In the Queen’s Speech, the grey-haired racist billionaire announced, on behalf of Blair’s government, that the society constructed in Labour’s third term would be based on “respect.” No, not the dodgy communalist lash-up that managed to get some self-obsessed demagogue elected in East London (see elsewhere on this website), but that fluffy universal value that everyone from Ali G to Tony himself are advocates and exponents of.
And what’s the way to get to a society based on “respect,” folks? Is it, perhaps, to attack capitalism – the socio-economic system that pits human against human in a vicious dog-eat-dog, everyone-for-themselves daily battle for sheer survival – and replace it with a society run democratically in the interests of mutual need?
Actually, the way to build a society based on “respect” is to pass laws to stop young people from wearing certain items of clothing – notably hoodies and baseball caps, which were recently banned from the Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent.
Whichever way you look at it, the idea is preposterous. Firstly, the notion that changing a couple items of somebody’s clothes is going to have a meaningful effect on their personality and behaviour is laughable. If you don’t believe me, try this experiment: go and change your t-shirt right now and tell me if you feel significantly different to how you did before, and specifically whether you feel more or less likely to mug a granny or nick a few Mars bars from Morrison’s.
Secondly, it’s a blatant attack on the basic notion of freedom of expression. Ban hoodies and where do you stop? Perhaps jeans are next. Then coats. Then scarves. In 10 years time we’ll either all be wandering round in government-issue uniforms or in a state of government-enforced nudity.
Thirdly – and this is the most important bit, so listen up – this is all part of the government’s ongoing attack on working-class youth. This attack is being conducted on many fronts. Take, for example, the pitiful provision given to (predominantly working-class) Further Education students to study – the “Education Maintenance Allowance” was, until very recently, a meagre £30 per week and has just risen to a not-much-better £75.
Consequently we’re all forced to get part-time jobs to earn some cash, but the only jobs we can get (retail, fast-food, bar work) means we’re walking straight into massive exploitation and low pay. The government’s persistent attacks on the ability of trade unions to function effectively means there’s no strong labour movement around to fight this exploitation, so the situation’s not bright.
Another front of the government’s attack is the hyper-draconian approach that’s been taken to “anti-social behaviour,” of which the proposed banning of hoodies is a part. No one’s denying that many working-class estates do have serious problems crime problems, with much of it stemming from the behaviour of local kids. But issuing legal diktats about dress code or slapping us with ASBOs at the drop of a (probably soon to be illegal) hat is just about the least effective response imaginable.
It’s also farcical that the Blairites engage in all this moralistic finger-wagging about the intimidating hordes of kids roaming the streets at night at the same time as the local authorities they control are making cuts that means leisure facilities have to close, often leaving us with nothing to do with our evenings.
These attacks stretch far beyond government policy. In the pages of every sensationalist tabloid around you can read pages and pages of spittle-flecked vitriolic garbage that takes the (admittedly real) problem of anti-social youths on some estates and exaggerates it into a situation that essentially describes a state of anarchy on Britain’s streets and an effective civil war between marauding bands of hoodie wearing youngsters on one hand and innocent clutches of terrified pensioners on the other.
Ever been inexplicably followed by a security guard upon entering a store? Ever had people mysteriously cross the road when they saw you coming? Ever been called a “chav” or “estate scum” by a band of upper middle-class wankers so far up their own arses that they’re looking at the back of their own lungs? Yes? Then you too have fallen victim to the current atmosphere of vehement anti-working class resentment, thinly disguised as moralistic concern for law and order and the well being of the nice old lady next door.
It’s important to recognise that almost all of the media attacks and the flippant, sniggering jokes about “chavs” and “council-estate Traceys” come from pompous, middle-class idiots who’ve never been to a working-class estate in their life and would probably faint at the mere sight of one. The real meaning of the word “chav” is difficult to pin down. What we can pin down is the way it’s most commonly used: as a term of abuse for working-class kids.
Anti-social behaviour does exist, but the way to tackle it is to hit its root causes. Providing us with adequate facilities locally – and more broadly with proper education funding so we can all get the free, high-quality education we’re entitled to – will do more to tackle youth crime and anti-social behaviour than the knee-jerk banning of a couple of clothing accessories ever will.
Rebuilding a spirit of basic solidarity in our communities is also essential. Young criminals invariably feel alienated from everyone around them and see crime as the easiest way of expressing a backlash against alienation. When the trade union movement was stronger and more visible, people in working-class communities felt united by their common class identities, their common struggles and their common class interests. Rebuilding the trade unions (getting rid of the right-wing bureaucrats who run most of them, for a start) is a key element of restoring solidarity in working-class communities and reaching out to alienated and disaffected youth.
All the government’s attacks will serve to do is further divide working-class communities, primarily along generational lines. The first step to combating this is to sharpen up your class consciousness; being working-class unites you not only with everyone else in your community (whatever their age, sex or ethnicity) but also with every other working-class person in the whole world, and workers are just as capable of making attacks on the culture and ideas of the ruling-class as they are on ours.
The working-class pensioners that the government is claiming to defend have got absolutely nothing in common with the upper-class millionaires running the country and everything in common with the working-class kids who’re being painted as their biggest enemy.
Secondly, simply don’t give in. If you wear a hoodie and a TN cap, keep wearing them. You’re a person, not an item of clothing, and you’re not going to be told how you can and can’t dress because of some ridiculous stereotype about misbehaving teens.
Thirdly, you can fight the government’s attacks politically. If you’re a student, get involved with your Students’ Union and build a campaign for free, top-quality education for all (contact Education Not for Sale – www.free-education.org.uk - for more details about that).
If you’ve got a job, get in touch with the GMB (www.gmb.org.uk). They’re a trade union that’ll represent pretty much any worker and can provide vital materials and assistance for organising against low pay and exploitation in the workplace.
Why not contact No Sweat (www.nosweat.org.uk) as well? No Sweat is the UK campaign against sweatshop labour, and with branches in most UK cities it can bring a touch of dynamism to any attempts to organise exploited workers.
While you’re at all this organising, how about organising a meeting at your school or college or on your estate about these issues? Get your mates along and have a discussion about what you think of it all and how you want to respond. Bolshy will be happy to provide a speaker – drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
A political fight-back against the Blairite government’s assault on working-class youth is absolutely vital. They’ve got parliament, the law, and the media as their weapons. Our only weapon is the collective power we’ve got as part of the class that makes society move. To win on this – and every other – issue, we need to start using that power.