Following the Steering Group meeting on Monday, December 6 we are posting the following statement of support for the student and young people’s protests up and down the country. We are calling on youth and community workers to do everything they can to build a social movement, which seeks to defend and extend, amongst many other things, a democratic and emancipatory youth work practice.
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YOUNG PEOPLE AND YOUTH WORKERS STANDING TOGETHER
BUILDING A MOVEMENT OF RESISTANCE
We the undersigned support the young people and lecturers who have launched an inspiring opposition to this government’s assault on working and middle class futures, families and services. From our perspective and experience of youth and community work, we particularly oppose the attacks on young people, their families and on the public services we all need.
As well as the cuts in education, a serious and direct assault on the most vulnerable in Britain is now under way, accompanied by an attack on all critical thinking – whether in schools, colleges, higher education, youth, community or social services. The deep anger and hostility towards the cuts has centred on the massive tuition fee hikes in Higher Education and the lifelong debt these would impose on the next generation. However just as much attention needs to be paid to the scandalous withdrawal of the Educational Maintenance Allowance, which undermines ‘poorer’ working class students’ access to Further Education. These struggles are accompanied by a growing awareness of the Coalition’s philistine and market-driven understanding of what education means, symbolised by the end of funding to Social Science, Humanities and Arts subjects.
Alongside this, we should not underestimate the level of anger also felt in the communities we live and work in. Across the country anti-cuts groups are flourishing, coming together to establish links between local community campaigns and student activists and unions across the generations. This creative process is revealing a powerful appetite for critical conversations and protest planning.
We call on all who are involved in community and youth work to arrange gatherings in their unions, universities, workplaces, youth clubs or community groups to highlight the devastating impact the cuts will have in their own local areas. We must draw inspiration once again from young people organising resistance under their own steam, notably in Oxfordshire and Haringey and from youth organisations, such as Woodcraft Folk, whose commitment to the cause has been exemplary. Youth and community workers are well placed to provide the people they work with (students, young people, community groups) with the opportunity to learn more about how they will be affected and to express their concerns – enabling them to make their voices heard if they so choose and to organise themselves if they so wish.
We reject the idea promoted by government that the current crisis is caused by migrants, ‘work-shy’ people, young people harbouring unreasonable expectations of a university education and a job, benefit claimants, pensioners looking for a free bus-ride or trade unionists who want to defend their conditions. We see this crisis as the direct result of the greed and incompetence of bankers and others in the financial world, and of the collusion with them of the governments who left them virtually totally unregulated – and who are now asking these institutions to make minuscule contributions to rectifying the situation they created. Instead we are being offered the vacuous rhetoric of Cameron’s big society of compliant, wage-less volunteers and by-the-back-door privatisation of services crucial to people’s education, health and other areas of their lives.
Already, the police, politicians and some parts of the media are inventing new myths to alienate the public from the protestors by demonising young people, anyone who supports them or who rejects the government’s story that austerity measures are necessary and good. As many such demons are being constructed and many more will follow in an attempt to divide us, we want to draw attention to the brutal treatment of young people by the police at the student protests.
Just as critical thinking of the sort that is promoted through the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences is under attack, so too is the sort of youth work that we strive to provide: a practice that is critical, democratic and emancipatory. This practice sees young people as citizens now, encouraging them to take their citizenship rights seriously and to imagine and organise collectively to help achieve the kind of world in which they wish to live.
Social movements of the past have shown that it is possible to defeat the attacks of a government upon its own people. Central to this is the need to win a war of ideas as a vital basis for developing collective resistance that goes beyond disconnected single-issue movements. The experience and expertise of youth and community workers, if we are bold enough, can make an important contribution to building the broad based social movement now required to defend the jobs and services that we all need and that this government, for ideological much more than economic reasons, is determined to destroy.
We are conscious that workers are feeling under threat at every turn, their options seeming limited. But all of us can do something, however small. The time has come for youth and community workers to stand up and be counted.
Susan Atkins, Malcolm Ball, Bernard Davies, Don Macdonald and Tony Taylor [ Steering Group of the In Defence of Youth Work Campaign]
Forgive the strange highlighting in the text – trying to sort this out!