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From The Socialist newspaper, 31 March 2009

Governments and bosses try to make young people pay for their crisis...

...fight for a future!

Youth Fight for Jobs and NO2EU on the

Youth Fight for Jobs and NO2EU on the 'Put People First' demo, photo Paul Mattsson

They were once called the iPod generation and labelled as apathetic and uninterested in politics, as binge-drinking consumers with a short-term mindset. Now 'Generation iPod' has become 'Generation Crunch'. Socialist Students national organiser Matt Dobson looks at the ways in which young people will be affected by the economic crisis and the urgent need to fight for a decent future.

Even when the economy was growing, the majority of young people struggled, either in low-paid insecure jobs or piling up debts at university. Very few managed to get on the property ladder. One survey revealed that only 13% of newly married young people could buy a house.

One-off purchases and nights out at the weekend never hid the real poverty experienced by young workers and students.

Now, on the basis of the economic crisis, mass unemployment is on the horizon. Young people face an onslaught of attacks on their rights and living standards from both the bosses and the government. After years of being promised a bright future, that mass joblessness was a thing of the past, many young people may be shocked and unprepared for the prospect of being thrown on the scrapheap.

Youth Fight for Jobs and NO2EU on the anti-G20

Youth Fight for Jobs and NO2EU on the anti-G20 'Put People First' demo, photo Paul Mattsson

However, the recent protests and movements of young people in Greece and elsewhere in Europe, suggest there will be a response and that young people will be to the fore.

The 'last-in-first-out' approach means that already 40% of those thrown out of work since the crisis began are under 25. Youth unemployment is predicted to reach 1.25 million by the end of 2009. Graduates leaving university with average debts of £22,000 face unemployment. With fees set to rise, this will only get worse.

In February of this year Will Hutton warned in the Observer: "It will be this July that the scale of what is happening will hit home: 600,000 young people will leave school and college looking for a job. As many as half may not get work. It is an unfolding social calamity. We know from the early 1980s that youth unemployment scars people psychologically, emotionally and economically and for life".

Jobs massacre

Youth Fight for Jobs

Youth Fight for Jobs

The jobs massacre on the high street is pushing thousands of young workers onto the dole queue. Many young people work in shops, pubs and restaurants, full-time or part-time, to help their studies and to survive. Chains such as Woolworths, Zavvi, Whittards and Viyella have gone bust. JJB Sports and Barratts shoes are in trouble, as well as restaurant chains Ask, Gourmet Burger and Café Rouge.

The drop in consumer spending and the freezing up of credit will also hit call centres, especially those linked to banks. Call centres, which in the private sector are largely un-unionised, could see hundreds of young workers being sacked at once if firms are struggling. This could lead to spontaneous action, walkouts and occupations.

Youth Fight for Jobs and NO2EU on the

Youth Fight for Jobs and NO2EU on the 'Put People First' demo, photo Paul Mattsson

But not all young people have been employed in low-paid, casualised workplaces. On the basis of sustained and persistent trade union struggle to win better conditions, there have been some more secure and better-paid jobs in the public sector and in what is left of manufacturing, for example. However, the job and pay cuts in the car industry, for instance are also an attack on young people's future rights to a decent paid job.

Bailing out the banks to the tune of 20% of Gross Domestic Product will be paid for with cuts in public services if the government has its way. This means that the working and pension rights that have been won through trade union struggle in the public sector will be under attack. Young people must be involved in the fight for the future of private and public sector jobs and public services.

Low-pay labour schemes

New Labour's response to the prospect of mass unemployment is to encourage and even subsidise the bosses' low-wage labour schemes. Brown was proud to announce that 10,000 young people a year would be trained by McDonalds into McJobs.

The government is approaching the private sector, charities and the voluntary sector to provide training, low-waged and unwaged, for young people.

Thirty three local councils are taking on thousands of 'volunteers' who will not be paid a penny and have no guarantee of a job at the end.

Fightback needed!

Youth Fight for Jobs and NO2EU on the

Youth Fight for Jobs and NO2EU on the 'Put People First' demo, photo Paul Mattsson

The trade unions must organise young people to fight mass unemployment, defending jobs, services, benefits and democratic rights.

Youth Fight for Jobs demands a massive government investment programme in socially useful jobs created by reversing cuts and increasing spending in the public sector and in a public programme of house-building, renovation and infrastructure projects. Any job created must pay a minimum of £8 an hour without exemptions as a step towards a living wage; apprentices must be paid at least the minimum wage with a guaranteed job at the end. Unemployment must also be ended through the implementation of a 35-hour week for all without loss of pay.

Cuts in benefits

New Labour proposes to slaughter benefits. At £60.50, Job Seeker's Allowance is not enough to survive on. Young people will be even worse affected. Under-25s receive an even more miserly rate of JSA at £47.95. Without a genuine programme of job creation and a commitment to a living wage, young people on benefits will be harassed and pushed onto courses to train them for jobs that don't exist, or onto slave-labour schemes.

There are also plans to cut housing benefit at a time when homelessness is rising and there is little chance that a bank will give anyone under 25 a mortgage. Many young adults are forced to remain with their parents in overcrowded accommodation.

Further cuts in the welfare state, combined with cuts in education may trigger movements of young people, as recently seen in Ireland. The Irish government's budget proposed slashing pensions and education provision and provoked pensioners and students to come out onto the streets in massive demonstrations.

Where will graduates go?

The New Labour government and the ruling class in Britain will now be faced with the question of what can be done with the 'educated unemployed'. Aspirations and basic expectations of a decent life with education, a job and a home will be blocked. Young people will be frustrated and radicalised if a place cannot be found for them in society.

When outlining New Labour's inadequate job creation, internship and apprenticeship packages, Gordon Brown spoke of preventing a "Greece scenario". The uprising of Greek youth in December 2008 was among other things provoked by frustration. Having made massive sacrifices at school and university, all that is available for them are low paid, insecure jobs. As in Britain, deindustrialisation means there is scarcity of jobs and apprenticeships in manufacturing in Greece.

For the past eleven years New Labour has assured university students that their expensive degrees will give them guaranteed access to better jobs and increased earnings over their lifetime. But the Association of Graduate Recruiters winter survey shows graduate vacancies are down this year for the first time since the crash of the dotcom bubble in 2003, despite the government predicting they would rise by 11%. Vacancies in the financial sector and the City of London (recently among the largest areas of growth in graduate jobs) are down 28%. The average graduate salary of £25,000 in 2008 has also frozen this year ending year-on-year increases since 1997.

One survey urges desperate graduates to "take any paid job you can, like bar work or stacking shelves and wait for things to get better". Reality is hitting home to students. The Higher Education Careers Service reports that 62% of students are not confident that their degree will get them a job (Guardian 11 February).

In a desperate attempt to deal with the lack of jobs for the hundreds of thousands coming out of university the government has introduced a National Internship Scheme (NIS). This scheme is a slave labour scam where talented young people are expected to live on a pittance, to be picked up and then discarded by the bosses on a whim.

The government has persuaded firms like Barclays and Microsoft to take on graduates for three months paying them a poverty wage, not much higher than the level of a combined student loan and grant. There is no compulsion for any firm to be part of the scheme or give a long-term commitment to taking on graduates.

Further attacks on education

John Denham, the universities minister, recently commissioned a report from arch privateer Sir John Chisholm. Unsurprisingly the report recommends that elite universities should be able to charge higher fees by lifting the present cap of £3,145.

The drive towards marketisation in universities, urged on by the vice chancellors and big business, will continue unless mass opposition is built. A recent survey of vice chancellors exposed their desire to increase fees and charge up to £20,000 a year!

Universities are losing millions of pounds in collapsing banks and cuts in government funding. Students are already being made to pay for this. But battles have erupted this year over job cuts at a number of universities. For example a campaign of trade unionists and students against massive job losses was launched at London Metropolitan University and has already scored a victory with the resignation of the hated vice chancellor and architect of the cuts, Brian Roper.

The National Union of Students (NUS) leadership refuses to organise a struggle against the Brown government's policies. Recent 'reforms' make NUS even more undemocratic and mean that the leadership has more power to prevent campaigning from developing in its structures.

It is therefore left to the Campaign to Defeat Fees and other activists and student unions to fight to build opposition to an increase in university fees and other attacks on education. The recent anti-fees national demonstration of over 1,000 people showed that there is potential to build a movement on this issue.

Social alienation

Deprived of a future, impoverished and often criminalised in the media, many young people in Britain face increasing social alienation. This is reflected in gang culture and gun and knife violence, as well as growth in problems like self-harm, eating disorders and suicide.

As the economic crisis worsens the anger felt by young people may initially in some cases find expression in an increasing echo for right-wing racist or religious fundamentalist ideas. Some young people could even look towards anarchistic and even terroristic ideas. Unbearable levels of police harassment, particularly of black and Asian youth, will also provoke a reaction.

Combined with unemployment, cuts in youth facilities are continually leaving groups of young people isolated on the streets with little purpose in life. As seen recently in Eastern Europe, far-right groups will attempt to play on frustrations and whip up racism. In Britain groups like the far-right, racist British National Party may gain support from sections of young people, but in the main young people oppose racism.

The BNP and their 'divide and rule' tactics offer no solutions to the crisis of capitalism. It will be the role of socialists to channel the growing anger in a socialist direction towards a united working-class struggle for jobs, homes and services.

Socialist ideas and programme needed

Ian Traynor, Europe editor of the Guardian wrote: "In Athens, it was students and young people who suddenly mobilised to turn parts of the city into no-go areas. They were sick of the lack of jobs and prospects, the failings of the education system and seized with pessimism over their future". This anger has yet to make itself felt in Britain, but it certainly exists and is growing.

Young people can and will organise to fight for a decent future. Explosive struggles of the working class with young people at the fore will break out. More and more young people will draw the conclusion from this economic crisis that capitalism cannot take society forward.

In 1985 Militant, the forerunner of the Socialist Party, played a leading role in organising school student strikes, involving hundreds of thousands, against Margaret Thatcher's hated slave-labour Youth Training Schemes (YTS).

In the recent construction workers' strikes the Socialist Party put forward a programme based on the united action of workers.

Socialists must combine the energy and anger of young people with a socialist programme to end the haemorrhaging of jobs and fight for genuine training, apprenticeships and jobs for a new generation.

This must be linked to building a force that can overthrow this rotten, failed system, to change society and provide a decent future for all.

Youth Fight for Jobs conference

Saturday 9 May

Cruciform, Lecture Theatre 1, University College London (UCL), London WC1E 6BT. Near Euston and Warren Street tube and rail stations

10-11am - registration
11-12.30pm - opening rally

Speakers include Bob Crow, RMT general secretary; Tracy Edwards, PCS young members network; and activists from the campaign.

12.30-1.30pm - lunch
1.30-3pm - workshops

Topics include: current workplace struggles to save jobs; organising the YFfJ campaign; the politicians' reaction to the crisis; and defending your rights at work.

3-3.30pm - what way forward for the campaign?

Discussion, resolutions & voting.

3:30-4:30pm - closing rally.

Speakers include Sean Figg, Youth Fight for Jobs national organiser, activists from Greece, and more...

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In The Socialist 31 March 2009:

The G20 leaders have no solution to the crisis...

Fight for a future!

Youth Fight for Jobs conference

Why I'm marching

The grim reality of job-hunting

G20 protests

G20 Summit: Capitalism facing 'make or break'

Free market system killing our planet

UEL clampdown

Bail out workers, not Wall Street!

Socialist Party workplace news

Visteon workers occupy Belfast factory

Construction workers' protests continue

Socialist stands in Aslef leadership elections

College teachers strike in Eastbourne

Unison needs a fighting leadership: Leeds City Council

Whipps Cross Hospital

Unison elections

Socialist Party Marxist analysis

Economic crisis turning into political action

Socialist Party election campaign

No2EU - Yes to Democracy

Dave Nellist on the Politics Show

Socialist Party campaigns

Poor hit by price rises

No to privatised polyclinics

Gordon Brown meets the bankers

Sack the bankers not the workers!

Fast News

International socialist news and analysis

Now that the profits are drying up in the Indian software industry

Sweden: Socialist councillor viciously assaulted by Nazis


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