Left Luggage

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Archive for the ‘Recession’ Category

Leading the fight back?

Posted by Left Luggage on July 10, 2009

In the first of what we hope will be a series of profiles and interviews with groups and activists, we interviewed Ben Robinson of Youth Fight for Jobs about the campaign’s aims and tactics, as well as the challenges it will face. Ben is writing here in a personal capacity, and his opinions do not necessarily reflect those of YFfJ as a whole.

Please tell us the main aims of Youth Fight for Jobs and how it is seeking to achieve those aims?

The Youth Fight for Jobs campaign was launched in January 2009. As we saw it, youth unemployment was set to continue rising, with the situation of mass youth unemployment becoming the norm for a whole number of years. Not only that, but the main parliamentary parties were still committed to an agenda of privatising and attacks on the working class. Education privatisation and a lack of decent services were also set to be a feature of young peoples future. After a general election university fees will almost certainly be raised, cutting out many working class youth from education. So the campaign was launched, not only to combat youth unemployment, but also to fight for a future for young people. So the headline aims of the campaign are for the right to a decent job with a living wage, for apprenticeships with jobs at the end, and against university fees. There is also a broader set of demands that appear on the website and on the leaflets.

Those aims can only be achieved through mass action of young people and workers. Labour, the Tories or the Lib Dems will not introduce these measures if just asked for it. It will be a question of building a mass movement in order to make it clear that this is what the majority of people want. I think the example of the French youth movement against the CPE is the best recent example of how that strategy can win victories, but also the anti-poll tax campaign in the early nineties, the school student strikes in the mid eighties in Britain, but also in france and spain. These show very clearly that it is possible to fight and to win.

YFfJ seems to be a campaign with very ambitious goals. What would constitute a success for the campaign?

This campaign is going to be around as long as mass youth unemployment is! I think there are a number of battles which will take place over specific issues. In September, many universities and colleges face savage cuts in their budgets, with whole courses going in a lot of cases. In addition, tens of thousands of young people will be excluded from university because of a government miscalculation. In January, the government are introducing compulsory working for some unemployed young people – there will have to be a battle to ensure that young people are not used to drive down workers wages and conditions. There is clearly going to be a massive battle over pay in the public sector. I’ve already mentioned the prospect of university fees going up as well. I think that activists from the campaign will be involved in all of these struggles, and clearly a victory on any of them would be a success. Local groups are getting together and forming demands locally for the campaign on the question of youth unemployment and lack of opportunities in those areas as well. But those examples are defending young people and workers from attacks on our present conditions. The stated aim of the campaign is to win a decent future for young people, and we will fight until we achieve it.

There is also a question over whether capitalism can achieve our demands. From the point of view of those in power, the vastly wealthy ruling class, unemployment is good as competition for jobs can help drive down wages. The recent news that ‘bonuses are back’ shows just how little the rich have had to pay for the present crisis. But for a programme of socially useful job creation, to end unemployment and provide decent jobs and education for young people, and the population as a whole, would take a massive struggle. I think that some of the demands can be won under capitalism. After all, the NHS and other reforms were won on the basis of a mass movement. But I also think that there’s a fundamental divide in society between the interests of the tiny rich elite and of the mass of the population. If capitalism cannot afford to implement and maintain a decent future for young people, I think young people can’t afford capitalism.

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Posted in Class, Interviews / features, Recession, Strategy, Workers' struggles | 6 Comments »

Workers’ ‘flexibility’ saluted by bosses’ campaign

Posted by Left Luggage on June 2, 2009

A survey published yesterday shows just how deep and extensive the attacks on workers’ pay and conditions have been so far during the recession. The figures should also draw our attention to the lack of resistance, apart from a few notable examples, to these attempts to make workers pay the cost of the crisis.

The study, commissioned by the Keep Britain Working website (founded by the boss of recruitment company Reed and supported by the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry) shows that more than a quarter of workers in Britain have suffered a pay cut, and many others have experienced further cuts in their conditions:

Over the past nine months, 27 per cent of UK workers have had their pay cut, 24 per cent have had their hours reduced and 24 per cent have lost benefits, according to the survey.

It found that 37 per cent had experienced only one of these changes, while another 12 per cent had experienced two of them and a further 5 per cent all three.

Two in five workers had been given extra responsibilities, while a fifth had seen the nature of their role within their organisation change. Two per cent had been offered a semi-paid sabbatical and 6 per cent an unpaid sabbatical since the recession began.

With unemployment having so far risen as fast as during the 1980s recession, and faster than that of the 1990s, the Office for National Statistics predicts the number out of work will reach 3 million – 10% of the working population – by the end of the year.

Understandably, the survey finds that 54% of workers are more pessimistic about the job market than a month ago. But Keep Britain Working finds reason to cheer because workers are “making common cause” with bosses. The campaign’s James Reed, chief executive officer of Reed recruitment group, says:

British workers are increasingly pessimistic about job prospects in the immediate future. But – and in contrast to parts of continental Europe – workers appear overall to be making common cause with their managers to help keep people working.

The contrast with Europe, where workers have shown less “flexibility” and greater resistance, should lead to some difficult questions about the Left in Britain and the chronic condition in which we find ourselves. Of course, radicalism is by no means an inevitable outcome of recession; in fact the opposite is often true as workers are made fearful for their jobs. Nevertheless, it is the job of the Left to promote resistance and it is a sign of our weakness that there has been so little thus far and that bosses can salute our “flexibility” in losing jobs and working longer for less pay.

Posted in Recession, Unions, Workers' struggles | Leave a Comment »