Friday, 17 March 2017

The legacy of Chris Wilkes (18/12/57-18/03/16)

Dear Colleagues,
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the tragic, early death of former Ruskin College Principal, Chris Wilkes. Chris was an inspirational leader in many genuine, authentic ways. He was deeply committed to Ruskin's ethos of providing an excellent educational experience to working class adults, and encouraged all ideas/initiatives which were in pursuit of this. Below is the post I added to the blog just after an event at Ruskin last year to celebrate Chris's life. I wanted to post it again in memory of him.

Yesterday at Ruskin College we held a memorial event to celebrate the life of Chris Wilkes, the Principal of Ruskin College who died unexpectedly on 18th March.

The event drew many current staff members, and a diverse body of ex-Ruskin staff from the period of Chris's time at Ruskin, the bulk of which he spent in the role of General Secretary on appointment in 1991.

I left Ruskin College in 1991 and so missed meeting Chris, however, we did meet when I worked at the WEA and Northern College, and it was a great privilege to be under his leadership when I started to work at Ruskin College, first as a visiting tutor, from 2000.

Many people made a contribution yesterday, including Ruth Spelman, Chief Executive of the WEA, and Stephen Yeo, ex-Principal.

The overwhelming sentiment expressed was of a kind, caring, considerate man, with a profound commitment to the development and delivery of education which could transform the lives of working class women and men.

I spent many very happy hours with Chris on a variety of areas of work and always felt his genuine support and care for my role at Ruskin. Chris was also my main encouragement to start my doctorate research and I am aim to dedicate this to him.

I was privileged yesterday to host the memorial event, and this allowed me to introduce speakers, and I concluded by saying that the event marked not the end of the way that we remember Chris's legacy, but just the beginning.

In Solidarity


Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Yours for the Union: Class and Community Struggles in South Africa

Dear Colleagues,

In previous posts I have written of the close association between Ruskin College, the South African liberation movement, and also those books that had a great influence on me during my time as a student at the College.

With this in mind this post is a plug for the re-issue by Zed Books of Baruch Hirson's seminal text on the making of the black working class in South Africa, Yours for the Union: Class and Community Struggles in South Africa:

Whilst the original edition in 1990 came in for some relatively negative critique (like this from Ian Hunter:, Yours for the Union: Class and Community Struggles in South Africa is still recognised as a critically important text in placing in historical context the inability of the black South African left to overcome internal division.

As the promotional Zed text states:

Yours for the Union stands as a landmark history of the making of the black working class in South Africa. Drawing on a wide range of sources, it covers the crucial period of 1930–47, when South Africa's rapid industrialisation led to the dramatic growth of the working class, and uncontrolled urbanisation resulted in vast shanty towns which became a focal point for resistance and protest. Importantly, Hirson was one of the first historians to go beyond the traditional focus on the mines and factory workplaces, broadening his account to include the lesser known community struggles of the urban ghettoes and rural reserves.

I came across Hirson's book not long after I had read key chapters of Ron Ramdin's The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain. Taken together both books provide a powerful insight upon the processes of radicalisation of economically/politically marginalised groups - not least when a key driver for that marginalisation is racism.

You can still get hold of the original (1990) version of Hirson's book, and although weighty in parts, is essential reading for those interested in working class formation and political mobilisation.

For those with feedback/comments on Hirson or Ramdin please post a reply.

In Solidarity