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Youth revolt, proletarianization end of the middle class?


There is a direct connection between the political revolt of young people and the awkward phrase the ‘squeezed middle’. The connection lies in an older albeit just as awkward phrase, ‘ proletarianization’: but it is more accurate. Basically it is the process whereby workers who previously held relative advantages such as ‘white collar’ pensions start to lose them and directly and increasingly experience the nastiness of exploitation of the international labour market. The middle class is being eroded and working class growing. It has been a steady process started by Thatcherite governments and their attack on trade unions and the social services and exacerbated by the international situation, such as the recent financial collapse.
 
It is like the shadow of an upright triangle spreading over the generations with more being affected in the younger age groups and less in the older. But there is no sign that the process of proletarianization will stop and the trajectory of the shadow is starting to impact on larger numbers of the population. No wonder young people are in revolt they can see what is happening to them and to their older brothers and sisters and they know their prospects are worse.
 
What does it mean in reality? In the most recent UK unemployment figures ( August and September 2010 http://www.newstatesman.com/economy/2011/01/unemployment-sector-vacancies) 81% of the increase in overall unemployment was accounted for by youngsters under the age of 25 and youth employment – those in work – actually fell by 38,000. I’m sure that we all can translate these figures into real people. In my own street I know of a woman graduate who had a first in her degree in accounting in 2009 who has yet to find a job in this area. A graduate engineer with 10 years of experience with a young family made redundant and now driving taxis. Similarly his brother, a graduate software engineer with 8 years experience, is still redundant.
 
Even those with work, many experience short term or part time contracts often in work that bears little relation to their qualification. Many are taken on as ‘interns’ who receive no pay – a possibly illegal arrangement – so desperate are these young people for some relevant work experience. The threat of the sack is ever present forcing young workers into longer hours and more work intensification. Pension arrangements are being taken away and increasingly the prospect of a retirement date drifts into dreamland or at worse death. How these young people are even going to afford to pay off debts or be in a position to access a mortgage is a mystery to me. Throughout 2010 UK average real wages actually fell by ½%: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/dec/15/data-store-recession?INTCMP=SRCH#data
 
 This is the capitalist labour market raw in tooth and claw and Ed Miliband is right to relate to these experiences: increasingly we are not in the world of Mondeo man but ‘can’t afford a car’ land. Young people have started to react to these experiences in large numbers and in a multitude of creative ways. It has been understandably wild around the edges but as a Labour Party we should be relating to and practically supporting these demonstrations and forms of resistance. Some people have argued that traditional parties offer nothing to young people (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/24/student-protests-young-politics-voices) and unless we recognise the class changes that are taking place this argument will start to stand up.
 
What should we be doing as a Party? Nationally we should recognise the trajectory toward proletarianization and develop policies that counteract this trend such as a European minimum wage; adoption of EU agency worker directives; accept an effective limit on the working week; support job creation – the state being the employer of last resort; change the law to again allow trade unions to work freely and effectively in the workplace; direct investment into the production of goods and services. The list could go on and we should consider feeding ideas like these into the policy review. The key thing is to unite across the generations and not have any truck with the generation type war that some are suggesting: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/jan/03/baby-boomers-economy
 
 More immediately and locally we should attend and support in every way possible the forms of resistance that young people are developing. We should consider forming an anti-cuts campaign along with local trade unions and community organisations. And most importantly, we should encourage young members to set up their own Party section and organise meetings of their peers and colleagues. From the comfort of my own warm room and computer screen I’ve started a Facebook group called Pensioners for Direct Action and Solidarity (http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/home.php?sk=group_164641833572733&ap=1) to make a small contribution to unity: it is not just an abstract question of solidarity and unity, we need each other. 

 

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