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The Epidemic of This Decade: Youth Unemployment

4 Feb

Businessweek’s cover article this week is on the global crisis of youth unemployment. With protests led by young workers demanding democracy in Egypt, what is it this generation cannot do?  And what is society loosing by derailing their opportunity to enter the labor market?

The Youth Unemployment Bomb:

From Cairo to London to Brooklyn, too many young people are jobless and disaffected. Inside the global effort to put the next generation to work

“An economy that can’t generate enough jobs to absorb its young people has created a lost generation of the disaffected, unemployed, or underemployed—including growing numbers of recent college graduates for whom the post-crash economy has little to offer. Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution was not the first time these alienated men and women have made themselves heard. Last year, British students outraged by proposed tuition increases—at a moment when a college education is no guarantee of prosperity—attacked the Conservative Party’s headquarters in London and pummeled a limousine carrying Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla Bowles. Scuffles with police have repeatedly broken out at student demonstrations across Continental Europe. And last March in Oakland, Calif., students protesting tuition hikes walked onto Interstate 880, shutting it down for an hour in both directions.

More common is the quiet desperation of a generation in “waithood,” suspended short of fully employed adulthood. At 26, Sandy Brown of Brooklyn, N.Y., is a college graduate and a mother of two who hasn’t worked in seven months. “I used to be a manager at a Duane Reade [drugstore] in Manhattan, but they laid me off. I’ve looked for work everywhere and I can’t find nothing,” she says. “It’s like I got my diploma for nothing.”

While the details differ from one nation to the next, the common element is failure—not just of young people to find a place in society, but of society itself to harness the energy, intelligence, and enthusiasm of the next generation. Here’s what makes it extra-worrisome: The world is aging. In many countries the young are being crushed by a gerontocracy of older workers who appear determined to cling to the better jobs as long as possible and then, when they do retire, demand impossibly rich private and public pensions that the younger generation will be forced to shoulder.”

So here is the main question… ignoring the frame of a choice between protecting seasoned workers or nurturing young workers… what can we do to expand job opportunities for young workers? And what can unions do to prevent a lost generation?

The end of the article returns to the standard anti-worker propaganda that minimum wage laws and unions decrease hiring. We know these to be empirically false, but if young workers are looking for institutions to blame how do we make sure this propaganda does not take off and young workers see the labor movement as part of the solution?

Students Arrested During Protest Against Cuts to Social Services

2 Feb

2000-3000 Manchester, UK students protesting for workers rights break from unions who they say are not doing enough according to SkyNews report:

The arrests happened when students broke away from a larger joint rally calling for a Future That Works. According to one blog, StrongerUnions, the event, was sponsored by the Trade Unions Congress – in partnership with the National Union of Students and University and College Union to “highlight the impact of the  coalition government’s programme of cuts and ‘reforms’  on young workers, students and young people in general.”

Alta Gracia Factory In Action

2 Feb

Last year, United Students Against Sweatshops were able to make a significant step in changing the way the collegiate apparel industry operates by working with Knights Apparel to open the Alta Gracia factory, offering students the opportunity to buy sweat-free hoodies.  Recently they took a group of students to visit the factory and inspect the working conditions.  Here’s a report from the Daily at University of Washington, which is contracting with Alta Gracia.

By Kirsten Johnson
February 1, 2011

On a typical day in any lecture class, it’s easy to spot students sporting purple UW-logo hoodies. While owning one or two of these is common, some people might not think about the working conditions under which they were made.

Photo by Lucas Anderson.

USAS member Morgan Currier wears her Alta Gracia sweatshirt in front of the only U-Book Store clothing rack that holds the brand.

“Something that we take for granted [is] where our clothes come from,” said sophomore Morgan Currier. “Like we don’t necessarily think about it that much.”

As a member of the UW chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), Currier and her fellow members have been bringing attention on campus to the issue of sweatshop-made apparel, as well as promoting Alta Gracia Apparel — a brand that guarantees its factory workers benefits including health care, a living wage and unionization.

Just recently, Currier traveled alongside six other USAS college students to view the Alta Gracia factory conditions firsthand.

“It’s exactly what a factory should be,” she said. “It has fans, it has lights, emergency exits. They can get up and get water when they need, they can talk to each other, they can go on bathroom breaks.”

Currier said that she found it interesting to see the work ethic the factory workers had in performing simple tasks.

“Everyone has a part,” she said. “Someone will sew on the hood, someone will sew on the sleeve — they do this all day, every day. They make thousands of pieces of apparel every day. I don’t think the average American would be able to sit [there] all day and sew on a hood the same way they do a thousand times, every day.”

During her visit, she brought her own UW sweatshirt to show one of the workers.

“I swore he was going to cry,” she said. “It was just like, ‘Look at this thing that I have created that has your university logo, and you wear it at your school in America, but I made it here.’ He was just looking at the stitching and [was] really, really proud of his work.”

This past November, the U-Book Store began selling a small selection of Alta Gracia apparel in its stores. CEO of the U-Book Store Bryan Pearce said that the store looked into the initiative that was proposed by Knights Apparel, who created the Alta Gracia brand, and decided to place an initial order.

“We thought it was very noble and had quite a bit of merit to it,” Pearce said. “We felt it was important for our store to carry that line of products along with the other things that we do in the interest of being socially responsible.”

Before the Alta Gracia apparel arrived in the U-Book Store last November, members of USAS brought two factory workers from the Dominican Republic to campus to describe their former working conditions and help promote Alta Gracia.

USAS — previously known as SLAP — has existed in various forms on campus since 1997. They have been actively involved in many major social-justice campaigns, including the Nike campaign last year.

USAS is hoping to promote Alta Gracia since the U-Book Store sells the apparel based on demand.

Senior Garrett Strain, a member of USAS, said he hopes that eventually all the apparel purchased by the university will be produced in factories like Alta Gracia.

“It’s much less important to me that it’s Alta Gracia and more that it’s produced in a factory where workers have the right to have the freedom to join a union and be paid a living wage,” he said. “That’s ultimately the bottom line for me. Students should care because it’s their school’s emblem that is being screened on these sweatshirts. In many ways, [sweatshop-produced apparel] tarnishes the reputation and the image of our school. And I think students should be proactive in wanting to purchase clothes that shed their school in a good light and provide it with a reputation for standing up for workers’ rights.”

Currier said that response that they have received from student groups so far has been encouraging.

“The school argues that there is only a small percentage of students that care about where their apparel was made and that those are the types of students [who] don’t necessarily wear UW apparel, but we think that they’re wrong,” she said. “We think a lot of students care, including students in the Greek Community, in ASUW, in these smaller communities that typically wear their apparel more, we think that they care just as much.”

Reach reporter Kirsten Johnson at

Pushing Back Against Economic Crisis, Youth Unrest Ripples Around World – Working In These Times

31 Jan

Pushing Back Against Economic Crisis, Youth Unrest Ripples Around World – Working In These Times:

Has anyone noticed that new unemployment claims just climbed by 51,000 to 454,000? Maybe we’re tired of being reminded about the jobless rate. It was politely ignored in President Obama’s State of the Union Address, even as he promised to boost opportunities for the next generation.

Yet the next generation is at the center of unemployment epidemic….

Youth Unemployment is Not Just An American Crisis

17 Dec

Youth unemployment is a worldwide crisis.  Many of the the rich countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) are suffering from extraordinarily high ratio of youth to adult unemployment, according to a new report, Good Start? Jobs for Youth, released yesterdaySpain has the highest youth unemployment at 42%, while Switzerland has the lowest.

Of the 16.7 million youth who are neither working nor in school or training, 10 million have given up even trying to get into the system.  This can lead to permanent scaring for both the youth and the country.  To combat this the report suggests governments should:

  • Move towards early intervention programmes and effective job-search assistance for different groups of youth, such as in Denmark, the Netherlands and Japan.
  • Strengthen apprenticeship and other dual vocational training programmes for low-skilled youth, as traditionally done in Austria, Germany and Switzerland and scaled up in Australia and in France.
  • Encourage firms to hire youth, by offering temporary subsidies targeting low-skilled youth and those have completed their apprenticeship, as well as small and medium-sized firms.

Unions have a role to play in creating these opportunities as well.  As occurred during the summer months, locals used federal TANF dollars to create apprentice programs and share workloads.  There is no reason why with a little creativity we couldn’t figure out a way to create similar programs now or create more permanent pathways (of course having more funding from the federal government for such a program wouldn’t hurt either…).  Creating a type of structure where the union facilitates your first entrance into the labor market will pay huge dividends in the long-run as a new generation of union activists emerges.


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