Conference Fragments – Mobilising the Jilted Generation
I spoke, along with Shiv Malik of ‘Jilted Generation‘, at the Young Greens fringe on ‘mobilising the jilted generation’. Shiv spoke eloquently about how Thatcherite liberalism has screwed today’s 20 somethings. This is roughly what I said.
The Conservative Party has always opposed the welfare state. And now they are in Government they have successfully spun the great crisis of capitalism into a great crisis of democracy and then a great crisis of the state.
They have launched such an all-out assault on our jobs and our public services that everyone will be effected. I’m going to talk a little about how these cuts are hitting young people the hardest, why I think the Government has chosen to attack us most of all, and how I think we need to organise as Greens, as young citizens, and as Young Greens.
But I don’t want anyone for a moment to think that I am arguing that the cuts are not effecting everyone. And as well as standing with our sisters and brothers and classmates and friends as the government attacks our generation, we must also stand with everyone else who is being attacked by the Tories – our mothers and our fathers, and our grandparents and our neighbours and our teachers and our civil servants.
Because these cuts are not about sound economics. They are about a loony right wing ideology. And now, the Tories stand alone in the world. Even the most crazed neo-liberals on Earth, the IMF and the OECD have admitted in the last two weeks that they were wrong. That these cuts are not needed.
There are a whole range of cuts which will hit young people particularly hard:
– civil service recruitment freeze
– university funding and places
– mental health services for young people
– building schools for the future
– the future jobs fund
– services used more by young people, like buses
– jobs: this recession has hit the young particularly hard when it comes to jobs, with 1.5 million young people unemployed – 60% of the jobless.
All these cuts are insane, but the one which is most obviously crazy to me is university funding. There are two reasons for this. The first is to do with short term recessionary economics. The multiplier effect for universities is huge. What that means is, for every £1 you put into a bank, you get roughly £1.5 of jobs in the economy. For every £1 you put into a university, you get £2.5 of jobs. This is one of the best multipliers you can get. So if you have a deficit created by unemployment, then universities are the first place you want to invest, and the last place you want to cut. Yet they are facing some of the biggest cuts.
The second reason is more long term – the government currently says it’s route out of recession is building a knowledge economy. Yet the UK is in the bottom quartile of the OECD rich countries club for state investment in Higher Education per unit GDP per capita. Even after 8 years of knowledge George Bush slashing state funds for knowledge, America is still ahead of us. We compare roughly with Slovakia. Yet the government is cutting universities harder, while claiming they will drive us out of the current recession.
Ours should be the generation which builds from the ashes of the recession a new, fairer, low carbon economy, just in time to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
Instead, the Tories want us to be the generation who graduate with massive debts into unemployment, and who retire without a pension into a world of climatic catastrophe. They are attacking us because they think we won’t fight back.
But they are wrong. The biggest myth about our generation is that we are apathetic.
It’s true that we aren’t rioting on the streets yet. We been quashed, had our heads forced down by the daily grind. And we’ve also been taught politics by the lifestyle radicals of the 60s. We’ve grown up in a post-Thatcher era where people believe political beliefs are about personal expression of abstract ethics, delivered through consumption: fairtrade, carbon footprints, charity.
And so we’ve bought the right wing myth that when ordinary people stand up for themselves, it’s selfish, but when the rich do, it’s “for the sake of the economy”.
The truth is that successful movements which truly challenge entrenched power aren’t built on individual ethics and charity. They are built on enlightened self interest and solidarity. And when we look to young people standing up for themselves and their friends, we don’t see apathy.
Student union elections at many universities have seen turnouts quadruple since the introduction of top-up fees, as students demand quality teaching. The generation who bunked off school to march against the invasion of Iraq, who were the first to pay top-up fees, and are graduating into debt, unemployment and shitty housing are not apathetic. We are disorganised and dis-empowered. Our activists have been taught that we should be less selfish. We have learned not to stand up for ourselves and our friends – as though it is somehow wrong to do so. But we are angry.
This is our generation. If we can organise ourselves, if we can stand with our brothers and sisters and classmates and friends, we can build a movement to remind the world that it wasn’t a crisis of democracy which stole our money and lives, but a crisis of capitalism. And then we really can reclaim the economy. And then we truly can reclaim our future.