youth

The Young Greens’ letter in the Guardian today

The Young Greens are in the letters page of the Guardian today arguing that the Green Party are the real third party in British youth politics.

It follows a fawning Guardian article earlier this week on Young Independence, the youth wing of UKIP.

I was pleased to write and sign the letter along with over 50 other Young Green activists and the entire National Committee.

Please share widely!

Young Greens’ growth spurt

While we welcome opening up the debate about parties, your article on Young Independence (Not all rich, not all white, totally Eurosceptic: meet Ukip’s youth, 4 August) ignored the real third force in youth politics right now – the Green party. The Young Greens, the youth branch of the Green party, has grown by 70% since March this year alone, now standing at well over 3,000 members – more than Young Independence – and we have 60 branches in dozens of towns and cities across the UK.

This puts us ahead of the Liberal Democrats and catching up with Labour to be a highly significant force among young people, both within the student movement and outside. Poll after poll puts Green party support among young people at over 15%, more than the Liberal Democrats and Ukip combined.

Young Greens are at the forefront of campaigns across the country opposing the politics of the hard right and fighting for decent housing and jobs for all, free education, a living wage and publicly owned services – and opposing austerity, which hits young people incredibly hard. In contrast to the mainstream parties, we are also proud to be against the scapegoating of migrants and the refusal to tackle climate change.

This October we will be holding our convention in Brighton. We welcome all those who similarly value social and environmental justice to come along.
Siobhan MacMahon and Clifford Fleming Young Greens co-chairs, Josiah Mortimer, Laura Summers, Thom French and Fiona Costello National committee members, Charlene Concepcion National treasurer and London Young Greens co-chair, Amelia Womack Lambeth Green party, deputy leader candidate, Bradley Allsop Chair of Northampton Young Greens, Howard Thorpe Green party campaigns coordinator, Sahaya James Gloucestershire Young Greens chair, Karl Stanley Co-convener Young Greens North, Hannah Ellen Clare, Co-convenor Young Greens North, Joseph Clough Manchester Young Greens treasurer, Jantje Technau Canterbury Young Greens chair, Deborah Fenney Leeds University Union Green party secretary, Pete Kennedy Coordinator, Doncaster Green party, Samantha Pancheri Chair Milton Keynes Young Greens, Jo Kidd Chair Canterbury district Green party, Ross Campbell Liverpool Young Greens chair, Benjamin Sweeney Co-chair Dudley Green party, Mani Blondel North Staffordshire Green party, Keele University Young Greens, Rory Lee Bath & North East Somerset Green party, Darren Bisby-Boyd Peterborough Young Greens, Alex Bailey Peterborough Young Greens, Jack Tainsh Peterborough Young Greens, Emma Carter Leeds Young Greens, David Stringer Teesside Young Greens organiser, Alexander Catt Blackwater Valley Green party, Glen Marsden Manchester Young Greens, Duncan Davis Nottingham Young Greens, George Blake Keele Student Greens, Mike Lunn-Parsons North Staffordshire Green party and Keele Young Greens, William Pinkney-Baird Durham Young Greens, Harriet Pugh Manchester Young Greens, Merlin Drake Ceredigion Green party, Lisa Camps York Green party, Grant Bishop Birmingham Green party, Sam Peters Surrey Green party, Matthew Genn Sheffield and Rotherham Young Greens, Lucy Bannister Manchester Young Greens, Rustam Majainah Surrey GP, Matthew Maddock Keele University Young Greens, Huseyin Kishi London Young Greens, Portia Cocks Mid Sussex, Crawley and Horsham Greens, Graham Bliss Rugby Greens, Andrew Iredale Young Greens, Andrea Grainger Keele University Young Greens, Julia Lagoutte Durham University Young Greens, Lee Burkwood Waltham Forest and Redbridge, Alan Borgars Welwyn Hatfield Green party, Miles Grindey South East Hampshire Green party, Merryn Davies-Deacon South West Young Greens

Greens now third party amongst students

Students are now more likely to vote Green than Liberal Democrat or UKIP, a recent poll has shown.

Support for the Green Party amongst students is now higher than ever before, with 14% of students backing the Greens – ahead of the Liberal Democrats on 6% and UKIP on 5%, the poll conducted by YouthSight found.

The poll, taken as part of the comprehensive Student Vote 2014 survey, follows another from the Tab this month showing Green support at 12% to the Lib Dems’ 10% and UKIP on 8%.

Siobhan MacMahon from the Young Greens, said: “The Green Party is the only party campaigning for university to be free, as it is across much of Europe. This is one of the many reasons students are leaving the Liberal Democrats and joining the Green Party. Pushing the Lib Dems into third place shows they have rightly paid a high price for their betrayals.

“Students are flocking to the Greens as a serious alternative to the right-wing consensus of the main parties, and Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives should take notice.

“With Green support amongst students higher than ever before, our progressive message for a Living Wage, an end to zero hours contracts, publicly-owned services and a fair deal for the planet is resounding with thousands across the country.”

The Tab survey also showed students supported Green Party policies, such as same-sex marriage, legalising marijuana and remaining in the European Union. The Conservatives topped the poll with 33%, beating Labour into second with 30%, while YouthSight’s survey had Labour on 43% and the Conservatives on 24%.

The YouthSight poll was conducted at the start of April and surveyed over 1000 students. Over 5,000 students responded to the poll on the Tab’s website.

Young Greens hold unprecedented national ballot for NUS conference

After a national ballot of all members, the youth branch of the Green Party has voted to back University of London Union Vice President Daniel Cooper by 71% to be the next leader of the NUS, and members also decided which other senior executive candidates to support.

Clifford Fleming, Young Greens co-chair, said: “As Greens we are proud to be fully democratic. In running this vote we have sent a signal to the rest of the student movement to follow suit. We have set a democratic precedent, and will be continuing it in future.

“Young Greens have made their decision clear, and we are pleased to announce we will be supporting Daniel Cooper for President. Daniel is a principled left-wing candidate who as ULU Vice President has shown his dedication to fighting for students and university staff alike, whether through the Tres Cosas cleaner campaign or opposing to shut down of ULU by university management.

“Young Greens will be pushing for free education, decent student grants and for an end to the startling inequalities now present in the sector, as well as supporting workers taking action for fair pay and opposing outsourcing and education cuts. Young Greens have voted to back candidates who stand up for justice in Higher Education.

“This is a crucial point just days before the conference begins, and Young Greens, along with activists in the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and other progressive organisations, hope to set the tone and make this NUS conference a turning point for the student movement.”

Members were sent candidates manifestos by email on the 2nd April and asked to vote in an online poll of who to support, with the result announced on the 6th April via Facebook.

The vote will be an indicative ballot, and will influence how Young Green delegates vote at this weekend’s NUS conference in Liverpool from the 8th to 10th April.

Young Greens voted to support:

  • Daniel Cooper for President
  • Hannah Webb for Vice President Union Development
  • Kelly Rogers for Vice President Welfare
  • Sky Yarlett for Vice President Society and Citizenship
  • Jesse Dodkins for Vice President Further Education
  • Megan Dunn for Vice President Higher Education

 

 

As Young Workers’ Month Ends: It’s Time to Get Organised

Today marks the end of Young Workers’ Month. The below is my article for the Huffington Post on it.

It’s been a bad few weeks for trade unionism. Two of its greatest champions – Tony Benn and Bob Crow – have both passed away. But beneath the sadness, something interesting has been happening. Something that offers hope for a previously moribund movement.

March marked the first Young Workers’ Month – four weeks of activities organised by the TUC to kick some life back into trade unionism.

It’s no secret that young people, by and large, aren’t members of unions. Just 8% of 16-24 year olds are members of a union in their workplace. That leaves 92% of young people almost entirely dependent on the whim of employers and the (largely right-wing) government. The fact that just a tiny minority of Generation Y are protected at work doesn’t bode well for those seeking a fairer society.

But Young Workers’ Month is trying to turn that around, both through the TUC and the actions of its dozens of its still-powerful member unions. With union numbers at less than half of their 1970s peak of 14 million, now seems the right time.

I spoke to Carl Roper, head of organising at the TUC and the co-ordinator of Young Workers Month. He told me YWM aims to ‘highlight within the trade union movement that there is a crisis with respect to union membership amongst young workers’: a chance to ask, ‘what are we going to do to reach out?’ It’s potentially the biggest issue for the left in Britain.

But perhaps young people just aren’t interested in collectivism anymore? Roper disagrees: ‘We don’t believe there’s a ‘Thatcher generation’ who don’t like unions or collective action. The evidence is the other way actually – young people are political, they are active. It’ just their knowledge of unions is very limited.’

Why? For a start, media coverage of unions almost exclusively tends of focus on when they are at their angriest – protests and strikes. Yet naturally, this ignores the day-to-day role of union representatives, 200,000 of whom deal with the pretty unglamorous case work, from representing staff at employment tribunals to sitting in on management meetings and putting forward an alternative voice. Yet lack of decent media coverage can’t be the only factor for low unionisation rates – after all, it’s hardly new.

One reason for young people’s ‘union apathy’, if there’s such a thing, could be fairly simple. Most of them tend to work in sectors of the economy where union organisation is just non-existent and difficult to unionise – after all, how do you get part-time bar staff on zero-hours contracts out on the picket lines?

’25% of all 16-24 year olds work in retail, where union density is 12%. The next highest proportion is food and hospitality – where density is 3%. So young people just don’t come into contact with unions,’ Roper told me. Turning those stats around is a tough job, but one that Britain’s union confederation seems hopeful it can do. Out of necessity, perhaps more than anything.

But there is a perception, at least from young people I know, that unions – as useful as they are for older people, just aren’t for us. Picture the flat-capped 1960s male factory worker shouting ‘everyone out’.

That, perhaps, is where social media comes in. Wednesday will see an online Q&A over Twitter with the first ever female TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, called, appropriately, #askfrances. It’s a nifty way of piquing the interest of a seemingly individualised (and thus isolated) demographic.

Maybe we’re not so isolated, though. ‘Young people do join unions where there is one – if you work in a hospital, if you’re a nurse, a teacher, a civil servant, or on London Underground, working at a local authority or a car company or an airport, you’re more likely to join a union where the workplace is organised…But too many young people work in places where there’s no union organisation at all’.

The question remains as to why these sectors are unorganised. ‘Young people don’t know about unions, and don’t have the lived experience of them. Over 50% of people in the UK now have never been a member.’ The solution? Roper raised the prospect of teaching about trade unions in school, but it’s hard to see how that will go down with Michael Gove.

Offering better prospects may be something tucked away in the back of last May’s TUC Campaign Plan – ‘gateway membership’. The idea offers a chance for young people to get a taste of being in a union where there isn’t a presence at their workplace. Roper said it was in its ‘embryonic stages’ and was cautious to discuss whether it will go ahead or not, but it seems a chance not to be missed.

2014 seems pretty late to be starting all this. Yet Roper dismisses the idea unions have ignored young people: ‘It was unions that campaigned for the minimum wage, and for it to be equalised among young and old workers now.’ This is on top of the current Fair Pay Fortnight, as well as the TUC’s push alongside the NUS for an end to unpaid internships via a phone app.

The latter is most poignant as it’s students who may offer the best hope for union revival, giving it the radical kick it needs. Campaigns alongside the UCU, Unite and Unison on UK campuses for a Living Wage and an end to outsourcing – whether at Birmingham, Sussex, the University of the Arts, or through the London-based ‘Tres Cosas’ (‘Three Things’) struggle – all serve as testament to what happens when, to steal a phrase from 2010, ‘students and workers unite and fight’. With the ‘cost of living’ crisis raging, Young Workers’ Month offers the prospect of bringing that sentiment back…

 

Saturday’s TUC march showed unions are needed more than ever

Credit: Steve Cooke

 

Nick Clegg received an unusual York welcome on Saturday.

Over 3000 anti-austerity protesters marched for ‘A Better Way’ through York to greet the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference being held at the Barbican.

As the Deputy Prime Minister spoke in favour of his motion on immigration, hundreds stood outside the building – a building which York’s Lib Dem council closed while it was last in control of the authority – to vent their anger at the cuts to public services, privatisation and other policies which hit the poorest hardest. Needless to say, the marchers’ chants, boos and cries of ‘shame’ reflected this palpable and genuine rage.

It was rage at everything from the Lib Dem’s propping up the Conservatives in government, to the tuition fee betrayal (Clegg’s crocodile tears notwithstanding), the bedroom tax, the back-door sell-off of the NHS to private companies and – judging by the presence of university lecturers and their UCU union – the dismal state of higher education under this government, with course and department closures, real-terms pay cuts and increasing marketisation.

This was a feeling expressed by the many students on the march too – a bloc that reflected the more radical spectrum of the protest. York’s Socialist Students made an effigy of Nick Clegg himself, hanged off the city walls, alongside a ‘Welcome to Traitor’s Gate’ banner. A grim sight for delegates to behold, in a wealthy former-Lib Dem city where they probably expected a friendlier reception amid Labour authority unpopularity. No such luck.

The TUC-organised demo couldn’t have chosen its day to be more symbolic. Saturday marked International Women’s Day. That very morning, delegates were hit with headlines of ‘Osborne’s tax and benefits changes hit women almost four times harder than men’. Not the best way for the previously centre-left party to celebrate IWD. But who wouldn’t have predicted that the three-year freeze in child benefit would have hit women hardest? Or that the cut in the top rate of tax for millionaires mostly helps rich white men?

Speakers at the rally after the march were quick to point this out. All ten speakers were women – a figure that contrasts sharply with the Lib Dems current level of gender representation. The figure hasn’t been picked up upon, but those 10 northern speakers are more than the Lib Dem’s current number of female MPs in the whole of the UK – and certainly more than at the next election after a number of announcedfemale resignations . Most inspiringly, leading the march were strikers (almost entirely women) from Care UK in Doncaster – workers who have just finished a week-long strike against the company to which their jobs were recently handed over to by the council. They’re facing pay cuts of up to 50% in an attempt to boost profits – and they’re fighting back.

Thirty years on from the miners’ strike, it’s a reminder that unions still matter. In fact, the whole protest – amid hundreds of union flags and banners – served to prove that trade unions, in standing up for the hardest-hit by austerity, are actually more needed than ever in the face of the neoliberal onslaught that is this coalition government (and don’t think the austerity will end with Labour, either). Indeed, the TUC collected 52 full carrier bags of food at the demonstration for local food banks under strain from the weight of a cost of living crisis.

Saturday’s march showed that, with over six million members – the majority of whom are now women – and the ability to mobilise thousands in the cause of social justice, unions still pack a punch. But with just 13% of 16-24 year olds members of what are still the largest democratic civil society bodies, perhaps the biggest message was that our generation needs to get organised. Otherwise, the current austerity measures could be ‘permanent’, to use Cameron’s word.

On Sunday, the People’s Assembly Against Austerity are planning to wave Clegg off as he leaves the city. Given the welcome he got, and the goodbye he’ll receive, he may well get the message that York – with its large student population alongside those hit by benefit cuts – isn’t such a big fan of the Lib Dems, after all.

Credit: Steve Cooke

Credit: Steve Cooke

Osborne’s Autumn Statement wasn’t just class war. It was age war, too

‘Do you remember when people used to retire?’ I can just imagine our generation’s grandkids asking us that in 50-odd years’ time. Our generation – the 1990s crew – will be working into our 70s. That means that a fair few of you reading this, given the vast inequalities in life expectancy in Britain, will be toiling flat-out and non-stop…till we drop.

The budget did nothing for students or graduates – nearly half of whom are in non-graduate roles, from shelf-stackers to baristas and receptionists. A tenth are unemployed. I’ve lost count of the numbers of old uni friends who’ve recently been on the dole. Where they have found work, many are whiling away their hours gaining ‘work experience’ or what anthropologist David Graeber politely termed ‘bullshit jobs’ – roles which serve no useful purpose. You’ll all know many more. The Autumn Statement announcement of a legislated welfare cap of 1% will push them further into the ground amid rising food costs and energy bills.

Neither will their woes – or just early world-weariness – be made any easier by announcement that the government plans to sell-off of the entire Student Loans Company, part of the coalition’s much-mooted £20bn (doubled from their previous aim) plan to flog-off a whole swathe of public assets – from Eurostar to potentially the Met Office, air traffic control and plenty more. It will make the forestry sell-off a couple of years ago look like a walk in the park. Pardon the pun.

What will it mean to us? Eventually, the terms of our loans will change. Where companies can no longer make a profit off our debt, they will seek to remove or lift the interest rate cap. And with that, we’ll have a de facto rise in tuition fees. Since the loans will be in private hands, we’ll have no say over the matter.

The implications are of course far deeper than this. If not even our student loans are publicly owned any more, our education system certainly won’t be either. Thus Higher Education becomes a commercial enterprise with barely a whisper of democratic discussion.

It’s not just privatisation that we have to contend with. The next few years will see £1bn worth of extra cuts year on year, further limiting demand in the economy and thus jobs growth. The dole queue won’t be going down any time soon. Nearly a million of our generation – five years after the crash – still remain stranded without work.

Already 300,000 public sector jobs have been slashed since the government came to power – on a pledge, cynically, to protect ‘front-line services’ – and the Institute for Fiscal studies reckons the another 900,000 job losses are yet to come by 2017/18. Brace yourselves.

The problem isn’t even lack of GDP growth – although there has been a lot less of it since 2010. The real issue, as Labour have belatedly tacked on to, is that wages are stagnating, with workers £5000 worse off since the crash. Labour shouldn’t take the credit however – wages were stagnating under them, too, with a minimum wage that wasn’t fit for purpose and zero hours contracts rearing their head even before 2008. And Ed Balls’ response to the Statement in the Commons was pretty pathetic, by most accounts.

Nonetheless, we’re still right to ask: recovery? What recovery? If there is one, who’s recovery is it? It certainly isn’t young people’s.

It’s not as if the pain of austerity is worth it even on its own terms – annual borrowing is £111bn, compared with the £60bn that Osborne said we’d get this year.

Thursday’s budget, in an era of leaks, was largely without surprises. But that’s the problem. We’ve grown used to austerity, becoming reluctant masochists. There are hopeful signs though that students are starting to fight back – this week has seen a wave of occupations sweep universities across the country, from Sheffield to Birmingham, Sussex to the University of London. Everywhere, of course, met with a heavy-handed response.

But hey, it’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees. I can sense that our generation – faced with the in-your-face affront we saw in the Autumn Statement – might not be pliant for much longer. Because it’s not just class war any longer, it’s age war too.

Young Greens join university strike pickets and call for student support

[My first press release for the Young Greens in my new post at Press Officer on the national committee! See original here]

Young Greens groups across the country will be backing lecturers and other university staff on strike this Thursday, following a unanimous vote by the Young Greens National Committee to support the industrial action over pay and other issues.

Members of the Green Party’s youth branch will be joining picket lines in Manchester, Norwich, York and elsewhere.

The strike action is over a 13% real-terms pay cut over the last four years and a below-inflation 1% pay offer this year, as well as calls for equal pay between male and female workers. There is currently a £1bn surplus in the higher education sector which the Unite, Unison and UCU unions argue should be used to ensure fair remuneration.

Manchester Young Greens will be joining the action, with Young Greens national Co-Chair Clifford Fleming speaking at a strike rally on the day, where he will say: “We are united against an ideological affront to Higher Education, an affront which has resulted in tripled tuition fees, course closures, cuts, and the shoddy treatment of workers in the sector.

The attacks to university pay and conditions are part of a broader attack on education by the coalition government, and it’s vital that students support the strike.”

In Norwich, University of East Anglia Young Greens will be joining picket lines on the day. Chris Jarvis, society Equality & Diversity Co-Ordinator, said: “The UEA Young Greens are proud to support our lecturers and other university workers faced with a measly 1% pay offer – a real-terms cut in the income of thousands of staff at the University.

‘Students must show our solidarity in the face of the government’s attempts to undermine education and the public sector as a whole. This race to the bottom has to stop. With 15 members of staff at the top paid more than the Minister for Higher Education, decent pay for our cleaners, catering staff, technicians and other workers should be a given”.

University of York Green Party members have launched a student petition in support of the workers taking action. Chair Nick Devlin said: “We are encouraging all students to visit the picket lines during the strike and show some support for the people who keep our university running. This petition is calling for fair pay for all at the University and is a show of solidarity from students.

“With the Vice Chancellor paid nearly 18 times more than the lowest paid, it’s time for fair pay on campus – a Living Wage for all and a maximum pay ratio of 10:1.”

The petition is available here, and calls on students to boycott lectures and seminars in support of striking staff.

The strike comes after the launch of a Young Greens report, The Fair Pay League, which shows that the average Vice Chancellor pay is over £248,000, and 1,633 senior staff members in the sector are paid over £140,000 per year – more than enough to pay the nearly 5,000 workers on the Minimum Wage at Universities a Living Wage.

More information on the strike and a petition for those backing the strike to sign is available here: http://www.fairpayinhe.org.uk/