Youth unemployment is now higher than it was in 1997, with 702,000 young people aged 16-24 jobless, according to official figures released just before Christmas.
This is 37,000 more than it was when Labour took office in 1997. It is a real indictment of the anti-working class policies of the Blair government, which has presided over the loss of two million engineering jobs, and has tried to bring in a Workfare cheap labour economy.
The unemployment rate is 5.5 per cent, up 0.6 per cent over the year. The number of unemployed has increased by 197,000 over the year, to reach 1.7 million. Unemployment is now rising faster in the UK than any other major EU country.
The number of people claiming the Jobseekers’ Allowance is 950,800, up 49,500 on the year.
The number of economically inactive people of working age increased by 38,000 over the last quarter to reach 7.84 million.
Works and pensions minister John Hutton has just decreed the government’s favoured cure for the rise in the unemployment figures and the economically inactive.
It is starvation. Hutton has announced that those British workers who are not willing to compete with migrant workers from the new EU states for the lowest paid jobs will have their benefits cut or be removed entirely from benefit.
As far as the government is concerned, cheap labour and the competition between the labourers for jobs to drive wages lower and lower is to be the rule.
So far 500,000 workers have arrived in Britain from the new EU states. Romania and Bulgaria have just joined the EU and although there is a 20,000 limit on seasonal workers, large numbers of workers are expected to arrive in the UK from these two states, to make the struggle for jobs even sharper.
This is in a situation where unemployment is already growing rapidly, and where a collapse of the housing market and sterling are being predicted for 2007, as interest rates and the numbers of bankruptcies rise.
The government’s position is clear. The more wages and benefits are depressed, the better it will be for the profits of the British bosses in their trade war with the new industrialised Asian states.
As for the living wage, benefits and the Welfare State, they are to be history – 20th century history.
In this critical situation the British working class needs socialist policies and leadership.
The first thing must be that the trade unions recruit all migrant workers, as they arrive, into the ranks of the British trade unions – nobody wants to live as a cheap labour wage slave.
The trade unions must develop policies that will both prevent the working class from being driven down into pauperism, and at the same time mobilise it for the struggle for socialism.
The trade unions must draw up their own cost of living index, made up of the essentials that workers need to live, and over and above an annual wage rise there must be a sliding scale of wages, so that on a two monthly basis wages rise to keep pace with the trade union cost of living index.
There must be a reduction in the working week, without any loss in pay, so that jobs are provided for the unemployed at the established wage rates.
All factories that go bankrupt, must be nationalised and put under workers control.
A programme of public works must be started to build the millions of council houses that workers require. This will relieve and solve the housing crisis and provide work at trade union rates for the unemployed youth, in particular.
In the event of a housing crash, councils of action must be formed to see to it that no homes are repossessed by the banks and that the banks are in fact nationalised. In this way the whole movement will be mobilised to bring down the Blair/Brown government to go forward to a workers government, workers power and socialism.