By Ann Katrin Orr,
Ireland is among those most affected by the economic turmoil and young people in the country are being hit particularly hard. The recession has penetrated deep into the lives of young people in Ireland, shutting off avenues and making the future of thousands of young people look grim.
While many are still hoping that this recession will be short lived and that they will remain largely unaffected, it is clear that young people in Ireland are being presented with a future far from the golden one they had been promised. Mass youth unemployment, insufficient training spaces, further attacks on dole payments as well as college fees are lying ahead unless young people in Ireland get organised to fight for their rights and a socialist alternative to the present capitalist system.
No option but to sign on
Ireland is feeling the effects of both the bursting of a massive domestic property bubble, second only to the collapse of the property market in the USA, as well as the international economic crisis. This has left many unemployed including a large proportion of under 25s with one in four of those made redundant in the last year being in that age bracket. In fact, unemployment is the main issue facing young people today. While only a few years ago it would have been normal for young people to leave school after their Junior Cert , to take up a relatively well paid job in construction or start an apprenticeship, this is not possible anymore. School and college graduates find themselves with little choice but to join the ever-growing dole queues. Even newly qualified primary and secondary school teachers – a career which would have been regarded as “safe” – now find themselves without work, thanks to the governments slashing of the education budget. This situation is only set to worsen further as the government is planning even more vicious cutbacks in this sector. So after years of hard work in college students are being rewarded with the dole.
Now, the government have cut dole payments for under 20s by 50% – young people are now expected to live on €100 a week. Even though the state considers people under 20 old enough to pay tax they will not grant them the same welfare payments as other unemployed people. The governments excuse for this is that this cut will encourage young unemployed people to take up training courses. However, the government is at the same time axing the funding for training courses. The government’s real agenda is to force young people into extremely low-paid work. The establishment is gearing up to attack the minimum wage. Young people will not be able to live on €100 a week and can be then forced into poverty wages.
There are currently around 100 000 people between 15 and 25 unemployed in Ireland. This is also a major issue from both a social and a mental health perspective. Crime and drug abuse is already increasing and could increase further. The prospect of long-term unemployment might still have to sink in with a lot of people, however, the seriousness of the situation is becoming more apparent day by day. Young people on the dole need to get organised to fight against further cutbacks in dole and rent allowance as well as to demand the government provide the jobs these young people need.
Socialist Youth and the Socialist Party have raised important demands in this regard such as the demand for a shorter working week without loss of pay which would mean that more jobs would be created. Other key demands include the implementation of public works schemes and the nationalisation of companies such as Dell, Waterford Crystal and SR Technics, threatening to axe hundreds or thousands of jobs.
Emigration is no solution
A lot of people are currently drawing parallels with the 1980s. However, this is incorrect as the situation today is far worse than it was in the 1980s. In the 1980s young people emigrated in large numbers to the UK and USA in particular. This acted as a type of safety valve for the establishment by leading to many young people leaving the country to find work rather than fighting for jobs and their rights at home.
As well as the speed and severity of this crisis being more extreme, it is also an international crisis, which means that emigration on a large scale is not a feasible alternative for young people. Countries around the world, including Australia, a previously popular destination for young people emigrating from Ireland, are feeling the effects of the crisis. This means that young people from Ireland will not be able to find the jobs they are looking for there. With emigration also cut off, pressure is set to mount in Ireland among young people who are faced with no option but to struggle for a decent future.
For those leaving school, most paths seem blocked. Jobs are very hard to find, emigration is not a serious option and now the government are even moving to re-introduce college fees. Since 1995 the state has paid college fees for Irish and EU students studying in Ireland. Students enjoyed so-called “free” education, but still had to pay “registration fees” which were increased at will and since the last budget stand at up to €1600 per year. On top of this, the government now want to shift the financial burden of tuition fees fully onto students and/or their parents. While no announcement has yet been made, it seems as though the Minster for Education favours an Australian type loan system. This method as well as other proposals such as a graduate tax or upfront fees will all have the same effect: further reduce access to college for young people from a working class background.
The issue of college fees is linked to general attacks on the education sector. Vicious cutbacks have been imposed on the sector which resulted in loss of teachers including special needs assistance in schools and tutors in colleges. Any campaign against fees must also incorporate these issues. Last September, after the first indication of a return of fees was made by the education minister a student campaign called Free Education for Everyone (FEE) was launched in University College Dublin (UCD), which then spread to other colleges across the country.
Socialist Youth has played an important and leading role in trying to build strong campaigning FEE groups that engage and involve students who are serious about fighting fees. From the start Socialist Youth emphasised in the FEE campaign that to defeat fees it would take a mass movement of students prepared to take the actions necessary to put the government under sufficient pressure to back down. In line with this FEE’s orientation was towards action as well as trying to inform, engage and involve the mass of students on the issue. This was in stark contrast to what Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and individual Students Unions in the colleges did. They focused mainly on media stunts, organising once-off protests and not engaging with the wider student body. This mean that some questions students had were not answered therefore leading to confusion about the issue.
FEE had an important impact on the situation but in order to defeat fees we will have to build a mass movement of students, staff and parents. The potential for such a movement to develop is growing as the reverberations of the crisis are being felt by everybody. A question mark remains as to what form of fees and from when the government plan to implement. . Already it’s clear that fees are planned for September 2010 and that students starting collegeSeptember 2009 will be liable to pay.
Once the government pluck up enough courage to announce their plans this is likely to further enrage people and push them more in the direction of a struggle and a fight back.
Potential for radicalisation and politicisation
After growing up in the boom years, this generation of “Celtic Tiger cubs”, is not used to campaigning and fighting for its rights. Many are worried about the future but hope that they will be able to get through the recession relatively unscathed. As events are unfolding young people are becoming politicised, and many in the context of global capitalism in turmoil as well as their own livelihoods being in jeopardy are questioning the system on a broader level. The speed at which young people can get radicalised and politicised should not be underestimated. The desperate impact that the crisis is having on young people is creating a potentially explosive situation. Unemployment, cutbacks in dole, college fees and cutbacks in education are the main issues affecting young people in Ireland today. It may be these issues, or others, that provoke an active response of struggle of young people. When this happens, it will be an expression of the deep-seated malaise and seething anger that these festering issues are cultivating on a widespread and mass scale amongst the youth.
Already we have seen a noticeable increase in young people drawing political conclusions from the situation and realising that capitalism as a system cannot provide for their needs. Socialist Youth will continue to argue for the need for a fight not just against unemployment, cutbacks and college fees but against capitalism as a whole. We will also be taking up these issues and providing a forum for broad layers of young people who are deeply affected and angered by the crisis to get active and to struggle. We will accompany this approach to engaging in debate and discussion in order to win young people to the fact that the current system cannot provide a future for young people in Ireland or the rest of the world and that our only option is to fight for a socialist transformation of society.