The influence of the Canadian Auto Workers Union in debates on the South African Qualifications Framework

Kodisang, Elias
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This paper argues that the paradox of COSATU and its unions supporting and promoting high skills within the framework of a competence-based skills system can only be understood by unearthing the hidden history of contestation within the unions over the system. These differences were rooted in much larger political and ideological contestations regarding the ideology of competitiveness and the future of struggle in the unions. In addition, it is necessary to take the totality of social, political and economic factors into account. It is rooted within Marxist methodology which takes as its point of departure the observation that human activity (and nature) is constituted by a complex array of actions, institutions and social entities with real class interests. It takes as its starting point the fact that social systems are best understood by understanding the multiple determinations and relationships that impact them. The paper thus argues that understanding the shift away from emancipatory notions of education required an understanding of various social forces together with their political, ideological and material interests. Based on this, it is argued that the political and class interests of black union leaders together with shifts by white intellectuals who previously held radical and largely Marxist positions coincided with changes in the local and international balance of forces. These shifts by these groups in themselves took place within a generalised retreat in progressive ideas and defeats of the union base by employers and retreats away from internal democratic traditions within unions. This confluence of factors allowed for shifts in the emancipatory ideas of education and the ascendance of ideas based on new ideas of work experience, accreditation of learning and work experience.
A Masters Research Report submitted to the School of Education, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Education.
Trade Unions, New skills system,