Attitudes towards the young are a litmus test of any government’s intentions. The welfare, health and education of babies, children and youth are the foundations of any civilised society, underpinning of the health of the whole population and providing the building blocks for a decent future.
It’s no accident that socialist countries like Cuba express progress in terms of improvements in infant mortality rates, literacy levels, average calories provided in diets of the young, training and employment levels, and so on.
Treatment of the elderly matters, of course, but the young are the future.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies has shown how severe is the attack on the young and their families (and the welfare of children can’t be seen outside the context of their family). This is no accident. The young are expensive, and this government has a very different future in mind for them and the country they will inherit. It is the interests of capital which are served by a capitalist government – of course, what else would we expect? The future of Britain does not concern them, except as a source of profit.
The change this year is the degree to which our capitalist government feels able to attack our young openly, savagely, because they doubt our strength to resist, or even to oppose at all. Are they right?
The organised labour movement in Britain overall is undoubtedly in a parlous state. We have allowed ourselves to be weakened by the utterly divisive preoccupation with equalities, chasing the hare of what divides us instead of focusing on what unites us.
Governments have been canny in seizing on this – witness the change in women’s retirement age and pension entitlements for the worse, in the name of equality with men, and the use of mass immigration to undermine our pay and conditions sold to us in the name of international solidarity. We have been seduced to see our movement in terms of a collection of interest groups – men/women, black/white, young/old etc – with probably the most destructive of them all being the obsession with racism. No progress has come through these concerns, just the opposite.
This delusion can even lead to the grotesque triumph of individualism (Thatcher’s particular drive) of the University and College Union’s campaign for the “right” to have no fixed age of retirement, in the name of “diversity” and freedom of choice. What would our ancestors who fought for the right not to work until they dropped dead think of that particular victory?
One concept we should reject immediately is that of “fairness”, or worrying about “vulnerable workers”, a kind of ghastly 19th-century Christian charity “deserving poor” view of a working class, with an implied guilt if you are not (yet) on the poverty line. The Labour Party objects to the spending review on the basis that it is not fair – so if we all suffer at the worst level, that will be all right then?
French youth have understood that pensions and retirement are issues which acutely affect the young. We need to lift the level of debate here too, to see the context, the bigger picture of Britain in the 21st century. We are not victims nor do we seek charity. Dignity for us lies in asserting that our interests as workers are the common interests of the whole of our class, and that by fighting on our particular working issues we are fighting for a decent future for our children and young people.