Young, Unemployed, Full Of Potential?

May 31, 2011 § 8 Comments

With growing protest in Europe at the large numbers of unemployed young people, I’ve been really impressed by Young Million – an initiative by Common Purpose to help young people into paid work. It doesn’t deal with the root causes (a lack of jobs), but is at least attempting to fulfill a gaping hole – particularly now that the Future Jobs Fund has been cut. They’re asking people to volunteer time and physical spaces for the trainings to take place, and three are now ready-to-go. A new think tank (The Intergenerational Foundation) has also just set up – young people are back on the agenda.

My question is – why isn’t there a more coordinated effort to politically organise unemployed 18-25 year olds? It seems to be a no-brainer…

  • Shared interest – jobs, economy, opportunities.
  • Shared culture – language, popular culture – music, TV, sport etc.
  • Least likely to have responsibilities for others – children and elderly parents.
  • Potential electoral power – generational voting à la Obama ’08.
  • Recruiting grounds – Job Centers, online.
  • Most likely to be radical – take direct action.
  • Most likely to have time and energy to commit – form meaningful relationships.

Anybody thinking what I’m thinking?

§ 8 Responses to Young, Unemployed, Full Of Potential?

  • sleegammage says:

    Totally agree, ripe for the picking

  • Hmmm, good question Casper.

    In Australia (obviously very different political context because we’re only at 4% unemployment) I feel there’s a reluctance and even fear in some activist communities to organise with unemployed youth because the majority activist culture is overwhelmingly university educated. So the language, culture, habits and locations of unemployed youth is so different to “mainstream” University youth culture that people don’t even know where to start!

    Centrelink offices are so depressing and awful places (I know from experience having spent hours and hours and hours in line there) and it would seem a little strange to organise there – but now that you ask the question; it actually would be a great place to talk to people about the issues that matter to them, while they’re waiting in line.

    One huge obstacle would be overcoming the sense of powerlessness that many unemployed young people feel, especially if they come from backgrounds of disadvantage, cycles of violence etc. I imagine there’s often a sense of deep-rooted despair, hopelessness and lack of power that makes the strategies required to organise in those communities very different from the strategies required on University campuses, where students are generally privileged and have a sense that they have the ability to influence and change things in their own lives and the broader world.

    Writing this now reminds me that there are A LOT of lessons in Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals that could help organisers working with unemployed youth 🙂

    Am also reading at the moment Marshall Ganz’ “Why David Sometimes Wins” about California farmworkers movement. Have you read it Casper?

    xx Anna

    • cterkuile says:

      Hey Anna,

      Yes I completely agree – and the first thing I’d do is make sure that this is not ‘owned’ by the wonderful activist community out there.. Mind you – I think that in the UK context, there’s an enormous opportunity to make this a cross-class issue. Broadly speaking – the thousands of middle-class graduates in their eighth internship and living with their parents,plus the working-class young people who may have been long-term unemployed or lost their job in public sector cuts/construction/etc. All very badly-formed/early thoughts in my brain at the moment, but there seems to be very little effort to organise this constituency politically…

      Have been wanting to read Ganz’s book for EVER and it is on my amazon list, but I have forbidden myself from buying any more books – there is a mountain of them next to my desk right now waiting to be read…

      Really excited to hear more about your Churchill trip – I’m thinking of applying for next year : )

  • I’m actually listening to it as an audio book which is hard – I don’t do as well with focusing as when I read. I’m meeting him in 2 days!!

    Can UK people get Churchill fellowships too!?

    I just wrote a post about what I’m researching over here! It’s on my blog. xx

  • cterkuile says:

    It’ll be on my RSS feed when I check my blogs – look forward to reading!

    Ooh – will check out iTunes version – thanks for the tip!

    Re Churchill.. yep – he was kinda our Prime Minister… : )

  • hannamade says:

    I agree with Anna on this. An unemployed 18 or 19 year old is in such a different place to an unemployed university graduate. I would be afraid that any movement built around youth unemployment in general would capitalise on the outrage that graduates (rightly) feel on graduating into unemployment, but would leave behind people who hardly have any qualifications from school, let alone university. I think any campaign on this would have to address class issues head on – as I think it’s too simplistic to say there is shared interest, culture and responsibility.

    I see the biggest problem as being (as always) not necessarily knowing what we’re fighting for. If you know you want to be an artist, great – protest the arts cuts. But so many of the young people (who were 18 and 19) I was working with last year had absolutely no idea what they would want to do in their lives. I was the first person who had ever asked them what it was they would like to do. So they mostly were looking to work in retail because that was the only thing they had ever considered. There is nothing wrong with working in retail of course, but it highlights the differences between young people that might make a broad campaign challenging. There are issues of education and aspiration that need to be tackled at the same time.

    At Otesha, we spent a lot of time sitting in job centres last year and connecting with young people. But it was so hard to coordinate them as they often come from disruptive backgrounds that mean they don’t have a lot of time, or a regular schedule. Reasons for being chronically unemployed will be the same reasons that prevent you from feeling like you have agency in your own life, or the ability to participate in a movement. Having said that, it would be really interesting to talk to London Citizens and their London living wage campaign, and see what lessons could be taken from that, as we obviously do need to do something about it!

    • cterkuile says:

      All very true : ( Would love to hear more about the work you did with Otesha and any strategies you found that helped it all work out.. you guys had some really great Future Jobs Fund people join, right?

      Lots to discuss!

  • Ralph says:

    Hey Kasper,

    Meant to reply to this on Tuesday but time got away from me. My thoughts can be summed up like this:

    High levels of youth unemployment have already led to increased activism. I’m thinking particularly of the anti-fees and cuts occupations and protests and UK Uncut. Admittedly these groups were made up of plenty of students, TU activists and professional campaigners, but I’d wager that a sizeable proportion of their organisers and supporters were recent graduates with tenuous/no employment. It’s also worth remembering that plenty of those on the protests were 18/19 and younger, motivated to protest by the cutting of EMA.

    What’s crucial is that this generation of newly politically active young people put their efforts towards something positive. In a situation like long-term unemployment, or faced with an uncertain future, it’s natural to become frustrated and react with anger. But anger alone is rarely constructive. I’d argue there’s a pressing duty for campaigning organisations and the wider political sphere to provide ways for this generation to stay engaged and work towards change.

    I’m reminded of Adam’s Bright Green blog you linked to talking about transitional demands and the limits of our social imagination. I think that’s what’s necessary – more campaigns along those lines, which are ‘for’ rather than ‘against’, specifically targeting the ‘jilted generation’.


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