'Jobs, jobs, jobs' must become the watchword of the Labour opposition
When he’s talking about his past (and when he’s not being rude) Billy Connolly makes me roar with laughter.
About his school days, he relates how his hero was a boy named Wobey Tide (as in ‘Wobey Tide, the boy who plays truant’, ‘… who forgets his homework’ etc.).
Having messed up his education, Connolly went to work in the shipyard. On the last day of term, the doors of the school opened, the boys streamed out, the doors of the shipyard opened, and the boys streamed in. Connolly had intended to become fitter, but got in the wrong queue and ended up a welder.
It is tempting, as indeed Connolly does in his show, to throw back your head and cry ‘Ohhh! The dep-riv-AAAA-tion!’ Certainly, it was a poor system of education which could consign someone as multi-talented as Billy Connolly to life as a welder.
But the system had much to recommend it. It was a world dominated by the ethos of going to work, and where ‘growing up’ was synonymous with getting a job. It was a world, not of full employment, but with lots of jobs – even a medium sized factory would have, for example, a maintenance section of perhaps 20 electricians, carpenters, mechanics, etc.
Young men going into such a world soon learned to know their place; many of them found their older, tougher workmates daunting. But the factories provided maturer role models, a structure of discipline, an apprenticeship, camaraderie and a group of friends with whom they socialised after work.
Neither was it a world lacking in social mobility. In previous generations, the ‘decent’ working class, sometimes even more prim and pretentious than the middle class, would despise the ‘roughnecks’ who lived on the other side of the tracks. But the factory provided a career progression/route to betterment for anyone with drive and ability. An enthusiastic floor-sweeper would eventually be asked to become a doffer, a reliable doffer a skilled spinner.
Night school provided even wider opportunities. My grandfather – himself from the ‘rough’ underclass – worked his way up to become manager of an insurance branch. His sons took articles in law and accountancy. His grandson went to Oxford.
I am NOT going to over-glamorise what was for many a filthy and dangerous life. All I am saying is that the system had its strengths.
Above all, and I cannot stress this strongly enough, for all its faults, that world created confident, outspoken and assertive working men, who defined themselves by their job, and who worked hard, took pride in their work and their place in the world, and went home tired to a family for whom they had aspirations.
A Workless World
What has become of that system nowadays? There are no factories waiting to swallow the ‘class of 2012’. ‘Efficiencies’ and ‘lean working’ mean that what factories survive are more likely to be laying off than taking on.
There are few apprenticeships; by contrast, firms are desperately hanging on to their ageing, trained workforce, and worrying what will happen when they retire. Amazingly, after all we pour into education, we have a shortage-of-skills economy.
We keep children in education for ever nowadays, doing ‘vocational qualifications’ which, apparently, do not provide them with the skills they need for a job. We encourage thousands onto degree courses which, apparently, not only do not provide them with the skills they need for a job, but just render them over-qualified for a whole range of jobs they might easily have done before they went to university.
I was a teacher for 36 years, so I have no illusions about our youth. I am not going to allow you to stereotype me into someone who sees only bad in youth. I know how wonderful they can be, and of the potential that resides in each and every one of them
But experience tells how sulky, surly and sloppy many youths can be. We keep them at school for ever, yet school teaches them nothing they need for the workplace; schools have been beaten down into running solely after ‘qualifications’, and they easy-oasy the difficult and the less-abled through to whatever ‘qualifications’ they can wangle for them.
Into the Future with a Workless Workforce
And so we have more than a million young people out of work. It is difficult to comprehend the horror of that statement. The waste, the despair.
It is racking up disaster for the future. As we force a million young people to stay at home playing computer games, or to attend meaningless ‘training courses’, we are in fact creating a huge, ill-disciplined, feckless, hopeless, antipathetic body of people … who are bursting with strength, energy and emotions without any future to throw themselves at.
Anybody with even the slightest knowledge of Weimar Germany will appreciate the dangers inherent in that!
Employers – and older co-workers – complain that large numbers of young people are work-sky and undisciplined. In most cases, this is a direct product of the chaotic and deprived situations many young people come from. But, where there is only endless, valueless, sitting-around, we have engineered a world where – far from providing them with an opportunity to escape their situation – we force them back into it to stay there, day after day, year after year, generation after generation.
Scorn turns eventually, to resentment. People start saying things like: "Why SHOULD we pay our hard-earned taxes so that they can sit around?" And when some youths prove clever enough to find ways to manipulate for their personal benefit the welfare system we have consigned them to, they are even more outraged: "Damn ‘scroungers’ with their ‘something for nothing’ culture".
But it is our own fault, because we have created a world where children from the underclass see no hope, no job and no future … and opt to conclude that there is therefore no point in trying.
And you were surprised by the summer riots? For many, they were a lot of fun, and a chance to blow off frustration.
The Simplest of Solutions
How did we ever allow this situation to come about, where HUGE numbers of our young people are either unemployed/unemployable, or clicking their heels on some inappropriate course … whilst, counter-intuitively, we are forcing older people to work for LONGER!!!
We have sat back for decades and allowed the economy to develop in a way which might have maximised profits but is wrecking our society.
We have imagined that ‘education, education, education’ was the answer; it just made things worse.
Now, apparently, we believe that ‘workfare’ (about which I have yet to rant) and a harsher benefits scheme will somehow force young people into jobs which do not exist.
We need to say a resounding ‘No’ to all of the above.
The government hands out £billions-worth of contracts, with all kinds of restrictions built in; why not simply specify that those contracts MUST include the provision of a specified numbers of (meaningful) ‘starter’ jobs for young people?
Why not impose regulations which require firms to take on a certain proportion of young people/apprenticeships
And, where we cannot bribe or bully private businesses to take on youth, government must stand in – I have for those of you know your history, just six letters: WPA and CCC.
The answer is ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’.
And it is this that must become the watchword of the Labour opposition.