What future for the young in capitalism?

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Youth unemployment has risen to 18.1% for those aged 18-24. This is worse than the official rate for the general population which is 7.9%. This only begins to tell the story: unemployment is 27% for 18-20 and 44.3% for 16-17 year-olds not in education, and for new graduates 20% (up from 10.6% at the start of the recession). Overall graduates do a little better than non-graduates at age 21-24 with 13.4% rather than 16% unemployment. No wonder students had such militant protests last November and December demanding “we want a future”.

The state orchestrates attacks on living standards

The underlying cause of unemployment is the crisis, in this example the fact that capitalism can no longer make a profit from exploiting the available workforce, and so is ‘socially excluding’ large numbers, particularly the young, from jobs. Not just here, not just in North Africa, the Middle East, but around the world.

It’s not just the recession that started with the credit crunch. Even in the developed countries employment has never returned to the levels of the 1960s and early 1970s. Already over a million in 1979, unemployment trebled in the 1980s before statistics were massaged and millions of the jobless reassigned to incapacity benefit – the origin of the 269,000 households where no-one has ever worked.

In these circumstances the role of the state is to manage the economy in the interests of capital, and right now that means lowering the cost of labour power. So although the crisis is an international and historic phenomenon, the state plays an essential role in coordinating and directing the attacks on jobs, on health, on education. Redundancies at the end of last year may have eased off a little since 2008-9, but we are now seeing another spate of announcements particularly in local government – 1200 in Liverpool, 800 in Oldham, 500 on the Isle of Wight, 500 in Plymouth… and a few hundreds in many others. These job losses are all essentially due to the cut to local government funding or formula grant of 27% announced in the spending review last year, meaning cuts of up to 8.8% this year. And of course when funding and jobs go, so do services that workers rely on. For example, among the £15 million cuts made by Solihull is a cut of £4.1m in children’s services, and all over the country Sure Start and children’s centres are either being closed or cut down to a skeleton service, worsening the prospects for those starting families. Connexions services that were supposed to give young unemployed the skills and support they need to find work are closing.

NHS is not immune

The NHS is losing 53,000 jobs, for example: 1,115 at Devon and Exeter Trust, 1,755 in Belfast, including 120 doctors and 620 nurses, 1,013 in East Lancashire including 50 doctors and 270 nurses. It will be no comfort whatsoever to the unemployed of any age, and particularly the young, that most of these will be through ‘natural wastage’. Remember that health service spending was ‘protected’ last year, although required to make around 20% efficiency savings. Front line services will inevitably feel the effects – it is precisely the intention to move as many activities as possible out of hospital, to shorten stays, and has been over the lifetime of several governments. In fact many of the initiatives that have received government funding – from Tony Blair’s Community Matron project to prescribing advice for GPs have been designed with cost cutting in mind. And the new reorganisation of the NHS under way at the moment is no different.

In education, money has been withdrawn from school rebuilding and repair, the National Audit Office is warning that cuts in funding will put more universities at risk of bankruptcy – remember the London Metropolitan redundancies. 400,000 teenagers are doing ‘vocational courses’ that are of no value in the job market. Young people and their families must foot more and more of the bill for their deteriorating education, with the abolition of the EMA in September and a rise in tuition fees at the universities that survive. Together with cuts in pre-school services this can only worsen educational outcomes at all levels.

And ahead of us we have all the attacks announced last year by the current coalition and previous Labour governments: the two year public sector pay freeze, cuts in housing benefit, restriction of Sure Start grants to first child, increase in fuel duty and many others come in this April, with more rolling out over the next two years, along with the continuing rise in the pension age. Not forgetting that there will be another budget later this month, no doubt with new cuts announced.

It is easy to see the role of the state in making redundancies in nationalised industries and local government, but it also applies in the private sector. Last November the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development warned that public sector cuts would cause even more job losses in the private sector, around 1.6 million. For example BT which gets 10% of its revenue from government contracts has had to cut costs with 35,000 job losses.

What is noticeable about these redundancies and cuts is that while they result from policies managed by central government, they are administered by innumerable employers – this or that NHS Trust, or Local Authority, or school or college. Legal resistance is now limited to actions divided up along the same lines.

We are all under attack, we need to fight back together

The attacks we face are class-wide, across the board, attacks on the young, but also on pensions, job losses in the public and private sector, attacks on benefits for the unemployed and the sick, but also benefits needed by families in work (child benefit, Sure Start grants, housing benefit). They are attacks orchestrated by the state on behalf of the entire capitalist class. And they aren’t going to stop – capitalism is in an impasse and can only come back for more attacks again and again.

There is obviously a lot of anger – shown, most recently, for example, by protesters storming Lambeth Town Hall. The attacks are coordinated, and so must are struggles be.  

Alex 5/3/11


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