Over the last more than a century workers have been turned into a huge class of consumers. Global wealth depends on this class, yet its importance, also for the 1 percent, is often ignored, as every increase in income inequality shows.
But workers are disunited and that along national lines. Capital has globalized, but workers have been persuaded that international workers’ solidarity is in contradiction with their national wellbeing. Hard to understand how this could be true when capital works on the opposite assumption, but the ferocious opposition to international trade agreements by trade unions show that nationalism trumps international solidarity amongst the weak who exactly could gain strength from uniting globally.
The youth of the world is in a similar state of disarray. German youth, so extravagantly privileged in many respects, does not see the commonality of interest with the youth of Spain or Greece, and more surprisingly the youths of Spain and Greece do not see their shared destiny. The outrage of Syriza had a young face, but was in the final analysis an instrument for the outrage of the older generation. To a lesser degree the same is true for Podemos of Spain, and the youth of Italy seems to suffer mostly in silence. The young generation in Germany and Austria might be right that they have little to win from showing solidarity with the youth of ‘the periphery’, at least in the short term, but as they have nothing to lose from supporting their less-privileged brethren there is at least an issue of morality.
The sad reality is that the opposition to austerity policies masks very opposing interests between the various stakeholder groups. When Syriza defends the interests of pensioners in Greece it is at the expense of the interests of the youth. For the youth the reform of society should be a priority and the opposition to austerity measures should be an opposition to the strangling of industries that could give jobs to the young, an opposition to the underfunding of the education system etc.
When trade unions march in protest it is more about those with jobs than about the young without employment. Trade unions have become an instrument of the possessed, not of the dispossessed! Workers’ representation in firms or elsewhere does not distinguish between the interests of elder workers and that of the youth, partly because also the young with jobs see their first interest to be protection of those jobs, rather than fighting for jobs for their fellows in the rain.
The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, spoke quite movingly about the unemployed being a 29th state in the Union when he presented himself to the new European Parliament, and he drew particular attention to the plight of the young. Yet, his Commission is organized like a national government when it comes to the interests of the young. There is a Commissioner for employment, including youth unemployment, and there is a ‘Commissioner for education, culture, youth and sport’. Such a structure means that the youth does not have a true advocate within the Commission, in the sense of a Commissioner who sees the interests of the youth as the overriding brief. There is no Commissioner who pursues the interests of the young across the multitude of portfolios, no Commissioner who with single-minded determination seeks to avoid the tragedy and disaster of a lost generation. The Commission has many worthwhile initiatives in the area of youth unemployment and education, and many are exclusively targeted to the young. But at the Commission level there is no dedicated Project Team on youth or youth employment (and there are more issues than just unemployment). The desperate situation of the youth in many EU countries deserves more than that. It deserves a forceful voice!
Lobbying is big in Brussels, as in most capitals of this world. Yet, the youth is woefully lacking lobbying power as well. Surely any mid-size industry has more lobbying influence than the youth and that is true worldwide. Trade unions, yes, they are there, the youth is not! And how many NGO’s are dedicated to youth concerns, and how forceful are they? Nothing comparable to Greenpeace exists!
The baby-boomer generation has always been good at setting the global agenda, and we are certainly not young anymore! It is time for the young to step up to the plate! The Occupy movement is not addressing the central concerns. Indignados are there, but the voice, never strong, never just centred on the young, is fading.
It sounds boring, but it is time for the young to create structures that will carry their banners, and to demand that the rest of society creates structures that will serve them – the future of our societies. It is not enough to have demands, institutionalized power is necessary. That is what can be learned from trade unions, from the successes of capitalism and socialism.
The youth must understand that in all current institutional set-ups (where is the UN Youth Organisation?) the interests of the young are mixed with the interests of many other stakeholders with better organization, and their voice will be often drowned out.
Without being too Hobbesian, it can be said that there is nothing new in the fact that social groups must fight their own battles. Nobody else will! It is high time for the young to learn this fundamental lesson. So, youth of the world: unite! Youth of the world: organise!