Snouts in the trough……

We’ve just received the National Coalition for Independent Action May newsletter.


It’s a splendid mix of information, analysis and gossip. The opening thoughts on ‘snouts in the trough’  muse whether this is the moment  to put into question  the whole democratic charade.  More from ourselves on the redundancy of representative democracy soon. I enjoyed in particular being reminded of a slogan from Paris 1968 :

Empowerment? – no thanks I’ll take care of that”

Published in: on May 25, 2009 at 3:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Youth workers: Soft cops after all!?


At the weekend, on the Friday and Saturday nights of such concern to New Labour, youth workers and the police will be found hand in hand on the streets, monitoring the ‘negative’ activities of young people. I’m not sure how widespread this phenomenon is, but to my knowledge it is happening in at least two North-West authorities and down in the Metropolis. I’d like to say that I’m astonished by this union of the State’s ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ policepersons, but my display of stunned surprise would be less than convincing. However I am very interested in your views on how we’ve moved to finding such ‘joined-up policing’ ordinary and acceptable: all the more so given the recent hue and cry about police brutality and murder at the G20 Summit – see my rambling rant ‘Policing the Crisis’ in April.

Back in the early 70’s I can remember the local bobby being on the youth club management committee, but as the decade wore on matters became less cosy. Escalating social unrest increased levels of distrust between young people and the police. As youth were increasingly moved on from their gathering places, as a combative punk movement grew, there was a tacit agreement that the police were not welcome in our youth clubs. By the early 80’s suspicion had deepened further, fuelled in the inner cities by the use of  Stop and Search [SUS] to harass black young people and the  consequent uprisings in such places as Brixton and Toxteth. In Manchester a major controversy broke out over the police setting up their own youth clubs. As I remember  the Youth Service published a policy document explicitly refusing police access (without a warrant) to its facilities. In Leicester where I worked from 82 to 84 relationships between black and Asian projects and the police were fraught with tension. Inevitably police repression during the Miners’ Strike deepened the chasm between youth and the ‘armed bodies of men’ in the coalfields. Up in Derbyshire, where I’d moved, the Police Liaison Committees were abandoned by the Council for a number of years as a gesture of support to the working class communities brutalised by the occupation. In the youth centres of Bolsover and Shirebrook the police were personae non grata.

From there though my memory becomes less sharp as the antagonism lost perhaps its edge. Thus, back in Wigan in the 90’s, there was a joint desire from the Council and the Police Authority to rehabilitate a working relationship. When the Youth Service was savagely cut as a result of rate-capping, the Police were in the forefront of criticising the loss of jobs and closure of youth centres. In the aftermath I found myself forming a relationship with the Inspector for Community Affairs, by now an influential member of the Services for Young People Committee. Yet with all its contradictions there remained an agreement that we should not become too close: that youth workers must be understood as acting on the side of young people. As a concrete example, there was much concern at the time about identified ‘hot spots’ where young people were alleged to be causing trouble. The pressure was to divert youth workers to these troublesome bus shelters and street corners. In countering this we sought funding for and created a team of Youth Mediators, who were as independent as possible both of the Police and the Youth Service. Their task was to make the first intervention into a so-called ‘hot spot’, charged with the task of interviewing and mediating between all those concerned. In this process of mediation it was stressed that the youth workers and police had different and often conflicting perspectives. The initiative was beset with dilemmas, but its underlying rationale was to maintain a distance between the youth workers and the police, even when the latter were dressed in the garb of community constables.

As for the present situation, within which the Police on the one hand run Safer Neighbourhood football and netball projects, whilst instigating ‘harass the hoodies’ schemes on the other, what are the views of youth workers about their relationship with their uniformed ‘partners’. This question is made all the more pertinent when even the media sympathetic to the New Labour project in its infancy mourn a decade of authoritarianism and hypocrisy – see Larry Elliott in the Guardian. It is becoming common-place to suggest that New Labour has lost its moral compass. This is misplaced. New Labour never possessed a principled political perspective.  Following years in the wilderness, its raison d’etre was to be in power, to possess power for its own sake. And this is where there are those within Youth Work, who need to take a breath about what they’ve been up to.  In accommodating to New Labour’s oh-so weary blaming of the victims, in cosying up to the forces of law and order, haven’t they lost their ethical compass? Are they revealed to  be no more than cops in jeans and trainers?

Published in: on May 12, 2009 at 10:59 pm  Comments (3)  
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Youth Work research, Youth Justice analysis and Trade Union history

Valuable pieces of research, analysis and history have hit the stands in recent weeks. All of them are significant in their own right, but in addition  provide important material for the In Defence of Youth Work debate and campaign.

  • Bernard Davies and Brian Merton in partnership with the De Montfort University, Leicester have published Squaring the Circle? Findings of a ‘modest inquiry’ into the state of youth work practice in a changing policy environment’. They begin by stating,  one of the starting points for this piece of work has been our personal and professional concern that youth work as a distinctive practice is being written out of the current policy script. They end by pondering , what will the long-term consequences be for youth work of its location in local authority structures focused mainly on prevention and rehabilitation rather than on education and personal and social development? However this is but one conclusion in its closely argued, evidenced and readable pages.
  • Hard on its heels we’ve received An Enquiry into the development of a Continuing Professional Development framework for the Youth Work profession, written by Michael McAlinden, the Training Development Officer with the Youth Council for Northern Ireland. This is particularly welcome as it tackles directly the question of whether youth work is a distinctive profession as well as giving us an insight into the Northern Irish situation. He begins, the development of a continuing professional development policy (CPD) is a priority for the youth service in NI and the rest of the UK. The CPD agenda is currently being driven by the sector skills council (SSC) Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK) as part of a project for the whole of the LLUK footprint as laid out in its Sector Qualifications Strategy document. However youth work suffers from a crisis of professional identity. Anecdotal evidence suggests that youth work is at times viewed as something of a ‘pseudo profession’. Fundamental to this belief is the question of professional expertise.
  • Continuing the Irish connection we’re pleased to receive Deena Haydon’s thorough and challenging Background Paper to the Include_Youth_Manifesto for Social Justice in Northern Ireland. At the heart of her argument is the clash between  ‘justice’ and ‘welfare’ strategies. In a ‘justice’-based approach, children in conflict with the law are defined as ‘children in trouble’ and the responsibility of the criminal justice system. The emphasis is on public protection and prevention or reduction of offending, with decisions made through the due process of the law and administration of punishment  to fit  the crime committed.  In a ‘welfare’-based approach, children  in  conflict with  the  law  are  defined  as  ‘children  in  need’  and  the  responsibility  of children’s services (e.g education, health, social care). The emphasis  is on care, protection and diversion  from  the  criminal  justice  system  through  providing  support  to  children  and  their families to help them access the services they require and develop strategies to deal with their circumstances.
  • Finally Doug Nicholls draws our attention to his new history of the Community and Youth Workers Union, Building Rapport a specialist trade union that has regularly punched above its weight. On a personal level I look forward eagerly to getting my hands on a copy. I was a member of the union across a turbulent decade in its history, which witnessed its negotiation of a  rocky path from CYSA to CYWU; its adoption of a radical constitution, which prompted a failed right-wing coup; and its rejection in late 1988 of a proposal to merge with NALGO. It will be fascinating to read Doug’s version of these events and, of course, the earlier and later happenings in the organisation, which has recently celebrated its 70th birthday.

Published in: on May 12, 2009 at 12:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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