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Issue #1912      April 27, 2020

CHALLENGES FOR AUSTRALIAN YOUTH AND THEIR REVOLUTIONARY POTENTIAL

As events have unfolded this year, a stable livelihood for young Australians has become increasingly difficult and is leading towards growing advocacy for revolutionary action and socialism. As well as the COVID-19 and bushfire crises, it is predicted by economists that Australians will also suffer through the first recession in nearly three decades, and it is expected to affect working-class young people most of all. Throughout history, capitalists and imperialists have used times of crisis to restructure the economy in their favour, to the detriment of those who are forced to sell their labour.

Graph shows the spikes in unemployment and underemployment in the 1980s and 1990s recessions. The blue line represents those aged between 15-24 years. The black and red dotted lines show the predicted increase in underutilisation in the coming recession by using the data from the previous recessions.

UNEMPLOYMENT/UNDEREMPLOYMENT TRENDS IN YOUTH

The youth underutilisation rate (unemployment and underemployment) in Australia currently sits at 30.6 per cent. “Underutilisation” infers that these young people are simply “not used” or “not used well.” However, from the perspective of the working class, this can be more accurately interpreted as the working class youth experience more homelessness, less job opportunities, more depression, more suicides, less access to resources, and poorer health outcomes.

If a youth underutilisation rate sounds unusually high, that’s because it is, and it hasn’t always been this way. Before the early ’80s recession, youth underutilisation sat at 14.1 per cent, rising to 25 per cent (an increase of 77.3 per cent) over the next two years. A decade later, the “recession we had to have” saw a similar rise, this time from 16.3 per cent to 31 per cent over a three-year period, a whopping 90.1 per cent increase. Given we are only at the beginning of the current crisis, and the severity is expected to be greater, it’s feasible that youth unemployment could reach as high as 50 per cent in the coming months and years (see graph). It’s little wonder the favourability of a socialist system is growing amongst Australia’s youth.

LIBERAL REFORMS WHICH HAVE IMPACTED THE WORKING CLASS

In the 1980s, The Hawke Labor Government commenced the process of dismantling the centralised award system, taking on neo-liberal policies. Enterprise agreements became common practice, and top union leaders moved away from traditional trade union philosophies, embracing corporate unionism, that is, unionism openly and directly serving the interests of the capitalists. Less support from unions led to poorer working conditions and wage stagnation for the average young Australian in this time. Many forms of industrial action were for all intents and purposes banned – this was one of the primary objectives of the Accord.

During the 1990s, the restructuring of Australia’s economy led to further privatisation of very important public assets. Between 1991 and 2006, the Commonwealth Bank, Qantas, and Telstra were sold off. As well as the high unemployment rate for young people, they were now forced to pay for private profits for services which were once publicly owned. Following on from this, the introduction of Australian Workplace Agreements (AWA’s) under the Howard government moved towards individual employment contracts for workers, including increased casualisation.

CURRENT CHALLENGES FOR AUSTRALIAN WORKING CLASS YOUTH

So where does this leave young people today? The implications for today’s working-class youth are serious. The ongoing state of affairs in this country which have led to casual, temporary, and contractual employment make it increasingly easy for employers to get rid of workers who make any argument for their conditions and wages. Casual workers can be let go at any point with no redundancy; temporary employees anxiously hope that their contracts will be renewed; contractors have to battle against others in their own industry. This creates a climate of fear to simply be part of a union, with little opportunity to build comradery and organise as a class.

THE EFFECTS OF AUTOMATION

Notably, the automation of unskilled labour seems like a reasonable step in the right direction for people to specialise. However, due to the current labour laws, it leaves little opportunity for those without support networks to be able to eventually work towards skilled labour – whether it be an apprenticeship or further study at TAFE or a university. This is a massive contradiction in how the Australian economy functions and what will be necessary moving forward. Already there is a clear market forcing young people into jobs which are dangerous with poor wages (e.g. UberEats). This is a perfect example of how technology has not necessarily created better opportunities for young working class people. Instead, as is the case with UberEats, it puts them at more risk, riding bicycles on busy roads with no protections and receiving abysmal wages, under a huge multinational corporation that allows almost no chance to fight.

REVOLUTIONARY POTENTIAL OF THE YOUTH

However, the future is not completely bleak for young people, as studies have shown a growing revolutionary spirit in their generation.

A paper brought out by the right-wing Centre for Independent Studies in 2018 revealed an interesting trend towards millennials supporting favourable views of socialism, that is around 60 per cent of the 1,003 people surveyed. Since the fall of the USSR, the “red scare” tactics which alienated a whole generation from socialism have not been applied as strongly to today’s youth.

However, this situation is changing fast with the increased attacks on China from across the political spectrum.

Bernie Sanders, while not striving towards socialism in a Marxist sense, has opened up a space for discussion. As young people continue to sense the ineffectiveness of neo-liberal reforms and show more engagement in communism and socialism, comrades in the CPA must be prepared for the struggle the young working class will be engaged in. Already during the COVID-19 crisis, innovative ideas have been pushed forward, creating more online spaces to build comradery, learn, and organise. This must continue to be encouraged as Australia’s working-class moves into a more volatile future.

Now more than ever, Australians must understand their settler-colonial past, the neo-liberal reforms of the ’80s and ’90s, the soft power influence from the US, and how to function effectively in unions. This is imperative not only for the youth but for all working class and exploited people in Australia.

Next article – IT’S TIME FOR ONE QUALITY PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM

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