The Tories are trying to bring back a toned down version of National Service. The original version, under which all young men had to do two years military service, was abolished in 1963.
David Cameron is advocating that all 16 year olds should take part in a six-week programme of charity work and physical activities after their GCSEs — whether they plan to stay at school or college or get a job afterwards. This will help people develop pride in themselves and in Britain, strengthen national identity, tackle anti-social behaviour blah blah blah...
Let’s list the reasons why socialists should oppose this nonsense:
1. It will very likely become compulsory. When Cameron first floated the idea, at the start of 2006, he argued that the scheme would have to be “universal”. This is the an attack on the rights of young people to do what we want. (And even if the scheme doesn’t become actually compulsory, there will clearly be a lot of social and institutional pressure to buckle under and be a good citizen.) Why should the state be able to order us to go and do what capitalist politicians consider “good works”? Cameron, Brown etc are worried is how to crack down on “NIWOTs” (youth “not in work or training”).
2. “Volunteers” will be used to as cheap labour for the state and voluntary organisations on projects which should be publicly funded and create decent, secure, well-paid jobs — boosting the drive to privatise services by handing them over to the voluntary sector, and the drive to push unemployed youth into doing crappy jobs at half the cost (or, in this case, for free!) Witness Cameron’s first pronouncement on the subject last year, in which he cited “helping with social services in Stepney” as something that people might do.
3. It is a substitute for, an excuse for not, providing the options that young people really do need: decent jobs, more and better benefits, housing, services and facilities, free and properly-funded education and so on. We want to live in a nice flat without paying too much rent; have a fulfilling, well-paid job; get real access to education; and be provided with the services we need to live and enjoy our lives — not be pushed into a yet another scheme. As governments continue to hack public sector provision to bits, they will cite national service as proof that they really do care about young people’s needs.
4. As you might expect from a throw back to the 1950s, it is an ideologically reactionary throw back to concepts of national identity, militaristic discipline and so on — concepts that bourgeois politicians are incredibly keen to promote, but we must be ready to oppose.
5. The Tories said it!
Disgracefully, the National Union of Teachers has apparently signed up to help Cameron develop his plan. Socialists must get the labour movement to oppose it and fight for the real alternatives that young people need.
by Amina Saddiq