Resistance in a climate of anxiety and precarity

Tony Taylor – our friend, comrade and former IDYW coordinator

Scuppered by a power cut, our former coordinator Tony Taylor was unable to make his planned contribution to our Resistance seminar for Youth Work Week 2020. So we are delighted to be able to share a more developed version of what he would have said, published in full over on Tony’s fantastic blog, Critically Chatting. It’s a brilliant piece – as ever, provocative and challenging. It starts:

In Defence of Youth Work [IDYW] was born in resistance. Its emergence in early 2009 was an explicit two fingers to the neoliberal assault on social-democratic, open access and open-ended youth work. This was a form of youth work we defined as ‘volatile and voluntary, creative and collective- an association and conversation without guarantees’. Scoffing at our idealism neoliberalism demanded that youth work be the imposition of structured, time-limited interventions led by prescribed and predictable outcomes. We described a clash between our sense of ‘becoming a person, individually, socially and politically aware’, which held good for ourselves and young people and neoliberalism’s desire to manufacture self-centred conformism and obedience to the status quo amongst both ourselves and young people.

We contrasted our commitment to unfolding relationships and conversations, to intimate and collective democracy with the short-term, calculated, supposedly measurable interventions recommended by the powerful Impact lobby. We defended our crucial understanding of young people as heterogeneous, born into a matrix of class, gender, race, sexuality, disability and faith, against the neoliberal revival of the abstract young person denied their diversity. In short, we opposed the depoliticisation of practice.

We have been swimming against the tide over the last decade. Even if, in a naive moment prior to the last General Election we wondered whether the tide might even be turning. The orchestrated humiliation of Jeremy Corbyn dispelled that dream. Nevertheless, we have been a prickly thorn in the side of Youth Work’s self-proclaimed leadership. Indeed it has been admitted in private that from time to time we have disturbed the collaborative pragmatism of such as the NYA and UK Youth, not that they would ever admit this in public.

The blog is well worth reading in full (and do consider subscribing to Critically Chatting if you haven’t already). It ends:

Perhaps I’m being melodramatic but I believe we are living through a critical moment in history. More than ever the struggle against neoliberal or technocratic capitalism, against oppression and exploitation must be authentically democratic, illustrating in its practices the profound limitations of institutionalised democracy. Resistance will come from below through a renaissance of the social movements.

Where might IDYW fit in this wider background of would-be resistance? As it is, IDYW lives on as a critical voice within Youth Work as a whole. A temptation might be to look inwards and be drawn into seeking to influence the policies, say, of the National Youth Agency or Centre for Youth Impact. I think this would be a mistake, an act of accommodation rather than resistance. Gazing outwards I wonder whether this is a moment when IDYW should explore directly with its supporters the reasons for our reluctance to organise collectively. Am I being old-fashioned in believing that, when push comes to shove, if resistance is to strike fear into the powerful it will spring from acting together on the basis of the classic slogan, ‘Educate, Agitate, Organise’? Am I living in a dream to believe that a passionate and organised IDYW democratic alliance of workers, volunteers and young people could be part of the absolutely necessary social and political resistance to the dystopian prospect offered by the global elite and the World Economic Forum?

Introducing his blog, Tony shares his (sad but understandable) decision to withdraw from the IDYW steering group:

As it happens I’m withdrawing from the IDYW Steering Group to sit on the backbenches. For nigh on 12 years I’ve prioritised playing a part in the life of IDYW but have grown evermore uncomfortable about pontificating about youth work in the UK from kilometres away. Nevertheless I intend to continue with this Chatting Critically blog and hope in the coming months, even years to feature interviews with characters, famous, infamous and unknown from within the world of youth and community work. As they say, watch this space.

The rest of us are feeling bereft about the idea of Tony not being around on a day-to-day basis – as the original instigator of the open letter and as our coordinator through most of our history, he has been central to everything we’ve done, and it’s hard to imagine being without him. We’ll still be doing stuff together, we all hope, and we’re glad he’s got plenty of plans to keep writing, chatting critically, and (most likely) continuing to be a trouble maker, in the best possible way.

One comment

  1. Please read the fuller piece, work/thoughts in progress on Critically Chatting.Also read alongside George Monbiots piece last Weds Guardian:Civil War in Capital.With Aditya’s response to Sunaks economic statement.
    As ever this critical, forensic and deeply materialist from Tony.Tries to get back to roots,purpose, an ethos.What are we trying to do and why? How do we help , support and encourage young people, their communities, colleagues, civic society understand where we are, how we got her and more importantly what we can do about it
    Based on an attempt to tease out where things are upto in the wider world.Tides Indeed
    As we know they do change, can be changed, as part of our response individually and collectively.Hence In Defence, Unions, I Y W, NYA, Youth n Policy etc
    To critique, defend, support and promote the kind of work/interventions and purpose collectively agreed.Which is the sharp point of Tony’s point on Resistance.
    What is our purpose? Ethos?Aspiration? How can we educate, organise agitate collectively to pursue it? How do we engage with each other, colleagues? Young people? Public realm ? Communities? To campaign and act to achieve it?
    This is not causing trouble, rocking the boat, but being in sharp critical dialogue .To Search for agreed and collective ways forward.
    The basis to any possible different ways of being, in worlds of our creation and choosing.
    As Paul Weller,the whole point of no return reminds us.:It would be easy, so so easy:
    The choice, as ever remains with us. To tidy things up n make do or to grab the chance to be who we need to be in a world we actively create , nurture and sustain. Based on Equality, Liberty and Solidarity.
    Let’s walk that road together.At times grumpily, sulking, arguing , comprising,but in Solidarity.
    The times they are a changing: should we choose
    Love Struggle Solidarity

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