Revolution and The Youth

By Jeremy Dewar

Broadwater Farm to Tahrir Square


THE SHOCK was felt by everybody. The speed with which the fighting against the police and the rioting spread from district to district and town to town, the ferocity of the youth burning down shops and firebombing police stations, and the size of the uprising – the Met claim 30,000 participated in “criminal acts” in London alone, while many more looked on and “got in the way” – took politicians, journalists and police chiefs completely by surprise.

But if the exact form and precise timing this rebellion took were unpredictable, the underlying causes of youth alienation made it inevitable.  Capitalism and the generational cycles of poverty and social alienation were the material for the explosion, police violence was the detonator.

Police racism, the immediate cause of the uprising, is rampant. Since 1990, 1,410 people have died while police were present, a large number of these being black, like the recent cases of Smiley Culture, Demetre Frazer and of course Mark Duggan.

Stop and search powers are routinely used to humiliate and harass black youth. In 2008-09, police stopped and searched people an incredible 1,469,041 times. Recent research by the LSE and Open Society Justice Initiative found that black people are 26 times more likely to be stopped than whites. Yet arrest rates remain marginal: roughly one in 50. In short, a whole generation of youth are subjected to daily ‘in-your-face’ policing.

Add to this the fact that one in five young people – a million under-25s – are unemployed. The Catch-22 of not having work experience keeps this group at the very bottom of the labour market.

Benefits are being cut in real value, while Iain Duncan Smith’s Flexible New Deal forces the young unemployed to work 30 hours a week for free – or have their benefits cut for at least three months. These four-week stints of slave labour can be repeated endlessly at the discretion of the DWP. Working like this whilst on benefits is the equivalent of being paid £2.25 an hour, less than half the minimum wage.
Add to this other related factors and the picture of a generation with no stake in capitalist Britain emerges.

• Social housing is dilapidated due to years of underfunding and is in chronic shortage – up to a third of council flats are unfit for habitation in inner cities.

• 2.6 million children are living in poverty in Britain – 20 per cent, though this rises to 50 per cent in deprived areas.

• Over £100 million has been cut and 3,000 workers sacked from youth services this year. Many councils have closed or severely reduced services at youth clubs, as budgets have been cut by 70 per cent to 100 per cent (Swindon, for example). Even in Cameron’s constituency, youth workers went on strike to save jobs and services.

David Cameron’s callous retorts that this was “criminality pure and simple” and that “pockets of our society” are “frankly sick” were exposed for what they are: class hatred.

He knows that the wealth gap is widening at every point: by age, by gender, by north-south, but most of all by class. While average incomes fell by 3 per cent this year, the richest thousand people saw their wealth increase by 30 per cent to £333.5 billion.

What is sick about Tory Britain is the system, which takes from the poor and gives to the rich; the bankers and bosses, who have taken no responsibility and shown no remorse for the credit crunch and ensuing recession; the ConDem government, which demands the working class pays for the crisis of their system with savage cuts; the justice system which locks up someone for 20 months for stealing a t-shirt, but lets off the policeman who dragged activist Jody McIntyre from his wheelchair. There is no justice in Britain when it comes to workers and youth seeking redress against the state.

October 2011