The Socialist 21 July 2009 |
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Youth Fight for Jobs: fortnight of action
The government's latest unemployment figures show that, as expected, young people are still facing the brunt of job losses.
Unemployment among the under 25s has reached a 16-year high of 928,000.
But these figures include none of the 600,000 education leavers Youth Fight for Jobs (YFJ) was campaigning amongst during our fortnight of action from 27 June to 10 July.
The problem of mass youth unemployment is already more severe than admitted and the government's response already inadequate.
The fortnight of action has shown that YFJ has a wide network of organisers and activists across the country.
A fantastic start has been made to taking the campaign into schools, colleges, universities, workplaces and dole queues with our fighting programme.
The links that YFJ has built with the trade union movement have been strengthened at local level, as well as media links and coverage - in some areas.
Trade union support is crucial, putting much strength behind the voice of young people.
YFJ's profile has been raised in a number of areas with lively meetings, protests, rallies and gigs.
With this excellent work by our members and supporters as a foundation, YFJ will grow in the coming months as the reality of the repercussions of the economic crisis hits home. The crisis of the bosses' system will add to the urgent need for a powerful movement for change and YFJ will strive to be at the forefront.
Here is an outline of the situation faced by young people, a flavour of the actions that took place and some of the plans for the future.
Most of the reports are written by new young YFJ members.
Next week The Socialist will carry a report of the plans agreed at the YFJ steering committee meeting.
Sean Figg, YFJ national organiser
The fortnight of action saw plenty of activity from the Huddersfield YFJ group. We organised a public meeting to discuss the role of trade unions in supporting young people in the recession, we staged a protest outside Huddersfield Jobcentre and intervened in a number of local carnivals and festivals to promote the meeting, as well as having stalls in the town centre.
We got a very good response to the slogan 'jobs and homes not racism' on stalls, clearly showing that young people were disgusted by the election of the racist BNP to the European Parliament, but also that they couldn't see a political alternative at this moment in time. YFJ will play an important role in engaging with these young people, and turning them away from apathy and towards action!
Our Jobcentre protest got a fantastic response, collecting over 60 signatures and selling ten copies of The Socialist. We spoke to unemployed people about the realities of job hunting in credit-crunch Britain, with a punitive regime that takes away your benefits if you can't find a job when there are none there. Council and civil service staff shared our concerns about the future for young people. The discussions led on to the role that public sector trade unions can play in safeguarding jobs in the recession.
Chris Kitchen, national secretary of the National Union of Miners, spoke at our successful meeting on the miners' strike. He tied it in with the devastation of many working-class communities in the aftermath of pit closures. But Chris ended with a message of hope, stating that things can change, and that campaigns like YFJ can have a big impact in reaching out to young people, reviving the ideas of solidarity and socialism.
Gary Bunton, Huddersfield YFJ
In Birmingham 13% of 18 to 24 year olds are unemployed. In this atmosphere the response we got from the public was very encouraging, a feeling of wanting to struggle was apparent among large numbers.
Birmingham YFJ activists joined forces with Coventry YFJ members for the fortnight of action and organised a street demonstration on Saturday 11 July. We set ourselves up outside a closed Zavvi shop, a fitting backdrop given that more than 1,500 mostly youth jobs were lost when the company went into administration.
Gordon Brown even made a guest appearance in the city to give away money to fat cat bankers! These parts were well played by YFJ activists.
Many people came to see what all the fuss was about and we found our petitions filling up rapidly. We signed up new members to the campaign, as well as several young people asking to be kept up to date with events.
Several parents also said they were appalled by the situation their children were experiencing and took information to pass on to them.
Chloe Sumner Birmingham YFJ
Coventry is a pretty depressing city at the best of times, but this recession is really taking its toll. If you walk through the city centre, there are more and more shops shutting - all shops you would find young people working in - Zavvi, Woolworths, etc. One week the Coventry Telegraph didn't have a jobs supplement at all!
One particularly poignant development was the closing of the main post office in town. It has been turned into a pawnbroker, advertised in the local press by TV's David Dickinson.
There are now almost 3,000 18 to 24s in the Coventry area claiming Jobseekers Allowance, compared to 2,000 last year.
In Coventry YFJ activists focused on the free Godiva festival for the fortnight of action, as a good place to meet many young people. Unfortunately we got moved on by the council. Apparently this was because we didn't have 'permission' to be there.
Reasoning with the council got us nowhere so we dismantled our stall with our flyers, cakes, and our 'wall of shame' (not that anyone got a chance to write on it), and moved out of the area. Some YFJ activists stayed to distribute flyers advertising a Birmingham protest.
Despite the council's attempts to silence us we managed to get a lot of support and to bring people to the protest in Birmingham. And we have not given up on organising a fightback in Coventry. We have an email list and database of all those who have signed our petitions, a Facebook group, new people who want to help campaigning at the University of Warwick, plans for a gig and MySpace, Bebo and Twitter accounts.
We intend to use the summer to plan an organised assault against the corrosion of employment and employment rights so that going into the next academic year, we can take the fight further.
Kyly Wilson, Coventry YFJ steering committee member
On Friday 26 June socialists in Bangor organised a YFJ fundraising and solidarity gig to kick off the fortnight of action.
The hard work put in to organising and promoting it paid off. We had a wonderful response, and that was despite an unfortunate fiasco three days earlier when all of the four bands down to play pulled out! However, our two organisers turned it around, managing to secure three brilliant bands.
Switch, the first act, with 'one woman and her guitar' style music, went down brilliantly with interpretations of songs from The Killers and many other bands.
The next, After an Alibi, played their own brand of indie rock to an eager audience and we finished up with the loudest band of all - The Stilettos - an energetic politicised 1980s style punk band.
The whole venture raised £150, sold six t-shirts and raised awareness and interest in the campaign. We are now looking to draw in more layers of the local youth in our area and build on the interest shown that night.
Rhys Conway, Bangor
The Rhondda YFJ march set off from Tonypandy Jobcentre on Saturday 11 July. Passing drivers blared their support as marchers from Cardiff, Swansea and Llanelli and Rhondda demanded more jobs, better pay and better opportunities for young people in the Rhondda Valley.
This has long been a deprived area, even before the recession, and the divide between the poor and the overpaid MPs who are supposed to be representing the area has never been clearer.
Private firms decline to set up or invest around there, and the politicians don't seem to bother much.
The simple fact is Rhondda has been written off as unprofitable. Many locals, young and old, have very little hope of things changing and the main problems are the lack of opportunities, or even paid jobs in the area. Most working-class young people are put off going to university by the cost.
Even though there wasn't a reporter to be seen, the protest was a success as everyone in the area now knows that there are people prepared to do something to improve the situation. Our demands included a job creation plan for the Rhondda.
Unlike the politicians and the MPs of the three main political parties, YFJ offers a way to fight for real solutions and hope in sorting out the deprivation.
Our next step will be to hold a meeting to discuss how exactly we can build the campaign.
Michael Johnson Caerphilly
I recently attended the South West TUC regional council to put forward the case for YFJ. I wrote the week before to ask if I could speak about the campaign, mentioning my role in the UK youth parliament.
After a week of frantic speech writing I turned up with the steady moral support of a local socialist. When my slot arrived I shakily took the walk up to the main desk. It went, by all accounts, and somewhat surprisingly to me, brilliantly. As I started getting into the flow of the words, my nervousness about delivering the longest and most important speech I've ever done melted away.
All the delegates were extremely supportive of YFJ. There were questions about apprenticeships and education. However, when, after one query about the role of YFJ in building a new workers' party, I suggested that the unions should disaffiliate from New Labour, I received an impromptu round of applause!
Trade unionists and activists from the Socialist Party also contributed to the discussion. Overall, it was an extremely successful outing in strengthening YFJ's appeal, raising awareness among union members and a great experience for me.
Since the meeting I have received emails confirming that a motion for support for YFJ will be put forward at the next meeting of Somerset NUT teachers' union and hopefully more will follow soon, making YFJ an ever stronger force in representing young workers.
Fred Cotteril Bristol YFJ
As the economy sinks further into decline the exploitation of young people as a source of cheap, expendable labour is becoming more and more apparent. Levels of youth unemployment have reached the highest rates since the early 1980s.
Even in rural areas, where there is little competition for the few jobs that are available, I and many other young workers I know have experienced great injustices.
Wages for young workers are often shockingly low. Two young workers in my town of Bruton in Somerset were paid even less than the £3.53 minimum wage for 16 to 17 year olds. When they asked for a wage rise they were told they would get no further work.
My younger brother and many other young people were promised long-term places with a wage of £6 an hour in a local restaurant. But the first signs of the economic crisis saw them all put out of work without any prior notice and with little or no explanation.
These examples, in just one small town, show that there are deep-set problems in the regulations that govern hours, breaks and payments for young people. How many other young workers are experiencing similar injustices across the country?
Qualifications are now available for working in MacDonald's. Why does such a large multinational company, with an already large workforce, need this when these skills are just as easily gained through training while working with an actual wage?
A fair minimum wage which matches the present cost of living is essential. Only with such changes in place will young people be treated fairly.
What young people need is real well-paid jobs, apprenticeships and decent training. We must fight for amendments to the present controls and regulations which so far have been amazingly unsuccessful in protecting us from greedy and exploitative employers.
Conor Downes Somerset YFJ
The number of young people on the dole in Worcester has doubled since last year to 700.
Cuts in youth services are very much on the agenda. Already council train pass prices have increased by £5 per term on top of a freeze in educational maintenance allowance (EMA).
During the YFJ fortnight of action we leafleted outside Worcester train station. Most young people we talked to were so keen that they asked if they could take leaflets to give their friends. Some were even on their way to the local Jobcentre having returned home from university. But that was before we were moved along by station managers!
In Worcester YFJ members organised a publicity stunt, dressing up as Alan Sugar and Gordon Brown and handing out the government's proposed slave labour apprenticeship schemes.
Despite sending a photographer down, Worcester News felt that our local Tory MP whining about the problem, and providing us with no real solutions would make better reading.
This cut across the publicity for our public meeting somewhat, which was smaller than we had hoped for. However, we aim to rectify this by continuing to take the campaign out on the streets and engaging with young people.
We are confident that young people are genuinely looking for an alternative in Worcester, and with continued campaigning they will look past the media blackout.
Alex Cosh, Worcester YFJ
In Brighton we decided to concentrate on a fundraising gig and a meeting for the fortnight of action. After the European election results, we thought it was important to discuss the threat posed by the racist far-right British National Party and how they have no solutions to the difficulties young people suffer in the economic crisis.
The meeting also provided a good opportunity to talk about building YFJ locally. We decided to write a leaflet and build for a protest around the issue of agencies which are used to recruit a lot of people in Brighton, particularly students, to jobs with poor pay, conditions and job security.
The gig raised £70 and speeches between bands meant we could get our ideas to a layer of young people who may not initially be interested in coming to political meetings. One of the most important things we gained from the fortnight was that people who had not previously organised activities took charge and learnt a lot from the experience, meaning they will be able to take a lead for future events.
This, combined with meeting several people interested in getting involved and making good concrete plans, means the fortnight of action definitely gave YFJ more local focus in Brighton.
Sarah Wrack, Brighton Socialist Students
Southwark and Lambeth YFJ activists held a protest outside Harriet Harman MP's surgery. As deputy leader of the Labour Party we wanted to make it clear to her that the government's cheap labour apprenticeships, with minimal security and no long-term plan, may well be an answer to the problems of unemployment for the bosses, but are not the answer for us!
To build for the protest we held stalls in local centres and outside local further education (FE) colleges. Talking to young people made it clear that unemployment is just one end of a spectrum, which includes wage freezes and cuts, reduced hours, shifting from permanent to temporary contracts, and longer probationary periods.
We made the point that there is plenty of need for job creation in south London. In Camberwell on 3 July a fire in Lakanal tower block killed six people. These tower blocks were built in 1957 to last no longer than two decades. Tenants have alerted the council about issues of fire safety many times and have been ignored!
At the same time 109,000 construction workers were made redundant in Britain last year. These workers could be given jobs in a social house-building programme, providing decent jobs and apprenticeships to young people. Instead of ensuring young people have useful skills, Lambeth College faces cuts as part of a London-wide programme of FE cuts.
Future plans for building the YFJ campaign in south London include helping to unionise staff in vulnerable employment. We also aim to hold music events to attract youth to a positive, collective fightback, instead of suffering the individual misery of unemployment forced on us by the capitalist crisis!
The north east is an important area for YFJ to build in. Recent research by Centre for Cities has added both Sunderland and Middlesbrough onto the Youth Unemployment 'black list' as unemployment there averages around 9%.
YFJ, backed by the north eastern RMT and Unite central Newcastle branch, held a highly successful fundraising gig in the centre of Newcastle. Local bands were willing to play under the banner of YFJ, seeing the need to fight back against the crisis which was not caused by ordinary people.
Chris Walton opened the show with an excellent acoustic set, covering bands like Muse and Radiohead. Later, bands Final Hour and Decay of Reason played an extremely heavy set covering bands like Metallica and Slipknot. We also organised stalls and protests where we met youth who want to sign up and join the fightback.
Paul Phillips, Newcastle YFJ
On 9 August from 4pm until 5pm, Kyly will be on Anthony Gormley's 4th Plinth project to promote YFJ. BBC Coventry and Warwickshire will interview her on Friday 7 August. She hopes people will support her on the plinth with a 'proper noisy protest' and by taking the opportunity to sign up passers-by to YFJ.
Build the fightback!
Rock Against Racism
Come and hear five great local bands:
- The Finest Hour
- Little Imp
- The Drop Deads
Friday 24 July 2009, 7.30pm
Above the Duke of Wellington Broadgate, Lincoln