Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Strengthening the green shoots of resistance

BBC Newcastle, my local radio station, reported this morning that 1 in 6 of 18-24 year olds in the North East are now claiming jobseekers' allowance. When it comes to jobs, a recession hits the young hardest - those who have never worked before find it especially hard to get work in tough times. Unemployment is rising fast - and it's the under-25s who suffer most.

This is part of the rationale for the kind of movement I wrote about in my previous post ('A new Right to Work Campaign?'). We need to co-ordinate resistance from below and it's traditionally the young who give a lead, and are the most militant, in such situations.

The crisis of the system looks set to be long and deep, with mass unemployment a central feature for some years. Yet the union leaders' response has been slow and weak. It's not just the lack of a fightback, but the dubious politics - 'British Jobs for British Workers' - that weakens the resistance. Tragically, the lack of a fightback - combined with concessions to nationalism - has opened the door to increased support for the BNP. We need a principled, anti-racist movement over jobs to counter the Nazis' racist poison.

It's very welcome that we've already seen some 'green shoots' of resistance: G20 protests, student occupations over Gaza, the fightback at London Met Uni, Glasgow's school occupations, and (above all) the occupations at Wateford, Visteon and Prisme. The up-coming 'Fight for the Right to Work' conference raises the hope of creating networks that link struggles, strengthen solidarity and generalises from the struggles that do take place.

We clearly need a vibrant new rank-and-file movement. After all, trade union organisation is now much more bureaucratised than in the 1970s. We need to build from the bottom up. Youth unemployment, as I've indicated, looks like being a particular focus for struggle.

This can be strengthened, too, by student activists making the campaign for jobs a priority. Many graduates will struggle to find jobs on leaving uni this summer. There are 2.7 million students today and the recent wave of Gaza occupations suggests potential for student activism and for the universities to become centres of resistance.

The lessons of history - notably the 1930s and 1970s - inidicate that unemployed people can be organised and can win demands. Their struggles can be linked to those of trade unionists and spark a wider fightback. They can also become the platform for raising wider demands like cancellation of student debts, government intervention to save jobs, and raising benefits.

It will be interesting to see what emerges from the 13 June conference, and from the discussions going on in coming weeks. The potential still needs to be tapped.

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