In 1936, 200 unemployed workers marched from their homes in Jarrow in north-east England to London against mass unemployment, demanding the government re-establish the shipbuilding industry in their town. In 2011, youth unemployment was rising. On the 75th anniversary of the Jarrow Crusade, Youth Fight for Jobs marched a 330-mile route from Jarrow to London, following in the footsteps of the original Jarrow marchers. Ben Robinson, 2011 Jarrow marcher and former Youth Fight for Jobs chair, writes about that experience.
You often hear a lot of statistics. 64% support rail renationalisation. Just 10% support the Universal Credit cut. 60% support a bigger NHS pay rise than the government is offering.
The reality behind these stats may be glimpsed by many, but participating in the 330-mile 2011 march from Jarrow to London immersed us in the solidarity and fighting spirit that exists throughout the country.
Over the course of six weeks, the marchers were fed, clothed and housed almost entirely by the workers’ movement and supporters, willingly giving support for the protest. Local sports clubs made us fry-ups; passing motorists stopped to donate cash; leisure centres let us use showers; brewers even made celebratory beers!
Even in tiny villages, someone would come out of their homes to offer a round of tea, explaining that their relatives had made tea for the famous 1936 Jarrow Crusade, and it was a source of family pride.
Early on in the march, we visited a picket line of workers striking over pensions. One of our Jarrow marchers gave a speech supporting the strike and offering a donation. At that point they were cut off by the workers, who argued that the cause of the march needed the money more.
This article could be filled many times over by similar examples. How did we manage to become the focus for this wave of solidarity?
Youth Fight for Jobs was launched in 2009 as the capitalist class attempted to force workers and young people to pay the price for the financial crisis. While the rich got bailouts, nearly one million young people in Britain found themselves unemployed.
Internationally, a fightback developed. From Wisconsin in the US, to the mass movements of the Arab Spring, with Occupy spreading during the Jarrow March. In Britain, the 2010 student movement had damaged the Tory-Lib Dem government, and the public sector strikes were ongoing.
Building for the Jarrow March was a major part of the campaigning of the Socialist Party and Youth Fight for Jobs members throughout 2011. We won the backing of eight trade unions – Bectu, CWU, FBU, PCS, RMT, TSSA, UCU and Unite – alongside figures such as Ken Loach and Jeremy Corbyn.
As Socialist Party political secretary, Peter Taaffe, wrote in The Struggle for World Socialism: “The march fulfilled its aims: to wake up the labour movement to the shame of unemployment, particularly its effects on young people, and to explain how it could be solved through a real programme of job creation. It also provided a platform for the marchers themselves, on radio and TV, to explain their case”.
The success of the march could also be seen in the rattled reaction from Tory MPs, including then-minister Iain Duncan Smith. But the shame of capitalism – of being unable to make use of the talents and potential of young people and all those unemployed – continues, and will continue while capitalism does. That’s why the Youth Fight for Jobs protests on 9 October are essential, to refuse to put up with the Tories meagre morsels, and fight for a better future for all.