Reading articles and listening to commentary on youth unemployment is to be welcomed as timely and provocative contribution to an under examined problem.
The failings of these are significant, in that they seem to reflect a feature general to the approach of partisan politics as a whole to this problem. There is a failure to develop a genuinely strategic outlook that can begin to transcend the usual oppositional and ‘isms’ posturing that are a glaring feature. We fail to look for points of intervention that we can relate closely to long term goals in such a way as to create the basis for moving towards the realisation of our National Development Plan goals.
Each commentator wants to overestimate the gains of their own proposed “solution”. A distinctive feature of the youth unemployment problem is the national consensus that exists in favour of urgently finding solutions to it. We are inundated with opposition parties claiming that government does not have a long term solutions to the question, but rather deal with it as a “moral issue”, and that its policies should simply be rejected, they themselves are making a moralistic rather than a politically considered point.
However; the fact that the party in government has come out clear on the matter is a measure of a degree of accountability to popular feeling and provides an important space in which all, especially youth formations, must intervene, in an attempt to develop partial strategies into something more universal.
I share the assumption that only a decisive economic shift will ultimately provide an overall answer to youth unemployment, and unemployment in general. Such a departure will presumably include measures of large scale economic development and the development of a planned investment policy linked to a job creating employment strategy.
Such policies challenge important bases of political and economic power in our society. They do so by directly (and boldly) challenging the power of private capital, and by challenging many of the assumptions, ideas and values that comprise the consent of the majority to aspects of the capitalist system.
There seems to be an unarticulated assumption that if it were not for the distorting role of the media, and a number of “reformist” and trade union leaders, the majority would be able to agree, quite naturally, on the need for decisive policies and new forms of social organisations. This is a dangerous misconception.
People are not “conned” into accepting existing social relations, but actually live them, the very conditions of their social existence constantly reaffirming their view of the world as the “neutral” view.
It is necessary, therefore, to find waysof developing political practice that can enter the actual process of people’s lives. We need to create ways capable of developing an intermediate level of intervention that can find ways of building key elements of the alternative, in practice, now. This would have to involve wide sections of people in new forms of activity that act as “bridges”, leading from their old ideas and practices, over to the possibility of being able to open up new ones.
To continue to merely proclaim or slogan monger and wait for the waters to part, is to consign ourselves to the ghetto of a permanently marginalised opposition, that refuses to intervene now in any measures aimed at dealing with youth unemployment. This also condemns the unemployed to remaining at the mercy of the state while on the dole queue, until such times as a solution comes from above.
“Bridges” can be constructed around activities against youth unemployment by grasping the enormous opportunities offered by this government. Others may be constructed by reviewing existing programmes such as encouraging people to invest the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) into job creating projects that the unemployed can run in cooperatives. Another area that needs to be revisited is the whole disbursement of the skills fund and Sector Education & Training Authority (SETA) finances.
A strategically developed approach could create the basis for a broad alliance between labour movements, youth formations, educationists and part of the community never before involved in any kind of labour.
Many have amply illustrated the size of youth unemployment. It is particularly intractable because it is now a structural feature of our economy. If and when overall unemployment falls, youth unemployment will remain proportionately high. This is largely due to the fact that the nature of employment is changing drastically. The types of jobs traditionally available to school leavers with no qualifications are simply no longer available but taken up by graduates. As a result, people with qualifications are taking jobs below their previous expectations, when they can get them.
Any alternative programme needs to provide training that could last for about a year and also provide grants to participants. The training must take the form of work experience on employers’ premises, FET college courses, community service and a combination of these. It is encouraging that we are already having these elements in many areas.
The possibility for intervention, therefore, clearly exists. We just need to begin to form durable alliances, which can develop further over time, by enabling convergence to take place around a programme for education and training which could be brought into a relationship with the Department of Labour, for an example.
Such a programme will necessarily have much local variation, but a basis for a series of demands could be as follows:
1) Internships or work experience training are genuinely beneficial to young people, and are not merely a form of cheap labour. Attention must be paid to trade skills and trained tutors to be involved with students on work experience.
2) To ensure that skills are widely transferable and not suited to a narrow sector, thought in developing cognitive and analytical skills to enable young people to transfer their skills to other situations and to develop them as individuals.
3) Must be able to enable participants to use their learnt courses to further develop and enter further education and training – post graduate studies.
4) The young unemployed are isolated from each other, from the rest of their peers and the rest of society at large. They have no democratic channels through which they can be effective in controlling or changeling aspects of their lives. The danger is that many become permanently estranged from society’s democratic institutions. The programme must, for the first time, bring large numbers of young unemployed together thus having an opportunity to develop their collective power.
Lastly; the substance of a major part of the “struggle” against youth unemployment must be to come to grips with the education and training needs of the young unemployed, and to generate and implement concepts and practices of democratic struggle that can develop the capacity of the working class and the labour movement to unite around this question. To achieve this it is necessary to develop and implement concrete alternatives. People must move away from merely “proclaiming”, “demanding” and “exposing” and towards coming to grips with clear programmes, interventions and forging alliances.