By Eric Trevett
YOUNG people entering the labour market have high hopes of getting a good wage in a job with reasonable prospects. But for many these hopes are soon replaced with doubts as to whether they can get a job at all. This particularly affects working class youth; due the policies of successive Tory and Labour governments a range of options has been closed.
Just after the Second World War, between 1945 and 1960 jobs were easy to come by. There was a shortage of labour power in the economy and it was possible to leave a job in the morning and get another before the end of the day. Apprenticeships were plentiful and skilled tradesmen were vital to the economy.
Backed by the trade union movement, living standards rose dramatically and in spite of its right-wing leadership the Labour government was pressed into nationalising industries like coal and rail and attempts to introduce pay freeze policies on workers’ wages were thwarted.
Another important advance was the trade union action that achieved the 40-hour, five-day working week.
The situation is very different today. Capitalism is in profound crisis. The coal mining industry has been destroyed and the de-industrialisation policies of the Tory and right-wing Labour governments have closed literally hundreds of factories up and down the country.
As a result the choice for youngsters today, especially working class youngsters, is much narrower than it has ever been.
The present government’s policy for cuts means that many more jobs are to be lost and a sharp rise in unemployment figures is inevitable.
The Post Office and the railways are now thinking to reduce their labour forces substantially, while the government has indicated it will cut 30,000 jobs from the civil service.
In December 1999 there were 1.2 million claiming unemployment benefits – 4.1 per cent of the workforce. Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics put unemployment at 2.51 million, which is eight per cent of the workforce.
Simultaneously with cutting jobs the Government is adopting tough policies against those unfortunate enough to find themselves unemployed.
Young people today are increasingly worried about their work and future. Those who go to university are tending to end up with huge debts on their shoulders. Many of them find it impossible to find jobs that give them a living wage that will also service their debts.
According to the Independent one in six students now regret going to university at all. A survey by the graduate-recruiting company High Flyers revealed that just over one-third of those leaving university this summer can expect to find a graduate job. Competition is especially fierce as they are up against many students who graduated the previous year who have still not found graduate-level jobs.
Currently there are 300,000 graduates leaving university each year – twice as many as in the 1990s. And even in a good year there are only 150,000 good graduate jobs available. With a policy of cutting back on services there will now be even fewer jobs available.
David Willetts, the Universities Secretary, says the jobs market continues to be very tight for young people.
Working people generally are being expected to pay for their retirement and at the same time are being urged to purchase more to get out of the economic crisis.
As the Government introduces more inflationary policies the purchasing power of wages and benefit payments will fall. But it is rumoured that as well as this there will be actual cuts in wages and pensions and some bourgeois papers have predicted that 50,000 homes will be repossessed this year.
Make no mistake about it; the full scale attack on the living standards of the working people is to be spearheaded by this Tory government, covered with a thin veneer of liberal concern.
Another prime target is the National Health Service, the last bastion of the 1945-51 government’s reforms.
Middle management jobs are also under threat. Sections of people who would not describe themselves as working class will find themselves on the dole. Therefore it will be possible and is essential to involve these sections of workers in the overall campaign of resistance, around the demands of a right to a job and a living wage.
We must never lose sight of the bankers’ responsibility for the present debt. They have received tens of billions of pounds in bail-outs in taxpayers’ money. Following their public apology on television they have been giving themselves hand-outs of millions of pounds in bonuses. No doubt they think this is a very good joke.
We need to be very clear that the joke is very much at our expense and we must use this fact to engender hatred against the bankers and the capitalist system as a whole.
As the campaign of resistance is developed by demonstrations, resolutions, deputations, leafleting and general agitation we have to note that the youth and sections of the working class movement are not equipped ideologically to see the need to support the trade unions and labour movement organisations.
The TUC in cooperation with the National Union of Teachers and other progressive organisations serving the expanse of education should make it possible for trade union members to be invited into classes and seminars of students.
In the localities, trades councils, where they exist, should be encouraged by the TUC to take initiatives in the organised campaign against the cuts and for progressive policies.
The movement as a whole should campaign for the restoration of the Labour Party constitution, the removal of which opened the door to the right-wing governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and their continuation of the Thatcher and Major governments’ privatisation policies. The campaign for the restoration of Clause Four is important because it is part of the campaign for the renationalisation of the economy.
As the Government’s cuts policy is so all-embracing we must help to engage ever wider sections of people in the struggle. Volunteer organisations should be encouraged to make representation for funding for the extra work they are expected to be doing. Pensioners’ organisations have an integral part to play. And indeed all the older activists in the struggle have a duty to help the younger generation to have confidence in the continuing fight.
The Co-op guilds, Women’s Institute and other women’s organisations should be drawn into the struggle against the cuts, which affect not only the working class but wide sections of the middle strata. Churches and their congregations will not be unaffected by the Tory attack on living standards and can be mobilised for progressive policies.
The broadening out of the progressive movement will also lead to greater influence for the peace movement, with its demand for the end of the Trident programme and the removal of nuclear weapons from Britain, as a contribution to a nuclear-free Europe and world. This would entail expelling United States troops from Britain and their nuclear weapons that are stockpiled here. And there will be more pressure behind the demand for the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan and any other imperialist occupations and an end to imperialist invasions.
Of course the problem is bigger than this Tory attack on living standards; it is basically the capitalist system itself and any ideological struggle, as it involves increasing millions of people, must have socialist consciousness injected into it by the movement.
There is no possibility of getting socialism through bourgeois democracy or without a revolutionary leadership that has the capacity to lead the working class to state power.
It is important that the movement closes ranks around the Marxist-Leninist party. The collapse of the Soviet Union came about because the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and other parties, influenced by Khrushchev, abandoned these principles and prepared the way for the counter-revolution led by Gorbachov.
That setback for the working class, nationally and internationally, was not the result of Marxism-Leninism but of opportunism and revisionism.
The only Marxist-Leninist party in Britain is the New Communist Party and its paper, the New Worker has an important role to play in this urgent situation.