Building Among Young Workers

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Above: CWI Summer School

My contribution to the Youth discussion at the CWI summer school in Barcelona:

In England and Wales, one of the areas of youth work we’ve focussed on is our orientation to and development of young workers. One of the challenges of this work is getting access to young workers.

Unlike students who can be found in large numbers on campuses, there is no one place where young workers come together. This is particularly true as trade union consciousness among youth is generally low. This means that we have to go directly into workplaces to engage with and attract new layers of young workers.

One of the ways we have done this is by organising campaigns around fast food rights, £10Now and days of action exposing retail outlets that use exploitative zero hours contracts. To try and engage young workers in workplaces known to be hostile to workplace organising we have organised actions where we go into a workplace and leaflet as many workers as we can before management ask us to leave.

As well as attracting new layers we have taken steps to develop our young worker comrades. Alongside student bureaus we have had a number of meetings for young workers to discuss how we can intervene in the workplace. This has been important as young workers face more insecure and unstable conditions which can be very different to conditions experienced by older comrades.

More often than not, young workers are in workplaces that have no trade union recognition. Management can get away with more bullying and intimidation and attempts to even discuss organising can be met with extreme hostility. In drawing out these perspectives this has guided our work and allowed us to better equip our young comrades in the workplace.

By having discussions on a day in the life of a care worker, a shop worker, a waiter etc. older workers are exposed to the conditions faced by the younger counterparts and can better advise younger comrades how to recruit other workers to trade unions and get organised.

It’s also important that time is made in branch meetings to discuss the conditions of the trade unions. As trade unions will often be held in the grip of bureaucratic officials and young comrades will need guidance to give them the confidence to transform unions into militant fighting trade unions.

One of our successful areas of work in this area is in relation to Usdaw (the shopworkers’ union) which is Britain’s 4th largest trade union with over 430,000 members. We have been developing a caucus and had our biggest intervention so far at this year’s national conference. Our young comrades have been at the forefront of regenerating the broad left within the union.

Likewise, our young members put forward and spoke on a number of important motions which resonated and got some of the best responses from delegates. In time this will no doubt lead to contacts and new recruits.

The steps we are taking are currently small and the tasks ahead great but comrades, by investing time and energy into preparing young workers today, we will be developing the cadre who will have the confidence and understanding to inspire and lead the workers’ struggles of tomorrow.

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Greeks Reject Austerity: Prospects For The European Working Class

Many Greeks will no doubt be inspired by the election of Syriza in the last few days. With a full quarter of Greeks unemployed and a staggering 60% of Greek youths without work it is no wonder that the Greek working-class is looking to a political alternative rather than sticking with the eye-watering austerity consensus offered by the main parties of Capitalism. The election of Syriza poses some interesting questions for the working-class across Europe over the next period but the road ahead is by no means staightforward.

The very fact that Syriza stood on an anti-austerity platform throughout the elections will no doubt sprout hope amongst Greeks that have faced huge falls in living standards since the global economic crisis which unfolded in 2008. Moreover, this could bolster support for Podemos in Spain, as well as opening up prospects for anti-austerity alternatives in Portugal and Italy.

With General and Local Elections taking place in Britain in May, the publicity which these results have received could also encourage a layer of the British working-class to question the necessity of austerity. However, with the first past the post system as well as a media blackout on the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), it is unlikely at this stage that TUSC will see results of this magnitude yet.

Nevertheless, it is worth noting that it was only in 2009 that Syriza was polling less than 5% of the vote with Pasok (Greek equivalent of the British Labour Party) being the main contender for power. Pasok has now seen a massive collapse in its support which serves as an example to the Labour Party which has remained committed to continuing with Con-Dem austerity if elected later this year. The importance of raising the TUSC banner high and offering a no cuts alternative cannot be stated enough as the rank and file of trade unions are increasingly questioning the point of supporting a Labour Party which has continued to ignore the needs of ordinary working class-people in favour of big business.

As highlighted above, the election of Syriza could potentially cause a leftwards shift to occur across much of Europe, although this depends largely on the movement that can be built against austerity in the next period. The European bourgeois are no doubt wary of this new development with stern warnings being passed onto Greece since the results of the election were announced on Sunday. In a bid to foster divisions among different sections of European workers, Sigmar Gabriel of the German SPD stated “Things that Greece itself won’t do cannot be shunted on to the taxpayers and employers in neighbouring states”.

Yet, there have been some worrying signals which clearly indicate that Greece is by no means on a clear path to recovery just yet. First of all is Tsipras’s backpedalling on the strong anti-austerity rhetoric being used throughout the elections, toning down his position to one of compromise rather than confrontation of the troika (European Union, European Central Bank and IMF). Furthermore, is the unlikely choice of the Independent Greeks as a coalition partner to prop up a Syrizan Government. Though also being against austerity, the Independent Greeks are a right-wing party with a reputation for racism and homophobia.

With this in mind, it is not yet clear how things will shape up in the next period. However, the working-class of Greece need to keep the pressure on Tsipras to deliver on the promises that have been made as the current prospects for Greek, and indeed all, European working-class people remains unacceptable. If Tsipras is not to go the way of the “Socialist” Hollande in France, then a firm stance against austerity needs to be upheld as the working-class of Greece will not acquiesce with so much at stake. In addition, with the elections already causing a stir in the rest of Europe, the Greek working-class will very quickly find that they have allies in the working-class across Europe and indeed the world if they take the route of struggle.

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