The Socialist 12 May 2009 |
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Youth Fight for Jobs Launch conference
Building on the success of the excellent March for Jobs in April, the launch conference of Youth Fight for Jobs was held on Saturday 9 May in London.
At Risk of Offending perform at Youth Fight for Jobs conference 2009, photo Paul Mattsson
Attended by over 150 young workers and school and college students the conference elected a steering committee and voted on strategies for developing the campaign as unemployment, and particularly youth unemployment, continues to grow.
James Kerr speaks at Youth Fight for Jobs conference 2009, photo Paul Mattsson
The conference was both serious and enthusiastic about taking the campaign forward, especially the building of a fortnight of action from 27 June to 10 July, aimed at those leaving education this year.
Below are reports of the rallies and workshops that took place throughout the day from young people who attended.
Fight for your future - opening rally
Opening rally at Youth Fight for Jobs conference 2009, photo Paul Mattsson
An impressive number of young people attended the Youth Fight for Jobs (YFJ) conference on Saturday 9 May, despite many facing weeks of intense university exams and work pressure.
NJ Cross, UCL Socialist Students
Alex Gordon at Youth Fight for Jobs conference 2009, photo by Paul Mattsson
Unfortunately Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT rail workers' union, was unable to speak. But his replacement, Alex Gordon from the union's executive, was inspiring in highlighting the importance of trade unionism in the fight against job cuts. Alex described the bailing out of bankers as a 'nauseating spectacle', echoing young people's contempt for the £550 billion bankers' payout.
Attention was also drawn to the significance of building support for the 'No2EU - Yes to Democracy' European election campaign, particularly for those young people who have become 'products for export' under EU rules of 'free movement of capital, goods, services and labour'. This underscores the necessity of linking the YFJ campaign with trade unionism and the No2EU campaign - constructing a unified movement to support workers in struggle everywhere.
James Kerr, an education worker from Lewisham, spoke of the drastic job cuts within the education sector. He reported on parents' occupations of schools in south London - a poignant stand against the ruthless education massacre.
Tracy Edwards at Youth Fight for Jobs conference 2009, photo Paul Mattsson
PCS young members' organiser, Tracy Edwards, further illustrated the unemployment crisis with the terrifying statistic that, by the end of 2009, 1.2 million young people are expected to have been dumped on the scrapheap of unemployment.
Mathias, a member of Active Left Students in Belgium, spoke of Brussels as the 'capital of unemployment' where one in five is now without a job. This has had an impact upon students who rely on part-time work to support their studies. Matthias told of how, shockingly, Belgian female students are being advised to prostitute themselves to fund their studies!
The opening rally enjoyed the rousing performances of the political-lyricism group 'At Risk of Offending' from Woolwich, south London. The group comprises several young people who are campaigning against mass unemployment and government corruption via the medium of song. The group is offering an alternative mode of communicating the desire of young people to fight back - fundamentally serving as a voice to unify those affected by job butchery.
Speakers from the floor included Ross from Cardiff who called for conference to send solidarity to sacked Swansea Linamar convenor Rob Williams (see page four) and Selven, on behalf of Tamil students involved in the occupation of Parliament Square against the brutal war in Sri Lanka.
Taking the YFJ campaign forward
Delegates were keen to discuss the way forward for building YFJ. The youth organisation which initiated YFJ, International Socialist Resistance and Socialist Students both proposed motions installing membership structures and mandating the campaign to keep up the fight against university tuition fees and the fight for decent jobs.
These motions included support for the Unite union's march for jobs on 16 May, fighting the government's plans to lift the cap on university fees and organising a protest outside the next Labour Party conference. Both were passed.
Three motions from the PCS young members' committee were put to the conference. The first urged the campaign to support PCS's 'welfare for all' campaign. Under the current welfare system unemployed workers are used as slave labour. The system needs urgent reform, but not what the New Labour government is proposing.
Youth Fight for Jobs conference 2009, photo Paul Mattsson
Another PCS motion called for 'detailed financial research' to be done to provide campaigners with the facts to back up the fight for decent working conditions. A third motion proposed campaigning for improved conditions for call centre workers.
The final motion was submitted by 'Stop the Slaughter of Tamils'. The slaughter of the Tamil people continues in Sri Lanka and conference voted to support this campaign and for affiliation.
There was general agreement and, while all motions were passed, they were also discussed and debated. Motions as amended will be published on the YFJ website. See www.youthfightforjobs.com for details.
Conference elected a steering committee. This included a national organiser, chair, trade union organiser, student organiser and school and college organiser. Further trade unionists, student and campaign activists from around the country made up the steering committee.
Cecile, a student activist from France , photo by Paul Mattsson
Cecile, a student activist from France, spoke on the struggles against French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is "making us pay for the crisis". She described how the trade union leaders have been pushed into action.
Ste Jones, a worker from Lindsey oil refinery, gave an inspiring speech on the recent struggle against the bosses' attempts to undermine wages and conditions with cheap labour. He commented on how good the YFJ motions were and plans to take them back to his workplace.
Sean Figg, newly elected national organiser, spoke on how we should not pay for the bosses' crisis. He used the example of the Visteon car parts workers to show that if we struggle we can win victories.
He also said that he believes we should pose an alternative to the rule of profit and fight for a socialist plan of production.
Paul Philips, YFJ committee
Workshop 1 Can the politicians solve the crisis?
Leah Jones at Youth Fight for Jobs conference 2009, photo Paul Mattsson
This session took a 'Question Time' style format, with three speakers answering questions from the floor. On the 'panel' were Sam Tarry, newly elected chair of Young Labour, the youth wing of the Labour Party; Jean Lambert, a Green Party MEP; and Greg Maughan, a Socialist Party member speaking about the No2EU - Yes to Democracy union-led campaign to challenge in the European elections.
Sam began by stating that he is on the left of New Labour, and that the Labour Party can and will be reclaimed by the left. Greg Maughan argued that New Labour is now a bosses' party like the Liberal and Tory parties. Greg argued that the lack of democratic structures and hollowed out membership mean that, even if there were more people inside the Labour Party who wanted to reclaim it, the mechanisms do not exist to enable them to do so. No2EU is putting forward a genuine workers' challenge to the three parties of big business and to the BNP, parties from whom most working and young people feel completely disenfranchised.
Jean described the Green Party's work in defending the environment and not just 'economic growth'. Revealingly, she said that the Greens would not support the nationalisation of all public transport, and that they want to match the aspirations of all those in society not just one group. This means they want to satisfy the class interests of everyone under capitalism, which will never be possible.
It was an interesting and illuminating session, shedding light on the question of whether the present leading politicians can solve the crisis.
For me, it emphasised the desperate need for a new mass workers' party to fight capitalism's crisis being laid on ordinary people. And No2EU - Yes to Democracy is an important step in the direction of such a party being created.
Stephen Burrell, Birmingham
Workshop 2 Workers in struggle
Lindsey Oil Refinary shop steward and Frank Jepson, ex-Visteon convenor speaking at Youth Fight for Jobs conference 2009, photo Paul Mattsson
This session focused on how the YFJ demands can be won. Speakers representing two of the most important workers' struggles this year showed how the organised working class has the power to fight attacks on jobs and conditions.
Frank Jepson, convener of the closed Visteon car parts plant in Basildon, spoke of the Visteon workers' campaign against redundancies, including occupation of the plant.
Visteon bosses thought the workers wouldn't want to fight once they'd sold the militant plant in Swansea but they were wrong. Workers from the other plants are now supporting the campaign to reinstate sacked Swansea Linamar (ex-Visteon) convener, Rob Williams.
Ste Jones, a shop steward from Lindsey oil refinery (LOR) described their dispute to defend nationally agreed terms and conditions. He explained how some foreign workers were not receiving trade union rates of pay and were being charged through the nose for food and board on a barge.
Both speakers said workers had no choice but to fight to defend themselves and their struggles had shown how the anti-trade union laws could be defied. They both described a lack of support from full-time officials in the union, who they agreed should be elected by the members. They spoke of the need to build the left at every level in the union.
The struggles had taught workers about the importance of trade unionism and socialist ideas and had given them confidence to take on the bosses when necessary.
Tom Baldwin, Bristol ISR
Workshop 3 Struggles of workers and youth in Europe
Jacqui Berry chairs the rally at Youth Fight For Jobs Conference 2009, photo Paul Mattsson
This workshop was an excellent opportunity to learn from struggles taking place internationally.
Mathias explained that there have been spontaneous strikes and university occupations in Belgium, but no mass movement. This is probably due to the high level of unionisation, which has so far held back attempts at mass cuts in jobs and services.
Cecile explained that a combination of a strong tradition of united action against the bosses and an economy susceptible to devastation by the crisis has lead to an impressive fightback across France. Occupations and strikes in the universities are still going on after three months.
Danny Byrne pointed to the mass student occupations in Italy against cuts to public services and the historic movement that basically shut down Greece for a month.
The situations in Cyprus and Ireland were also highlighted, as well as how events could unfold in Britain.
Danny summarised the session by saying that it is the speed of change in the economic situation which has led to such a magnificent fightback across Europe and the world. People are starting to realise that the problems we face are built into a system where ordinary people have no say in their education or jobs and that we need to fight, not just to defend our conditions, but to change the system itself.
Sarah Wrack, Sussex University Socialist Students
Workshop 4 Building the YFJ campaign
Monique at Youth Fight For Jobs Conference 2009, photo Paul Mattsson
Introducing the session Ben Robinson outlined plans for the fortnight of action. These were discussed, as well as strategies and ideas to guide us in building YFJ in the coming months.
The benefit of producing local campaign leaflets outlining specific issues in the locality was voiced. In one area two new members had been recruited this way.
The idea of producing sector-specific material, to appeal to NHS or retail workers for example, was also floated. We talked about using the creativity, energy and talents of young people to draw others into the campaign. Publicity gigs were a popular idea. We talked of pooling resources to make events successful.
In answer to the problem of people's reluctance to take large leaflets at work we came up with the idea of business card size material printed with web addresses and the main aims of the campaign.
Raising the campaign in workplaces with the worst conditions, such as bars, can be difficult, and there can also be problems regarding the low level of trade union membership among young people. We discussed solutions to these and other problems.
Send ideas about how to build the YFJ campaign, such as activities, events, publicity, workplaces you think we should target, or good places for distributing leaflets to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send your comments and cartoons or facts and figures you come across too.
Kay Shipway, London YFJ
Workshop 5 What causes unemployment?
Youth Fight for Jobs conference 2009, photo Paul Mattsson
Nick Chaffey, a trade union activist and Socialist Party member, pointed out the importance of explaining the causes of unemployment.
A quick look back over the last century shows that the present economic crisis is not unique, or caused by "a few bad apples in the system", or temporary.
Crisis is an inherent part of the capitalist system, caused by overproduction as workers cannot afford to buy back what they produce, due to the bosses keeping wages low to maximise profits. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels explained this.
The current high levels of debt piled upon workers prevent them from spending and further diminish chances of a recovery. As the crisis develops, the bosses' attacks on workers will intensify as they desperately try to hold on to their wealth.
Nick encouraged everyone to read the works of Marx and Engels in order to get to grips with the workings of the capitalist system and for guidance on how to fight back.
In the discussion a Wetherspoons pub worker explained the company's anti-union policy. Someone else pointed out that the bosses use high levels of unemployment to attack pay and conditions, threatening to bring in others on less money if workers speak out.
It was an excellent session for people who wanted to equip themselves with the economic arguments against capitalism.
Paul Callanan, Greenwich YFJ
Workshop 6 Defend the right to protest
Sean Figg at Youth Fight For Jobs Conference 2009, photo Paul Mattsson
All those who had attended a demonstration told stories in this session of petty restrictions imposed by the police in an attempt to intimidate or disrupt participation.
Neil Cafferky explained how legislation on the right to protest is often justified by defence of rights. Competing 'rights' are weighed up, usually against a loosely defined notion of the 'public interest'. This allows the police significant discretion, through the language of upholding the rights of the whole community, to define the interests of society and restrict protests accordingly.
Neil explained how preparing for and negotiating the route of the youth march for jobs presented an example of police use of such petty restrictions. Initially the police flatly rejected the march, saying it would cause too much disruption. Health and safety, they argued, would be 'compromised' due to a lack of traffic police.
2009 has already shown how laws such as the anti-terror and serious organised crime (Socpa) legislation can be challenged when used against protesters. Tamil anti-war protesters occupied Parliament Square in defiance of Socpa restrictions on protests in Westminster.
The Lindsey oil refinery strikes and solidarity actions defied the anti-trade union legislation. These examples have shown us that a mass movement of the working class can render these laws unenforceable, as was done to the poll tax 20 years ago.
Kings College Socialist Students
What the delegates had to say:
"Unless we get everyone united to fight back together through campaigns like Youth Fight for Jobs we're all doomed.
As far as I'm concerned Gordon Brown doesn't have any policies to save young people from the crisis. He's more likely to make huge cuts in spending which will make matters even worse!"
Kyly, Coventry CWU youth committee
"Students are coming out of university with tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt into a basically non-existent jobs market. It's important to unite with staff and young workers at an event like this to fight back against cuts."
Lee Vernon, Sussex student union finance officer
"I've just lost my retail job and think it's important to organise ourselves to fight against those sort of job losses which are mainly affecting young people at the moment."
"It's disgusting that the government is spending so much bailing out the banks and big business but giving nothing to young people who are being forced to pay for the greed of the bankers."
"New Labour's response to the crisis has been disgusting. It shows that they only exist to represent the rich. They certainly have no interest in helping ordinary people, especially young people. We need to get rid of them and replace them with people who will fight for our interests."
"New Labour's record shows they don't have any policies to help young people during this crisis. They're no different to Thatcher in the 80s where brutal methods were used against workers and youth defending their jobs and benefits. The G20 protests in April were an example of this approach."
Rhys, school student,Bangor
"The prospects for young people are abysmal and many of us are concerned for what the future holds."
"One of the worst ideas New Labour has come out with is these 'internship schemes' where new graduates are expected to work for a company for next to nothing to enable them to gain some kind of experience. In reality it just keeps them out of the dole queues for a while."