“We are just a shafted generation, and we are going to have to fight”. Young people are becoming increasingly frustrated with the state of play in the current situation. Readily associating politicians as liars, representatives of the rich or simply inept, this growing discontent and anger is not manifesting itself in a coherent organised fight-back, or any kind of mass fight back just yet.
Many young people who have left higher education, with degrees in specialities or not have gone into jobs which they feel they could have got straight from school, if graduates manage to find employment at all. Underemployment appears to be a prominent characteristic of this crisis in the recent period. This is one of the factors that has seen the youth unemployment figure remain stagnant at around the million mark.
In Scotland for instance, 92,000 full time jobs have disappeared since 2008 a STUC study found (Scottish Trades Union Congress). The study also found that more than 250,000 people want to work longer hours in order to simply get by. Those ages between ages 16-34 represented more than half the increase in private sector underemployment, highlighting that this is a particular issue affecting the youth. Across the UK the Labour Force Survey asked workers if they would like to work longer hours on their basic rate. In the third quarter of 2012 11% of workers expressed a desire to do so, compared with 7% in the pre-recession period. In total, this study estimates that there is around 40 million hours every week of desired, but unsatisfied labour.
The independent cites that “the ability to supply hours at the current wage is constrained by the level of demand in the economy, because there simply isn’t enough work around “. This is partly correct, there is a lack of demand as a result of the economic crisis, but to proclaim that there is not enough work around is completely false and deliberately misleading.
You only have to look at the workfare scheme for job seekers. Where they are asked to work for around 20-30 hours a week for dole payments, this is an attack on all workers’ rights as employers are encouraged to hire people through workfare rather than pay someone a full time wage. Less than 3.6% of claimants were found to have found a job in 6 months, the government target was only a meagre 5.5%. The very fact that the government’s target is so low exposes this scheme for what is really is, a new type of slave labour designed to drive everyone’s wages down.
Actions taken by young people, young workers and campaigning groups like Youth Fight for Jobs have meant that companies have become increasingly aware of the opposition to the schemes and the huge unpopularity of them amongst wider sections of society. TK Maxx, Sainsbury’s, Waterstones, Marie Curie and 99p Stores are a few amongst many companies which have climbed down and no longer operate within the workfare scheme. There are still companies which do partake within the schemes however, such as Tesco and Pound land.
The scheme faced a setback when a court ruling made it law to reveal to the public the names of the companies taking part. The DWP (department for Work and Pensions claimed that any participating organisation would be seriously financially damaged if the information was made public. This ruling is a result of pressure from below and shows the huge unpopularity of workfare.
The prospects for another wave of protests against workfare are definitely there. The experiences of these court rulings will mean that young workers will draw the conclusion that to comprehensively defeat workfare more action is needed, linking up with the trade unions to prevent the race to the bottom for all.
The fight in the workplace for young people is not limited just to workfare, zero hour contracts are becoming a typical feature amongst the workforce at the minute, providing ultimate flexibility for the employers, such as Sports Direct, where 90% of its workers are on a zero hour contract. These contracts offer no security what so ever to workers however, living pay check to pay check with the insecurity of not knowing if you will get a wage one week to the next. Many workers on these contracts receive no holiday pay or sick pay.
On Saturday the 3rd of August Sports Direct on Oxford Street in London saw around 50 protesters outside the store, campaigning against the contracts and for decent pay and working conditions while supporting workers. Similar actions should be organised across the country in order to bring attention to the scandal that is zero hour contracts and to aim to organised workers to fight for better conditions and pay.
If young people are not being forced into workfare schemes, on zero hour contracts they are volunteering or on internships.
Many internships are unpaid, typically being employed within the “white collar” or “professional” careers, such as journalism, business or medical chemistry as examples. Internships are defended as a way for graduates to build up experience before gaining employment. According to the BBC average student debts could reach £53,000 for UK students. With young graduates being saddled with debt, and then being asked to work for “experience” (free), it should be exposed for what it really is, a modern day form of slavery in a bid to undermine wages by the bosses.
The National Association of colleges and employers in America found that only 37% of unpaid interns got a job offer once completing their internship (study involved 9,200 people). This shows a glimpse of the broader problems with internships, this is not a trend unique to the United States however, In Westminster for instance there is 18,000 hours worked every week by unpaid interns.
An NUJ (National Union of Journalism) survey found that many believed unpaid internships were essential to the running of workplaces. It is clear however that internships are a way to exploit skilled graduates. Effectively professions such as journalism, amongst others are becoming closed off to many but the privileged and wealthy. With working class young people being pushed to find employment where possible in order to get by, as opposed to working for free.
Unpaid internships should be scrapped with anyone working receiving a fair age while preventing the undercutting of other workers. Interns and young people training in the professions should seek involvement within the union movement as a first step. The Institute of Public Policy Research suggests that unions should take up “test cases” of exploited interns at employment tribunals. Unions must and have to go further than this. Unite and BECTU are already taking such action as examples.
With all the strains being put on young people in terms of employment, training and education it would seem that less and less would wish to go to university. University applications have actually increased by 2.3% this April compared to last year. This however is still down on figures from 2010-11. With tuition fees tripling as a further step to the complete privatisation of student loans, which would result in ever increasing interest rates. There is urgent need for mass action from students and educational professionals alike, the NUS (National Union of Students) should be leading this; however where local Student Unions fail to call action students should be prepared to circumvent this.
The victory of UEL (University of East London) students in their campaign “Scrap the Unfair Attendance Policy” shows that students can and will fight, but most importantly, that we can win. The unfair attendance policy saw students subject to automatic module de-registration if they were more than ten minutes late on more than two occasions.
Across the globe a staggering 73.4 million young people are unemployed (2013), an increase of 3.5 million from 2007-13. Across Europe youth unemployment is at endemic levels. Greece having the highest rate at 62.5% (Feb, 13), Spain (56.4%), Portugal (42.5%) and Italy (40.5%), young people are clearly being disproportionately affected by the economic crisis and this is exactly why young people have been at the forefront of the struggle worldwide against austerity. In the student movement in the UK and against Workfare, the “Indignados” in Spain and the student strikes across Quebec to name just a few examples.
For the first time in some time in a long time young people will have a lower standard of living than their parents as the gains won after the Second World War are being taken away. This can have a dangerous effect on young people; this is shown by the fact that one in ten young people now suffer with mental health issues. The tragic story of Vicky Harrison has only served as a reminder of this dangerous situation, a 21 year old job seeker with three A-levels and ten GCSE’s was turned down for 200 job applications.
Whilst this is a very volatile and dangerous situation for young people this situation is much more dangerous prospect for the Con-Dems, Labour, all representatives of the ruling classes and capitalism itself. A generation of ferocious class fighters will be created, that will not be prepared to accept such misery and destitution thrust upon them and will join the fight for a socialist society.
York Socialist Party
N.B- Originally produced as a lead off piece, aimed at raising discussion and debate.