May 2014        

Youth view


■ This is the talk given by the CYM speaker at the meeting “Youth Resistance in Ireland” held in James Connolly House on Saturday 26 April.

We in the Connolly Youth have been really interested in having a discussion about youth resistance for quite a while now. There’s probably not anything we can say that people don’t know themselves already; but the main point is that austerity and the political decisions in Ireland over the past five years have been a disaster for both workers and young people.
      As well as attacking the least well off, the Government have disproportionately hit the youth and future generations. Young people have had opportunities taken away from them (such as the public sector not hiring, college fees, no investment in youth) and now have tens of billions’ worth of banking debt we were not responsible for forced on us.
      The politicians who bailed out the banks retire on big pensions, while future generation suffer for this decision. Obviously none of the main parties represent the interests of young people. Some right-wing trade unions only want to protect the pay and condition of their own members and care nothing about the rest of the working class and young people. They do deals with the Government that screw new entrants to the public sector. We need class-conscious unions, not the “I’m all right, Jack” attitude of current union leaderships.
      What we in the CYM want is, firstly, to see if a broad range of people on the progressive left can even agree on a strategy of youth resistance and, if we can, then how to make it relevant and useful for young people.
      We propose that there could be three really important pillars to youth resistance. These are: agitate, educate, and organise.
      To a greater or lesser extent we all share common ground on what we are resisting in Ireland today. • It is resisting an unjust debt burden that has cost this country and its people dearly. • It is resisting the onslaught of austerity measures and the attacks on workers’ rights and employment conditions, especially young workers starting out in new jobs or careers. • It is resisting the continued use of emigration as a safety valve to release the pressure of unemployment. • It is resisting the normalisation of high unemployment, especially youth unemployment, and a culture of low-paid work and “internships.” • It is resisting the corrupt and disgraceful policies of past, present and future Governments. • It is resisting the pressures put on our youth, which have many adverse effects on the health of young adults, both mentally and physically, as well as the wider effects these have on family and friends.
      First and foremost, though, resistance means having the ability and strength to withstand and defend against opposing forces. At this moment young people have neither the ability nor the strength to resist the policies of the Fine Gael-Labour government.
      Given this reality, we believe there is something very fundamental to the weakness and the lack of a mass youth resistance of progressive left forces. The simple fact is that we are not mobilised. We are not mobilised because we are not organised.
      If we are not organised, we lack the ability and strength to withstand and defend against those opposing forces in our society.
      If a demonstration was called by any progressive force, youth or otherwise, what numbers would we get? A thousand? A hundred? Twenty? Ten? Will this cause the Government in power any real concern? Maybe personally, in terms of electioneering, but no way will it affect the Government policy of debt repayment and austerity measures, which are being driven by the EU and implemented by our own political parties. But I doubt if any such protest would even be raised in conversation in the Dáil bar.
      So, at this moment, what strategic use is there in calling demonstrations or marches, from this pillar to that post? I would argue very little, bar being able to distribute leaflets and other materials to those in attendance.
      So, we have to question whether this is the best form of agitation. Maybe when we can regularly mobilise thousands and tens of thousands of people out onto city streets that might cause the Government some concern. But that is not the reality in Ireland. The fact remains that we are not mobilised because we are not organised.
      So where do we start? Connolly Youth would argue that we need to build broad, sustained campaigns on a united front that are constantly agitating on issues that are really affecting youth today, like “internship” culture, unemployment, terms and conditions of employment, housing, health, and education.
      In regard to housing there is a real crisis, and young people find it nearly impossible to afford rents. NAMA has deliberately created a shortage of housing to force up house prices, and are disproportionately hitting young people trying to rent or buy for the first time. We need to demand more action from unions, so young people need to join unions and become active in union structures.
      We must also debate the power and nature of the European Union. Youth poverty, unemployment and mass emigration are an integral part of the structuring of the EU. it’s not an accident, and it’s not reformable. We must hold the EU accountable, along with our own political elite, for the continued pain and suffering being heaped upon Irish people, the youth in particular.
      We need to campaign for a fully exchequer-funded third-level education. As with housing and health, this should be treated as a basic right, not a privilege.
      But is free access to education the main obstacle for working-class students today? Well, it certainly is a factor, but the main obstacle is the material conditions of working-class families, what Kathleen Lynch calls “inequality of condition”—essentially, the class structures of society that are there to protect the interests of the dominant classes. The material conditions of working-class families make it much more difficult for them to get the maximum benefit from education and to progress through the system, whether it’s free or not.
      A greater proportion of pupils from working-class backgrounds will either drop out of school early or struggle to do well in the Leaving Cert. This is perpetuated from one generation to the next, reproducing the class structures.
      Yes, education should be free up to third level, but we should also question the deeper problems that exclude a lot of working-class people from further education, which is the class nature of society.
      But to make these and other campaigns a real success what we need is united action on all fronts. Is it conceivable, on the basis of what’s been said so far, that a new “youth front” could put forward a counter-narrative about the causes of, and solutions to, the issues raised here?
      We all know the issues. We all feel the consequences of the current crisis. But have we the counter-narrative about the causes of and solutions to the crisis? This is vital to our political education as young activists. It is also vital so that we understand the underlying reasons for massive unemployment, schemes like Job Bridge, why so many people have emigrated, and everything else in between.
      These are not unfortunate side-effects of bad economics but deliberate and organised class war. So, to get to where we want to go we must first recognise our enemies.
      As was said earlier, “educate” is the second vital pillar in youth resistance. While formal education is an important discussion area, without access to the state curriculum the immediate task of different youth groups must be to set about building the political education and consciousness among our peers.
      The CYM has always laid emphasis on education within our own internal structures. We need to get beyond stating and protesting about the issues: what we need are viable, intelligent solutions.
      I would urge people to take and read a copy of our pamphlet Permanent Austerity or Path to Socialism, and at least engage with the ideas in it. For instance, the CYM in the pamphlet puts forward four strategic areas for an alternative economic strategy.
      One key area would be the expansion, nationalisation and reclaiming of our fishing and farming industries. The largest industry that actually uses Irish materials is agri-food, where more than half the materials used are purchased within the country. Any expansion of these industries will have positive knock-on effects on employment.
      Another key area is the nationalisation of our oil and gas and building a state company to command and operate these utilities. We know that there is billions of euros’ worth of oil and gas and other minerals on and off our shores. We need to take ownership of our natural resources and use the benefits to plan our economy.
      Any alternative strategy must incorporate a viable and sustainable path to the continued health of the planet and all its inhabitants, and therefore the expansion of renewable energy sources for our energy needs must take priority.
      The fourth strategic area we outline is the repudiation of the debt. It is important to emphasise that the Irish people have paid 42 per cent of the total cost of the European banking crisis. Since the bank guarantee of 2008, each person has paid an estimated average of €9,000, whereas in the EU as a whole it is €192. We are paying out €8½ billion a year, or a fifth of our taxes, on interest alone! Is it any wonder that health, education and public services are being stripped, along with the privatisation of all our state assets!
      This is obviously not an exhaustive list. (We could add membership of the euro and the European Union and their structures, which deny any sort of left-wing recovery from the crisis.) These are narratives and solutions that are not debated within the mainstream but are essential if we are to put forward an alternative to the current crisis. This is what is needed if we want to mobilise our youth. People need to believe in something, or at least feel that they have gained something if they become politically active.
      There is no doubt that the Irish people, along with those of other peripheral European states, have bailed out the euro, the European Union, and the capitalist system. The question is, For how long further can we continue to do it?
      So if a “youth front” was established and could agree on common areas of struggle from a collection of the various progressive trade unions, youth organisations, campaigning groups, community groups, all with an equal say, so that no one group has the ability to dominate an agenda, then all the links that are separating us from being a mobilised, organised bloc could be joined together.
      I would propose that if anything is to come from this meeting it should be an agreement for representatives of at least the three groups here, and any others who want to take part, to meet, with the goal of forming the basis of a progressive left youth front that isn’t centred on a single issue but is based on the agitation, education, and organisation of our youth.
      Then, once we are organised, we can mobilise in large numbers and can begin to resist and counter those who force low pay, unemployment, emigration and poverty upon us.

■ Following the meeting the CYM, CWU Youth and Young Worker Network agreed to begin the process of forming a Youth Front. We urge all other progressive youth forces to sign up to this initiative. Contact the CYM or any of the other groups for more details to begin this much-needed process.

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