Tell me you’re unpolitik, and open up your eyes
Dave Osler makes some interesting points on the depoliticisation of the population in general and young people in particular here in the British Isles (thanks to Tom Miller for pointing it out). I spent yesterday at a conference of the Socialist Youth Network, the youth arm of the Labour Representation Committee and I wanted to add my own thoughts to the depoliticisation debate, and to discuss what I saw yesterday at the conference in Malet Street.
Your average punter can make a lot of snap judgments about the state of the youth today. That they need national service to sort them out is one I hear both from the Tories and from our own “bluff traditionalist” right flank. People say we need corporal punishment in schools. The slightly more liberal commentators will lament the decline in the youth vote and direct youth participation in politics, as evidenced by the drop in the 18-24 band in all aspects of participation.
It is high time we put an end to the blatant hypocrisy of adults in general, and leftist organisations in particular. If a young person becomes politically active on the left, they’re told that it’s just their radical phase. When young people come along to meetings of University Labour Clubs and are lucky enough to hear ministerial-level speakers, the speakers would spout vagaries and urge everyone to be ‘progressive’ if there weren’t young people in the room willing to ask the difficult questions.
Yet that is just the beginning of the blame we must lay at the labour movement’s door. Some of the stories I heard yesterday were spine tingling. One former executive of the Young TUC told me about what an openly disdainful attitude the TUC has towards their youth division. Instead of acting upon concretely worked out, concretely supported proposals from the YTUC, the TUC prefers to grab photo-opportunities with the NUS. It looks good, it looks like they’re doing something, with their flagship agreement.
Where is the incentive for young people to get involved? I’m involved because I’m an extremely angry young man who will probably be dead of stroke or coronary due to high bloody pressure by the time I’m forty. I have enough anger in me at the idiocy I sometimes see running our society, at the complacency with which people adopt lunatic ideas. I’m angry at the apathy with which workers and students in general are prepared to sit back and take their royal rogering with barely a complaint.
For everyone else, I really quite understand how young people can have a political opinion and not wish to descend into party politics. I mean, even one year of knowing the full-timers of Labour Students and I questioned my membership of the Labour Party. When young workers are getting screwed by bosses and the TUC still supports a three-tiered minimum wage, what courage can anyone have to think that something, somewhere might change?
I’m not saying that if the TUC supported a unitary minimum wage that people will automatically be political – but it might pull one or two people in each town towards wanting to be active as shop stewards or whatever. With each progressive measure, the infrastructure of the Trades Councils and CLPs might begin to be rebuilt, until we actually have a network of activists willing to go out on to the street and argue their case. We might have a chance, then, of occasionally winning industrial action in the areas that most need it.
That’s unlikely to happen. The tricks of the Trade Union bureaucracy are too advanced. When UNISON Scotland can nominate John McDonnell for leader, and the UNISON executive can simply write that out of their meeting, something is wrong. When activist branches of trade unions can be disbanded, when activists can be suspended, for political activity something is wrong. When Labour Party members can no longer get resolutions to the floor of party Conference to be debated, something is wrong.
This is not an apolitical generation of youth. These are young people whose future is being mortgaged by the leaders of the previous generation. For a quiet life, for an easy job, for whatever reason, the older generation have lost their bottle. They don’t want to fight so they try to make sure that no-one else can fight, and the rot spreads from the top of the labour movement right to the bottom. No wonder Dave Osler can’t get enthused about the difference between the Brownites and the “Cameroonies.”