What UK’s young jobless can learn from Barcelona

Spain’s street protests will be pertinent here as unemployed under-25s approach 1m

BY Neil Clark LAST UPDATED AT 10:06 ON Mon 30 May 2011

Judging from Saturday's hopelessly one-sided Champions League final, in which Manchester United were, in Sir Alex Ferguson's own words, "given a hiding" by Barcelona, it's likely to be a few years at least before English football catches up with the super-skilled Catalonian version.

But the Spanish tactics for streets protests – against joblessness among the young and against the power of the banks – is another matter.
 
On Friday, Spanish police fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters in Barcelona's Plaza de Catalunya, who had occupied the city's main square since May 15. At least 5,000 people then turned up to protest against the police's brutal intervention.

Meanwhile, in Madrid, an occupation of Puerta del Sol square has lasted for over two weeks. Young Spaniards are taking to the streets, in increasing numbers, to protest over the country's high level of youth unemployment - which at 45 per cent is the highest in the EU - and the austerity programmes of the Zapatero government.

They're also calling for radical change in the political system. "The Arab spring has crossed the Mediterranean," says Noelia Moreno, a spokesperson for the 'Spanish Revolution'. The question now is - will it cross to Britain?
 
Cheered on by the political elite, the 'Arab spring' has been interpreted in the west as a sign of people's dissatisfaction with dictatorial governments. But the roots of the protests, as I argued in The First Post in February, are economic.

Neo-liberalism, while providing bumper pay-outs for the international financial elite, has failed to deliver economic security for the majority of citizens across the world. The biggest failure of global capitalism has been in creating jobs - and in particular jobs for young people.

Last August, the International Labour Organisation revealed that 81 million young people worldwide were without jobs at the end of 2009 - the highest level of youth unemployment ever.

Worryingly for Cameron and Clegg, the same economic factors that have brought young people out on the streets in their thousands in Tunisia, Egypt and Spain, are present here in Britain.

Almost 21 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds are unemployed - and that figure does not include those on training schemes and not claiming benefits. In some blackspots - such as Merthyr Tydfil in Wales - youth unemployment is as high as 34 per cent.

Writing in the Sunday Mirror yesterday, Professor David Blanchflower predicted that under-25s unemployment would hit 1m this year. And that was before today's bad news from the British Chambers of Commerce, who have cut their UK growth forecasts for the second time in six months (from 1.4 to 1.3 per cent this year, and from 2.3 to 2.2 per cent for 2012).
 
We got a taster of the civil unrest which lies in store with the student fees protests of last autumn. Now it's time for the main course.
 
The coming protests are not going to be a re-run of the late 1960s, when, at a time of plenty, youth engaged in a cultural revolution against the old. This time, the elderly, the middle-aged and the young will be on the same side. For all age groups are being shafted by international capital and their political emissaries.
 
Earlier this year Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, warned that households in Britain faced the fastest drop in living standards since the 1920s. While the bankers continue to award themselves obscene six-figure bonuses, ordinary Britons - like ordinary Spaniards - are expected to pay the price for the financial crisis which the bankers themselves caused.

Is it any wonder that people are getting angry - and that the comments sections of pro-Conservative newspapers such as the Daily Mail and DailyTelegraph are full of anti-banker and anti-free market sentiments?
 
The only way that living standards can be protected, and meaningful jobs created for young people, is for Britain's political elite to make a clean break with neo-liberalism and instead embrace once again the interventionist economic policies which worked so well in the 30 years following World War Two.

But with the power of capital so strong, it's hard to see signs of a major U-turn coming from government. It's likely therefore that it will be on Britain's streets where the argument will be made.

"It's an anti-capitalism, anti-market ruled society, anti-banks, anti-political corruption, anti-failed democracy, anti-degraded democracy and pro-real democracy protest," a Spanish street protester told the BBC.

It may not be a punchy slogan, but I won't be surprised to hear the same thoughts expressed on the streets of London and Manchester very soon.

As David Blanchflower wrote yesterday, young people without work or training opportunities "have low levels of morale, are miserable and have an over-riding sense of hopelessness. This isn't good for our society." ·