Irish youth is a section of the Irish people often forgotten about in relation to the class war. In discussions about the vicious attacks on the working class unleashed by capitalism, the questions of education and youth unemployment are rarely mentioned.
The attacks on working-class youth are designed to break down and shape the next generation into the mould allotted to it by capitalism. Their aim is to leave a pliable resource: a people beaten and without hope except for the few crumbs and occasional charity.
For most young people, the first taste of inequality begins with education. At first it’s the small things: the quality of a pencil case, the cut of a school uniform . . . and then a sharper learning curve to the realisation that inequality is more rife and can be for life.
Continued access to secondary education has become more difficult. Before free second-level education, the old county council scholarships afforded access to secondary school for those few who were successful in the scholarship exam. Affording access was one thing, but the cost of keeping a youngster at school was another. It was little wonder that a high proportion of scholarships went to the children of farmers and shopkeepers.
With the advent of Donogh O’Malley’s free secondary education, access became easier, but old problems remained. The aspirant bourgeoisie continued to flourish at private and boarding schools, such as Rockwell, Blackrock, Clongowes Wood, Belvedere, and Gonzaga. The granting of a few charitable bursaries to bright children is designed to provide a façade of benevolence; it also ignores the fact that these schools are heavily subsidised by the state, to the detriment of its school system. It continues to this day.
Private colleges churn out grinds for Leaving Cert and university students whose parents have the dosh. As one contributor to a recent blog wrote, “there is no middle-class child so stupid that sufficient funds will not get them through a business or media studies degree.”
The inequality does not extend only to access and achievement. One of the virtues most valued lies in the field of contacts, especially for the future. To hear Clongowes old boys reminiscence about old chums is like stepping into the pages of a bad Whig or Tory novel of the nineteenth century. Even one-time aspiring socialists have been known to wipe a tear away from their half-pints as they relive their glory days behind the wicket.
But working-class youth have no such contacts. Indeed many come from families that already experience hardship, and their children’s plight adds complexity and despair to such a state of affairs. Having had their quota of education, the young person then has to find work. And work for young people is difficult to find.
On the jobs front, Ireland continues to have the second-worst long-term unemployment record in the European Union. New figures from the EU statistics agency, Eurostat, show that the rate of long-term unemployment in Ireland in 2012 was 62 per cent, compared with the EU average of 45 per cent. Only Slovakia, with a figure of 67 per cent, is worse.
Alicia O’Rourke of the EU said that youth unemployment in Ireland continues to be a problem. “The unemployment rates in the EU 27 average at 44.6%, that’s for the year 2012. In Ireland the figure is 61.7%. Then we look at the people involved in this unemployment, we see that across the EU 27, the average of 15 to 24 year olds is 22.9%, whereas in Ireland it is 30.4%.”
In a study published in 2011, Youth Unemployment in Ireland: The Forgotten Generation,
- all respondents agreed that the prospect of securing rewarding employment in Ireland is not very good;
- 70 per cent agreed that it’s likely that they will emigrate in the next twelve months;
- 90 per cent agreed that being unemployed has a negative effect “on my sense of well-being”;
- only 32 per cent awarded a mid-point satisfaction to their meeting with the Department of Social Welfare;
- half the respondents rated the quality of the information or support provided with a job facilitator at Social Welfare as unsatisfactory to poor.
- Almost one in four emigrants moved to Britain, while 17 per cent went to Australia.
- Though the majority of emigrants were in the 15–24 and 25–44 age groups, the number of children under the age of 14 who moved abroad increased significantly, from 4,900 to 6,800.
- While the coalition crows about the unemployment total being down by 22,000 in the last year, little mention is made of the fact that the number of those who had emigrated was 89,000.
The future for working-class youth looks bleak. Granted there are no more collieries to mine or chimneys to be swept, but the reservoir of cheap labour is still needed—if only to keep those in work quiet and obedient.
On the ground, working-class youth find little hope, only growing poverty, emigration, and the destruction of their communities by mass unemployment, drugs, and criminality. Instead of careers they face countless training courses, learning to search for jobs that don’t exist.
“Internships” are of little use, as they amount to little more than unpaid labour or slaves for employers. While interns work for nothing they impoverish their parents, who have to subside their children in the hope that “something might come of it.” The interns, as they impoverish themselves, in turn put pressure on their fellow-workers, who fear the loss of their jobs and their replacement by the “slaves.” The result is a work force caught in the race to the bottom and wary of launching any challenge to capitalism and its structures.
Capitalism is attempting to make permanent full-time work a thing of the past, to be replaced with a precarious, “flexible” work force, with the working week whatever the employers need it to be. And youth is used, along with other sections of labour, to further this process.
Successive governments, in thrall to their imperialist masters, have nothing to offer by way of alternatives. It is Thatcher’s mantra of TINA (“There is no alternative”), now aped by Gilmore, Rabbitte, and Howlin.
The CPI recognises that general youth unemployment, like the attack on universal education, is not a glitch in the system. Both are caused by capitalism, which subjects all aspects of life to the generating of profits for the rich.
The ruling class uses the critical situation facing young people for an assault against the wages and benefits of older workers. Crucially, it is used to impoverish the population as a whole.
The real solution to all this exploitation and destruction of hope lies in resistance by the mass of the Irish working class, under principled communist leadership. This takes power from the hands of opportunists and class collaborators and places it in the hands of the working class and its allies.
Organise, educate, agitate!