On Young and Precariat Workers

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Above photo taken by Mary Finch

Below is an editted version of my contribution to the discussion on British Perspectives at the Socialist Party’s March 2017 National Congress:

Ryan Aldred, Plymouth and South West

Comrade chair, comrades.

For many youths growing up in the 90’s, those putting forward a so called “alternative” to the Tories would have been Tony Blair, promising a university education for everybody and a life of prosperity thereafter. And how prosperous we are now! This was followed by Nick Clegg, promising to end tuition fees and put a brake on Tory austerity; well done there Cleggy!

It should therefore come as no surprise that in some of the most deprived areas, that young and precariat workers take a very jaded approach to Corbyn. There is some mileage in more boldly putting forward our programme among these layers. It is mainly a layer of older workers returning to the Labour Party and more politically engaged students who identify with Corbyn and recognise that he is qualitatively different from his neo-liberal predecessors.

There is a backwardness in class consciousness and particularly combativity compared to previous periods. This, coupled with the atomisation of young and precariat workers especially along with their abhorrent living conditions which can explain the increasing prevalence of mental health issues working class people are struggling to overcome. With poverty contributing to isolation and social exclusion leading to depression and the constant worry of living hand to mouth resulting in greater levels of anxiety.

It is these same material conditions which give rise to an often inchoate and elemental anger which can quickly rise to the surface and potentially spill over. Thus in this volatile period there is a danger that we could see a return of the riots which took place in 2011 as the conditions are still there which caused the riots to erupt.

Likewise, we could see a new occupy style movement albeit one on a higher political level due to the increased pace at which processes and events are taking place compared to the original occupy movement. Moreover, we’re likely to see the explosive injection of youth on demonstrations such as we have seen with the anti-Trump protests for instance.

With the lack of generalised industrial struggle in this period compared to some of the heroic struggles that took place in the Thatcher years, combined with the lack of organised opposition from Corbyn and general lack of momentum in Momentum, we could see the frustrations of youth finding expression in a resurgance of ultra-left and anarchist ideas. We have already seen this in embryo in the anti-party mood in the indignados and occupy movements and this will no doubt increase if we see further betrayals by left populist parties such as Syriza in Greece.

With all this unpredictability and volatility, one thing remains glaringly obvious, we will continue to see the accumulation of capitalist contradictions, agitating and radicalising the working class and especially the youth and more precariat layers. Improving technology is exacerbating this, self-service machines replacing shop workers and, as reported in the Financial Times this week, electronic lecturing displacing even this once secure profession.

We’ve seen the opportunities for super exploitation with apps such as deliveroo and uber eats, this has been compounded by Phillip Hammond’s budget, targetting the self-employed which will hit those in the rising gig economy hardest.

There is a desperate need for a bold and audacious alternative and in the absence of a serious fightback from the Corbynistas, TUSC is well placed to build towards that, even with the disappointing withdrawal of the SWP from TUSC. By showing confidence in our ideas and our programme, as evidenced by our strong intervention in the March 4th NHS demo, we can win new layers to our ranks and capture and hopefully harness some of that anger.

By being patient, flexible and resilient when building amongst casualised and particularly young workers, accommodating for comrades’ daily struggles, we can build confidence in these layers to take their first steps organising in the harsh conditions of zero-hours living.

This can help us to sink deeper roots into the class to ensure workers don’t internalise feelings of failure for not being productive members of a capitalist society which sees fit to discard them. By agitating among these workers to express their rightful indignation at a system that is failing them, whilst linking their struggles into the wider struggles of the working class by helping to organise these layers, we can prepare the ground for the revolutionary idea that we can instead discard this capitalist system and build with our class towards a socialist alternative.

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Anger is only the beginning…

Yesterday, I attended the funeral of my late grandmother and as any of you who have lost a family member or indeed any loved one will know it can bring out all manner of emotions. There is the joy of sharing fond memories and the bringing together of the family juxtaposed to the pain of loss as well as possible feelings of anger, guilt or regret. On top of this there is a sobering reminder of our own mortality which can most certainly put things into perspective.

In my last blog entry I discussed the need for people to get ‘mad as hell’ and for a good reason; there’s a lot to get mad about and anger is a very powerful emotion. It is one of our most primitive emotions which I’m sure we would have evolved away from were it no longer useful.

However, whilst it does give us a rush of adrenalin and a feeling of empowerment it will only get you so far and on its own is generally a tool of destruction or defiance. The key is to turn it into something more through the power of the will coupled with a vision of a better future.

It is anger that has led to the riots of 2011 which one would find hard to see much in the way of benefits. I would also say that anger was a key factor in the eruption of the Occupy movement. This is due to the feelings of injustice at the seemingly alternate universe which bankers, corporate fat cats and our elected “representatives” inhabit, full of multi-million pound bonuses, astronomical tax avoidance and rewards for failure. Though in comparison to the riots, Occupy certainly did much more in the way of good with some bankers being shamed into giving back their bonuses and more importantly bringing such issues into public discourse. In my opinion, the problem with Occupy was that it knew much of what was wrong but did not know what to replace it with. Thus, people flocked to the outward expression of indignation to begin with, but were quickly left confused or frustrated as Occupy never really formed a solid political cadre with which people could get behind.

It seems that whilst anger is useful and can spur people and movements on, it is unsustainable as a basis for more permanent change both for individuals as well as movements and should be used in moderation.

It seems as though there is a lot of anger bubbling away due to changes being pushed through parliament which are really starting to have adverse effects on people’s lives. However, a lot of this anger is being repressed by people who feel isolated or too scared to vent their frustrations due to the stoic British culture. Currently, where anger does spill over it is either raw and unbridled, leading to destruction or persecution of scapegoats such as immigrants or “scroungers”, or it is unorganised and unsustainable leading to a momentary surge followed by a quick fizzling out. Anger shouldn’t be a driving force though. It may temper actions and strengthen resolve but something more is needed. If we’re to create a better world it needs to incorporate compassion, love and kindness not just an indignation for the people or systems that are responsible for the injustice of today. It is also essential to not let anger run everyday life. Live in the moment and strive for whatever it is that’s going to create happiness. Mix up the daily routine, help someone, try new things and never forget to dream! Just don’t forget to put the work in to make the dream a reality; it’s the little steps that make the big changes.

Talking of little steps I’d like to thank those of you who took the time to read my last blog entry. Particularly those of you who felt compelled to share it, for it is thanks to you that my voice was heard as far as Canada! I hope you continue to enjoy as I write, feel free to leave your own comments/musings/rants on here.