Following is a talk by Ben Carroll of the Durham, N.C., branch of Workers World Party to WWP’s National Conference in November.
It’s incredibly exciting to be here, given all the tremendous developments in the struggle, the fightback that is building across the globe and the role that young workers are playing in this. Before I get into talking more about some of these, I want to first discuss some of the ways that this crisis is impacting young people.
One of the most profound symptoms of this capitalist crisis is the staggering levels of youth unemployment around the world and the desperate situation that this has thrown an entire generation into. At the end of 2010, there were around 80 million young people across the globe who were unemployed, according to the U.N. Youth unemployment is around 40 percent throughout much of Europe, 50 percent in Egypt and Tunisia, and hovers in the 40 percent to 50 percent range for many countries. Here in the U.S., the most recent unemployment statistics show that youth employment is around 20 percent overall, and stands at an almost unfathomable 50 percent for Black youth.
And these are all the official statistics, which we know are deliberately manipulated lower and don’t account for those who are underemployed, working part time when they need a full-time job, who have given up looking for a job altogether, or prison labor.
To a greater and greater extent, young people are faced largely with three options: work a low-wage job with no benefits, join the ranks of the unemployed or get locked up in prison. A whole generation is being shut out of the workforce altogether, and this shows the severity of the present crisis of the capitalist system.
The austerity measures and budget cuts being adopted by state and local governments around the country have put every social service on the chopping block, all of which were won through struggle. Education is being hit particularly hard, as schools are closed or privatized or charterized, teachers and education workers are laid off, the growth of the school-to-prison pipeline, tuition at community colleges and universities is soaring through the roof. And the banks cannibalize the public treasury and force students to mortgage away our futures with student loans if we want to get an education. This is because education for the masses of young people, and particularly African-American and Latino and Latina youth, is regarded as unnecessary by the ruling class.
Whatever last thin veils remained that hid or obscured the barbarity, the injustice and the inhumanity of the capitalist system have been lifted, revealing all the contradictions, racism, sexism and bigotry of this system more and more with each day.
This is what has led billionaire Mayor Bloomberg, the International Monetary Fund, and many other capitalist pundits and media to issue warnings about what Bloomberg Businessweek magazine termed “the youth unemployment bomb.” And around the world there are signs that this bomb is beginning to explode.
An international fightback is beginning to bubble up that in many cases is being led or initiated by young people, and while each has a different political character, all are set against the backdrop of the global capitalist crisis.
In many ways, it began in Tunisia and Egypt with uprisings that toppled the U.S.-backed dictatorships in those countries and took aim at mass unemployment there.
In Spain, demonstrations were held on May 15 across the country against austerity and mass unemployment, which stands at 20 percent generally and 45 percent for young people. They escalated into occupations of squares in cities across the country that lasted for nearly a month. At one point, there were demonstrations in over 150 cities. Young people there began referring to themselves as “los indignados,” the generation without a future, which really speaks to the condition of young people across the globe. They have continued to hold assemblies in many of the major cities in Spain that have been defending people’s homes when there are attempted evictions or moving people back into their homes after they have been foreclosed.
In Greece, where the attacks on the workers and the austerity are perhaps the most severe and the fightback the most developed at this stage, young people have played a pivotal role in mobilizing and supporting the general strikes which have been called in response to the attacks, the most recent of which was last week. The student section of the All Workers Militant Front, the union associated with the Greek Communist Party, has led walkouts of high schools and universities to support the strikes. And more than 50,000 young people also organized an occupation outside of Parliament in Athens at the time of the square occupations in Spain last June.
In August, 2011, the U.K. was rocked by an uprising against state repression, racism, high unemployment and austerity that was led by young people, particularly Black and immigrant youth.
In Chile, students have been on strike for several months, shutting down the university system there to demand free education, and have united with copper workers who have been on strike, as well as other unions and sectors.
Now this fightback has spread to the U.S. From Wisconsin earlier this year, where young people played a pivotal role in building and maintaining the occupation of the state Capitol against the attacks on collective bargaining and other cuts, to all the young people throughout the country who took to the streets to stop the murder of Troy Davis, and now Occupy Wall Street.
Occupy Wall Street erupted, sweeping the country like wildfire and giving popular expression to the outrage that so many feel. It has channeled the hopelessness and desperation from all the attacks and mass unemployment into political action that is developing an anti-capitalist character. While contradictory, it is radicalizing and bringing in a whole new layer of people, in particular young people, who are in motion, want to fight back and are, by and large, uncommitted ideologically.
It is opening space to revolutionary ideas and to break through the isolation and alienation of our generation. The struggle is a great teacher, and we must be there to summarize the lessons and advance an anti-capitalist program and help to develop revolutionary class consciousness and solidarity. The last I looked, there were solidarity actions being organized in nearly 150 cities, and this past Wednesday nearly 100 colleges held walkouts in solidarity with the big labor march here in the city. In North Carolina alone, last weekend eight different occupation events were organized across the state, and more cities have held assemblies and other formations since then.
This is a tremendously important and exciting development that, while still in its early stages, is building rapidly, developing anti-capitalist and class consciousness among a broad section of society, and putting thousands upon thousands of people across the country in motion against the banks and the big capitalists. Who knows where exactly this will go, but this development, along with events internationally, is an encouraging sign of the prospects for the fightback against the capitalist crisis.