Sunday, 29 January 2012

Jarrow - impressions of a Scottish Marcher

In 1936, as the Great Depression ushered in a period of mass unemployment, poverty and rising costs of living, two hundred unemployed men marched from Jarrow in the north-east of England to London to demand decent work, pay and living conditions from the government. Seventy-five years later, the crisis of the capitalist system is throwing up similar challenges for the working class and this time, young people are directly facing much of the brunt of these attacks.
The Con-dem government has already announced that the number of young people out of work has now surpassed the one million mark. This is a multi-faceted attack, with many more unable to afford to go university or college, stung by a lack of decent, affordable housing and youth services slashed across the board. In response, the Youth Fight For Jobs (YFJ) campaign - of which the Socialist Party of Scotland is an initiator - decided to re-enact the historic Jarrow Crusade as a rallying cry for young people against this government and the capitalist crisis. We demand that there is no return to the 1930s.
Three YFJS members, from Glasgow, Dundee and Brora respectively, participated in the march. It was imperative for Youth Fight For Jobs Scotland (YFJS) to send members to represent young workers and unemployed youth. Scotland’s young people are facing a desperate future, particularly in its former industrial heartlands; Glasgow East and Glasgow North-East have the highest rate of male unemployment in Scotland, while the number of claimants in the Inverclyde region alone has risen by 26.5% in the past year, the second highest in the whole of the UK.
At public events held during the march, YFJS members pointed out that attacks on public sector workers’ jobs, wages and pensions - passed on by local authorities and the SNP Holyrood administration - will have a catastrophic effect on young people. As wages in real-terms decrease, older workers are forced to work longer for less of a pension and public sector jobs continue to be shed, young people face a future in the doldrums.
However, the participants in the ‘Jarrow March For Jobs’ (YMFJ) were under no illusions about this government. We do not believe that the political representatives of the capitalist class, the Con-Dem administration, have any intention of ever meeting the five core demands of the YFJ campaign, and in fact, would much rather denigrate our efforts. During the first week of the march, Tory MP Robert Goodwill branded the marchers as lazy, claiming that, “it must have been a big shock having to get up in the morning rather than watch Jeremy Kyle”. In 2008/09 Goodwill claimed £145,387 of taxpayers’ money in expenses, and in 2000 he went as far as to say that, “as a capitalist, [and] also as a British Conservative, I see it as a challenge to buy cheap [plane] tickets and make some profit on the system”!
On the penultimate day of the march, a delegation of six marchers met up with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Ian Duncan Smith (IDS), to quiz him on Tory ‘reforms’ over issues such as pensions, housing and the hated work programme. IDS was unable to answer our questions with any substance. Firstly, he claimed that workers he had spoken to accept the need to work longer and for pension reform. Then, when challenged on the work programme, he appeared to have very little knowledge of what it actually involves, a plan dreamt up and implemented by him! This was a clear notice if ever one was needed that the Tories have no real solution to the problems the youth of today face.
Instead, we believe that only a mass campaign of struggle is capable of bringing about the changes needed. The March for Jobs concentrated on mobilising young people, anti-cuts groups and the trade union movement in each and every area we passed through, highlighting the issues and developing stronger and deeper links. However, we do not believe that our long-term needs can ever be met by the arbitrary nature of the capitalist system, and ultimately we will require the installation of a democratic socialist government based on the need of the many rather than profits of the few.
            On the opening demonstration in Jarrow, five hundred people turned out to support the marchers and wish them well on their journey. Some of the locals were even moved to tears by the occasion. Furthermore, in a great show of solidarity from the labour movement that was to continue over the whole of the march, the Railway, Maritime and Transport Workers’ Union (RMT) donated their brass brand to the proceedings.
            We garnered excellent support in many working class towns and cities on our way. Leeds and Hull both provided demonstrations of hundreds of people, and we were greeted very warmly in the latter by the demonstrating BAE workers when we spoke of linking up the struggle of young people and workers in struggle. Furthermore, we found that when we put forward our programme in areas where the far-right operate, the basic class-demands were strong enough to cut across racism and bigotry. In those areas such as Luton, where deindustrialisation has left devastation in its wake and allowediu the English Defence League to build a base, the demands of decent housing, jobs and a living wage proved appealing to many working class people.
            The culmination of the march was a march through London and rally in Trafalgar Square, which attracted three thousand people and saw many of those who had shown us support and solidarity on the march, be it food, shelter or other assistance, join us on the streets to tell the government that we refuse to be a lost generation. We were lucky enough to have speakers such as Bob Crow from the RMT and Chris Baugh from the PCS join us on the platform.
            Following the march, Youth Fight For Jobs Scotland members took the spirit of the Jarrow march on to the picket lines on the November 30th in support of the three million public sector workers out on strike, where we were received warmly. Youth Fight For Jobs will continue to actively support the trade union movement and other young people in struggle for fair pensions, employment, a living wage and a decent job.

Jamie Cocozza Glasgow Youth Fight for Jobs

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