical autobiography, the research draws on the words and visual images made by the participants who are labour educators and activists from Aboriginal and racialized communities. In-depth interview and the Aboriginal talking circle method were used to deepen the dialogue among this group of activists. By focusing on their authentic voices and lived experiences, the research is grounded in Deiâ€™s stance on the importance of the embodied knowledge as part of the necessary conditions for anti-racism education work and political action.
Findings â€“ The findings reveal a sense of profound gap between what participants experience as daily practices of solidarity and what they envisioned. Through the research process, the study explores and demonstrates the importance and potential of a more holistic and integrative critical labour education approach on anti-racism and decolonization. The study proposes a pedagogical framework on solidarity building with four interlinking components â€“ rediscovering, restoring, reimagining and reclaiming â€“ as a way to make whole.
Research limitations/implications â€“ A further research implication will be to explore the possibility and application of this proposed pedagogical framework with a group of trade union activists from racialized and non-racialized backgrounds.
Social implications â€“ The pedagogy of solidarity offers a transformative process for activists to engage in critical dialogue on how to build solidarity across constituencies. The solidarity circle dialogue process provides a space for critical reflection.
Originality/value â€“ This is an original research integrating Aboriginal worldview and arts-informed research, to explore the potential of a new pedagogy that is grounded in restoring peopleâ€™s spirit, recovering their voices so they can have the courage to reimagine; and reclaim in order to make whole. The value of the research lies in its hopefulness as a tool of countering the politics of division and fear.
Keywords Trade unions, Adult education, Labour renewal, Collaborative relationships, Anti-racism, Decolonization, class, Workplace learning, Movement building
Paper type Research paper
Setting the context
With the neoliberal agenda deepening its grip globally over the past 30 years, labour market restructuring has created havoc in the lives of workers, their families and communities. In Canada, not unlike other places in the world, the labour movement has experienced a steady decline in membership, anti-labour political agenda and
Journal of Workplace Learning
Vol. 24 No. 7/8, 2012
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public sentiment whipped by the right wing populist media. These ongoing challenges have been much exacerbated by the last recession of 2008/2009.
Pedagogy of solidarity
Many labour scholars have given priority to new organizing, particularly among
women, workers of colour and Aboriginal workers who are the predominant workforce
in the low wage, non-unionized sector (Fairbrother and Yates, 2003; Kumar and
Schenk, 2003). Other studies have pointed to the current institutional structures and
established practices within unions as impediments to member activism; and 529 underscored the importance of democratizing the internal working of union and
member education (Kumar and Schenk, 2003; Levesque et al., 2005).
However, given the fact that organized labour is a microcosm of the larger society that carries the ongoing colonization project of Aboriginal Peoples and the persistent reality of a â€œcolour-coded labour marketâ€ (Galabuzi and Block, 2011), one cannot help but question whether the above strategies are adequate in addressing the source of the problem. Within the labour renewal literature, there is a stark absence of a critical analysis on the historical context and current challenges of the labour movement from a de-colonizing and anti-racism perspective.
At the same time, as labour educators, one of the key challenges has also been how to build solidarity and resistance in this climate of fear and division. If collective bargaining and organizing is the bread and butter issue of the labour movement, then union education is the heart and soul of the movement. The traditional union education approach on anti-racism and equity issues has been problematic on two counts. One is the over-representation of workers of colour and Aboriginal workers in human rights and anti-racism courses and under-represented in regular, core courses in union education. While such educational opportunities have been invaluable for racialized workers to share, strategize, and network, embedded in the action of the leadership is a very clear message that anti-racism and human rights is solely a worker of colourâ€™s or Aboriginal workerâ€™s issue. There is an underlying assumption that racism has become a problem because of the presence of Aboriginal Peoples and people of colour, oblivious of the historical and ongoing colonizing project and the nation building of Canada. The other is the lack of a critical labour education that integrates anti-racism and decolonizing perspective that will not only challenge the status quo of power, privilege but empower union members to take responsibility without guilt, anger and remorse.
My inquiry therefore, has had dual purposes. First, it has served as a critical examination of the concepts and current practices of solidarity from an anti-colonial framework through the lived experiences of a group of Aboriginal and workers of colour labour activists. The main research questions are: how do Aboriginal workers and workers of colour within the labour movement experience solidarity? What are the necessary conditions to remake solidarity that can contribute to the goal of labour renewal? Second, the research process was part of my explorative journey to reimagine an alternate approach to critical education on solidarity building especially among Aboriginal workers and workers of colour.
An anti-colonial discursive framework
The grounding of the research in an anti-colonial discursive framework is to put the challenges of doing anti-racism work with trade unions in the broad historical context and specificities on the founding of Canada as a nation. This approach acknowledges
trade union institution as a microcosm of the larger society with its ongoing project of colonization of Aboriginal peoples and state policies and practices against a succession of immigrants and in particular people of colour. Taking a long view allows anti-racism work to be part of the ongoing process of decolonization, a political project of resistance.
Equally important to the work of mobilizing and self-organizing are creative ways of solidarity building that will sustain and feed the souls of activists for the long haul. 530 The transformative potential of an organic social change project lies in giving space and value to subjective accounts as central to knowledge production. The critical education that can take place at the grassroots level with the oppressed is a space that is beyond the reach of privilege and with a resource not easily muted by our oppressor.
Aboriginal worldview and knowledge
Castellano et al. (2000) refers to Aboriginal knowledge as personal, oral, experiential, holistic, and conveyed in narrative or metaphorical language. By personal, Castellano refers to tradition in which personal experience is the root of knowledge and no claims are made to universality.
The holistic character of aboriginal knowledge includes seeing the relationships between all the parts that make up the whole, and as Jean Paul Restoule (2004) emphasizes, it encompasses so many perspectives that they are capable of accepting contradiction. I find that to be liberating. It illustrates that the aboriginal view of the world is to bring together different ways of knowing to understand how the parts fit together to make the whole.
Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999) challenges the tendency to view â€œresearchâ€ as separate from action, and characterizes it more as indigenous community development where participants have a community of shared interest. Her stance on the need to change research methods that will end the objectification of Aboriginal communities resonates deeply with me. Such a process of knowledge production becomes part of the continuum of a truly liberating project of re-learning.
Research design and methodology
Anchored in the research methodology of participatory action research as a collaborative process knowledge production and relation building, my qualitative research drew strands of three methods to deepen the reflection and insights from the participants: individual interviews. Circle dialogue (focus group); and arts-informed research. In-depth one to one interviews were conducted with 12 participants from various Asian, African, Aboriginal and Latin American backgrounds on their experiences as activists, staff and/or elected leadership positions within their respective unions.
As a non aboriginal person, I am deeply inspired by the strength in the oral story telling tradition, the active telling, retelling and listening as an active form of resistance. This research used the circle process as a way to engage in a deeper conversation on racism and decolonization. What appeals to me is the collective participatory process and relation building with a purpose among participants to â€œwrite the history of the futureâ€ by acting deliberately to interpret and learn from what happens. I engaged the participants in a pilot process to try begin the conversation and explore how to frame the discussion in a larger group. As a result, four participants (two aboriginal and two workers of colour) volunteered to be facilitators when we engaged in the larger circle dialogue process. The data were transcribed and then there
was a reporting back to the circle participants on the emerging patterns and leanings. Subsequent to the research process, the participants have come together as a group and formed a solidarity circle. They have been meeting regularly ever since.
Through the arts-informed approach, participants also in small groups created visual representation on their vision of solidarity. By integrating the collective art-making practices into the reimagining, it enabled dialogue participants to articulate another layer of reality beyond words and text. Acampora and Cotton (2007) refers to this creative process as â€œaesthetic agencyâ€. The collective process of creating and making art was invigorating and communicative. The collaborative process, in the circle sharing of narratives and art making, has propelled participants to bond in a more profound way of imagining of the possible and being accountable to each other.
The collective narrative
Interwoven with the voices and lived experiences of the research participants, the collective narrative reflects the embodied knowledge of labour activists who are Aboriginal and workers of colour. A number of key themes have emerged: how selective solidarity can be, the profound disappointment about the snail pace of the equity agenda, the sense of betrayal for not being included as part of the whole; and for being typecast in a role as expert on the others. Questions such as â€œwhy am I left behind?â€, â€œwhy am I treated as a one trick pony?â€ as expressed by the participants, reveal a deep sense of disappointment and woundedness for not being treated as equals and denied access and support within the movement. Most participants feel they are being assigned to a prescribed space assigned by those with power. Any deviation or venturing out of the frame may entail repercussion and characterization of being disloyal.
There is a widening rift between what union solidarity could be and how it is practiced. The inconsistency between the rhetoric and action on the equity agenda is a shared source of frustration among the research participants. In one of the activistsâ€™ words: â€œsolidarity and equity becomes an â€˜opticâ€™, to be seen as doing the right thing rather than doing whatâ€™s right.â€ In the tightly controlled space where competition among equity seeking group members is fierce, racialized members also fall in the entrapment of internalized colonization.
The sister who declares that there is no labour movement but just union organizations, considers labour renewal strategies without fundamental changes as akin to â€œpouring new wine into the barrels of old wine does not work.â€ She continues with a metaphor of childbirth on the transformation needed:
We need to start a new phenomenon [. . .] there is no new life without pain and bleeding, continue to push for labour community actions. Different dynamics give different strategies [. . .] workers will create, resist and break away from years of torture in the labour movement. We are not the ones who make the policies within our unions. Questions on who leads will be threatening to them [. . .] Having some â€œsuccess storiesâ€ does not translate into power for men and women in the workplace and the community? (Interview transcript C101).
Yet this collective narrative is far from being a tale of woe and oppression. Despite the profound disappointment, Aboriginal workers and workers of colour activists experience the power and strength of solidarity as a worker, union member against the capitalist class, and also as a racialized worker against the hegemony of white, male dominance. Emerging from the collective narrative is a sense of strength, a refusal of being treated as victims; and a collective sense of affinity for a worker movement
Pedagogy of solidarity
despite all its imperfections. It is through the recognition of the WE in the movement and the transformative nature of solidarity that these racialized activists forge on.
Un-layering the meanings of solidarity
Solidarity has a layered meaning beyond asserting a working class stance. The essence of solidarity became crystallized in the powerful narratives of research participants, be they on the picket line, organizing drives, or in an educational moment.
Solidarity as the spirit of the labour movement
The spirit of the labour movement is what my mother has once told me driving across the Burlington Skyway: When we march, we are stepping on the heads of our oppressors; and when we sing as one, we are drowning out the voice of our oppressors. It is the rhythm of our march that will break the bridge!
The above quote from one of the participants of African Canadian backgrounds affirms Fantasia and Voss (2004)â€™s notion of solidarity as the metaphysic of labour, representing â€œa potent mythic theme that carries remarkably transcendent qualitiesâ€. In the context of unequal social relations of power, Dei (2008) frames these qualities as a deeper sense of knowing: knowing the self, the inner environment as a way to heal the soul, spirit and the communities to which we belong.
The matter of heart in the movement is what has sustained activists of colour and Aboriginal activists and kept them from giving up. In that respect, to engage in acts of decolonizing our mindsets and building communities of resistance can be regarded metaphorically as a form of spiritual practice, a way to integrate the wholeness of our complex individual being into a political practice.
Within a culture of dominance, there is no room and recognition for alternate ways of knowing. For Aboriginal and workers of colour, attention to nurturing the heart and spirit is an active form of decolonizing our own mindset, a form of active resistance. In this lifelong project of decolonizing our own individual and collective psyche, we draw on our deepest and core resource: the sense of our own being and spirit. That inner fortress is often the most durable and resilient to the forces of the dominant and the colonizer, and therefore, it is also our own sanctuary. The spiritual and metaphysical dimensions of the labour movement speak to an emotive energy, an invisible force that motivates people to march in unison. The interconnectedness among members is a formidable force to be reckoned with.
Solidarity as class-consciousness in action
In workplaces, for workers to break away from the isolation and alienation imposed by the capitalist society and engage in a conscious collective action is itself â€œ a most revolutionary act for it changes both the reality and the workers themselvesâ€ (Fantasia, 1988). It is creating the space where ordinary people can experience the power of transformation that propels them to take extraordinary actions as illustrated in the following narrative of a woman of colour activist in the hospitality sector:
I was at YYY for 17 years. For a long while, I didnâ€™t even understand or feel that thereâ€™s a union in the place. Going in, struggling to survive the workload, to survive the mean management, seeing the disrespect from management and feeling that we deserve better. Itâ€™s not ok to do work, getting disrespect, getting crap on and going home feeling crappy [. . .]
during the time, we had problem with vacation; management was stealing our vacation money. Talking to the people, mobilizing them to fight for that money, I see peopleâ€™s respect for me, and for the union. It got me thinking that it might make sense to get involved.
It wasnâ€™t just about getting more money. It is anger that built up and felt beaten up over the years, watching management beating down on co-workers, the anger of knowing that we deserve better. For me, I keep thinking back, I watch my father; he would fight for neighbour to make sure they are fed. When Iâ€™m in the hotel, these are my family. There shouldnâ€™t be a day that Iâ€™ll allow management to disrespect the workers. The silence was broken in the hotel. We started standing up for our rights (Interview transcript C203, March 13, 2009).
That transformative moment for the workers from rage into action, from silence to voicing, is also very much the motivating force behind my work of organizing many campaigns among racialized workers.
Solidarity is about all relations
We donâ€™t have a word for solidarity in Mohawk, we call the good mind. When we gather together, we are there with our good mind. Solidarity in Iroquois is being in the good mind all the time and being able to make collective decision and act as One (Interview transcript A101, November 9, 2009).
There is no specific word for solidarity as it is defined in the English language, however there is a term that means â€œall things together, everything in existenceâ€ (kaawin piiwitekaataken kitanishinaapemowin). For Anishnaabe, solidarity is not limited to people which makes perfect sense when you think about it. Everything and everyone is interconnected, each affecting one another. Therefore Anishnaabeâ€™s view of â€œselfâ€ ultimately includes all of creation. (Interview transcript A104, April 21, 2009)
These two Aboriginal participants from different heritages illuminate a notion of solidarity and the interconnections and relation building among human beings and nature. An expression of solidarity implies that we are responsible for all and must be good stewards and caretakers. Framing solidarity in the broadest sense possible according to the Indigenous world view has the potential to scale back our own sense of self-importance and egos. The nurturing of a renewed sense of humility and collectivity will be instrumental to counter the individualistic and monolithic culture and practices of the neoliberal agenda of homogenization.
In essence, solidarity is about relation building. Recognizing the growing inequalities and the environmental crisis within our society, the challenge lies in how to build relations that will break down the hierarchies of power distribution and at the same time, be respectful of the notion that â€œeverything and everyone is interconnectedâ€.
Solidarity as an act of hopefulness
In positing struggle for hope as a site to resist all abuses, schemes; and omissions, Freire acknowledges that such struggle is an ongoing and collective process (Freire, 1997). Solidarity building is a project of goodness and hopefulness. Through the circle dialogue process where activists gathered to strategize and resist, there was a shared sense of hope and commitment in reimagining what is possible and that to me, is most empowering. The vision expressed by one participant below connects the future of the labour movement as part of the broader base organizing of a working class movement where space can be more boundless and less confining:
Pedagogy of solidarity
For me, my hope and my dream is that we can use the global crisis impact to build a working class movement of people of colour. I see workers of colour as potential being the backbone of the movement, which is cohesive, tangible based on their strength and aspiration. My dream is to see if you put someone who is here and someone who is in South Africa, they can analyze and share the same fundamentals of working class movement whose backbone are workers of colour.
With the lay-offs, workers are back in the community with their years of training and skills from the labour movement. If we can somehow get them to work in their communities to build working class consciousness among their neighbours, we can build pockets of workers of colour with politics and mobilizing skills. The mindset will change if the real power comes from the workers of colour. Mostly, you canâ€™t control it. We are not beholden to the labour movement. We will be changing the politics of labour movement where we are dealing with someone elseâ€™s agenda. We have the number, the expertise, but we canâ€™t do it within the labour movement.
Class consciousness is the glue of the working people. Itâ€™s easy to lose it; itâ€™s up to workers of colour to bring it up. Our only vehicle is through the labour movement. But we have to build a base before we can change it. I see a movement of our own as a mission not out of choice.
The forging of working class solidarity as expressed in the above quote speaks to the urgency for a new kind of mobilizing that will resist and challenge the neoliberal agenda. Such solidarity building is therefore, not merely an exercise in minimizing differences in order to ensure that the identity and power of the dominant group will prevail.
Framing the pedagogy of solidarity
If there is one recurring theme that has emerged from this research on the practices of solidarity experienced by this group of activists, it is the collective desire to deconstruct and reconstruct a democratized working class movement that will integrate the principles of racial and economic justice in both words and actions. Solidarity building is a collective journey of building agency and making whole. Throughout the process, I have been overwhelmed by the courage and the resilience of this group of activists.
As a labour educator, I began the research project with a hunch wanting to find out the applicability of Aboriginal circle tradition and the teachings of the Medicine Wheel as a fluid process to engage activists on difficult topics on difference and responsibility in a labour setting. In taking the activists as circle participants, the sharing of stories and narrative has built knowledge and relationships. It has worked well cross-culturally as Restoule further elaborates, embodied in the method of circle work is a form of respect for others, for voice, for spirit and for culture (Restoule, 2004, p.77). In that sense, the research process also became one of the research outcomes. The pedagogy of solidarity is firmly grounded in the Aboriginal knowledge and teachings with the unanimous support of the circle/research participants.
From the pedagogy of the oppressed to the pedagogy of the privileged, there is the potential for pedagogy of solidarity that is grounded in Aboriginal worldview and knowledge that labour movement can turn to counter the prevalent politics of division.
As a project of decolonization
From the collective narrative on solidarity in practice, the daily challenge and rage associated with being confined to a certain space and being typecast to certain roles within and outside the labour movement can be exhausting and excruciating. In
linking the institutional culture and structures of the labour movement as part of the legacy of the Eurocentric colonial project and the pervasiveness of the dominant power, the pedagogy of solidarity is therefore, first and foremost, a project of decolonization.
Pedagogy of solidarity
The coming together of a solidarity circle is an act of decolonization. It is also an
opportunity for workers of colour who are part of the settler community to begin to
unpack and relearn the history of Canada, not from the colonizer, but from the
colonized. It is time to draw inspiration from the resistance and defiance of Indigenous 535 Peoples and to interrogate the complexity and complicity of roles we have engaged in
as part of the settlers of this land. As workers of colour within the labour movement, how do we turn the critical gaze on ourselves and examine the duplicities in our roles as labour, as part of the settler or newcomer community in putting jobs and economy above the well-being of Indigenous communities and the native land?
As a project of making whole
The concept framework for the pedagogy of solidarity is built on the premise that solidarity can only be nurtured if it comes from the heart and through learning that acknowledges and integrates the importance of embodied knowledge. The four evolving components of recovering, restoring, reimagining, and reclaiming form the four corners of a solidarity circle dialogue and it is grounded as an integrative approach to recognize the wholeness of activists as embodied selves.
The pedagogy of solidarity is a collective journey of building agency and making whole. It is a project not only to make visible the invisible dynamics of unequal power relations but a project to decenter. It is a project to deconstruct and reconstruct an interracial working class movement that will integrate the indigenous sovereignty, racial and gender justice in theory and in practices. Such a vision is a very explicit way in drawing the line in the sand, in reimagining a society based on co-existence and co-responsibility.
Rediscovery/recovery. Rediscovery and recovery are to unlearn, relearn the history, the locations of where we are. It is equally liberating to reimagine, and reclaim what is possible beyond the existing structures and practices. No doubt, there is value in examining how prevalent the daily racism is, how entrenched the systemic practice of privilege and power relations is; but the pedagogy of solidarity is to enable us to move beyond the rage at a personal and collective level. The dialogue will rediscover what is lost, unspoken; and dismissed. The recovery will be an assertion of voices, knowledge; and the histories of resistance in its richness, complexity, and dignity.
Restoring. The restoring is the making whole, the healing of the soul. In choosing to use the Indigenous methodology of learning, or sharing circle, I share the stance as Restoule and Smith that the knowledge produced and shared through the process is the beginning or an ongoing process of healing. Decolonizing and healing are the same process. The anishinaabe knowing begins with the self, looking within and learning by doing.
Re-imagination. This is where participants of the solidarity circle can dream and imagine what is possible in all its boldness and colours. Kelley (2002) depicts dreaming as an ongoing political engagement and radical imagination as the â€œunleashingâ€ of the mind. Given the realities experienced by Aboriginal workers and workers of colour in workplaces and communities, the freedom to dream is to have a different way of seeing that is invigorating.
Reclaiming. Resisting, refusing to be constrained, refusing to settle for crumbs, or to play in a designated space prescribed by others can be both liberating and unsettling. It is in this juncture of self- and collective discovery that we can begin to truly move into the possibility of reclaiming.
In countering the hegemony of dominance and power, the sense of empowerment and entitlement among members of the marginalized communities needs to be 536 nurtured and co-developed in an ongoing solidarity building project. The revolution is made real by how we interact with each other, how we open our hearts, and how we mean what we say when we address each other as brothers and sisters in the labour family. In that sense, the revolution begins with holding each other and ourselves accountable in a project of co-responsibility as part of the conditions necessary for reclaiming. The process of such building will become an act of mobilizing and resisting in the context of class, race, and gender. As labour activists, the interconnectedness between the fight to resist the neoliberal agenda and the Aboriginal sovereignty movement is part of the integral fight to topple the tightening grasp of the capitalist
To recover what is lost is to reclaim a space that welcomes the heart and soul, and
recognizes its role in building trust and solidarity. How do we collectively as activists, as adult educators reclaim such space and reimagine our work as part of the decentering the power base in order to build a movement from the bottom up.
Implications for future research and actions
As a non-Aboriginal person who came to Canada over 40 years ago, the approach to integrate Indigenous knowledge and worldview into my research is my first step to begin my own journey of decolonizing my own mindset. It has also prompted me to probe deeper into my own Chinese and non Eurocentric knowledge base. Further research on anti-racism and decolonizing projects from diverse perspectives and grounded on the embodied knowledge of Aboriginal workers and workers of colour will greatly enhance and deepen our collective dialogue on how to make labour renewal and decolonization project real.
The research has explored how pedagogy of solidarity can serve as a framework of critical education for the purpose of building an interracial working class movement from a decolonizing perspective. It has primarily aimed to restore and empower Aboriginal workers and workers of colour activists in countering hegemony. A further extension of this work would be to explore the possibility of applying the principles and components of such pedagogy in a mixed audience, i.e. to include White labour activists as part of the circle. How would it unfold? What would be the pre-requisites and preparation required to ensure that the transformative power of the circle could remain intact? How could we engage White brothers and sisters in a critical examination on power and privilege without guilt, anger and resentment? In essence, how can we further explore the possibility of the pedagogy of solidarity that will enable us to take personal and collective co-responsibility for systemic change?
The proposed pedagogy of solidarity is therefore, an offering to a labour movement that has been the site of my activism for the last thirty years, and to begin a conversation on what is not only possible but also probable. It is probably because only in the recognition of a profound shift of power relations and recasting would we be able to truly build a working class solidarity that can be truly forever and for all.
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Pedagogy of solidarity
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About the author
Winnie Ng is a labour rights activist and scholar. She is the CAW-Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson University, the only union-endowed chair at a Canadian university. Her area of research interest is on globalization and social movement building. She holds a MA and PhD from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Winnie Ng can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org