Resistance in a Climate of Anxiety and Precarity

A few weeks ago I was ready to make a contribution on the theme of resistance to an In Defence of Youth Work Zoom seminar. However an electricity cut in our village scuppered that idea. In the end I’ve messed around with my notes and produced for what it’s worth the following piece. As it happens I’m withdrawing from the IDYW Steering Group to sit on the backbenches. For nigh on 12 years I’ve prioritised playing a part in the life of IDYW but have grown evermore uncomfortable about pontificating about youth work in the UK from kilometres away. Nevertheless I intend to continue with this Chatting Critically blog and hope in the coming months, even years to feature interviews with characters, famous, infamous and unknown from within the world of youth and community work. As they say, watch this space.

If you’re interested I can recommend reading the three challenging contributions at the Zoom seminar, which were not derailed by thunder and lightning.

Resistance, rebellion, revolution! – Sue Atkins

Our fears and resistance to working collaboratively – Ruth Richardson

Youth workers’ every day marvels… when does persistence become resistance? – Janet Batsleer

Resistance in a Climate of Anxiety and Precarity

“The future will challenge our understanding of what it means to be human, from both a biological and a social standpoint” [Klaus Schwab FIR p35]

In Defence of Youth Work [IDYW] was born in resistance. Its emergence in early 2009 was an explicit two fingers to the neoliberal assault on social-democratic, open access and open-ended youth work. This was a form of youth work we defined as ‘volatile and voluntary, creative and collective- an association and conversation without guarantees’. Scoffing at our idealism neoliberalism demanded that youth work be the imposition of structured, time-limited interventions led by prescribed and predictable outcomes. We described a clash between our sense of ‘becoming a person, individually, socially and politically aware’, which held good for ourselves and young people and neoliberalism’s desire to manufacture self-centred conformism and obedience to the status quo amongst both ourselves and young people.


We contrasted our commitment to unfolding relationships and conversations, to intimate and collective democracy with the short-term, calculated, supposedly measurable interventions recommended by the powerful Impact lobby. We defended our crucial understanding of young people as heterogeneous, born into a matrix of class, gender, race, sexuality, disability and faith, against the neoliberal revival of the abstract young person denied their diversity. In short, we opposed the depoliticisation of practice.

We have been swimming against the tide over the last decade. Even if, in a naive moment prior to the last General Election we wondered whether the tide might even be turning. The orchestrated humiliation of Jeremy Corbyn dispelled that dream. Nevertheless, we have been a prickly thorn in the side of Youth Work’s self-proclaimed leadership. Indeed it has been admitted in private that from time to time we have disturbed the collaborative pragmatism of such as the NYA and UK Youth, not that they would ever admit this in public.

Yet, whilst neoliberal ideology prevails, its free-market economic model is broken. Thus I want to suggest that we are in transition to technocratic capitalism as the dominant section of the ruling class seeks to reassert its control over a fractured global society. In this scenario, spelt out in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the nation-state acts as the ruling class’s senior management enabling the imposition of its global policies. Disobedient populations “risk becoming isolated from global norms, putting these nations at risk of becoming the laggards of the new digital economy” [Schwab FIR p78].

Inevitably, if this shift comes to pass, the nature of this new regime will influence the character of youth work in all its forms.

The reference group for grasping the strategic thinking of the powerful in a period of profound social, political and economic crisis is the World Economic Forum [WEF], which in its own words is “the global platform for public-private cooperation, of partnerships between businessmen, politicians, intellectuals and other leaders of society to define, discuss and advance key issues on the global agenda.” On board amongst many are Amazon, Google, Facebook, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Morgan Chase, AstraZyneco, Pfizer, the Gates Foundation – all powerhouses on the international scene – not to mention the World Health Organisation and International Monetary Fund.

Now if I had been venturing some critical thoughts a year ago on a WEF political perspective, which embraces enthusiastically global governance, the glories of automation, artificial intelligence, neurotechnology and mass surveillance we could have held a friendly, rational, even concerned discussion – even if I came across as having just read Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’. However the pandemic has put paid to that. My speculative musings of 2019 on an insidious drift to authoritarianism are likely now to be dismissed as ‘conspiracy theory’, a weary insult which excuses the accuser from any serious scrutiny of events.

For there is no way of commenting on the WEF’s politics separate from the remarkable unity of 198 countries in following the unelected World Health Organisation’s declaration of a pandemic and the blanket adoption of the same narrative of fear by politicians and the mainstream media across the world. Against this backcloth, lest I be accused of not being concerned about both the suffering, the dying and the deceased, let’s agree the hegemonic version of events promulgated is the informed truth devoid of complication and contradiction. I will say no more therefore than that the pandemic has amplified key themes in the WEF’s vision of the future. Indeed Kurt Schwab, the founder and executive chair of this self-appointed body has welcomed warmly in the book, ‘The Great Reset’, the window of opportunity provided by the virus in accelerating the WEF’s agenda.

The pandemic will mark a turning point by accelerating this transition. It has crystallized the issue and made a return to the pre-pandemic status quo impossible.” [Schwab TGR p110]

Amongst these themes are:

  • The crucial need for the financial sector, together with the corporate, technological and pharmaceutical giants, to be the leadership of the way forward in tackling the world’s problems. “The combined market value of the leading tech companies hit record after record during the lockdowns, even rising back above levels before the outbreak started… this phenomenon is unlikely to abate any time soon, quite the opposite”. [Schwab TGR p119].
  • The necessity of transforming digitally our private and public existence, whether through shopping, via a shift to on-line education, tele-medicine or even e-sport.“In the summer of 2020, the direction of the trend seems clear: the world of education, like for so many other industries, will become partly virtual”.[Schwab TGR p116]
  • The requirement that our physical and psychological presence on earth is subject to the policing and surveillance of what we do and what we think – see also Shoshanna Zuboff’s ‘The Age of Surveillance Capitalism’
  • The demand that we speed up becoming identifiable, immunised, traceable, card-carrying, cash-less consumers.“The current imperative to propel, no matter what, the ‘contactless economy’ and the subsequent willingness of regulators to speed it up means that there are no holds barred”[Schwab TGR p124]

This dominant fraction of the 1% is not without nous. In the name of stakeholder capitalism, its prefered definition of itself, it claims to care about poverty, injustice and the environment. Classically it seeks to co-opt for its own ends radical ideas and practice, for example, intersectionality, LGBTQ rights and youth activism. Whilst the liberal rhetoric is seductive, its programme of action is arrogant and authoritarian. It seeks both to persuade and intimidate. Its proposals are marketed as being in the common interest. The rules of existence will be made by experts for our own good. To doubt this expertise is to be misinformed or even just plain stupid, no more than a Covidiot.

Conspicuously absent in the WEF scenario is the demos, the people. Missing crucially is any sense of democracy, the power of the people. Utterly absent is the very notion that we [and no one else] should make the laws by which we live together. At best in the WEF’s vision of the future the people will be consulted.

To return to the implications for youth work it is the democratic question that is at the heart of the matter. Open youth work is education for democracy. Youth workers and young people enter into a dialogue, within which the starting point is uncertain, the journey is still to be created and the destination is open to change. It is a conversation founded on listening to each other, the prerequisite for a democratic exchange.

My anxiety is that the transition to technocratic capitalism will strengthen the neoliberal emphasis on youth work as behavioural modification, the moulding of the compliant, individualised young person. This is expressed in the continued ‘formalising of the informal’ whereby it seems that many of today’s youth workers cannot envisage contact with young people that is not planned or scripted in some way in advance. Our own IDYW Facebook group is flooded with requests for what are lesson plans in all but name. It is a practice that suggests we do know best what’s good for young people before we’ve even spoken to them. It is a practice, for what it’s worth in my rusty experience, from which many young people will recoil.

Where does all this leave us in today’s conversations with each other and young people? For ourselves we need to explore whether our grasp of the present situation leads us to accommodate to or resist the dominant narrative. In terms of our relationships with young people we need to listen to their sense of going along with or challenging the prescribed behaviours demanded by the government. This seems to me to be fertile ground on which to converse. As I suspect that many, young and old, both accommodate and resist. We might well wear a mask as requested, keep our distance in shops yet visit our friends in their homes and give false addresses in the pub.….and so on. Or is the fear of questioning the government’s diktat so threatening that we are reduced to telling young people to do as they are told? And, like it or not, at least some young people will be conscious via the social media of alternative interpretations of what’s happening, some bizarre, but some perfectly plausible.

As ever the dilemmas intensify when we find ourselves in dialogue about collective resistance. Sadly across the neoliberal decades with the undermining of the trade unions and the social movements youth workers have often submitted to management instructions to stay clear of public demonstrations alongside young people. With this backcloth in mind how are we responding to young people ‘partying’? Do we judge this as selfish anti-social behaviour or as an act of resistance to draconian restrictions? If, for whatever reason, enough is surely enough, young people take to the streets about the corner they find themselves in, do we join them or sit on the sidelines as the protest is dispersed on ‘health and safety grounds’?

To talk of resistance is one thing, to resist is another. To resist as an individual is noble, but likely to lead to disciplinary action and/or exhaustion. If we are to defend democratic youth work in the coming period we must renew our commitment to one another as a collective. In Defence of Youth Work has failed to encourage the coming together of youth workers at a local level as a first step, where worries about accommodating too much or resisting too little can be kicked around. Such gatherings of even two or three people are vital without which talk of resistance is empty. Or are we now so fearful, so precarious, so divided that even to agree to meet regularly for an hour in our own time over a drink, to chew over what’s going on, is a step too far?

Finally, my concern is that we are experiencing a slide to authoritarianism at global and national levels, the former being expressed in the WEF’s ‘expercratic’ ideology, its aversion to democracy and its desire to alter what it means to be human, “advances in neurotechnologies and biotechnologies are forcing us to question what it means to be human” [Schwab FIR p36].

In this context I’ll share a couple of heretical thoughts.

  • In the face of rule by experts we must refuse to be seen as experts. One of our great strengths is humility. Of course to say this is to question the very existence of youth work as a closed profession, its claim that it possesses a unique body of expertise and its desire to license practice. In terms of IDYW itself this very question returns us to our roots. At its birth IDYW was not about the defence of a profession as such or indeed about the defence of Youth Services. It was about being with young people on a voluntary journey of mutual education, within which ‘the educator is as much educated as those she seeks to educate’. Our first conference brought together people from both the statutory and voluntary sectors, who shared this philosophy. The process revealed also that, whatever the lip service paid, much mainstream practice was at odds with the IDYW cornerstones laid down in the Open Letter.
  • What also became clear in our initial debates was that we were defending a certain sort of ‘space’, within which we could relate to young people. And for this privileged site of practice to be in harmony with our philosophy it needed to be as independent as possible from Church, State or Philanthropy. Obviously this precious space cannot float free from relations with the community, with funders, with sponsors and so on. However it is vital that the space is afforded a high degree of ‘relative autonomy’ such that young people and workers are able to create together democratic processes and relationships. Perchance too there is a contradiction in campaigning for this democratic space to be rendered statutory by increasingly authoritarian governments.

Perhaps I’m being melodramatic but I believe we are living through a critical moment in history. More than ever the struggle against neoliberal or technocratic capitalism, against oppression and exploitation must be authentically democratic, illustrating in its practices the profound limitations of institutionalised democracy. Resistance will come from below through a renaissance of the social movements.

Where might IDYW fit in this wider background of would-be resistance? As it is, IDYW lives on as a critical voice within Youth Work as a whole. A temptation might be to look inwards and be drawn into seeking to influence the policies, say, of the National Youth Agency or Centre for Youth Impact. I think this would be a mistake, an act of accommodation rather than resistance. Gazing outwards I wonder whether this is a moment when IDYW should explore directly with its supporters the reasons for our reluctance to organise collectively. Am I being old-fashioned in believing that, when push comes to shove, if resistance is to strike fear into the powerful it will spring from acting together on the basis of the classic slogan, ‘Educate, Agitate, Organise’? Am I living in a dream to believe that a passionate and organised IDYW democratic alliance of workers, volunteers and young people could be part of the absolutely necessary social and political resistance to the dystopian prospect offered by the global elite and the World Economic Forum?

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You Cannot Right Racial Wrongs by Doing Wrong Things More Competently – Gus John responds to the Windrush Lessons Report

 

In a week within which it is revealed that that Alexandra Ankrah, the most senior black Home Office employee in the team responsible for the Windrush compensation scheme resigned earlier this year, describing it as systemically racist and unfit for purpose; in which it is revealed in the words of a senior case worker that “The Home Office are not empathetic towards claimants. It’s just a name on a piece of paper – it’s not people” it is timely and vital to post this link to Gus John’s withering critique of the limitations at the heart of the Windrush Lessons Learned Review.

In enclosing his paper to promote wider discussion Gus comments:

I’m amazed at how little public debate there appears to have been on this report, especially as in spite of what she found Williams failed to come to some bold and pretty obvious conclusions.  It’s an indication that she herself has no concept of the racialisation of immigration and of successive governments over the last six decades wilfully manipulating the British population on the issue of immigration/race, as if those of us who made Britain our home in the last 100 years are still unwanted newcomers who had no previous connection with this nation. 

He opens his critique by taking us back nearly 20 years to the time when post-Macpherson the Home Office commissioned training, which was to transform the insensitive and prejudiced occupational culture within the police force.

In 2003, my organisation was commissioned by the Home Office to evaluate that training and its impact upon forces’ operational practices and relationships with black communities. Part of my methodology was actually observing how that training was delivered and how it was received. That turned out to be one of the most awful experiences of my entire professional career. The organised and vicious resistance to the training; the targeting of trainers personally and making them account for the conduct, criminal and political, of black people in communities; the venomous accusations of ‘black people wanting to be treated differently’… ‘why do you lot always feel you’re being picked upon’, etc.; the heckling; the disengagement (with certain attendees opting to read a book or do paperwork of some sort during the training); anecdotes from senior police officers telling of warnings they received from senior command to the effect that: ‘police/community relations is a career graveyard, so, get out of it and soon as you can if you want to progress in this force’. Women trainers had to endure unadulterated sexism in addition, and all trainers had to provide metrics to indicate that they had met their training targets, even in the face of such organised resistance. Needless to say, few ‘hearts and minds’ were won and my assessment was that the training left many police officers more resentful and openly racist at the end of the training than they were at the beginning. Disturbingly, however, it left many trainers totally traumatised and needing professional help to cope with what they had been subjected to by those police officers. They complained to me that at the end of such training days, there was no one assigned to them to whom they could go and offload/debrief and get help to put themselves together again. Instead, they were often left losing sleep at the prospect of having to face yet another day of the same, with the existing or a new cohort of police officers.

In summary, the most damning part of my evaluation to the Home Office is that the nationwide training was little more than a hugely expensive and damaging exercise in ‘dipping sheep’ and proof, if ever it was needed, that training could never be a panacea for systemic ills and institutional and cultural practices that are pickled in racism. That training programme sacrificed the messenger – the black trainers – in the process of attempting to deliver the message: how to be a police service that acknowledged and understood racism and its impact on citizens’ rights, on delivering justice and keeping the peace and one that took responsibility for eliminating institutional, cultural and personal manifestations of racism.

With this sobering experience as a backcloth Gus continues:

So, let us examine those two recommendations by Wendy Williams on which the Home Office, almost two decades later, is seeking to deracialise its staff, this time in relation to immigration rather than to policing.

Recommendation 6 – a) The Home Office should devise, implement and review a comprehensive learning and development programme which makes sure all its existing and new staff learn about the history of the UK and its relationship with the rest of the world, including Britain’s colonial history, the history of inward and outward migration and the history of black Britons. This programme should be developed in partnership with academic experts in historical migration and should include the findings of this review, and its ethnographic research, to understand the impact of the department’s decisions; b) publish an annual return confirming how many staff, managers and senior civil servants have completed the programme.

Recommendation 11 – The department should re-educate itself fully about the current reach and effect of immigration and nationality law, and take steps to maintain its institutional memory. It should do this by making sure its staff understand the history of immigration legislation and build expertise in the department, and by carrying out historical research when considering new legislation.

I would urge you to investigate both Gus John’s response to these recommendations and his unfolding historical and contemporary analysis of ” a string of human rights and equality act violations, which need to be addressed”. See the full piece below.

He concludes:

Wendy Williams’ report paints a picture of a government department where the political and electoral agenda of the party in government drive the formulation of immigration policy and the implementation of immigration legislation. It is a government department displaying fault lines on a massive scale, including managerial incompetence, an opaqueness if not complete absence of organisational values and a culture which undergirds the ideology of racism upon which immigration law making is constructed.

At the base of all that is systemic racism in the society and successive governments’ failure to put racism and the urgency of engaging with the legacy of empire high up on its political agenda

In the light of her findings, the evidence of the suffering that has resulted from the hostile environment and the continuing implications of the impact of implementing immigration policies upon the black/global majority, the government must be pressured to do three more things in addition to William’s 30 recommendations:

  • pronounce an immediate amnesty be pronounced, thus allowing all those of the Windrush generation who were in the country before 2014 to stay and be given the necessary documentation
  • set up a body to examine the genesis and provisions of the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts in the light of the Williams’ findings and make proposals for annulling or amending them
  • take immediate steps to kick start consultations on state reparations for the enslavement, genocide, dehumanisation and exploitation of African people and the continuing underdevelopment of the former colonies in which their descendants were abandoned by Britain, especially after it became a key player in the European Union.

Professor Gus John is a lifelong campaigner for children’s education rights, a visiting professor at Coventry University and associate professor at the UCL Institute of Education. In 1999, he co-founded the Communities Empowerment Network (now INCLUDE, which he currently chairs), a charity that provides advocacy and representation for excluded students and their families. He was the first black director of education in the UK (1989-1996) as director of education and leisure services in the London Borough of Hackney.

Women and Resistance – The Miners’ Strike 84/85

The In Defence of Youth Work campaign, of which I was the coordinator has just hosted a Zoom Seminar on Resistance. My dear friend, Sue Atkins opened the event with a tour de force on the 3R’s – Resistance, Rebellion and Revolution. to be found on the IDYW web site. Other contributions will appear in the next few weeks. All of these in different ways pose the question of how we resist the closing down of alternative, dissenting voices in reactionary circumstances.

By coincidence I discovered belatedly the other day an on-line version of the special exhibition, ‘Women in the Miners Strike 1984/85′ which is being hosted in the National Coal Mining Museum. It contains an essay on the significance of women in the Great Strike, photos and a video.

Download the exhibition essay here

By twist of fate Marilyn and I found ourselves involved closely with the women of the Derbyshire coalfield. Part way through the strike we had moved from Leicestershire where we had been members of the ‘Dirty Thirty’ Miners Support Group to Chesterfield. Marilyn was caught off guard, not being a miner’s spouse, by the invitation to join the Chesterfield Women’s Action group. The women decided her heart was in the right place and ‘with her being a clever lass who could type’, she became the Minutes Secretary. It’s a matter of great historical and political regret that the tapes of the meetings she kept were lost.

Women from North-East Derbyshire prior to a sponsored run

As for my part I took up the job of Community Education Officer for the district, which contained, amongst others, the Bolsover and Shirebrook collieries. Going to work on my patch meant running the gauntlet of police harassment. In Shirebrook itself the old primary school had been converted into the food distribution centre, housing the supplies brought in solidarity from near and far. At the end of the strike such had been the immense contribution of the women – organising the canteens, ‘womanning’ the picket lines and speaking eloquently from the platforms, here, there and everywhere – the school was transformed into the Shirebrook Women’s Centre, offering a creche run by qualified staff and a diverse programme of workshops and activities. I was proud to have my office tucked away on the first floor and privileged to be swept away in the energy of the first few years.

On our way in solidarity round the now silent colleries

Inevitably as the neoliberal project to undermine traditions of solidarity and community deepened its hold on society even this partial gain was to disappear, all the more so as employment prospects in the coalfield communities dwindled.

Where is this perhaps romantic nostalgia leading? For now it renders me obliged to visit afresh the legacy of neoliberalism’s ideology of self-centred individualism and to explore whether we are in transition to a form of technocratic capitalism, an anti-democratic rule by experts. In doing so the crucial question is to ponder how we resist collectively the conscious closing down by the powerful of our relationships with each other in the personal, social and political sphere? To be melodramatic how do we fight back against an assault on our very humanity?

Whether I write anything of use is quite another matter but I’ll give it a go.

In the meantime the women and men of the Strike remain an inspiration as does the very best of a youth work practice that knows it does not know what is best.

Thanks to Dave Dronfield for the photos.

Trump falls: The celebration falls flat

Leave aside I’m a miserable old git I felt only the fleeting sliver of satisfaction at the defeat of a narcissistic, opportunist maverick. Celebratory was not my mood. Biden, corrupt and cynical, played his Democrat part in the conditions that allowed Trumpism to prosper. At least 67 million Americans still voted for Trump and/or against the Democrats, who under the self-regarding Obama bailed out the bankers and abandoned the working class in all its diversity.

Ta new republic.com

This shot across the bows from Yannis Varoufakis is utterly necessary.

Hoping for a return to normal after Trump? That’s the last thing we need

He concludes:

So yes, Joe Biden has won. And thank goodness for that. But let’s understand that he did so despite, not because of, his social graces or promise to restore normality to the White House. The confluence of discontent that powered Trump to power in 2016 has not gone away. To pretend like it has is only to invite future disaster – for America and the rest of the world.

Clipping the wings of Black Lives Matter? An interview with Gus John

Following on from my last post, ‘Is anti-capitalist youth work next?‘ Gus John’s complementary, challenging perspective focuses in particular on the authoritarian threat to Black Lives Matter, whilst also questioning sharply what he describes as ‘the alternative provision industry’.

Clipping the wings of Black Lives Matter

In this wide-ranging interview on the Institute of Race Relations web site, veteran educational campaigner Gus John draws connections between initiatives currently pursued by three government departments (education; children and families; culture, media and sport), and lays out what the government has in store for anti-racism, particularly Black Lives Matter. 

He concludes:

Gus John: In summary then, this is the increasingly authoritarian state trying to tell BLM ‘we’re coming for you’. They are letting black campaigners know, we want to put you on the Prevent list and treat you as enemies of the state and of wider law-abiding society.

This, I fear, is the thin end of the wedge as far as the drift into totalitarianism is concerned. I would be delighted to be proven wrong, but it would not surprise me in the least if at least 50 percent of the strictures that have been introduced as a consequence of COVID are not written into law to hem us in for all time, thus curtailing many of our hard-won freedoms, while civil society feels it has to be similarly authoritarian, snooping and snitching on neighbours and seeking to criminalise every single non-conformist behaviour.

So, we must never fail to be vigilant and to see the connection between these seemingly consensual things. Above all, we need to take collective action and demonstrate to Boris Johnson and his government that we will not stand by and let them harass and curtail the freedoms of Black Lives Matter.

Professor Gus John is a lifelong campaigner for children’s education rights, a visiting professor at Coventry University and associate professor at the UCL Institute of Education. In 1999, he co-founded the Communities Empowerment Network (now INCLUDE, which he currently chairs), a charity that provides advocacy and representation for excluded students and their families. He was the first black director of education in the UK (1989-1996) as director of education and leisure services in the London Borough of Hackney.

Is anti-capitalist youth work next?

[ I posted this piece a few hours ago on the In Defence of Youth Work web site. It felt worthwhile to repost here. It’s rushed and the dilemmas deserve more attention but for the moment my sinuses are exploding on account of a Saharan dust storm.]

The Guardian reports that the government has ordered schools in England not to use resources from organisations which have expressed a desire to end capitalism.

Department for Education (DfE) guidance issued on Thursday for school leaders and teachers involved in setting the relationship, sex and health curriculum categorised anti-capitalism as an “extreme political stance” and equated it with opposition to freedom of speech, antisemitism and endorsement of illegal activity.

Put aside for a moment the issue of the impact of this fait accompli upon youth workers in schools I wonder where this leaves an open-ended youth work practice, which seeks to encourage a critical dialogue as to the roots and contemporary manifestations of oppression and exploitation?

Where does it leave In Defence of Youth Work itself, which in its founding letter argues that Capitalism is revealed yet again as a system of crisis: ‘all that is solid melts into air’; which in its cornerstones argues the continuing necessity of recognising that young people are not a homogeneous group and that issues of class, gender, race, sexuality and disability remain central?

Indeed what are these self-appointed censors going to say about articles with titles such as ‘The Impact of Neoliberalism upon the character and purpose of English Youth Work and beyond’, written by members of the IDYW Steering Group for the SAGE Handbook of Youth Work Practice, which begins:

In this chapter we argue that the present state of English youth work exemplifies the corrosive influence exerted by neoliberal capitalism upon its character and purpose. In doing so we hope to contribute to a collective understanding of how youth workers might criticise and resist on a national and international level neoliberalism’s arrogant contention that there is no alternative.

and which closes:

Our starting point is not youth work per se. It is a radical educational praxis, often described as critical pedagogy, which does not belong to any particular profession or institution. At heart it is about the struggle for authentic democracy, about the continued questioning of received assumptions. It is obliged to oppose neoliberal capitalism. Educators committed to this radical praxis do so in a diversity of settings, under differing constraints and across the board.

Is it mere coincidence that in the same month the Tories invoke the threat of ‘extreme political stances’, the American President has launched a scathing assault on the liberal New York Times 1619 Project? It sets out its stall as follows:

Out of slavery — and the anti-black racism it required — grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional: its economic might, its industrial power, its electoral system, its diet and popular music, the inequities of its public health and education, its astonishing penchant for violence, its income inequality, the example it sets for the world as a land of freedom and equality, its slang, its legal system and the endemic racial fears and hatreds that continue to plague it to this day. The seeds of all that were planted long before our official birth date, in 1776, when the men known as our founders formally declared independence from Britain.

In an article by Michael Desmond, ‘Capitalism’, well worth reading, he asserts, in order to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation.

In response Trump rails against decades of Leftist indoctrination in schools, which have defiled the American Story.

I fear that we are not taking the insidious global slide to authoritarianism seriously enough. To be in conversation with young people about prejudice and injustice, sexism, racism and transphobia, precarious work and trade unions, the environment and climate change, anarchism, social democracy and socialism, all these talking points necessitate grappling with Capitalism’s past, present and future. Doing so is to play a part in the emergence of the critical young citizen, who will, whatever their political leanings, resist being told what they have to think.

Noam Chomsky: Internationalism or Extinction. Wherefore Youth Work?

[This post appeared first on the In Defence of Youth Work web site.]

My days long past in the Trotskyist movement have rendered me supremely cautious when it comes to calls for an International. Back then we had fierce disagreements about what constituted the authentic Fourth International, which would lead the struggle against Capitalism. The Third was but a Stalinist front. Some spoke even of a Fifth International.  I have no desire to sneer at this part of my life. In the main we were committed sincerely to changing the world for the better. However our commitment was always haunted by its elitism. We knew best. None of our proposed Internationals were rooted in the social movements from below.

I’m moved to write this brief preface. which begs many questions, because this very weekend sees the launch of a Progressive International following an initiative from the Democracy in Europe Movement and the Bernie Sanders Institute. We are asked to unite around the following vision.

Our Vision

We aspire to a world that is:

  • Democratic, where all people have the power to shape their institutions and their societies.
  • Decolonised, where all nations determine their collective destiny free from oppression.
  • Just, that redresses inequality in our societies and the legacy of our shared history.
  • Egalitarian, that serves the interests of the many, and never the few.
  • Liberated, where all identities enjoy equal rights, recognition, and power.
  • Solidaristic, where the struggle of each is the struggle of all.
  • Sustainable, that respects planetary boundaries and protects frontline communities.
  • Ecological, that brings human society into harmony with its habitat.
  • Peaceful, where the violence of war is replaced by the diplomacy of peoples.
  • Post-capitalist, that rewards all forms of labour while abolishing the cult of work.
  • Prosperous, that eradicates poverty and invests in a future of shared abundance.
  • Plural, where difference is celebrated as strength.

I find it difficult to believe that any youth worker sympathetic to the politics of In Defence of Youth Work and its cornerstones of practice could be at odds with the above. This said, and given the doubts expressed in my opening thoughts, how many of us will be moved to embrace the call to be involved, expressed eloquently if problematically in Noam Chomsky‘s keynote speech.

Noam Chomsky: Internationalism or Extinction – read in full

Noam Chomsky

He begins:

We are meeting at a remarkable moment, a moment that is, in fact, unique in human history, a moment both ominous in portent and bright with hopes for a better future. The Progressive International has a crucial role to play in determining which course history will follow. We are meeting at a moment of confluence of crises of extraordinary severity, with the fate of the human experiment quite literally at stake.

He identifies “the growing threats of nuclear war and of environmental catastrophe, and the deterioration of democracy as the key issues facing humanity”.

He goes on to assert that “the last might at first seem out of place, but it is not. Declining democracy is a fitting member of the grim trio. The only hope of escaping the two threats of termination is vibrant democracy in which concerned and informed citizens are fully engaged in deliberation, policy formation, and direct action.

There is much to discuss. I have my disagreements. How could it be otherwise? Crucially though, from an IDYW perspective his emphasis on the imperative of creating a vibrant democracy chimes with our sense of open youth work as both a process of ‘intimate democracy’, the vital need to listen to one another, ‘to look into one another’s eyes’ as David Graeber put it and a process of active, collective democracy, which seeks to question and challenge the growing authoritarianism seeping into so many corners of our existence.

David Graeber, the enemy of bullshit, rest in power

David Graeber as ever listening

Last week the wonderful anarchist, activist and academic, David Graeber met an untimely death. The obituaries are united in acknowledging the insight, optimism and humour he brought into the political sphere. In his words, “capitalism dominates, but it doesn’t pervade”. He argued that “the ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it‘s something that we make, and could just as easily make differently.” My only quibble would be ‘easily’?

For my part the most illuminating remembrance, penned by Nathan Robinson, is to be found at https://www.currentaffairs.org/2020/09/what-david-graeber-noticed?

It ends:

Losing Graeber is difficult, because having people with his attitude is so essential to preventing horrors and improving the world. But the good news is: David Graeber’s framework rejects the idea that David Graeber is unique. It does not assume that knowledge and insight are handed down from intellectuals. It treats people as intelligent, and respects them rather than talking down to them.

I’ll confess something to you: on my bike ride to the office, I began to cry a little bit, because everything fucking sucks so much already this year, and things are getting so bleak and may get bleaker, and now it’s David Graeber this time, really? And I realized the only way I’m ever going to be able to keep myself from lapsing into despair if I can get myself to truly internalize the anarchist attitude of limitless defiance. To keep David Graeber’s death from being a total devastating loss, I will have to ensure I learn his lessons. I made a vow to myself through my tears: I will always notice things. I will notice what I am not noticing. I will help others to notice things. I will expose the criminal squandering of human potential. I will be nice to the reader. I will see joy as an end in itself. I will try to cultivate the kind of intelligence and humor that David Graeber showed. And I will fight, because that is what anarchists do. They do not put up with bullshit or bureaucracy. They refuse to accept the inevitability of tedium and the squandering of the gift of life. They dare to demand the “impossible.”
Rest in power, David Graeber.

At some point you have to look into each others’ eyes

Find below in full as tribute his provocative pamphlet of August 2013, later to become a book, with thanks to the STRIKE coop and magazine.

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant
by David Graeber

Ta to autonomynews.org

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

Why did Keynes’ promised utopia—still being eagerly awaited in the ’60s—never materialise? The standard line today is that he didn’t figure in the massive increase in consumerism. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we’ve collectively chosen the latter. This presents a nice morality tale, but even a moment’s reflection shows it can’t really be true. Yes, we have witnessed the creation of an endless variety of new jobs and industries since the ’20s, but very few have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers.

So what are these new jobs, precisely? A recent report comparing employment in the US between 1910 and 2000 gives us a clear picture (and I note, one pretty much exactly echoed in the UK). Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, ‘professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers’ tripled, growing ‘from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment.’ In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be.)

But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning of not even so much of the ‘service’ sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza delivery) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call ‘bullshit jobs’.

It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here, precisely, lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is precisely what is not supposed to happen. Sure, in the old inefficient socialist states like the Soviet Union, where employment was considered both a right and a sacred duty, the system made up as many jobs as they had to (this is why in Soviet department stores it took three clerks to sell a piece of meat). But, of course, this is the sort of very problem market competition is supposed to fix. According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don’t really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.

While corporations may engage in ruthless downsizing, the layoffs and speed-ups invariably fall on that class of people who are actually making, moving, fixing and maintaining things; through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand, and more and more employees find themselves, not unlike Soviet workers actually, working 40 or even 50 hour weeks on paper, but effectively working 15 hours just as Keynes predicted, since the rest of their time is spent organizing or attending motivational seminars, updating their facebook profiles or downloading TV box-sets.

The answer clearly isn’t economic: it’s moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the ’60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

Once, when contemplating the apparently endless growth of administrative responsibilities in British academic departments, I came up with one possible vision of hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at. Say they were hired because they were excellent cabinet-makers, and then discover they are expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish. Neither does the task really need to be done—at least, there’s only a very limited number of fish that need to be fried. Yet somehow, they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets, and not doing their fair share of the fish-frying responsibilities, that before long there’s endless piles of useless badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and it’s all that anyone really does. I think this is actually a pretty accurate description of the moral dynamics of our own economy.

Now, I realise any such argument is going to run into immediate objections: ‘who are you to say what jobs are really “necessary”? What’s necessary anyway? You’re an anthropology professor, what’s the “need” for that?’ (And indeed a lot of tabloid readers would take the existence of my job as the very definition of wasteful social expenditure.) And on one level, this is obviously true. There can be no objective measure of social value.

I would not presume to tell someone who is convinced they are making a meaningful contribution to the world that, really, they are not. But what about those people who are themselves convinced their jobs are meaningless? Not long ago I got back in touch with a school friend who I hadn’t seen since I was 12. I was amazed to discover that in the interim, he had become first a poet, then the front man in an indie rock band. I’d heard some of his songs on the radio having no idea the singer was someone I actually knew. He was obviously brilliant, innovative, and his work had unquestionably brightened and improved the lives of people all over the world. Yet, after a couple of unsuccessful albums, he’d lost his contract, and plagued with debts and a newborn daughter, ended up, as he put it, ‘taking the default choice of so many directionless folk: law school.’ Now he’s a corporate lawyer working in a prominent New York firm. He was the first to admit that his job was utterly meaningless, contributed nothing to the world, and, in his own estimation, should not really exist.

There’s a lot of questions one could ask here, starting with, what does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: if 1% of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call ‘the market’ reflects what they think is useful or important, not anybody else.) But even more, it shows that most people in these jobs are ultimately aware of it. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a corporate lawyer who didn’t think their job was bullshit. The same goes for almost all the new industries outlined above. There is a whole class of salaried professionals that, should you meet them at parties and admit that you do something that might be considered interesting (an anthropologist, for example), will want to avoid even discussing their line of work entirely (one or t’other?) Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their job really is.

This is a profound psychological violence here. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist? How can it not create a sense of deep rage and resentment. Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way, as in the case of the fish-fryers, to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well.

Even more perverse, there seems to be a broad sense that this is the way things should be. This is one of the secret strengths of right-wing populism. You can see it when tabloids whip up resentment against tube workers for paralysing London during contract disputes: the very fact that tube workers can paralyse London shows that their work is actually necessary, but this seems to be precisely what annoys people. It’s even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilizing resentment against school teachers, or auto workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or auto industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It’s as if they are being told ‘but you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and health care?’

If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the, universally reviled, unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc.)—and particularly its financial avatars—but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3–4 hour days.

Assange is the modern equivalent of a severed head on a pike displayed at the city gates.

I ask no more than you read carefully and with respect Jonathan Cook’s interpretation of the orchestrated assault on Julian Assange and the very idea of critical, investigatory journalism. You might well read it with scepticism and hostility. Assange’s reputation has been trashed. Perhaps, more likely, you will read it in some ignorance. The mainstream media has buried its head in recent years, leaving him to rot in prison, hoping his legacy will be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Jonathan’s blog is to be found at ‘For years, journalists cheered Assange’s abuse. Now they’ve paved his path to a US gulag.’

A few extracts to whet or otherwise your appetite.

Court hearings in Britain over the US administration’s extradition case against Julian Assange begin in earnest next week. The decade-long saga that brought us to this point should appall anyone who cares about our increasingly fragile freedoms.

A journalist and publisher has been deprived of his liberty for 10 years. According to UN experts, he has been arbitrarily detained and tortured for much of that time through intense physical confinement and endless psychological pressure. He has been bugged and spied on by the CIA during his time in political asylum, in Ecuador’s London embassy, in ways that violated his most fundamental legal rights. The judge overseeing his hearings has a serious conflict of interest – with her family embedded in the UK security services – that she did not declare and which should have required her to recuse herself from the case.

None of this happened in some Third-World, tinpot dictatorship. It happened right under our noses, in a major western capital, and in a state that claims to protect the rights of a free press. It happened not in the blink of an eye but in slow motion – day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.

And once we strip out a sophisticated campaign of character assassination against Assange by western governments and a compliant media, the sole justification for this relentless attack on press freedom is that a 49-year-old man published documents exposing US war crimes. That is the reason – and the only reason – that the US is seeking his extradition and why he has been languishing in what amounts to solitary confinement in Belmarsh high-security prison during the Covid-19 pandemic. His lawyers’ appeals for bail have been refused.

There were two goals the US and UK set out to achieve through the visible persecution, confinement and torture of Assange.

First, he and Wikileaks, the transparency organisation he co-founded, needed to be disabled. Engaging with Wikileaks had to be made too risky to contemplate for potential whistleblowers. That is why Chelsea Manning – the US soldier who passed on documents relating to US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan for which Assange now faces extradition – was similarly subjected to harsh imprisonment. She later faced punitive daily fines while in jail to pressure her into testifying against Assange.

The aim has been to discredit Wikileaks and similar organisations and stop them from publishing additional revelatory documents – of the kind that show western governments are not the “good guys” managing world affairs for the benefit of mankind, but are in fact highly militarised, global bullies advancing the same ruthless colonial policies of war, destruction and pillage they always pursued.

And second, Assange had to be made to suffer horribly and in public – to be made an example of – to deter other journalists from ever following in his footsteps. He is the modern equivalent of a severed head on a pike displayed at the city gates.

Jonathan ends:

A sacrificial offering

Briefly, Assange raised the stakes for all journalists by renouncing their god – “access” – and their modus operandi of revealing occasional glimpses of very partial truths offered up by “friendly”, and invariably anonymous, sources who use the media to settle scores with rivals in the centres of power.

Instead, through whistleblowers, Assange rooted out the unguarded, unvarnished, full-spectrum truth whose exposure helped no one in power – only us, the public, as we tried to understand what was being done, and had been done, in our names. For the first time, we could see just how ugly, and often criminal, the behaviour of our leaders was.

Assange did not just expose the political class, he exposed the media class too – for their feebleness, for their hypocrisy, for their dependence on the centres of power, for their inability to criticise a corporate system in which they were embedded.

Few of them can forgive Assange that crime. Which is why they will be there cheering on his extradition, if only through their silence.  A few liberal writers will wait till it is too late for Assange, till he has been packaged up for rendition, to voice half-hearted, mealy-mouthed or agonised columns arguing that, unpleasant as Assange supposedly is, he did not deserve the treatment the US has in store for him.

But that will be far too little, far too late. Assange needed solidarity from journalists and their media organisations long ago, as well as full-throated denunciations of his oppressors. He and Wikileaks were on the front line of a war to remake journalism, to rebuild it as a true check on the runaway power of our governments. Journalists had a chance to join him in that struggle. Instead they fled the battlefield, leaving him as a sacrificial offering to their corporate masters.

PITY THE NATION – Lawrence Ferlinghetti

This poem was writen in 2007 by the renowned poet of the people and key figure in the San Francisco ‘beat’ movement of the 1950s, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He celebrated his 100th birthday in March, 2019. Its themes resonate down the years and reach out beyond the shores of the United States. In accord with a term used to describe his poetry it is ‘wide open’ to interpretation in these complex and contradictory times. Are we ‘absolutely’ sure who the shepherds, the leaders, the liars, the sages and the bigots are? And which collectives, which people refusing to be sheep are resisting the erosion of their rights and freedoms?

Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Ta to npr.org

“Pity The Nation”


Pity the nation whose people are sheep,
and whose shepherds mislead them.
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars, whose sages are silenced,
and whose bigots haunt the airwaves.
Pity the nation that raises not its voice,
except to praise conquerors and acclaim the bully as hero
and aims to rule the world with force and by torture.
Pity the nation that knows no other language but its own
and no other culture but its own.
Pity the nation whose breath is money
and sleeps the sleep of the too well fed.
Pity the nation — oh, pity the people who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away.
My country, tears of thee, sweet land of liberty.”