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Posted on 15 September 2011 at 9:47 GMT

Youth workers' strike and lobby, Witney, 9.9.11, photo John Gilman

Youth workers' strike and lobby, Witney, 9.9.11, photo John Gilman   (Click to enlarge)

Youth workers' strike and lobby in Witney, Oxfordshire

Rachael Horwitz

Even in the heart of his supposedly leafy constituency, "Disco Dave" is unable to escape the outcry caused by his government's policies.

On Friday 9 September, youth workers in the Unite CWYU (Community and Youth Workers) union went on strike across Oxfordshire, in protest at the council's plans to replace the services they provide with seven "community hubs", which will put 80 jobs at risk.

In addition, the new hubs will, according to one striking worker, be part of an "early intervention" scheme specifically aimed at preventing anti-social behaviour by imposing "targets", rather than relying on skilled youth workers.

This could alienate young people and treat them as a problem rather than children and teenagers needing support and social activities.

It will also affect young people's trust in these services, as well as further stigmatising them, and they may have little support from family and friends or have special needs.

Previous demos and pickets by youth workers have been strongly supported by the young people who use these services.

The demonstration itself was upbeat and noisy with members from several different unions attending, such as PCS, and striking workers in Banbury and elsewhere in Oxfordshire also attended.

A public meeting was held after the demonstration. We marched from Church Green to Witney youth centre, for a short rally outside David Cameron's office.

While a long day, it was reportedly not as long as the previous strike in Banbury (23 August), when workers were on their feet for 12 hours in some cases! Luckily, the rally was broken up by a lunch break.

Youth workers’ strike and lobby in Witney, Oxfordshire, John Gilman

Youth workers’ strike and lobby in Witney, Oxfordshire, John Gilman   (Click to enlarge)

One worker from Warwickshire said that the council had proposed similar measures there, and that it wasn't just Oxfordshire, but the whole country.

The Unite rep from Southampton also attended and brought solidarity greetings from striking workers at Southampton council.

The Labour MP for Bolton West, Julie Hilling, came to the demonstration and gave a speech. While any support is welcome, many will doubtless not be impressed by her view, expressed at the end of her speech, that the council is cutting "too far and too fast" - does this mean that she will support the strike for now, but perhaps not in six months' time?

One worker said that some of the children that she supports are among the most vulnerable in the country; in one case, a boy had to wear his sister's trousers because his parents could not afford a new pair.

She described how some families and young people are supplementing a pathetic income by turning to crime.

Removing the youth services, and with them a support base and responsible role models, will leave these young people feeling, in some cases, they have "no alternative".

Youth workers’ strike and lobby in Witney, Oxfordshire, John Gilman

Youth workers’ strike and lobby in Witney, Oxfordshire, John Gilman   (Click to enlarge)

The Con-Dem government seems more interested in making themselves rich by plundering the economy than tackling the issues which contributed to the riots last month, despite the rhetoric of "fixing our broken society".

Since last year, people as young as 12 have been fighting to save their youth service, which serves some of the most vulnerable young people in the community.

Last year, a twelve-year-old boy was pulled out of his school by police and interrogated because he organised a perfectly legal peaceful protest.

The police later apologised, but this was not only a shocking waste of time and resources but an attack on basic democratic rights, and a disgraceful attempt to intimidate young people becoming involved in activism for the first time.

However, the fact that this strike is taking place shows the willingness of workers and service users to fight back and protect their jobs and services.

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