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Youth: at the sharp end of Tory Britain

Two years of Tory Britain has taken its toll on young people. Unemployment stands at 20 per cent and rising; for Black youth the figure is pushing 50 per cent. University fees have tripled, Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) has gone, and unpaid workfare is the only option for a million youth without jobs, education or training.Writes KD Tait.

Recent figures show that one in five students who have graduated since 2010 are out of work. Of all those who have graduated in the previous six years, 36 per cent are in unskilled jobs such as call centres, retail and bar work, while 15 per cent remain unemployed.
With the UK back in recession, statistics like these should worry all young people – in the universities, in the schools and the workfare it’s become clear that attacks on young people are part of a systematic drive to make us pay for an economic crisis we didn’t cause.

Expose workfare whitewash
Unpaid, compulsory work continues to be forced on young jobseekers, despite government claims that there are no sanctions for those who refused to be farmed out as disposable labour to rich corporations. While Tesco’s was congratulating itself over its PR whitewash, it was business as usual for Jobcentres, who are continuing to funnel young people into ‘Mandatory Work Activity’, which lasts for up to eight weeks.
A Freedom of Information request has revealed that far from reforming the systematic exploitation of the unemployed, the government is taking its revenge by imposing compulsory ‘work experience’ on those who refuse ‘voluntary work experience’.
The government thought it had seen off the issue by scrapping the penalty (docking two weeks’ benefit) for those who didn’t complete the voluntary scheme. In reality, those jobseekers are then just shunted into compulsory schemes, where the failure to complete the eight-week course means your benefits can be suspended for between three and six months.The reality is that the government has no intention of scrapping workfare, and it has no intention of delivering a genuine plan to address the mounting crisis of youth unemployment.
Instead of long-term, secure, well-paid jobs, the Coalition wants to impose measures that will create a labour market more suitable to the liking of Britain’s bosses – temporary and precarious with poverty wages.
Youth are being attacked from every angle, and with virtually no collective organisation, victories are few and far between. But the recent occupations of stores in Ireland against compulsory redundancies and the Primark workers, vote for strike action against a pay freeze show that resistance is possible in sectors with little history of struggle.

Low pay – no way
While raising the minimum wage by a miserly 11p, the government has frozen the minimum wage for those under 21. This means that 16 and 17 year-olds earn just £3.68 an hour and 18 to 20 year-olds only £4.98 per hour. With inflation, the wages of young workers will have lost nearly 10% of their value during the recession.
The freeze on the lower rate was welcomed by the bosses’ organisations, which recognised it would allow them to squeeze bigger profits out of young workers. The lower rate is a disgrace – allowing bosses to pay some employees up to 60 per cent less for doing the same job as colleagues a few years older.
A mass of low-paid, untrained and desperate young workers will act as a downward pressure on wages and intensify competition for jobs – all of which benefit the bosses. General secretary of the TUC Brendan Barber said: “There is now a real danger that young people will view minimum wage work as exploitative.” He’s absolutely right – but he’s not doing anything about it.
Nevertheless, drawing in trade union support will be vital to building a campaign, which can organise successful resistance to the prospect of another Tory-inflicted lost generation. The protests in November 2010 and August 2011 have convinced increasing numbers of youth that actions speak louder than words. It is only a matter of time before young people once again take a lead in turning opposition into resistance.
The politics of austerity have failed. Now is the time for an alternative – we demand equal pay and decent jobs. Expose workfare whitewash – Equal pay for equal work!

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