Thinking about the Past, Present and Future of IDYW

For the sake of some sort of continuity I’m publishing here my final post from the In Defence of Youth Work website. It contains themes emanating from the authoritarian imposition of the COVID measures, which I will continue to take up in one way or another on this blog.

Below you will find the lead contribution I made to the final IDYW Steering Group meeting held on Friday, October 8th in Manchester. As it was the train of my thought was often, necessarily and fruitfully interrupted by the musings and memories of those present. These interventions made for a challenging yet always supportive critical, collective conversation. Unfortunately I can’t do justice to that process. Hence you are getting no more than my opening and closing remarks. The substance of my offering was an effort to trace major events and significant themes in the life of IDYW since 2009. These are to be found, now archived on this site.

A group discussion at our fifth national conference in Birmingham

Thinking About the Past, Present and Future of IDYW.

Opening Remarks

I’m anxious about this bit of an opening presentation, which might well seem ridiculous. I long ago gave up paid work, selling my soul to the State with all its attendant tensions. Why the disquiet!? The principal reason for my apprehension is that I’ve scoured back through all the IDYW website posts since March 2009. I stopped counting at 1500 plus. What riches, what a turmoil of contradictions, hope and despair and what a plurality of offerings. I was bemused. How could I possibly do justice to this fascinating potpourri? My confusion was not eased in finding myself listening to the videos of the first National Conference in February 2010 – Janet Batsleer welcoming us to an ‘unauthorised space’, Kev Jones introducing my rant, Tania de St Croix warning about surveillance and Bernard Davies making the youth work case. Thoughts and sentiments that would not be out of place today. In thinking about the inaugural Conference I remembered also meeting Sue Atkins on the Didsbury campus in the dark the night before. We had something to sort out. I remember not what. It might well have been 20 years since we’d last crossed paths. A tear in our eyes it was as if we’d never been apart.

So forgive me if my recollection of IDYW’s history is riddled with absences. If there isn’t a book there is certainly an MA, even, a PhD to be found in the IDYW archives. Although on second thoughts a PhD collecting dust on a shelf would hardly move us forward.

So why did IDYW emerge in late 2008 on the back of the Open Letter I penned. It ventured:

Thirty years ago Youth Work aspired to a special relationship with young people. It wanted to meet young women and men on their terms. It claimed to be ‘on their side’. Three decades later Youth Work is close to abandoning this distinctive commitment. Today it accepts the State’s terms. It sides with the State’s agenda. Perhaps we exaggerate, but a profound change has taken place.

The shift has not happened overnight. Back in the 1980’s the Thatcherite effort via the Manpower Services Commission to shift the focus of Youth Work from social education to social and life skills was resisted. In the early 90’s the attempt to impose a national curriculum on the diverse elements of the Youth Service ground to a halt. However, with the accession of New Labour, the drive to impose an instrumental framework on Youth Work gathered increased momentum. With Blair and Brown at the helm youth workers and managers have been coerced and cajoled into embracing the very antithesis of the Youth Work process: predictable and prescribed outcomes. Possessing no vision of a world beyond the present New Labour has been obsessed with the micro-management of problematic, often demonised youth. Yearning for a generation stamped with the State’s seal of approval the government has transformed Youth Work into an agency of behavioural modification. It wishes to confine to the scrapbook of history the idea that Youth Work is volatile and voluntary, creative and collective – an association and conversation without guarantees.

Of course, the idea of the Letter did not spring out of the blue. It was not at all my individual creation. The inspiration for challenging the neo-liberal consensus goes back for me to the late 1960s. I want to argue that IDYW was but a particular expression of a post-war liberal/social democratic belief that education ought to be child/young person-centred, process-led, holistic and questioning in its desire. IDYW was born too out of a frustration that this humanistic perspective had struggled to dent a behavioural tradition focused on social control and conformity. In my own experience back in the late 1970s, Roy Ratcliffe and I were disciplined for supporting the autonomous voice of an embryo Youth Council. We wrote about this setback and the lack of support from fellow professionals in a piece to be found within the Inner London Education Authority’s ‘Schooling & Culture’, entitled ‘Stuttering Steps in Political Education’. As the Youth Service Training Officer in Wigan, I fought a bitter battle with Youth Service officers and workers to rewrite a part-time youth worker training course that sought to introduce Carl Rogers to Karl Marx, to question liberal taken-for-granteds by way of socialist and feminist understandings. Over in the newly created Community and Youth Workers Union, the Women’s Caucus emerging from the social movements turned the organisation upside down, Stimulated by the sisters Roy and I (in perhaps the best thing I’ve ever done) drafted a member-led and democratic constitution which directly challenged in practice both hierarchy and bureaucracy. Yet despite the radicalisation of full-time training courses, behaviourism was reasserting itself by the late 1980s as the servant of neo-liberal ideology. Indeed some former advocates of a radical grass-roots agenda were to the fore in advocating the managerial imposition of its tenets.

To say the least, this analysis is sweeping. I’ve always tended to be that way inclined. Yet, as an example of the shift, when I went in 1990 as the Wigan Chief Youth Officer to a Confederation of Heads of Youth Services national conference with perhaps 100 managers in attendance I sat in a corner over a drink with at most half a dozen fellow travellers. The majority embraced prescribed outcomes and the accumulation of data as the only way to save the Youth Service and Youth Work.

As it is I fled the scene at the end of the 1990s because of Marilyn, my wife’s serious illness. However, I was not quite finished. With Malcolm Ball, Steve Waterhouse (tragically both no longer with us) Deb Ball, Tim Price and Steve Monaghan we formed the minuscule Critically Chatting Collective, continuing to question what was going on through a website and tiny gatherings. For example, I remember back in 2005 Bernard Davies addressing a central London meeting of no more than six people – hardly an indication of mass support for our meanderings. Be that as it may, this continuation of a critical perspective was essential to my subsequent scribbling of the Open Letter which was rejected by the National Youth Agency’s organ, ‘Young People Now’ as being too heavy for its readership. I declined the offer to rewrite.

Thus we circulated the Letter at the 2009 Youth & Policy History Conference in Durham, knowing that Y & P itself stood for an open and serious appraisal of the State’s relationship with young people. I have failed to track down the place where the signatories are housed, well over 700 as I remember. In short, the Open Letter opposed the behavioural and instrumental, the imposition of rules, norms and outcomes upon practice. As I argued, “we described a clash between the process 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 unquestioning obedience to the status quo amongst both ourselves and young people”.

All of which preamble leads to a specific engagement with the history of IDYW itself. As I have more than hinted there is a book to be written. I will have to content myself with a limited number of memories.

At this point in my contribution to the meeting, I began to explore all that we had done across the life of IDYW. In this context to do so here would come across as a list with little in the way of explanation and exploration. Hence, for now, I can only ask the reader to interrogate for themselves the IDYW archive. For my part I am committed monthly, if not more frequently, to post afresh gems from the archive and hope you might keep your eye on their appearance. Amongst the themes I touched upon were:

The Annual Conferences
The Regional Seminars
The range of questioning articles and books produced by IDYW activists
Our unstinting support for wider initiatives, exemplified by our involvement in Choose Youth and ‘Is the Tide Turning’
Our input into the European Youth Work debate

Concluding Remarks

Given I’m somewhat retired from the fray I don’t want to overstay my return to a discussion about IDYW’s future or indeed claim that my finger is on the pulse. My piece on ‘Resistance in a Climate of Anxiety’ conveys still much of my perspective.

Firstly, IDYW was born out of a spirit of resistance to and dissension from the mainstream behavioural narrative besetting our relations with young people.

Secondly, therefore, my question is whether IDYW remains a critical voice, given that the formalisation of the informal within Youth Work has continued apace? Or has it been slowly sanitised, swallowed up safely into the mainstream as symbolised by a Facebook page dominated by exchanges and requests far removed from the philosophy and politics of the Open Letter?

Finally, in my opinion, neither Youth Work nor IDYW itself can sidestep facing the implications for both young people and society as a whole of the consciously created COVID pandemic. As best I can see the profession meekly and unquestioningly complied with a flagrantly undemocratic, disgracefully unethical, utterly one-sided governmental response to a virus which, if placed in context, has been far from the 21st-century Great Plague predicted by that methodological absurdity, the Science, its cynical experts and obedient stenographers. We witnessed the overnight abandonment of a holistic, measured, informed Public Health Policy and the character assassination of those brave souls, who pointed this out.

In particular, youth workers and education professionals as a whole ought to examine on what unevidenced grounds they cooperated with the closing down and stifling of children and young people’s provision and ask themselves to what extent they were complicit in the transmission of the fearmongering propaganda disseminated by the behavioural psychologists and their ‘nudge, nudge’ advertising arm? For what it’s worth, even if this emergency dies down and the covid zealots retreat, I don’t think it’s possible to proceed as if not much has gone on, to accept their New Normal.

The logo of our friends at the now defunct National Coalition for Independent Action

Above all, a supposed democratic and emancipatory youth work is now put to the test in terms of its own integrity. Is it possible to abandon the pursuit of truth and critical reflection with hardly a whimper, then as the dust settles, claim to be its principled advocates? I ask this with some pessimism as more than ever in the light of the pandemic I believe that the struggle to defend and extend the power of the people against the technocratic authoritarianism of the ruling class and its supporters on both the Left and Right is now the overwhelming political struggle of our time. Indeed it is a struggle, which transcends simplistic political categories. It is a struggle, within and without youth work, which demands a renewed critical dialogue across a veritable diversity of voices. IDYW in its time sought to do so but fell short. Crucially we never developed a vibrant, living network of local and regional IDYW support groups. It falls upon a younger generation in particular to revive the spirit of its intent.

IN DEFENCE OF YOUTH WORK CLOSES ITS BOOKS IN SADNESS BUT WITH MUCH PRIDE

Some readers of this blog will know that I penned the Open Letter, which initiated the Defence of Youth Work campaign in early 2009. For a decade I coordinated the campaign and maintained its website. It took up a big chunk of my life but I was privileged that it did so. By a twist of fate, I had the time and space to do so. I stepped down from my leading role in 2019 but no one was able to fill the gap. No one had the time and space. I cannot escape from the fact that my withdrawal in part sapped the energy and slowed the momentum of the campaign. As it was the restrictions on social existence imposed in the name of COVID brought things almost to a standstill. Thus on Friday, October 7 the Steering Group agreed to bring IDYW’s life to a close. Below is the Steering Group’s statement, first published on the IDYW website. More thoughts to follow.

The original IDYW logo

IN DEFENCE OF YOUTH WORK CLOSES ITS BOOKS IN SADNESS BUT WITH MUCH PRIDE

At our very first national conference in 2009, Janet Batsleer welcomed us to an ‘unauthorised space’. Her eloquent words ring down through the years.

In Defence of Youth Work as a campaign and critical forum is no more. At an Open Steering Group meeting held in Manchester on Friday, October 7th, amidst smiles, frowns and tears, it was agreed that IDYW had run its course, having lost its impetus and energy. In exploring why this was so and where we were up to, it became plain we had much of which to be proud. The evidence for this assertion is to be found on this website with its 1500+ posts recording our collective activity since our appearance in early 2009. We are committed to preserving the website as a historical archive and as a testament to the impact of our small ‘unauthorised’ and independent group, ‘punching above its weight’, upon the national and indeed international youth work scene.

One of Jethro Bryce’s striking illustrations from our book, ”This is Youth Work’

Whilst IDYW will cease to be an organised presence in the youth work arena, it is vital to recognise that its existence was always of its time. It was no more and no less than a particular expression over the last thirteen years of a centuries-old struggle for a truly democratic and ‘popular’ education. Without questioning, democratically inclined citizens, young and old, there can be no democracy. In this context, the humanist philosophy and practice of a secular and religious disposition that inspired IDYW’s resistance to the behavioural and instrumental neoliberal agenda remain a universal treasury of hope. The ideas live on. In the face of an increasingly technocratic and authoritarian capitalism, we hope that our endeavour will be taken up afresh and reimagined by a new wave of workers and activists. We hope too that the archive of our efforts will provide a moment or two of inspiration.

Gathering our collective thoughts

For now, we will take a deep breath, tinged with sadness, bursting with pride. In the coming months, from time to time, we will highlight anew memories worth remembering. Tony Taylor at tonymtaylor@gmail.com has agreed to be a Keeper of the Records, to use an old-fashioned title, and will welcome approaches from students, academics, researchers and practitioners seeking to explore our ‘books’.

Hopefully concentrating on a speaker’s provocative insights!

A Pragmatic Postscript

Over the years our Facebook page has taken on a life of its own. At this moment it boasts 6,800 members. It has become the go-to place for sharing information and ideas about youth work in general. In many ways, the page has lost touch with its original purpose of encouraging debate focused on IDYW’s cornerstones. Nevertheless, it is clearly an important resource and a marketplace for youth workers and projects. Respecting this our moderators will continue to keep watch on its contents and are considering ways of perhaps filtering the daily waterfall of varied material.

THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES LA LUTTA CONTINUA Ο Αγώνας Συνεχίζεται

A post of uncritical, chattering indulgence – Bravo, Logan Astley

I was born into the working class world of Rugby League – the Lancashire side of the Pennines. During my teenage years, I lived in a classic two-up, two-down terraced house, only a drop kick away from Hilton Park, the rickety home of Leigh RLFC. My dad, like many a miner, tried his hand, playing a couple of games as hooker for the ‘A’ team. And, in 1957, I played for Newton West Park against the Twelve Apostles in the Leigh Primary Schools final on the hallowed ground of the town’s professional team. The muddy pitch was so big it was a wonder either team got near the opposition’s try line. It ended 3 points all in a dour draw. I ended up with a bloody nose, which was sorted by my father, running on with the ‘magic sponge’ and the instruction, ‘ger on wi’it’.

Hilton Park. Leigh

Like many a young lad, I dreamed of playing for Leigh. My hero was the rampaging Mick Martyn. However I was neither tough nor quick enough to emulate his exploits. Never mind that I went to grammar school, where class pretension meant rugby union was the name of a game, where writhing about on the ground was a necessity. kicking obligatory and passing almost unheard of. I became a race walker, where the only necessary contact was with the ground rather than with hurtling bodies – in retrospect far safer.

In 1989 I found myself living in a ‘posher’ house close to the middle of Wigan, this time only a spiralling pass from Central Park, the atmospheric home of Wigan RLFC, Leigh’s fiercest rivals. My love for the game was reignited. To the dismay, I’m sure of loyal ‘Leythers’, with my wife being a ‘Wigginer’, I rationalised following both the Leigh and Wigan teams, the latter in its pomp. Ellery Hanley, Shaun Edwards and Andy Farrell were amongst our heroes. It was an exhilarating period of dramatic matches, of incredible skills and courage, interspersed on our part with many a pint of Pendle Witch or Timothy Taylor’s Landlord consumed in characterful pubs across the North-West of England. During a couple of summers, I even found myself playing touch rugby for my local, the Tudor House, the oldest, slowest, but perhaps fittest in the team. On a couple of occasions my daughter’s soon-to-be husband, Bob Astley contributed to our efforts, startling us with his blistering pace.

Central Park, Wigan

Bob’s fast-twitch fibres were to be of more than passing importance. Having emigrated to Crete. Marilyn and I were not present at Logan’s birth so we can’t confirm the rumour that he was born with a rugby ball between his thighs. We can though vouch for the fact that from an early age he went to bed with ball in hand. Indeed when we visited we found the living room had been transformed into a rugby pitch with two couches set at a right angle, comprising the grandstands. From thence on the ruffled carpet was host to passes, short and long, delicate grubber kicks and crunching tackles with Sonny, Logan’s younger brother in the heat of affairs. It’s a wonder the room remains roughly in one piece. Recently Tubby, the family dog has found himself buffetted in the thick of things and, apprenticeship served, is able now to bark with authority, ‘Grr ’em onside’.

A magical try from Logan in his younger days!

Outside of the Astley’s private training ground, Logan has made his way successfully through the competitive age groups of the local amateur rugby scene, often in the colours of the Wigan St Patrick’s club, earning consistent praise for his talents. Possessed of an exhilarating turn of speed, inherited from his dad and perchance a willingness to do the hard miles reminiscent of my athletic dedication he has stood out from the pack. He’s been on the books of Wigan Warriors [ don’t get me started on the daft, unnecessary brand name!] for the past few years and has made his first team debut. Where it goes from here is not anyone’s guess. He is gifted and committed, telling his mum, ‘how lucky he is to be paid for doing something he loves’ but the sport is cruel. Many an exciting prospect falls by the wayside, sometimes through career-threatening injury, sometimes by losing the plot. In his favour is a laid-back and unpretentious disposition. He’s certainly not too big for his own boots. For now, a proud grandad I’ll wallow in the moment described below and leave tomorrow for another day.

Astley leads the way as Warriors take title
WIGAN WARRIORS 40 WAKEFIELD TRINITY 12

DAVID KUZIO

Robin Park, Sunday, September 18, 2022

BEN O’KEEFE grabbed a hat-trick of tries and kicked four goals as Wigan claimed the second-string crown with a comfortable victory.

The winger completed his treble in the first half as the hosts led 18-6 at the break after bossing the bulk of the action.

The Warriors raced into a 14-0 lead with O’Keefe scoring twice on either side of a Kieran Tyrer try (O’Keefe improved that effort).

But Robbie Butterworth got Wakefield on the board with a try out of nothing, to which he added the two, as the visitors started to grow into the contest.

However, O’Keefe’s score on the hooter settled the home side, who were slowly allowing Trinity to get into the game.

A 51st-minute score from Josh Phillips, also converted by O’Keefe, gave Wakefield fresh hope as the deficit was cut to six points.

But a brace of tries from Sam Halsall and scores by Alex Sutton and Logan Astley, plus three O’Keefe goals, saw Wigan home.

It was not a great start from them as Umlya Hanley put the ball out on the full from the kick-off, and they then conceded a drop-out as Wakefield looked to gain an early advantage.

But Tyrer turned the tide as he found touch from the drop-out and it was Wigan now on the front foot.

They made that count as Astley took the ball left and found Halsall in space to send O’Keefe in at the corner.

Wigan extended their lead in the 15th minute when Tyrer collected a short ball, threw a dummy and went in under the posts unopposed.

Jack Bibby and Tyrer went close before Astley and Halsall combined once again to send O’Keefe in for his second try – and a 14-0 lead.

Great defence from Robbie Mann and Rob Butler prevented Wigan from scoring their fourth try.

The Yorkshire side took heart from that, went up the other end, and scored their first.

A towering kick was collected by Hanley, but he was met with a monster hit and spilled possession, leaving Butterworth to pick up and touch down. Wigan were reduced to twelve men with James McDonnell sent to the sin bin for a professional foul, and Wakefield started to cause problems.

Jay Haywood-Scriven came close to grabbing a second, but he was held just short.

Wigan managed to soak up a lot of pressure and O’Keefe crossed for his hat-trick just before the interval following another neat pass from Astley.

Wakefield enjoyed a lot of possession at the start of the second half as they camped on Wigan’s line, and they got their reward with Phillips forcing his way over from close range.

Wigan were now struggling to create chances as Wakefield were taking the game to them, but a poor pass was intercepted by Halsall, who raced 80 metres to help put Wigan twelve points in front with 23 minutes to go.

Halsall then put the game out of Wakefield’s reach with another long range effort. Junior Nsemba – who was brilliant all afternoon – combined with Astley and O’Keefe, with the latter turning it inside for the scorer to race away.

Wigan’s seventh try came from Sutton as he was on the end on another passing move started by Astley, who then capped a marvellous performance with a try of his own.

GAMESTAR: Ben O’Keefe, Sam Halsall and Junior Nsemba were brilliant, but scrum-half Logan Astley was the one pulling the strings.

GAMEBREAKER: Sam Halsall’s 57th-minute interception try pushed Wigan ahead by twelve points and they were never in danger of losing the game after that.

School Children Resist in 1911: A Historical Precedent?

On the 5th of September 1911, a UK-wide strike wave of schoolchildren was sparked when pupils in Llanelli, Wales walked out in sympathy with a boy who was disciplined by a deputy headmaster. From this one school, walkouts spread across the country to at least 62 towns and cities, with pupils demanding an end to corporal punishment and shorter hours. The schoolchildren’s strikes followed a summer of workers’ industrial disputes.

Schoolchildren on strike, Shoreditch 1911

In the present climate of growing unrest with the consequences of the authoritarian assault on children’s, young people’s, parents’ and workers’ rights, indeed upon society as a whole is inspiration to be found in this history.

School children in Hull on strike in 1911 “for shorter hours and no stick”


There is a wonderful pamphlet about the walkouts, written by Dave Marston, a docker and Ruskin student in 1973.

https://libcom.org/history/childrens-strikes-1911

Editorial Note

The children’s strikes of 1911, as Dave Marson shows in this pamphlet, were part of the huge upheaval of labour in the long, hot summer of 1911. The industrial unrest has often been written about: the school strikes are Dave Marson’s own discovery. He came upon them by accident when researching the history of his own people, the Hull dockers. He has followed the strike movement all over the country and has set them in both a school and a community context. The school situation which he describes has by no means disappeared: nor have the difficulties of organising resistance. The writer is a working docker, who was a student at Ruskin in 1970-2.

He begins his marvellous piece.

I came upon the children’s strikes of 1911 by accident. I was researching into the Hull Dock Strike of 1911, and reading through the Hull newspapers of that year when I noticed a small paragraph relating to a strike of Hull school children which took place in September 1911. It seemed no more than a curiosity, an illustration of the extent of the industrial unrest taking place at that time. What struck me first was the story about a policeman having to mount his bicycle and charging at the youthful strikers who had formed a picket line outside their school. The mere sight of a blue uniform was enough to frighten me and my school friends.

What set me looking further into things was one line in the report which said that the Hull boys were following the example of children in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Then looking through another Hull newspaper I discovered a front page splash – with photographs and a story about the strike. The newspaper listed all the different classes of workers who had been out on strike in Hull during that hot summer – cement workers – factory girls – seamen and dockers, and connected the children’s strike to them. It was a photograph that really affected me – it was a picture of the children picketting the gates of Courtney Street Primary School, the same school I had been to myself. I identified myself with those strikers – some of them might have been the parents of the children I went to school with.

When I looked at the Times I found that children’s strikes were taking place not only in Yorkshire but all over the country. At first I couldn’t believe it – how could it have taken place so quickly and all over the country – I’d always believed that strikes were something which had to be organised. I felt that these children were trying to say something. I did not realise how many places were affected until I started reading through the local newspapers at Colindale. These showed that there were many more than the Times had reported.

Dave ends after cataloguing an amazing variety of children’s responses across the country.

Away from their classrooms the jubilant children began to express themselves in various ways. To some it would be a ‘street theatre’ and to others the sheer feeling of freedom would exhilarate them enough to address the crowds of boys in the manner of the factory-gate or street-corner agitator. To the newspaper columnists they were ‘Dunces’; ‘The Truant Class’; ‘Children from the Poorer Areas’. This attitude shows how the respectable classes regarded them. Throughout the country children began to show originality and independence.

The strikes were not all violent. In Hartlepool the boys walked along the sands and picnicked, taking advantage of the splendid late Summer weather. In other places they went swimming or simply sat around discussing general topics; they played at being soldiers and paraded; some sang patriotic songs.

In Northampton strikers went blackberrying. But more important they entertained themselves with their own music making up the words to songs. These children, despite their stifling schooling showed their minds had not been overwhelmed by the gray monotonies of the class-room. They still retained imagination with ideas like the colours in a paint-box.

Are youth workers chatting critically about their compliance with or resistance to the closing down of young people’s lives?

Back in January, I published a post, What about Children and Young People? Are they no more than collateral damage? The opening sentence declared, ‘from the very beginning, March 2020, of the utterly undemocratic imposition of COVID-inspired sweeping restrictions on social existence I feared for children and young people.’

I was perplexed from the outset at what seemed to be the absence of debate and the utter lack of opposition to the demanded closures of children’s and young people’s provision – from playgrounds through schools and youth facilities to universities. I am being diplomatic. I was pissed off and angry. It was plain that such draconian, disproportionate action would be deeply damaging. The belated acknowledgement in the summer of 2021 that the lockdown was creating serious mental health issues for the younger generation, crocodile tears, merely confirmed my angst. Then, a humble breath taken, I recognised it was easy for me to be so moved. If I was still a practising youth worker. teacher or lecturer what would I have done during the last two years?

Towards the end of the piece I commented:

Certainly in the coming weeks, as the pandemic narrative unravels, it would be revealing to hear the thoughts of UK youth workers, teachers and lecturers about their sense of the impact upon children and young people, upon themselves of the two years lost.

I’m still waiting but prodded by an Opinion article in the Guardian, ‘Evidence grows of lockdown harm to the young. But we act as if nothing happened‘ by Martha Gill, I’ll return to the issue by way of a recent criticism of lockdown.

Written by Dr Zenobia Storah, Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist, it is entitled, ‘Reflections of a Child Psychologist on the Pandemic Response, 2 years on.’ It deserves to be read in full, particularly perhaps by professionals in the fields of welfare and education. At one point she muses.

Something unexpected happened in Spring and Summer of 2020. I found myself standing apart from my colleagues. I could understand that in the initial stages of the pandemic, due to the particular threat that Covid posed to the elderly, the government’s decision had been to focus on the protection of older members of the population. But as the weeks wore on and I imagined the harm being done to children across the country, informed both by my training and my professional experience, it was clear to me that too much weight was being focussed on the protection of adults at the enormous expense of the less obvious (but more long-term) damage to the future and well-being of children and young people. And yet those who I would expect to be my natural allies due to shared knowledge and experience remained silent. There was no national, grown-up discussion anywhere about how we might balance the need to protect the most vulnerable from Covid with the interests of the young, and how we could remain faithful to our national commitment to children’s best interests being paramount. Any attempt to introduce such discussion was met with derision and accusations of moral decrepitude. To my astonishment, this was also the case on professional online forums, where it became increasingly difficult to raise concerns. It seemed to me that psychologists, who describe themselves as ‘scientist-practitioners’, should be asking serious questions about society-wide decisions to impose restrictions and mandates that would inevitably harm children and young people (and other vulnerable groups). At the very least, they should all be calling for a broader discussion, which they would be uniquely placed to inform, and at best, an extremely high bar (in terms of cost-benefit analysis) for the introduction of such measures. Yet the general view amongst those working with children and young people – and the official view of most professional bodies including my own – was that the moral responsibility of child professionals was to support government policy (at whatever cost to society and whilst asking no questions – or so it seemed to me) and then to work to mitigate the impact on mental or physical health. The alternative view – that policies that kept children out of schools, cut them off from families and friends, kept them from participating in outdoor sports, normal play, activity and socialising and prevented them from accessing healthcare and other support services should not be in place at all – was anathema. This was disturbing and confusing. I could not understand how, given the values and knowledge we had all shared before March 2020, this had come about.

She concludes.

We always knew what circumstances and experiences children needed in order to thrive, to be physically well and to be mentally healthy, and we knew that the unprecedented social experiment that took place from March 2020 deprived them of many of these things and would put many at risk of serious harm. The collateral damage outlined in all these studies and reports could have been foreseen and warned against by many more child professionals than ever spoke out. In moving into the post-pandemic era, it is essential that we continue to speak of these harms, to measure and describe them and to share these findings with our colleagues and the general public. We need to welcome into the discussion the concerns of many people who, at the time, were persuaded that reduced transmission of Covid trumped everything else, including the safety and mental and physical health of children and young people. It would be good to reach a point where there is full acknowledgement of the harms caused and the catastrophic errors made that led to them. Perhaps the Covid Inquiry will lead society to ask itself how we ever got to a point where children and young people were routinely subjected to harmful and unevidenced interventions and restrictions. As we support recovery, all those working with children and those in government must re-commit to the principles of the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child. And we must ensure that we never subject a generation of children to such experiences ever again.

Speaking purely of youth workers, managers and lecturers, fond of proclaiming themselves to be critical practitioners par excellence, to what extent at a local, regional and national level are they coming together to consider what has been going on over the pandemic years? To what extent are they encouraging young people to discuss the rights and wrongs of the authoritarian clampdown on their lives? Or is the profession pretending the last two years never happened? Such collective myopia bodes ill for a future, within which an emboldened ruling class is confident that its diktat will be fearfully obeyed and that amongst its messengers of anxiety will be indeed youth workers, managers and lecturers.

Remembering Steve Waterhouse – A youth worker’s youth worker

I can’t believe it’s six years since my dear friend and comrade, Steve Waterhouse died so tragically. By chance, a week or so ago, sifting through old boxes, I came across this photo of Steve and I demonstrating in Chesterfield against the privatisation of the NHS. Taken in the late 1980s we were marching particularly in support of the striking Scarsdale Hospital cleaners. Ironically, the government of the time was not calling on us to save the NHS, its policies being to the contrary.

Then I realised that although this blog is dedicated to Steve, along with Malcolm Ball, the obituary I penned at the time for IDYW has never appeared here. Hence I’m taking this opportunity to put the record straight. I think the piece still resonates.

RIP Steve Waterhouse : A youth worker’s youth worker

Steve W

I first met Steve Waterhouse in late 1984, drawn together by both youth work and the Miners’ Strike.  He was a part-time youth worker in Shirebrook, a pit village at the heart of community resistance to Thatcherite violence. I was the newly appointed District Community Education Officer, ostensibly his boss. Steve was a young, fresh-faced, passionate anarchist with a marvellous gift for relating to people, already a significant figure in the local music scene and co-founder in 1983 of a jobless youngsters’ Open Shop. I was a more wrinkled, yet passionate socialist, not keen on management’s right to manage. We hit it off right away. Indeed we got closer on our train journey to the Department of Education and Science, where I had to convince a panel that Steve was a diamond, despite having a trivial conviction for cannabis possession. They were suitably impressed, which thankfully meant that later Steve could pursue a full-time qualification.

We became fellow Bolsover Bucket Bangers, the name our diverse Community Education team adopted in the face of criticism that we took the progressive policies of the Derbyshire County Council too seriously. Steve was not interested in pretence. He was committed to what in those days we called a radical youth work praxis, opposed to exploitation and oppression in all its forms.

Crucially, though, and this is reflected across his whole career, he never sought to convert a young person to his way of seeing the world. He wanted simply, but not so simply, to be in a questioning, always respectful conversation with young people, which was lightened at every turn by his quick-witted sense of humour. That this was so is reflected in the outpouring of grief and love from hundreds of those he touched across thirty years of work with young people. Time and time again we read messages on Facebook that say, “Steve and I hardly ever agreed with one another, but he meant so much to me”.

SteveDawn
Steve and Dawn 1987 supporting Silentnight workers

He was deeply involved in the Community and Youth Workers Union and in our Socialist Caucus through the late ’80s, into the ’90s. I remember us arguing the toss about the nature of the capitalist state in the back garden of the Exeter Community Centre. Reluctantly I confessed to him that I thought he was much closer to the truth than my dogmatic assertions allowed. He didn’t hold it against me. As I left Derbyshire under a cloud, pursued by leading figures of the Council, he was my supportive case-worker as Audit sought to find transgressions within my travel claims. His faith in my integrity saw me through.

His move to Liverpool saw him become the key youth worker at what was to become the highly regarded Interchill Project. A comment from one of the original members says a great deal.

A guy walks into the interview room at Interchill and sits down confidently although slightly nervous. His name was Steve Waterhouse. Being Interviewed by a group of teenagers wasn’t what he was expecting. But we wanted to pick the right person ourselves to manage our youth facility. Needless to say, regardless of his dodgy socks 😂 Steve was our man. And the service and inspiration he went on to provide for the young people of Speke & Garston over the years will never be forgotten. It is with great sadness and disbelief to hear of his recent passing. A true peoples person and a father figure and advisor to so many. Steve you will be sadly missed.

Steve canoe
Steve canoeing. Ta to Tracey Ramsey

With Interchill falling foul of cuts, he moved over into the Liverpool Youth Service, where his outstanding endeavours were rewarded with an award for his dedication. As you might expect Steve was embarrassed by the attention.

In the early days of the In Defence of Youth Work campaign, Steve and I were reunited in the struggle to defend a young person-centred, process-led youth work. In retrospect, though it’s clear that the assault on open youth work, on his beliefs and values, was taking its toll on this remarkable bloke. It’s easy to say, but I don’t think he realised how much he had influenced young people’s lives.

Listen to just a few of the moving comments made:

I can’t believe this news. He was an important person to me. He changed how I felt about so much. Inspirational is just a word, but he changed my life and so many people around him. He loved people and wanted the best for them. The world has lost a fantastic human and I will miss him so much. Xx

I remember first meeting him at Interchill when I was 16 and being amazed at the set up. How he inspired young people to take control of their own services and supported them while maintaining excellent relationships. He was always warm, engaging and funny and such an integral part of my early youth work experience.

A few years ago Steve stayed with me on holiday and we had a surreal discussion on the terrace at the back of our house. In the teeth of all his own practice, Steve was arguing that youth work was just a job.  Hardly able to believe my ears I responded that he didn’t really believe this, that the youth work, we believed in, was closer to something we might dub a calling.  Given our atheism, this was not a calling from a deity, but a calling from all those past and present, who have sought in concert control over their own lives. It seemed to me that Steve’s denial that night of his own commitment was an expression of the mental and physical exhaustion that can accompany always giving of yourself, expecting little back in return.

To return to Facebook with all its contradictions this is where young and old have returned their love and gratitude, however belatedly, to a very special bloke. And, I don’t think Steve would think me opportunistic in saying to politicians and management alike, ‘if you want to grasp the significance of youth work, bin your manufactured outcomes and read the reactions of people to Steve’s passing. Take a breath and have the vision to see beyond tomorrow’s soulless data’.

Let me finish by saying that Steve’s way of being with young people was rooted in his anarchism, in his rejection of imposed authority and his belief in the creativity of those written off by the system. If Steve had faith, dented though it might have been, it was in our ability to create a more just and equal world. Together we could never accept that the present state of play is the best that humanity can come up with. I can but shed a tear at realising that we will never chat critically again; that we will never link arms again in the struggle against injustice; that we will never again laugh together at our pretensions. He was a dear friend and comrade or as one message defined him, ‘a youth worker’s youth worker’. Like so many others I loved him and I regret not conveying this enough in recent years.

Our best tribute to Steve’s memory is to continue defending the tradition of improvisatory and empathetic youth work he symbolised – a way of being with young people that is ‘volatile and voluntary, creative and collective – an association and conversation without guarantees’. But a way of being, as many have testified, that brings enormous rewards; that truly has an authentic impact on young people’s lives.

I’ll sign off, Steve, in our time-honoured way.

In love and struggle,

Tony

What about Children and Young People? Are they no more than collateral damage?

“We are engaged in a war against the virus”- Boris Johnson

” In this fake war children are set to be vaccine fodder” – A concerned parent

From the very beginning, March 2020, of the utterly undemocratic imposition of COVID-inspired sweeping restrictions on social existence I feared for children and young people. Perhaps this was a knee-jerk response. After all, I have spent the last 50 years conversing with and about them – as a teacher, youth worker, lecturer and, latterly, a commentator-cum-spectator on the sidelines. Indeed in late 2008, I penned an Open Letter, arguing that youth work should side with young people and not the State; that it should not assume it knows what’s best for young people; that it should be in a critical conversation with them about how together we see the world; and that it should aspire to be ‘volatile and voluntary, creative and collective – an association and conversation without guarantees’.In short it ought, first and foremost, to be a democratic practice. On the back of this missive, a campaign, In Defence of Youth Work [IDYW], emerged.

Against this history, given these commitments, I was perplexed from the outset at what has seemed to be the absence of debate and the utter lack of opposition to the demanded closures of children’s and young people’s provision – from playgrounds through schools and youth facilities to universities. I am being diplomatic. I was pissed off and angry. It was plain that such draconian, disproportionate action would be deeply damaging. The belated acknowledgement in the summer of 2021 that the lockdown was creating serious mental health issues for the younger generation, crocodile tears, merely confirmed my angst. Then, a humble breath taken, I recognised it was easy for me to be so moved. If I was still a practising youth worker. teacher or lecturer what would I have done during the last two years?

Thanks to medicalnewstoday.com

I find it difficult to imagine that, as a youth worker I would have caved in without protest as the youth centre was boarded up or that on the streets I would insist the young people be masked or else. I find it difficult, as a former primary school teacher, to believe I could cope with imposing upon children, I knew well with all their idiosyncrasies, the general requirement to don face coverings and keep their distance from each other and me. I find it difficult to accept that as a lecturer teaching upon a course committed to vibrant argument I would have meekly capitulated to the assault on critical thought, the depiction of the campus as a theatre of contagion and the arrival of on-line learning. As far back as Spring 2019, a modicum of independent research would have shown that masking was about obedience rather than transmission and that children/young people were in little danger from COVID and little danger to anyone else.

Of course, I’m probably deluding myself, thinking I would have swum against the conformist tide. The calculated campaign of fear disseminated without demur by the mainstream media has known no moral or ethical bounds. Management and trade unions in the public sector, along with the caring professions, armed with the ideology of ‘safetyism’, which in a trice provides both explanation and justification, have all embraced the dominant narrative with at times a nauseating pomposity. If you want to follow the unfolding of this smug self-righteousness delve into the archives of the Guardian.

Hence, where would I have found support in desiring to resist – certainly not in the trade union. little chance in the staff team and, to my chagrin, not through In Defence of Youth Work? In this context, speaking up might well have meant losing my job. However, deep in my decaying bones, I want to believe that there has been guerilla activity, which by its nature is underground. In my pretentiousness, I want to believe that with others I would have sought somehow to bring these guerillas together in some supportive form of solidarity – see the history of the Socialist Caucus and Critically Chatting Collective. You might well say, ‘dream on,Tony, dream on’.

Insofar as there has been debate in the world of youth work IDYW did organise a Zoom seminar on the theme of Resistance in November 2020, which spawned the following pieces.

Resistance, rebellion, revolution!Sue Atkins

Our fears and resistance to working collaborativelyRuth Richardson

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

In particular, Janet’s eloquent, positive portrayal of youth workers amidst the turmoil via the Citizen Enquiry in times of COVID is the counter to my perhaps ignorant negativity.

Certainly in the coming weeks, as the pandemic narrative unravels, it would be revealing to hear the thoughts of UK youth workers, teachers and lecturers about their sense of the impact upon children and young people, upon themselves of the two years lost.

As a stimulus to reflection, I’m reposting this moving and stimulating article by a Canadian teacher, which appeared on Common Sense, one of many alternative news sites that have sprung up during the pandemic. This outlet seeks to situate its politics as rejecting both the hard Left and the hard Right. Classically it seeks to find the middle ground with all the contradictions therein. To my mind, the very categories of Left, Centre and Right are in such a state of meltdown that the vital thing is to be aware of one’s own prejudices and history, to explore expansively, be open to critical dialogue and committed at every turn to the democratic process in the struggle against authoritarianism.

I’m a Public School Teacher. The Kids Aren’t Alright.

By Stacey Lance 

I am proud to be a teacher. I’ve worked in the Canadian public school system for the past 15 years, mostly at the high school level, teaching morals and ethics.

I don’t claim to be a doctor or an expert in virology. There is a lot I don’t know. But I spend my days with our youth and they tell me a lot about their lives. And I want to tell you what I’m hearing and what I’m seeing.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, when our school went fully remote, it was evident to me that the loss of human connection would be detrimental to our students’ development. It also became increasingly clear that the response to the pandemic would have immense consequences for students who were already on the path to long-term disengagement, potentially altering their lives permanently.

The data about learning loss and the mental health crisis is devastating. Overlooked has been the deep shame young people feel: Our students were taught to think of their schools as hubs for infection and themselves as vectors of disease. This has fundamentally altered their understanding of themselves.

When we finally got back into the classroom in September 2020, I was optimistic, even as we would go remote for weeks, sometimes months, whenever case numbers would rise. But things never returned to normal.

When we were physically in school, it felt like there was no longer life in the building. Maybe it was the masks that made it so no one wanted to engage in lessons, or even talk about how they spent their weekend. But it felt cold and soulless. My students weren’t allowed to gather in the halls or chat between classes. They still aren’t. Sporting events, clubs and graduation were all cancelled. These may sound like small things, but these losses were a huge deal to the students. These are rites of passages that can’t be made up.

In my classroom, the learning loss is noticeable. My students can’t concentrate and they aren’t doing the work that I assign to them. They have way less motivation compared to before the pandemic began. Some of my students chose not to come back at all, either because of fear of the virus, or because they are debilitated by social anxiety. And now they have the option to do virtual schooling from home.

One of my favorite projects that I assign each year is to my 10th grade students, who do in-depth research on any culture of their choosing. It culminates in a day of presentations. I encourage them to bring in music, props, food—whatever they need to immerse their classmates in their specific culture. A lot of my students give presentations on their own heritage. A few years back, a student of mine, a Syrian refugee, told her story about how she ended up in Canada. She brought in traditional Syrian foods, delicacies that her dad had stayed up all night cooking. It was one of the best days that I can remember. She was proud to share her story—she had struggled with homesickness—and her classmates got a lesson in empathy. Now, my students simply prepare a slideshow and email it to me individually.

My older students (grades 11 and 12) aren’t even allowed a lunch break, and are expected to come to school, go to class for five and a half hours and then go home. Children in 9th and 10th grades have to face the front of the classroom while they eat lunch during their second period class. My students used to be able to eat in the halls or the cafeteria; now that’s forbidden. Younger children are expected to follow the “mask off, voices off” rule, and are made to wear their masks outside, where they can only play with other kids in their class. Of course, outside of school, kids are going to restaurants with their families and to each other’s houses, making the rules at school feel punitive and nonsensical.

They are anxious and depressed. Previously outgoing students are now terrified at the prospect of being singled out to stand in front of the class and speak. And many of my students seem to have found comfort behind their masks. They feel exposed when their peers can see their whole face.

Around this time of year, we start planning for the prom, which is held in June. Usually, my students would already be chatting constantly about who’s asking who, what they’re planning on wearing, and how excited they are. This year, they’ve barely discussed it at all. When they do, they tell me that they don’t want to get their hopes up, since they’re assuming it will get cancelled like it has for the past couple of years.

It’s the same deal with universities. My students say, “If university is going to be just like this then what’s the point?” I have my own children, a nine-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son, who have spent almost a third of their lives in lockdown. They’ve become so used to cancellations that they don’t even feel disappointed anymore.

I think all of my students are angry to some degree, but I hear it most from the kids who are athletes. They were told that if they got the vaccine, everything would go back to normal, and they could go back to the rink or the court. Some sports were back for a while but, as of Christmas, because of the recent wave of Covid-19 cases, club and varsity sports are all cancelled once again. A lot of the athletes are missing chances to get seen by coaches and get scholarships.

I try to take time at the beginning of class to ask my kids how they’re doing. Recently, one of my 11th grade students raised his hand and said that he wasn’t doing well, that he doesn’t want to keep living like this, but that he knows that no one is coming to save them. The other kids all nodded in agreement. They feel lied to—and I can’t blame them.

What’s most worrisome to me is that they feel deep worry and shame over the prospect of breaking the rules.

Teenage girls are notoriously empathetic. I see that many of my students, but especially the female ones, feel a heavy burden of responsibility. Right before Christmas, one of my brightest 12th graders confided in me that she was terrified of taking her mask off. She told me that she didn’t want to get anyone sick or kill anybody. She was worried she would be held responsible for someone dying.

What am I supposed to say? That 23 children have died from Covid in Canada during the whole of the pandemic and she is much more likely to kill someone driving a car? That kids in Scandinavia, Sweden, and the Netherlands largely haven’t had to wear masks at school and haven’t seen outbreaks because of it? That masks are not a magic shield against the virus, and that even if she were to pass it along to a classmate, the risk of them getting seriously sick is minuscule?

I want to tell her that she can remove her mask, and socialize with her friends without being worried.

But I am expected to enforce the rules.

At the beginning of the pandemic, adults shamed kids for wanting to play at the park or hang out with their friends. We kept hearing, “They’ll be fine. They’re resilient.” It’s true that humans, by nature, are very resilient. But they also break. And my students are breaking. Some have already broken.

When we look at the Covid-19 pandemic through the lens of history, I believe it will be clear that we betrayed our children. The risks of this pandemic were never to them, but they were forced to carry the burden of it. It’s enough. It’s time for a return to normal life and put an end to the bureaucratic policies that aren’t making society safer, but are sacrificing our children’s mental, emotional, and physical health.

Our children need life on the highest volume. And they need it now.

———————————————————————————————–

When will the Masquerade come to a close?

Thanks to evolve-entertainment.co.uk

Anyone who has followed my scribblings knows that I approach behavioural psychology with extreme caution. This concern predates COVID by decades – see Outcomes, outcomes, outcomes for something written in the last decade. In previous posts, I have voiced my concern at the explicit and conscious stoking of fear fuelled by the SAGE Behavioural Group in the UK. At the heart of its cynical propaganda has been the mask. A month or so ago I ended a section on masks as follows:

In essence, the mask seeks to muzzle us into obedience. It confirms that we are in dire danger. It demands that we police one another into compliance. It is the visible expression of the desire to divide us from one another, to undermine our humanity. It is about social and political control. It serves no other purpose.

The Mitsotakis government in Greece is determined to keep us in our place – at least until the tourist season starts. Thus, as I write, we are under mandatory manners to wear face coverings inside [preferably duplex] and in the great outdoors. There are heavy fines to pay if we are disobedient. Pragmatic contempt is to be seen. No masks in the villages, masks worn or in readiness in the big towns. And, as for out in the olive groves, foothills and mountains we are at one with nature and humanity, looking each other in the eye.

Thanks to etsy.

Nevertheless, I was thinking of rehearsing the arguments once more but I’ve been saved the trouble by a challenging piece, composed by Gary Sidley, a retired NHS consultant clinical psychologist and a founder member of the Smile Free campaign to remove all mask mandates. It poses disturbing questions for the trade unions, the bureaucrats and the members, together with educators on the ground, be they, lecturers, teachers or youth workers.

Let’s face it -Governments use masking to force compliance, not fight viruses

Searching for Understanding in the face of Power and Propaganda – Part Two : ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’

In looking at the pandemic from an economic and political perspective I will proceed from what might be seen as the ABC of a critical analysis.

  • It is necessary to ground what we are looking at in the specific circumstances of the time.
  • In doing so we should be mindful also of the historical context if this seems pertinent and we might allow ourselves a speculation about the future if appropriate.
  • Additionally we must situate the phenomenon being scrutinised in the power relations of society. Cui bono? Whose interests are served by the way in which the object of our concern is characterized; by the way in which governments respond; by the way in which the people respond and so on?

My starting point is both simple and profound. The COVID-19 pandemic expresses first and foremost a crisis of capitalism’s health, much less so a crisis of our individual and collective physical health.  I shall seek to give substance to this assertion which if true has enormous consequences both for our day-to-day existence and the ongoing struggle to create an autonomous and democratic society.

As for weighing up what’s going on in 2021, I’ll go back no further historically than the Second World War. I acknowledge the following sketch is rough and ready but it’s no more than a starter for a critical exchange of views.I wonder if such a proposal to be argumentative makes any sense in these dualist and censorious times.

The Social-Democratic Consensus

Aneurin Bevan – a chief architect of the NHS

As the war came to an end the capitalist class was afeard. Talk of radical and revolutionary change hung in the acrid air. To retain their overall control they conceded the following:

  • An acceptance of the mixed economy, public and private cooperation, the nationalisation of basic utilities – water, electricity and so on.
  • An agreement that the leaders of the working class should have a seat at the table,
  • A recognition of the value of universal free education, social and health care.
  • However grudging, an allowance that the individual, the social and the political are inextricably intertwined.

The Neoliberal Fightback

Margaret Thatcher – the enemy within

Thirty years later influential sections of the ruling class were increasingly unhappy about the post-war social contract. Certainly, they were concerned to restore their share of the profits but were also deeply troubled by the growing pressure exerted by working-class militancy and the rise of the social movements demanding equality and justice. To retain their control they set in motion a counter-offensive. Its cornerstones were:

  • A rejection of the mixed economy and an explicit commitment to the primacy of the ‘free’ market as being the ultimate expression of what is good for everyone, rich or poor.
  • The utter necessity to undermine the autonomous organisation of the working class and the social movements, exemplified by the 1984/85  violent assault on the National Union of Mineworkers and the softer seduction of leaders and activists from the women’s, black and gay movements into managerial roles serving the neoliberal project.
  • The launch of an extraordinarily ambitious social engineering project designed to alter our very personalities; to privatise our existence, turning us in on ourselves as individuals and away from collective understandings of our situations; to see ourselves as passive consumers rather than active citizens.

Neoliberalism in crisis

The 2008 banking collapse served notice that the neoliberal economic model was broken. An opportunity of resistance beckoned. In the marginal world of youth work, I argued that we should reassert youth work as open, volatile and voluntary in opposition to the increasingly taken-for-granted closed, imposed, scripted version – youth work as intuition rather than youth work by numbers.

On the broader front, significant protest raged across the world but it was fragmented and largely contained. Nevertheless, the ruling class was shaken and stirred. Across the next decade, it was forced to act pragmatically, bailing out the banks with a massive infusion of ‘public’ money, whilst trying to work out a longer-term strategy that served its interests and maintained its power. The sticking plaster of quantitative easing hid the reality of unsustainable debt, the austerity-imposed immiseration of millions and the obscenity of the rich getting ever richer.

The United Nations poverty adviser, Philp Alston compared contemporary Tory policy to that which had created the workhouses of the nineteenth century. Research undertaken at the University of Bristol led by David Gordon illustrated that in the UK [population 69 million] 18 million people could not afford adequate housing; 12 million were too poor to engage in many forms of social activity; whilst 4 million children and adults were not fed properly. However, austerity was not too austere for the richest 1,000 in the UK, who increased their wealth by 60 billion pounds in a single year, 2017/18.

My guess is that from a ruling class perspective these themes have dominated their many extravagant meetings in snowy Swiss or sunny Mediterranean resorts.

Why Davos?
  • A compelling shift to believing that some form of global governance had to be achieved. The vision would require ‘scientific’ regulation, a central role for experts and the obedience of the senior management representing compliant states.
  • Hindering such a sweeping move would be nation-states with notions of autonomy and democracy itself, even in its limited representative guise, along with dissident collectives and dangerous maverick individuals.
  • How might an alienated population, exhausted from work, deprived of work, retired from work be persuaded to go along with a major restructuring of social relations in favour of the powerful at the expense of the powerless?

Towards a global-led technocratic and surveillance capitalism

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, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations – all powerhouses on the international scene – not to mention the World Health Organisation and International Monetary Fund.

Our experts and leaders

Somewhat in passing I find it intriguing that to comment on the intimate social connections between these corporations is often now dismissed as a sign of that neurotic condition, ‘conspiritatis’. Similarly it is seen almost as a cheap trick to pursue the money, to scrutinise the financial chicanery of these shakers and movers. When, to my mind, these avenues of inquiry are the basis of investigative journalism and social research, of speaking truth to power, if you will forgive such a hackneyed phrase.

To return to the question of the elite’s thinking, sections within its ranks have long felt that some sort of global overview of the social, political and economic order was necessary. To take but one example, Zbigniew Brzezinski, later Jimmy Carter’s Security Advisor, in his 1970 book ‘Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era’. wrote:

The technetronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities.”

“The nation-state as a fundamental unit of man’s organized life has ceased to be the principal creative force: International banks and multinational corporations are acting and planning in terms that are far in advance of the political concepts of the nation-state”


This globalising technology-led tendency has gathered pace in the last decade with the WEF at the forefront of proceedings. The following are but a few quotes from Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum contained in his 2016 book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Klaus Schwab

“Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies are truly disruptive—they upend existing ways of sensing, calculating, organizing, acting and delivering. They represent entirely new ways of creating value for organizations and citizens”.

“Sooner than most anticipate, the work of professions as different as lawyers, financial analysts, doctors, journalists, accountants, insurance underwriters or librarians may be partly or completely automated…”

“Drones represent a new type of cost-cutting employee working among us and performing jobs that once involved real people” 

“Already, advances in neurotechnologies and biotechnologies are forcing us to question what it means to be human”

We are at the threshold of a radical systemic change that requires human beings to adapt continuously. As a result, we may witness an increasing degree of polarization in the world, marked by those who embrace change versus those who resist it.

Enter the Pandemic

Whether the consequence of zoonotic transfer or laboratory leak, the COVID-19 virus has failed to live up to the catastrophic expectations of half a million deaths in the UK based on Neil Ferguson’s discredited computer modelling. It was never the 21st century version of the Black Death. Indeed WEF’s Kurt Schwab and Thierry Malleret in a book, The Great Reset, published in July 2020, allow that COVID-19 is “one of the least deadly pandemics the world has experienced over the last 2000 years”, adding that “the consequences of COVID-19 in terms of health and mortality will be mild compared to previous pandemics”. 

Nevertheless they cannot contain their delight at the opportunities opened up by its emergence.

“It is our defining moment”, “Many things will change forever”. “A new world will emerge”. “The societal upheaval unleashed by COVID-19 will last for years, and possibly generations”. “Many of us are pondering when things will return to normal. The short response is: never”.

“The pandemic is clearly exacerbating and accelerating geopolitical trends that were already apparent before the crisis erupted”.

Amongst the themes running dizzily through their excitement are:

  • The crucial need for the financial sector, together with the corporate, technological and pharmaceutical giants, to be the enlightened 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”.
  • The necessity of digitally transforming our private and public existence, whether through shopping, via a shift to on-line banking; on-line education, tele-medicine or even e-sport “Online banking interactions have risen to 90 percent during the crisis, from 10 percent, with no drop-off in quality and an increase in compliance.”;“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”; “The necessity to address the pandemic with any means available (plus, during the outbreak, the need to protect health workers by allowing them to work remotely) removed some of the regulatory and legislative impediments related to the adoption of telemedicine”;“For a while, social distancing may constrain the practice of certain sports, which will in turn benefit the ever-more powerful expansion of e-sports. Tech and digital are never far away!”
  • 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’. In the wake of the lockdowns, vaccine passports, physical muzzling and ideological censorship, I’ll visit the biosecurity state and freedom of thought and movement in Part Three.
  • 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

These developments are revealing but leave unanswered a nagging question, why would the ruling class, hardly noted for its humanity, close down society in the name of our common good? Back in the twentieth century Castoriadis warned against the illusion of ‘perpetual production and ceaseless consumption’, which as it is shattered will invite the rise of authoritarianism. More immediately, in the midst of the pandemic itself, Fabio Vighi ponders “why the usually unscrupulous ruling elites decide to freeze the global profit-making machine in the face of a pathogen that targets almost exclusively the unproductive, the over 80s?”

Age Infection Survival Rate of COVID [STANFORD STUDY ON COVID INFECTION MORTALITY RATES – A study by Cathrine Axfors and John P.A. Ioannidis from the Departments of Medicine, of Epidemiology and Population Health, of Biomedical Data Science, and of Statistics, Stanford University, July 2021

0-19 99.9973%

20-29 99.986%

30-39 99.969%

40-49 99.918%

50-59 99.73%

60-69 99.41%

70+ 97.6% (non-inst.)

70+ 94.5% (all)

Given there is precious little evidence that lockdowns have been the compelling riposte to the virus, it is intriguing to follow Vighi’s line of thought.

  • Above all lockdowns were imposed because the financial markets were yet again collapsing. In order to rescue the markets with another massive injection of cash the real economy had to be halted, everyday business transactions and the need for credit postponed. In this way capitalism buys time as it seeks to revive itself. Such a holding tactic is likely to be played again – see the constant references to new variants, unexpected emergencies. In this stuttering scenario one winner is without doubt Big Pharma. The sickly pharmaceutical giants, whose profits were waning, have been given a new lease of life via the oxygen of public funds provided to develop and then purchase the vaccines.
  • Reinventing itself is an utter necessity for capitalism as the old certainties disappear. Workers are thrown out of the workforce as automation takes over and increasingly they cannot find a way back into the fold of employment. In general the mass of the population will slide into relative debt and poverty. A chilling question surfaces, to what extent is a significant part of the working and middle classes surplus to requirements?

When push comes to shove the measures taken to counter the pandemic are part of necessary paradigm shift if capitalism is to survive. The taken-for-granted model of endless production and consumption, of inexorable economic progress is heading for compulsory redundancy. Vighi comments that as of now, “ capitalism is increasingly dependent on public debt, low wages, centralisation of wealth and power, a permanent state of emergency and financial acrobatics.”

George Orwell

As for the future it smells dystopian. The WEF’s  economic and political programme, the nightmare of stakeholder capitalism or more aptly technocratic neo-feudal capitalism, is a regime of rule by experts. It disdains democracy. It spurns the active, critical citizen. It prefers we settle for being contemporary serfs, obedient and grateful. If you think I exaggerate, look around at the compliance of so many, not least amongst the professional classes, during a manufactured pandemic.

In part Three I will visit the State of Fear created by a toxic mix of company-bound scientists and stenographers disguised as journalists – ‘the’ Science and the supine mass media.

A crucial moment in the struggle to save Sheikh Jarrah

A message with determination from Suhad Babaa of Just Vision

Increasing the power and reach of Palestinians and Israelis working to end the occupation and build a future of equality for all.


I’m coming up for air after a long week to provide an update on the campaign to save Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

Last fall, Israeli courts ruled to evict several Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a continuation of a devastating and violent takeover by Israeli settlers — backed by the Israeli police and judicial system — that we documented in our 2012 short, My Neighbourhood. Early this week, the Israeli Supreme Court postponed their ruling on the evictions until May 6, asking the residents to “come to an agreement” with the settlers who are trying to take over their homes. The suggested “agreement” – based on Palestinians forfeiting ownership of their homes to the settlers – was, of course, refused by the families who have lived in Sheikh Jarrah for decades. Yesterday, the courts postponed the hearing once again until May 10.
 
As Mohammed El Kurd, a resident of Sheikh Jarrah, youth organizer and protagonist of My Neighbourhood often reflects, while there are lengthy “legal processes” playing out, what’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah is political and systemic. Moreover, the “pattern of elongating the legal process is a common practice to dull popular resistance” to Israel’s expansionist policies. 

But the resistance of the community has not been dulled. Sheikh Jarrah’s youth have been holding nightly vigils to demonstrate against the evictions, raise awareness of their struggle and save the neighborhood. The community’s nonviolent protests have been met by brute force, with Israeli police violently storming Palestinian homes, spraying skunk (putrid liquid) at demonstrators, attacking residents and protestors with batons and mounted horses and arresting youth. Meanwhile, Israeli settlers continue to be backed by police and government officials, including a lawmaker from the far-right Kahanist party who temporarily set up a makeshift office in the neighborhood and the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem who goaded violence against Palestinians
May 3: Three Palestinian youth arrested, including Mohammed El Kurd’s brother, Mahmoud, and Omar Al-Khatib, pictured above.
May 7: Israeli police block activists from entering Sheikh Jarrah to demonstrate alongside residents. Thanks to Oren Ziv for the photos
The coming days in Sheikh Jarrah are crucial. The community’s campaign has gained momentum with press coverage starting to pick up steam and numerous US political leaders speaking out in support including: Rep. Cori BushRep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Chuy Garcia, Rep. Debbie DingleRep. Marie NewmanRep Ilhan OmarRep. Mark Pocan and more. Representatives Newman and Pocan are also leading an effort to urge the Biden Administration to oppose the evictions and a grassroots petition has also been widely circulated. Still, the majority of international press outlets have remained silent, and there has yet to be substantive action taken by the US, which could help pressure Israeli authorities to stop the forced displacement of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem.
We hope you will share this note far and wide. If you know journalists or decision-makers who can bring attention to what’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah, please reach out to them. And to get the latest updates, follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram, along with #SaveSheikhJarrah.

Even the Guardian is forced to cover the situation, athough the coverage itself is a cut and paste Reuters piece.

Israeli police clash with protesters over Palestinian evictions

Up to 178 Palestinians and six officers injured in skirmishes at al-Aqsa mosque and around east Jerusalem