A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Don't allow the youth to pay for our mistakes

Instead of throwing millions on the scrap heap, the available work should be shared out. In Britain the working week is one of the longest in Europe. The average working week for full-time workers is 41 hours, 1.5 times longer than the European average. While some of us are working every waking hour, and, as the retirement age is raised, keeping going ever longer, others are left languishing on the dole or on short time working. Sharing out the available work without loss of pay would immediately and dramatically cut unemployment. In the recession the capitalists have shown they are happy to cut hours - more than half the workforce in Britain have had their pay or hours cut - but only as long as wages are cut as well. In addition socialists demand a massive job creation programme. This could provide all the public services that are so desperately needed. Many examples could be given. In Britain we have 2.4 doctors per 1,000 patients, two thirds the ratio of France, Germany or Italy and little more than a third of the ratio in Cuba. Why not train more doctors, nurses and other health care workers? Schools and universities are increasingly overcrowded.

Universities have an average of 18 students per tutor, compared to just nine in 1980. Poorer universities commonly have 30 students per tutor. If, as the Socialist Party demands, free education was reintroduced - something that was enjoyed by almost all New Labour ministers, it would mean more people might choose to go to university. Instead of saying there is no room for them, why not train far larger numbers of lecturers and teachers? The capitalists say that these modest proposals are unaffordable. The Socialist's answer is that if that is the case we cannot afford capitalism - a system that bails out the banks without a second thought, while leaving the next generation without a future. This year workers have shown that, if they refuse to accept the onslaught on their pay, conditions and public services, it is possible to win victories. The Lindsey oil refinery construction workers, the Visteon and Linamar car component workers, the postal workers and now the Leeds and Brighton bin workers - all have fought back with some important victories won. The trade union movement has to prepare for a mass movement in defence of jobs and services up to and beyond the general election. A crucial part of that is building Youth Fight for Jobs into a mass movement to demand a decent future for young people.

Equally important is putting the case for socialism. The case for bringing into democratic public ownership the 150 giant multinational companies that dominate Britain's economy - with compensation paid only on the basis of proven need - so that all the tremendous science and technique created by capitalism can be harnessed to build a democratic socialist society. That new society would offer the next generation the prospect of a life freed from poverty, insecurity and unemployment. Earlier this year the Vestas wind turbine workers were forced to occupy their factory to try to prevent its closure. For Vestas it was profits, not the environment, which mattered. Socialists demand massive investment in the development of clean energy - wind, solar, wave and geothermal power. There are currently more than 60,000 construction workers on the dole. An incredible 53% of architecture graduates have not been able to get work. Yet there are now five million people on the waiting lists for social housing. For the last 25 years every government, Tory and New Labour, has systematically undermined council housing. Twenty years ago there were more than five million council homes, now there is barely half that number.

From 1949 to 1954 an average of 230,000 council homes were built every year. We demand a similar mass house-building programme today to provide high-quality, affordable, environmentally friendly public housing. All of these initiatives, combined with other measures such as the development of cheap, green and improved public transport, would not only put the existing workforce back to work, they would provide work for a new generation. It would be possible to immediately create a real 'future jobs fund', with well paid high quality training and a job at the end - rather than slave labour 'make work' schemes. All parents hope that their children will have better opportunities than were available to them. Today, for millions of working and middle class families, those hopes lie in ruins. The bleak and insecure future offered to those growing up in Gordon Brown's Britain is one of the greatest condemnations of twenty first century capitalism. And there are already more than one million young people who have been thrown on the scrapheap by not having education, work or training.

More than one tenth of them have graduated from university, leaving them with a debt of £23,000 on average and few job prospects. The government says that anyone living on less than a £100 a week is below the poverty line - yet the young unemployed (16-24 year olds) are expected to live on starvation rates of £50.95 a week, rising to a far from generous £64.30 for those over 24. New Labour's latest proposals to help the young unemployed are little more than sticking plasters on a gaping wound. David Blanchflower, until recently a member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee, stated accurately that: "The government is promising to spend £200 million addressing youth unemployment. That's £200 per person - it's nothing. You might as well just give them a bus pass or a weekend in Blackpool. We're not going to solve the million jobless, which will be 1.25 million next June, with this". Mass unemployment is not going to go away. Economic recovery, when it comes, will not be a return to 'normality'. For young people and for most working-class people, this will be a jobless, joyless recovery. Moreover, it is all too likely that any recovery will be preceded by a second dip into recession.

The next government - whether Tory, New Labour or 'hung' - will slash public spending. Britain's banking system has been bailed out to the tune of £1.2 trillion of current and future taxpayers' money. In what could be the biggest con-trick in history, the blame for the resulting increased deficit has been laid at the feet of the public sector workforce. The Tories' slash and burn plans, if implemented, would lead to 700,000 public sector workers being thrown on the dole. The plans of all the main parties are for savage cuts, the only slight difference is how fast the axe will fall. Any government which accepts the logic of the market - of capitalism - also accepts that it will not be the 'banksters' but working class people who will pay the price for the economic crisis. Socialists do not accept the logic of capitalism - a crisis-ridden system based on the drive for profit and not the meeting of human and environmental needs. We demand that every young person has a choice between a decent job with a living wage, a real training scheme with a job at the end of it, or a free university education with a living grant. And we're going to fight for it!

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