Speech for the Development Educational Association`s National Conference


Ideas grounded in reality make the world go round. Here are some ideas...


We are in the middle of a frightening drive to war. Children and young people, already starving due to sanctions against Iraq, are soon to be bombed there. I am proud to say that CYWU is active in opposing this barbaric drive to war. Such is the barbarity of ideas in the air at the moment that we are being driven back to pre industrial times by the weapons of mass destruction made by capitalist industry.  


We are also very active as a Union in opposing the attempt to swallow Britain up into the regional arm of globalisation, that is the European Union, through the single European currency. None of the 300 million people in the eurozone had a vote on whether to enter it or not. As a result they are suffering and most want to come out. We have a responsibility here to vote ‘no’ in a referendum to the biggest attack on our democracy since the Second World War. I hope youth workers will be a leading part in this and ensure that new and young voters get it right.  


Remember whoever controls the currency controls the government. In the case of the Britain in the euro, we would be entirely controlled by unelected bankers in the European Central Bank who must meet in secret and immune from any national influence. 


We are told the nation state is dead, any nation that seeks national independence will be a target. Tomorrow Iraq, then Iran, then North Korea, then Vietnam, then Cuba, then China. Yugoslavia was dismembered for its refusal to join in with the capitalist club and its assertion of its own national sovereignty. Germany and the US broke it up into warring tribes and religious factions.  


As corporate global forces, led by the United States and European Union, seek global domination, the US wanting more oil and the European Union hungry for the resources of Africa, and terrorist forces create mass indiscriminate murder in the name of a new Holy Empire, we face renewed demands on our commitment to peace and internationalism and national self determination. As educators with young people this responsibility is even greater and we are in a privileged position to make a real difference. 


In the absence of a large stabilising power the world has become more divided. Jew versus Arab, Muslim versus Christian, Sikh against Hindu, Catholic against Protestant. Sectarian hatreds and local rivalries are fanned to mask the problems caused by the shadows of the real imperialist monster. In our own country the consequences of de industrialisation have led to bitterly divided communities and sectarian hatreds. The fallacy that says mankind is divided by race has again reared its ugly head.  Instead of community cohesion built around shared social goals, we have street murders because of the different colour of someone’s skin, or choice of worship.  


Petty chauvinisms, flawed racial theories and hatreds have fanned the flames of local, artificial differences between people. Local communities fight while the hidden hand of the profit driven market has destroyed the uniting power of vibrant local economies that were once based on the principles of working together to transform nature to meet human needs and care for the shared environment. The corporate takeover of Britain has fractured communities and this fracturing will continue if for example, faith schools are allowed to flourish. We are going back to a tribal cultural. War paint and all.  


In parallel with the economic devastation,  that has moved away from growing and making things for local and domestic markets, has been a rise of the unreal economics of the financial and future’s exchanges, the coupon clipping of the financiers who run the world. Fortunes are made by gambling on the vast £13 trillion a day speculative casino.  Some individuals can make in a day more than the government spends on young people in Britain in  a whole year. And this in turn has reflected a cultural change. In a world brimming with technology and man-made discovery and genius, there is a flight away from science and a return to primitive superstition. Instead of firmly rooted organic crops, phoney genetically modified plants are designed to keep the seed supply for malnourished continents firmly in the hands of the giant multinational corporations who patent life giving proteins for profit. Seeds for many developing nations are no longer produced from last year’s growth, they are imported from laboratories overseas at great expense. The plants grown from these do not produce fertile seeds the following year.  


We are entering a culture where a belief in life after death motivates terrorists to kill the innocent and where artificial life is manufactured to create death. Science is warped for profit to kill. 


What is referred to as globalisation presents itself as an invincible, mighty global power that makes an identical McDonalds market across the world. It seeks to achieve this by fostering and encouraging as many local and petty rivalries as possible. Yet globalisation is really a paper tiger and no more than capitalism and imperialism in new clothes. Instead of the war mongering generals of individual capitalist powers with their handlebar moustaches who led the world to war at the beginning of the twentieth century, we now have the faceless corporations forming three multi national war making blocs, the North Atlantic Free Trade Area around the United States and the dollar, ASEAN around Japan and the yen, and the European Union around Germany and the deutschmark.  


Britain is being pulled apart by allegiance to two of these blocs. On the one hand the Prime Minister seeks to follow Bush into war, on the other he builds up the European army and single European foreign policy and wants everything that Brussels wants. Brussels is dominated by the Trans National Corporations most prevalent in Europe. What gets ignored are the real needs of  the British people. Billions to support war and billions to support fraud and agricultural and fishing chaos in Europe, but little nothing it seems to pay our firefighters or youth workers. Shrieking about the government of Zimbabwe seeking to distribute land to its own people, no noise about the devastating programmes of land reform across Africa to distribute more natural resources into the hands of mining and oil companies. 


Yet it is what is domestic, national and local that is the source of our renewal. When firefighters go on strike here the government’s war-making plans are delayed because the armed services can’t cope with preparations against Iraq and firefighting. When railway workers fight for health and safety on the track and its re-nationalisation they strike right at the heart of the plans of the European Union to privatise all services and utilities. In fact it is the local and national that is the Achilles heel of so called globalisation which is really old fashioned imperialism. You won’t stop imperialism by some global alliance. You have to cut off its supply line. Inevitably the supply line of all global forces, especially the leading multi national corporations, lies within individual countries. Look at the ultimate source of profit of the global companies. They make their money from skilled workforces in the industrialised world. Until these workers stop the supply line we will have foot loose and fancy free companies seeking international dominance. True internationalism really does begin at home. 


This gives us in Britain a great choice and responsibility. For too many decades we have relied on the victims of imperialism overseas to fight against it while we have cheered their efforts. We have stood on the sidelines while national liberation struggles and anti colonial movements have fought off our armies. That we had to power to stop our armies going in the first place was often forgotten. 


So in this increasingly dangerous and divided world, what role for youth workers ? How can we play a part when the problems seem so immense ? We need first to appreciate that we have a more important and significant role. We are at a good time and in a good position to influence a future generation. At CYWU’s national conference this year we agreed to reassert our union commitments to promoting political education as part of professional youth work practice. Youth work at its worst has declined into remedial leisure time activity, while subtle forms of very political indoctrination uncritically in favour of the status quo and the establishment have emanated from some youth work organisations. It is time to restore the capacity for critical, political conscious thinking in youth work practice. We should value the fact that it is right to rebel. 


Youth work has always been very well placed to influence the minds of the young, that is why the establishment and military have been so interested in it. It is why also pacifists and socialists have been so interested in it. It is high time that pacisfists and socialist got the upper hand with young minds. There is something inherently powerful about the informal education method.   In the absence of a structured, non negotiated, hierarchical curriculum, and by forging a voluntary relationship between educator and ‘student’ youth work starts with the real experience of the young person, their self perception, their localised and limited view of the wider world. Largely through conversation, the youth worker extends the horizon of perception by challenging, informing, questioning and pointing things out in a relationship built on equality and trust. The democratic structure of the youth work relationship is designed to support and foster, not target and police, or regiment. Our educational method encourages the most powerful forms of education, self directed learning, self awareness. We are uniquely placed to convey authentic understandings of rights and responsibilities at a point in life when attitudes and identities are formed. 


A youth worker deals with the fluid and difficult materials of idea formation, the complicated amalgam of psycho somatic and social influences that make up the young person’s mind and personal identity. It is because youth workers ultimately can assist in the process of identity formation that they have such a tremendous potential power for change and such a responsibility. Young people do  not see youth workers as being clever, they see them more deeply as being role models and this gives our form of intervention more potential power. The way we speak and act as youth workers really makes a difference. An inflexion of tone, a gesture,  a way of responding to a situation, the ways we challenge, the humour we use, the way we present ourselves, these all make a difference, and often a lasting impact on character formation and values. It’s hard, responsible, urgent stuff and cannot be treated lightly.  


The Tories neglected youth work and nearly wiped it out in the public sector cuts. They thought there was no such thing as society and actually stated there was no separate social category called young people. As a result there was no need to invest in the Youth Service. The separate ear marked guidance to local authorities for spending on the Youth Service was withdrawn.  


From Tory neglect we moved in 1997 to New Labour abundance. A new major policy a day and new funding streams for working with young people. Social inclusion and community cohesion and education at the heart of their agenda. A new deal for young people actually at the very heart of their programme and led by Gordon Brown. The particular role and advantage of youth work and the Youth Service to the new government agenda was sadly misundestood and neglected. However, the National Assembly for Wales took the lead and through its policy document Extending Entitlement took the first major step in the UK and introduced a statutory youth service based on JNC qualified workers and with the Youth Service at the heart of you interventions and policy. After a period of anxiety that the employment driven focus of Connexions would vacuum up all youth work within its corporate colours, we have now won the recognition from government that youth work and the Youth Service must be properly supported in their own right. The English government is not going as far as the Wales Assembly, or indeed the republic of Ireland, no statutory Youth Service is planned for England, however, very significant levers upon local authorities, new funding and new commitments are about to be launched under the programme Transforming Youth Work. The Minister will formally launch these proposals on December 18th. But here is the outline: 


The government will create a new funding stream earmarked for Youth and Community Work. 


The government will hopefully create some new moneys as a result of the Comprehensive Spending Review.


 The government intends to play closer attention to local authority youth service provision and will clearly enable to Secretary of State to intervene where OFSTED and government Offices have identified weaknesses.


 Local Authorities will be expected to:


  • Prepare annual plans for Youth Service provision.

  • Give strategic leadership to all those who provide services for young people

  • Establish a local curriculum for youth work and a local pledge to young people.

  • Resource their Youth Service sufficiently aiming towards a target spend of £100 per young person per annum.

  • Resource their Youth Services with JNC qualified staff in sufficient number and provide continuous professional development for them.

  • Establish transparent standards for service delivery

  • Take fuller account of Health and Safety and Child Protection issues.

  • Mainstream Equal Opportunities and Diversity issues.

  • Establish compacts with the voluntary sector.

  • Establish a locally relevant youth work curriculum.

  • Target involvement of 25% of 13-19 year olds in Youth Service delivery.


Significantly these levers and powers will be based on a definition of youth work which reflects our voluntary relationship and informal education programme with young people and reaffirms a commitment really to tackling social justice issues.  


There are new and real opportunities for youth workers to help young people understand the world they live in and identify with those that point to a more peaceful and co operative future. In this dialogue with the young we should renew our commitments to challenging prejudice and the exploitative use of power. However, in renewing these commitments let’s end the hypocrisy. While seeking to empower the young and teach them of the dangers of unequal distribution of wealth and power, youth workers have remained decidedly unempowered themselves. Let’s see a rebirth of youth worker trade unionism. Let’s see a recognition that youth workers have no right to advise and support the young in collective action if they are incapable of it themselves. If you are ignorant of your own employment and civil rights how can you support young people in asserting theirs ? Trade unions are at the heart of the democratic struggle in every country and our international union links seek to offer hands of friendship and peaceful co existence throughout the world. If we are role models for young people let the young see us getting more organised and collective in our work as youth workers.  


CYWU offers you a vehicle for this collectivity and democracy to advance our profession, protect each other and create a voice for ourselves and indirectly young people.  


Let’s ensure that young people see us through trade union and collective organisation doing our bit to the change the world, or we will not be able to encourage them to do so. If we relate sensitively to the emotional and perceptual factors that form young people’s identity we should be brilliant at relating to each other to build a powerful organisation in the union to challenge injustice for ourselves and demonstrate to young people that we do not accept the system that we ask them to oppose.











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