As the exam period ends in the UK, young people surging through the gates of schools and colleges will be looking for jobs. But with jobs disappearing and unemployment predicted to surge for months to come as a result of the crisis of capitalism, they’ll mostly be disappointed.
The number of people in work fell by 271,000 over the three months to April to 29.11 million, the biggest quarterly drop since comparable records began in 1971. Unemployment rose to 2.261 million in the same period, the highest since November 1996. A third of a million jobs are forecast to go in the public sector in the next period as mass unemployment becomes a reality.
Those still with jobs are just beginning to discover the real meaning of the global economic meltdown following decades of credit-led growth. For capitalist society, the inescapable elimination of productive capacity means millions of people become surplus to requirements and those in work must face an unprecedented ratcheting-up in the levels of exploitation. Wages must fall, working hours must increase, and benefits must be slashed.
Having announced a £401 million loss for 2008, British Airways this week intensified its assault on its employees. As well as eliminating 6,500 jobs since last summer, last month it invited staff to shift to part-time working or take up to a year’s unpaid leave. Now it wants them to volunteer to work without pay for up to a month as their contribution to the airline’s survival. The deadline for volunteering ends next Wednesday. No doubt BA has a plan for something more brutal if too few line up to cut their own throats.
It was just this kind of brutality – and far worse is to come - that was implied when the Bank of England, trying to slow the economic disintegration, was forced to resort to the occult art of “quantitative easing” at the beginning of March. It reached behind the ear of a mesmerised audience and found not just one golden egg – but £125 billion of new money which it poured into the already troubled economy, lending much of it to the government in the form of new debt. In the US, the Federal Reserve has similarly increased the amount of money in circulation by a huge 16.5% in the last year.
But debt, and its opposite credit of all kinds – of which currency is just one – comes with a heavy cost. All credit is a promise to pay, and the value needed to make the payments comes from only one place – people with jobs. When central banks around the world turned to quantitative easing, apparently detaching money from its role as a measure of value, they set off a chain reaction. In reality it meant that the state took on the responsibility of ensuring that the repayment of the debt and its interest will be forcibly extracted from the remnants of the working population for decades to come as the cost of rescuing the system from collapse.
If the capitalist system is to survive, it means that rights to object will also have to be eliminated. And it is these objective forces that destabilise the political process, strip away the democratic mask of parliamentary government, push the BNP forward, encourage racist attacks on Romanians in Belfast, and bring the threat of nuclear exchanges back on to the agenda.
In Iran, a new generation without jobs have led the spectacular upsurge against a reactionary regime. We need to mobilise young jobless in Britain to inspire a revolutionary transformation of a regime led by New Labour that throws people on to the scrapheap straight from school and replace it with a society that puts people’s needs ahead of profits.