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Young Labour should set its sights higher

Exceptional things happen under the most adverse of economic circumstances. It’s an oft-told tale in the North East of the humble, unemployed men of Jarrow taking their crusade on foot three hundred miles to London in the 1930s.

Not specifically to argue about the conditions of the working the man, or to argue about the decline of shipbuilding on the banks of the Tyne as such, but to make a pertinent comment on the relationship between Government isolationism and poverty.

Between the despair felt through every industrial town in the country and idleness of politicians willing to send them on a train home and do nothing – even their own Labour party condemning them as hooligans – when in actual fact they could do everything within their power to make a lasting, sustained difference.

From this first tentative protest about globalisation, the world changed. Economics changed. The Labour Party changed. Through numerous achievements, shifts in ideology and mixed success electorally by the time the world teetered on the crumbling precipice of economic depression in 2008 the Labour movement was finally one united voice, with a Parliamentary majority with two active youth wings – Young Labour, and the National Organisation of Labour Students.

I often wonder if those souls from the Jarrow crusade could look back at the organisational machine their ideological sons and daughters had become, and wonder why we so spectacularly failed to challenge the case for austerity as badly as we did during the depression. But also, why we paradoxically adopted Westminster’s political consensus that cuts must be made, despite economic reality and more importantly our own political imperatives flying in the face of any such consensus.

The price of adopting this consensus is a generation of youth unemployment.

This is not meant to be a criticism of any current campaign by Labour Students or Young Labour. The campaign against youth homelessness is one which I encounter during every shift and Labour Students’ adoption of the Living Wage campaign with such zeal highlights how difficult it is for anyone to make ends meet on the National Minimum Wage, but why must we pour so many resources into political low-hanging fruit when essence of the problem not only goes unanswered but also unasked; how and why have these young people ended up without homes?

Why are wages depressed below an acceptable ‘living’ standard when productivity (and profit) climb ever higher? Can we really fully get behind a Labour message of ‘One Nation’ that promises to protect the NHS in a time when ‘money remains tight’ whilst thirty two trillion dollars is held offshore amongst the world’s richest?

If these questions are being brushed away by Westminster, just like the Jarrow marchers, it is up to the Youth movements to take up the mantle of the social justice, to be brave and diverge from the party line. My own particular branch of Labour Students at Durham University have an executive that mostly comes from backgrounds involved in commercial banking – HSBC, the Kiln Group, Royal Bank of Scotland; the very harbingers of doom that caused the social upheavals that organise against as Labour party activists.

I am unconvinced that Young members who’re mounting campaigns for Young Labour National Committee and Chair who equally strive for patronage from ideological organisations such as Progress can adequately seek to question the wider reasons why we cannot achieve real prosperity for working class people, and use globalisation to empower the world’s poorest, rather than oppress them.

Youth homelessness, the need for a Living Wage and Youth Unemployment are our symptoms, but not our disease. I’m reminded of the Catholic priest Helder Camara who lamented about how when he gave food to the poor, he was glorified as a Saint, but when he questioned why the poor had no food he was derided as a Communist. While we as young activists ignore the question global inequality in wealth, we can only dream of being the Saints of our social objectives.

A list of left candidates standing in the Young Labour elections can be found here


  1. An excellent well written article that give us plenty of room for thought.

  2. Patrick Coates says:

    Without Labour there would be no minimum wage

  3. Robert says:

    yes and brought in welfare reforms

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