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At the sharp end of the crisis

YOUNG PEOPLE in Tory Britain are caught between a rock and a hard place. Youth unemployment stands at over 20 per cent – over one million people. For young black men, the rate is a scandalous 50 per cent, revealing that racism is still experienced by the younger generation. KD Tait writes

Most of the jobs that young people get are insecure and poorly paid. Now there’s real slave labour. The massive insult of workfare – working for your dole stacking shelves for the billionaire supermarket owners or flipping burgers – has provoked outrage.

The choice between working a 40-hour week unpaid, or losing your unemployment benefit is really no choice at all. But for the bosses of Britain’s richest companies this is a chance to make millions of pounds’ profit – while taxpayers foot the bill.

The increasingly high number of jobless youth is very useful to bosses trying to cut costs. Intense competition for jobs drives down wages and undermines collective struggles to defend conditions.

In fact high quality training for those trying to get into industry is a rarity. British capitalists have always jibbed at supporting a serious state apprenticeship system, involving the unions, such as exists in Germany, where there are 1.5 million apprentices.

University fees of up to £9,000 a year have seen applications drop by 10 per cent, but with over one million 16-24 year olds not in education, work or training, the prospects of finding a job are slim. Those who make it to university face rising costs of living, rip-off accommodation, reduced course options and larger class sizes.

The situation is little better for university graduates. Nearly 20 per cent of students who graduated since 2010 are still unemployed. The headline 85 per cent employment figure for all graduates in the last six years masks the fact that more than a third of these are still working in low-paid unskilled jobs in retail, bars and cleaning.

For school and college students the situation is even worse. The government and exam boards have been involved in a giant conspiracy to rig this year’s GCSE results – downgrading exams to look tough on results – sabotaging the future of tens of thousands of youth. The scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) in 2011 has increased the burden on poor families as young people struggle to meet the spiralling costs of education.

To the attacks on education we can add the many attacks on the social and economic rights of young people. A new law means young people will not be able to live on their own and claim Housing Benefit. When the minimum wage was raised by a measly 11p earlier this year, it was frozen for the lowest band – 16-18 year olds. Councils up and down the country have had their budgets for youth services – from GUM clinics to youth centres – slashed by 75 per cent.

The state knows that this level of oppression could not be maintained without force, which explains the police and courts’ attitude to young people: constant harassment through stop-and-search, intrusive anti-drugs laws and raids and physical violence of beatings, restraint holds and shootings.

No wonder there was a youth uprising against all this last summer.

But why are young people at the sharp end of the crisis? Partly it’s because many young people can’t vote, are financially dependent on their parents, have no work or wretched insecure jobs, are paid a pittance and have little power in the workplace.

But the student walkouts of 2010 and the anti-police revolts of 2011 reveal that the explosive material for a massive youth revolt is al ready building.

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