Thursday, 15 March 2012

Dundee youth demand a future at Tories sham unemployment summit

Dundee Youth Fight for Jobs disrupted Scottish Secretary of State Michael Moore’s National Summit on Youth Unemployment, with a large protest at Dundee College’s Gardyne campus that included local trade unionists, anti cuts campaigners and the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network, on March 15.

Clearly the Tories wanted to bury the day’s bad news, the highest youth unemployment figures since 1995 by staging a public relations circus in an area of high unemployment. Politicians from all the main parties gleefully accepted invitations to the summit, as did big business lobbyists.

The only people left marginalised outside were the college students who had their classes and campus disrupted and unemployed youth, of whom a handful were allowed to enter as long as they didn’t utter a word of opposition.  Given the anger over Workfare schemes being exposed as slave labour for big business, it’s not surprising that the guest speaker Tory Cabinet minister, Iain Duncan Smith was kept as far as possible from protestors.

This summit was a sham, with no debate or chance to question the politicians who were allowed to promote the Workfare schemes and attacks on the unemployed, unchallenged.

Youth Fight for Jobs activists put the alternative case in the media and won the support of students and staff who signed our petition against Workfare and asked for more info about Youth Fight for Jobs.

Dundee College student and Youth Fight for Jobs activist Wayne Scott was interviewed on local and national radio and quoted in the major Scottish press.

Wayne explained that young people in Dundee want to work but are being failed by the politicians of all the main parties whose policies of public sector cuts are condemning a generation to mass unemployment.

 He called for the scrapping of the entire infamous work programme, designed by the Tories and Iain Duncan Smith to exploit and stigmatise benefit claimants and enrich private fraudsters at our expense.

Wayne raised the demands of the Youth Fight for Jobs campaign an increase in public investment to create real jobs that pay a living wage and skilled paid apprenticeships that guarantee work on completion.

In 2010-11, Dundee College was decimated by the cutting of twenty courses and the closure of two campuses. College managers seemed proud of the fact they were hosting politicians who are destroying education, treating the protest with contempt and used the police to block students taking part in the protest back into the buildings for refreshment or classes.
So as not to inconvenience the politicians and dignitaries at the summit, they closed the car park to students and staff for the whole day much to the anger of many who had to get buses or walk to a campus that is situated in the outskirts of the city.
As the protest got larger and louder, politicians and big business dignitaries in smart suits rushed past. We met a chief executive from a multinational energy company (she wouldn’t tell us which!)based in Aberdeen who in her words wasn’t interested in youth unemployment but saw the summit as a good opportunity to lobby UK and Scottish government ministers.
Local Labour MSP Jenny Marra tried to talk Youth Fight for Jobs activists into joining the Labour Party, but had no answers when we explained that the Future Jobs Fund scheme was also exploitative as young people would be paid less than the minimum wage for working full time and that Labour would not commit to reversing the Tories public sector cuts.
Health and Social care students rushed out to join us and brought a banner they had just made in class after persuading their tutor to give them a break to join the protest. Under the SNP government’s cuts package, amounting to removing £55 million from Scotland’s college budgets their course provision will be ended in a matter of months, and they will have to travel hundreds of miles to continue studies. Dundee Youth Fight for Jobs will be meeting the Health and Social Care students in the next weeks to set up a campaign. 

The SNP’s new Youth Employment minister Angela Constance, invited three protestors, including Wayne Scott from Youth Fight for Jobs into the summit for a discussion.  He reported that “I did agree with one point that Angela Constance made, that we are never going to find common ground. The minister commented that she sympathises with our protest as she considers herself an “ordinary person”, However most ordinary people are not on a salary of over £60,000 a year. I met her with a student who was voicing her concerns over the number of places on her social care course being cut in half. This measure would see many students not have a place at college next year possibly thrown into the dole queues. When I pointed this out, she replied that it would be impossible to not follow the  cuts agenda passed down by Westminster.
She was also not clear on her position on the slave labour workfare scheme. Commenting that she thinks such schemes give young people work experience. Why then can unemployed people on these schemes not receive a living wage? Massive companies like McDonalds who are part of this scheme made over £1 billion in profit last year and can easily afford to pay all of their workers a living wage.The SNP are posing as a radical alternative to the Tories but in reality their opposition to Workfare is weak and their proposals to create jobs are guided by the same principles. The training and apprenticeship schemes they are creating will still see young people exploited by big business and charities for a low income. We demand the Scottish government reverses the cuts and invests in a program of real job creation and public works, expanding public services”

For over a year anti cuts and unemployed activists in Dundee such as Harvey Duke, have publicly challenged Iain Duncan Smith to come and debate his ideas on the welfare state and unemployment. He has until now, refused to come anywhere near Dundee, but the summit at Dundee College provided a safe photo opportunity, IDS didn’t have to worry about being challenged as only his politician and big business friends were allowed to speak.

Youth Fight for Jobs activists got word that Iain Duncan Smith was visiting one of the two job centres in Dundee city centre (he is planning to close the other one!) later in the afternoon. We hoped to renew the Youth Fight for Jobs campaigns long running saga of encounters with the work and pensions secretary (see for recent reports of IDS dismissing the Jarrow Marchers and manhandling a YFJ activist on an anti workfare protest in London).

IDS and his aides sprinted past us into the building helped by the police presence and private G4S security guards. We never got to see him come out as he sneaked away through a private back entrance.

But the Tories won’t escape us that easily! On March 24, we will be demonstrating with Scotland's trade unions at the Tory Conference in Troon against youth unemployment, austerity and workfare.

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