Chatting with Young People about the ‘Posties’ on Strike

Press coverage of the Communication Workers’ Union dispute with Royal Mail, even when slightly sympathetic, shakes its collective head at the apparent hopelessness of the workers’ situation. We get little insight into the day-to-day experience of the workers themselves. It is not stretching a point to note that this lack of anecdotal analysis chimes with our concern within Youth Work to encourage workers to tell their stories of practice. Thus it is fascinating on a number of counts to read this detailed account of the pressures upon the postal workers and the impact upon their lives of  ‘new managerialism’.

The Diary of Ray Mayall begins:

Old people still write letters the old-fashioned way: by hand, with a biro, folding up the letter into an envelope, writing the address on the front before adding the stamp. Mostly they don’t have email, and while they often have a mobile phone – bought by the family ‘just in case’ – they usually have no idea how to send a text. So Peter Mandelson wasn’t referring to them when he went on TV in May to press for the part-privatisation of the Royal Mail, saying that figures were down due to competition from emails and texts.

I spluttered into my tea when I heard him say that. ‘Figures are down.’ We hear that sentence almost every day at work when management are trying to implement some new initiative which involves postal workers like me working longer hours for no extra pay, carrying more weight, having more duties.

It’s the joke at the delivery office. ‘Figures are down,’ we say, and laugh as we pile the fifth or sixth bag of mail onto the scales and write down the weight in the log-book. It’s our daily exercise in fiction-writing. We’re only supposed to carry a maximum of 16 kilos per bag, on a reducing scale: 16 kilos the first bag, 13 kilos the last. If we did that we’d be taking out ten bags a day and wouldn’t be finished till three in the afternoon.

‘Figures are down,’ we chortle mirthlessly, as we load the third batch of door-to-door catalogues onto our frames, adding yet more weight to our bags, and more minutes of unpaid overtime to our clock. We get paid 1.67 pence per item of unaddressed mail, an amount that hasn’t changed in ten years. It is paid separately from our wages, and we can’t claim overtime if we run past our normal hours because of these items. We also can’t refuse to deliver them. This junk mail is one of the Royal Mail’s most profitable sidelines and my personal contribution to global warming: straight through the letterbox and into the bin.

His tale ends:

Like many businesses, the Royal Mail has a pet name for its customers. The name is ‘Granny Smith’. It’s a deeply affectionate term. Granny Smith is everyone, but particularly every old lady who lives alone and for whom the mail service is a lifeline. When an old lady gives me a Christmas card with a fiver slipped in with it and writes, ‘Thank you for thinking of me every day,’ she means it. I might be the only person in the world who thinks about her every day, even if it’s only for long enough to read her name on an envelope and then put it through her letterbox. There is a tension between the Royal Mail as a profit-making business and the Royal Mail as a public service. For most of the Royal Mail management – who rarely, if ever, come across the public – it is the first. To the delivery officer – to me, and people like me, the postmen who bring the mail to your door – it is more than likely the second.

We had a meeting a while back at which all the proposed changes to the business were laid out. Changes in our hours and working practices. Changes to our priorities. Changes that have led to the current chaos. We were told that the emphasis these days should be on the corporate customer. It was what the corporations wanted that mattered. We were effectively being told that quality of service to the average customer was less important than satisfying the requirements of the big businesses.

Someone piped up in the middle of it. ‘What about Granny Smith?’ he said. He’s an old-fashioned sort of postman, the kind who cares about these things.

‘Granny Smith is not important,’ was the reply. ‘Granny Smith doesn’t matter any more.’

So now you know.

The whole detailed story is well worth your attention and well worth bearing in mind if your young people wonder why folk are forced to go on strike.

Thanks to Peter for the link.

Published in: on November 1, 2009 at 12:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Policing The Crisis: Who Killed Blair Peach and Ian Tomlinson?

To do nothing but grumble and not to act – that is throwing one’s life away. [William Morris 1834-96]

The first three paragraphs below [in italics] were written at the beginning of the month before internet connection problems stymied the appearance of our April Blog.  However I’ll  let these thoughts stand and pursue the contradictions below. I have though changed the title of the post to ‘Policing the Crisis’ [the title of an influential book written thirty years ago by Hall, Jefferson et al] to capture the the present mood of concern with police strategy and tactics – see the Guardian’s sudden outrage at thuggish policing – and in memory of the death of teacher and anti-fascist, Blair Peach on April  23, 1979, which is not as neatly connected to the sad demise of Ian Tomlinson as some observers suggest.

At the same time as musing upon Morris’s quote I’ve caught myself grumbling at the poverty of the poorly choreographed spectacle of the G20 Summit with its clichéd script and mediocre performers, watched myself in the mirror grumbling in the face of Brown’s fawning sycophancy at the feet of our contemporary Messiah, Barack Obama.  Moaning aside, what cannot be escaped  is the deep-seated character of many people’s resolute belief in the inescapable necessity of a leadership caste, even as, to all intents and purposes,  these supposed representatives of the demos remain unaccountable and beyond recall. It is a measure of their mediocrity that Obama appears to tower above them. The carefully measured tread of his cool delivery is hailed as the renaissance of the lost art of oratory. For now the mediocrats scramble for his momentary attention, believing that to feel his grace  will enhance their chances of retaining influence and power. Do we really accept that this global version of  the familiar world of personality politics  is truly Democracy in action? Of course I know that to doubt Obama is to risk excommunication from the broad church of his countless admirers.


And, to add to my worries, I must chance too the wrath of those demonstrating against the Summit [and for a hundred and one other good causes too].  As a bit of a  ‘demo’ veteran I’ve been bothered for many a year about my involvement in ritualised processions, which have as often as not served the interests of the oppressor as much as the oppressed. The scenes in the City seem to emphasise further this contradiction. This is all the more ironic, given that it might be supposed that the eclectic forces of anti-globalisation would be more creative than the organised ranks of the old labour movement. And yet, if anything,  the capitalist  State, its ‘armed bodies of men’ and its servants in the media seem even more in control of what people can do and of what people can think. The police talk up trouble.  They ‘kettle’ and suffocate demonstrators of whatever inclination, and yet they allow a ‘violent’ few in full view of a battery of photographers to smash symbolically the windows of the Royal Bank of Scotland.  This is protest as Reality TV – a judgement, which is given weight by the sight of protesters using their own mobile phones to film themselves in the very act of their supposed opposition to the status quo.  Forgive my harsh tone, but this strikes me as narcissistic self-indulgence – the attitude of the voyeur rather than the revolutionary.

All of which may reveal more about my own failings and prejudice than the efforts of those present at the G20 Summit itself. Certainly debates around the nature of leadership and the differing tactics of how we resist will not go away. These questions remain central to creating an opposition, which cannot so easily be recuperated by the powerful; a resistance that defies becoming merely the token adversary in a Spectacle edited and produced by Capitalism Incorporated.

Within days these scribblings were being both confirmed and contradicted by the shifting situation.  As for policing it’s not often I quote Lenin nowadays, but his opening thoughts on the state’s creation of ‘armed bodies of men’ to protect its interests retain their relevance. It’s a pity he didn’t take his own analysis seriously. But it is a touch curious to listen to commentators, even Shami Chakrabarti of LIBERTY talking about police tactics at the G20 as if they mark an escalation of state violence. Back in 1977 at Grunwicks I was amongst the amazed and unfortunate, who were assaulted out of the blue by the fully kitted out Special Patrol Group – 243 pickets were treated for injuries, 12 had broken bones and 113 were arrested. At the time this short, sharp shock did feel like a qualitative change in the State’s policing strategy, reflecting the breakdown of the post-war social-democratic consensus and the rise of the neo-liberal project – even as Labour governed. Central to the success of the ‘free-market’ ideology, dressed in Thatcherite garb in its early years, was the intimidation of the labour movement and of any social forces such as black youth that might stand in its path. Thus, during the 1981 uprisings, the Black Parents Association in Manchester stated that the Moss Side police station was “long regarded as the operational basis of a racist army in occupation”, accusing the police of violent SAS-style raids. Whilst in 1984/85 the striking miners were involved in ‘ a civil war without guns’, within which the ruling class deployed its mounted cavalry against workers in plimsolls. The pivotal showdown occurred perhaps at  the Orgreave coking plant where the LIBERTY of that era exclaimed, “there was a riot, but it was a police riot!” But police harassment was an everyday occurrence across all the coalfields,  for miners, miners’ wives and indeed for their supporters. Only a little later on January 24, 1987  I endured the most frightening night of my life at Fortress Wapping as the police waded into all and sundry – printers, sympathetic trade unionists, journalists, legal observers and local residents. I spent what seemed hours cowering and freezing in the corner of someone’s front garden. You would have thought by then I might have learned my lesson. The police were certainly learning theirs.

Ironically I found myself discussing some of these experiences with a couple of Greek young people, who had been very involved in last December’s uprisings in Greece. Their feeling was that the memory of the 1970-74 military junta and the compliant role of the police in the activities of the dictatorship remains deeply etched in the Greek psyche. They argued that the State and its armed bodies of men is still deeply distrusted by many within the country and that the police know this well. It means that their brutality is less organised and coherent than the British variety. By and large they suggested Greek police are collectively less confident and arrogant than their British counterparts. And this is reflected too in the willingness of at least some sections of Greek youth to confront physically the State’s machine. When questioned about such a ‘macho’ stance, they turned the question round  and asked why British young people seemed to fight only each other. Echoing sentiments in a thoughtful Guardian piece, Children of the Revolution, they insisted proudly that they are fighting for a future beyond capitalism. This said, for the time being, the energy and dynamism of the pre-Xmas days have faded away.

However Greek young people do feel that they are a social force with the potential to change society. They hold to a collective perspective, which brings me in a roundabout way to the plethora of photos and videos of the G20 demonstrations doing the rounds. Obviously the scornful tone of my comments about self-indulgent snapshot taking missed utterly the crucial part played by the amateur footage in exposing numerous incidents of police violence, not least the unprovoked killing of Ian Tomlinson. In this light it is tempting to reminisce about how we might have called attention to the police excesses of our past if we had possessed today’s technology. And yet I’m not so sure.

Forgive the repetition, but the historical examples I’ve mentioned from Grunwicks via Brixton to Wapping represented a conflict between the State and social forces with the self-conscious collective capacity to challenge capitalist hegemony. Thus for Thatcher, whether you were a miner, a black youth, a feminist or even an anti-fascist, you belonged to ‘the enemy within’, who had to be defeated. We were a threat because we knew that there was such a thing as society and as creative  beings wished to alter radically the social circumstances of our lives. In this battle of ideologies the roots of our resistance lay deep in the relations of class, gender, race and sexuality. Contrary to the demand of the neo-liberal order we refused to be defined on its terms as individuals. Our desire to be individual was a collective and political venture. And in this battle, if we got bludgeoned, we were activists not victims. It is this that makes me feel that even if we had possessed wider photographic evidence of our beatings it  would have altered very little.  Across this period, by and large, the media churned out the State’s propaganda.  As Simon Pirani points out, ‘The BBC News reversed the order of events at Orgreave in 1984, screening shots of miners throwing stones at police before showing mounted officers charging the miners. In 1991, though, in response to a complaint by Charles Alverson of Cambridge, Martin Hart, on behalf of the then BBC director general, acknowledged that the film had been reversed. Hart claimed: “It was a mistake made in the haste of putting the news together … an editor inadvertently reversed the occurrence of the actions of the police and of the pickets.” No inquiry or public admission occurred’



Blair Peach, murdered 30 years ago today by the Special Patrol Group, was an activist not a victim. He  stood shoulder to shoulder with the local Asian community when over 3,000 police occupied Southall  to protect a National Front meeting. Such was his standing in the community that over 10,000 people attended his funeral – read a poem penned by one of his students here. In Wigan a picket of the police station by  teachers, social workers, youth workers and young people involved in the Anti-Nazi League demanded an answer to the question, ‘Who killed Blair Peach?’ A similar scene was enacted across the country. Nevertheless, although his attackers were known, they were never prosecuted. To sketch this picture of a man dying for a cause may seem to trivialise the death of Ian Tomlinson, a bystander, just trying to go home. But, if anything it renders his killing by a thug from the Territorial Support Group,  all the more recklessly stupid and arrogant.  It means that every effort should be made to call the Metropolitan Police to account – see a forthcoming demonstration against Police Violence on May 23 in London. The fact that Tomlinson was an innocent victim means that sections of the media are more willing to give their backing to the campaign, anxious indeed that the State’s repression does not inspire a wider militant response.

As I muddle my way through this argument I remain sceptical still about what was going on in London around April Fools Day.  And my doubts are fuelled when I hear about  one victim hiring a  PR guru and charging fees for interviews.  Perhaps I’m moralising, but much of what seems to be transpiring in the wake of the G20 fracas is what the Situationists  called ‘recuperation’. Faced with challenges to its power the State seeks to neutralise criticism by absorbing and redefining it so that it can be regurgitated in a form utterly consonant with the inevitable rightness of the State’s outlook and authority. Thus our protestor assaulted by the police sells on the market her story, so that it can be spun as opportunity thinks fit. All of which goes to show that protest is all well and good; we’re sorry the lads in riot gear lost the plot, but we promise it won’t happen again; and besides which young protestor you’re not that different from us, you had your price. And even if the person in question gives her gains to a worthy cause, her effort to oppose what’s going on has been rehashed as an act in a ruling class script that repeats day after day this system is ‘the end of history’.

At the present moment the neo-liberal crisis is reflected, amongst other things, as a crisis of authority within the State. Put crudely neither politicians nor the police seem to know what they’re doing. The problem is that the scattered and disparate forces of opposition are in equal disarray.  I remain of the opinion that we need to create together a thoroughly modern [and not post-modern] anti-capitalist movement that displays solidarity in its diversity. If nothing else this requires some serious critical chatting. Sorry if this ramble is all over the place, so it would be good to be pointed in the right direction! Next post will connect all this to policing and youth work – promise!


Quote of the Month:

‘The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions, without becoming disillusioned.’ Antonio Gramsci [1891-1937]

As promised you will find below the contents of our first effort at a regular monthly collection of news, views, articles and links. We hope you will find the collection stimulating and as ever look forward to any criticisms and contributions you might want to make.


In the Spring of 1981 the Inner London Education journal, ‘Schooling and Culture’, put out an edition with the very title, Youth, Community: Crisis’. Within its pages the Wigan branch of the then Community and Youth Service Association advertised a conference, ‘Youth Work and the Crisis’, to held in the Abraham Moss Centre, Manchester.  The calling notice stated:

‘Clearly we are experiencing a time of acute political and economic problems which bite deeply into the lives of young people. Paradoxically, given its supposed concern for young people, the Youth Service has yet to unify in any ways as an effective opposition to the attacks upon its existence. The tradition of the Service does not feature many examples of resistance and it appears that we are yet again to be relegated to the margins of history. But this need not be!’

It went on to argue that the conference desired to be ‘a forum for dialogue and a platform for action’ and reached out for alliances with academics and researchers at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, those responsible for the series of Critical Texts in Social Work and the London-Edinburgh Weekend Return Group, who had written the classic, ‘In and Against the State’. Within Youth Work the conference organisers applauded the endeavours of the National Youth Bureau’s Youth Work Unit with its Enfranchisement project, the National Association of Youth Clubs Political Education Working Party. Last but not least they praised Bernard Davies for sounding an urgent warning through his pamphlet,’The State We’re In’.

Eighteen years later the word crisis is again on everyone’s lips. Yet, of course, the situation is not at all exactly the same. The crisis of 1981 was taking place in the early years of the Thatcherite neo-liberal project when the labour movement had yet to be devastated and the social movements were still buoyant, not yet dispersed and assimilated. And talking of a Youth Service still made some sense. Today’s recession is taking place as the neo-liberal strategy is collapsing around the ears of its still arrogant New Labour advocates, but the forces of opposition to its alleged imperative are significantly weakened. And talking of a Youth Service, even of a distinctive form of Youth Work, does not connect with much of what is happening on the ground.


Yet, in many respects, the task facing us is the same. In order to respond critically and effectively to the changing circumstances  we need collective debate and cooperative activity in defence of  a democratic and emancipatory Youth Work.

Back in November we commented upon the apparent rejection by the magazine, Young People Now, of my brief polemic , which wondered whether the demise of neo-liberalism and hopefully its partner, new managerialism, opened up the possibility of a fresh argument about the character of present-day Youth Work. In particular we were interested in whether there might be sufficient critical momentum to bring together practitioners, academics and commentators in an effort once more ‘to educate, agitate and organise’.  To be honest  we are not sure what people are thinking or feeling. In recent years we have seen powerful critiques of the mess we’re in produced by such as Bernard Davies, Graeme Tiffany and most recently Tony Jeffs and Mark Smith in a piece ‘Valuing Youth Work’ to be found in the centenary edition of Youth & Policy. Despite the resistance of  some individuals and groups, their insightful analyses have not been accompanied by the emergence of a broad front of opposition to the last decade’s attack on the liberal heart of Youth Work. Nevertheless in the closing paragraphs of their article Tony and Mark urge us ‘to join with others to engineer substantial change’. Thus it is in the spirit of this call that we have penned an Open Letter which we hope might attract signatories and act as a catalyst to the creation of an alliance, which does not in any way substitute itself for the trade unions or any other professional groupings, but which seeks to transcend the boundaries that often divide us.

As things stand the following process is envisaged:

  1. A draft Open Letter is being circulated for comments and support in early February. Dependent on the response we will consider whether it is worth pursuing the initiative or whether it has fallen by the wayside. Read it here – in-defence-of-youth-work-word-version1

  2. If there is sufficient support  we will check out with interested individuals and  groups the viability of putting the Open Letter into the wider public domain. It might be that we  do so  at the Youth & Policy History Conference, March 6-8 in Durham.

We urge you to read, circulate and respond to this overture, whether for or against. We hope that it might be the basis for a principled, yet pluralist coming together of hearts and minds in the defence of Youth Work.




Whilst we were musing about whether this blog is of any consequence, the conversation turned to the more general issue of who in reality has the time, energy and inclination to surf the Net on a regular basis. Indeed the majority of folk still up to their necks in the muck of practice suggest that they struggle to find the space to sit seriously at the computer. At the end of the day they are too weary to be bothered. This is all very impressionistic, but we wonder too if this is lent some credence by the relative paucity of follow-up comments on the Youth Work blogs and sites. To the jaundiced eye it might appear that only a handful of regulars contribute in this way. Perhaps there is a danger that those enthralled by the possibilities of this amazing medium overlook the uncomfortable fact that many people do not share or don’t have time to share this enthusiasm. We’re not being bloody-minded or awkward about this. We would love to think that this is not the case. Ironically some of us feel we were having a similar discussion years ago about how many workers were in truth reading the bulletins, pamphlets and articles of the period. It would be fascinating to hear Tim Davies’s thoughts on this dilemma, given his committed attempt to encourage social networking in the Youth Work milieu. Tim, forgive this blatant attempt to get you to write something for us. Certainly the question is pertinent.

Indeed it is and at the very last minute we’ve belatedly come across a challenging piece posted by Tim on the Young People Now site, which remains deeply devoted to the possibilities of social networking and asks some searching questions of  both the Youth & Policy Editorial Group, its authors and readers. In the interests of furthering the discussion we reproduce it with Tim’s permission – to be found originally at


Reflection, resources and musings aloud on supporting, enabling and empowering young people

100 Issues of Youth and Policy – four proposals for creating a better dialogue

I’ve just been reading the 100th issue of Youth and Policy Journal. It’s not happy reading. I’ve not made it through all the articles yet, but the tone of those I’ve read appears despondent and hyper-critical of most youth policy developments of the last 10, if not 25 or 30 years.

Times may be tough, and youth policy and practice may be far from where it should be as we move in 2009. But I can’t help feeling that the voices I hear predominating in Youth & Policy do little to provide any form of constructive vision on how to move forward; how to stay true to the values of emancipatory, empowering Youth Work in a diverse, dynamic and globalised information-age society.

But, I don’t wish this blog post to fall into the trap it seems many of the articles of Youth and Policy hit: critique without any hint of a constructive way forward – and so, want to offer the editors of Youth & Policy four suggestions to help make the future of Youth and Policy one that contributes to positive and proactive developments in Youth Work, rather than a lament for the past.

1) Engage young people in the peer review and editorial process

It is clear that the majority of contributors to Youth and Policy want a better lot for young people. Defining a better lot for young people should take place in partnership with young people themselves. Projects like the Young Researcher Network have already shown that there are meaningful ways of engaging young people as researchers. And there would be a lot to gain from Youth & Policy exploring ways of engaging young people as part of the editorial and review team. Not only would it provide key grounding for the explorations in the journal – but it would provide opportunities for young people to learn about, explore and engage with the live debates at the heart of youth work today.

Creating non-tokenistic and genuine models for a diverse range of young people to get involved in the editorial and peer review process of Youth & Policy would not necessarily be easy… but I can’t think for a better challenge for a journal that regularly sharing writing on youth participation to engage with.

2) Make the back issues available online and move towards an Open Access Journal model

Right now the 100 issue history of Youth and Policy is locked away in volumes gathering dust on shelves. To follow Bernard Davies’ survey of ‘twenty-five years of Youth & Policy’ you either need access to your own personal collection of back issues, or plenty of time to spend in the library.

Opening up the back issues of Youth & Policy free online would lower the barriers to entry that limit new academics and reflective-practitioners from contributing to the debate over the present, past and future of youth work; and it would increase the resources available with which to explain the intellectual and practical underpinnings of youth work to policy makers.

In the long run, it would make sense for a journal which talks so much about empowerment and education, to ensure that it’s content is available to all those who wish to access it – without financial barriers. A future with Youth & Policy as an Open Access Journal would be a better one indeed.

3) Record short summary PodCast interviews with each journal contributor

Even if Youth & Policy was available in full text freely online – it would still not be accessible to all the people who could gain from engaging in the dialogue and debate it can catalyse. That’s why I would love to see a Youth & Policy blog, with short recorded PodCast interviews with each of the article authors – allowing their insights and critiques to reach ever wider audiences. P

erhaps the PodCast audio-interview model could provide a good opportunity for young people to be in dialogue with Youth & Policy authors – as co-interviewees on each PodCast…

4) Build an online community around the journal

I’ve discovered over the last year that there is real demand for online youth work communities and we are most definitely in need of an online space for more dialogue around the present, past and future of youth work. A space where readers can respond to Youth & Policy articles without necessarily penning a full article in response, and where the practitioner and academic communities can find a space for the sort of constructive dialogue and sharing of learning that is necessary to the praxis as well as theory of a constantly developing work of youth work.

Perhaps some of these suggestions have been tried in the past? Perhaps they are simply beyond the means of a small journal? But perhaps, if anyone from the Youth & Policy team is reading, perhaps they might be explored as ways of making sure the dialogue in Youth and Policy really can be a dialogue making a better future for Youth Work and, more importantly, for young people.


It would be brilliant to get responses to Tim’s proposals from folk involved with Youth & Policy, which means I had better get my thinking hat on as I contributed an article on ‘Young People, Participation and Politics’ to the 100th edition of despondency!?

Perfectly proper criticisms aside,  it would be churlish at this moment not to send a message of deep appreciation to the Youth and Policy Editorial Group, who against the odds have kept this critical journal alive for quarter of a century. I don’t think most people have an inkling of how much graft goes into all that behind the scenes editing and proof-reading, all of it undertaken for love and no money.




British jobs for British workers

At the height of the tragedy in Gaza we wondered how youth workers might be handling discussions about the complications and contradictions of the Palestinian/Israeli situation with young people. With this in mind we are going to pursue this question of how youth workers might pick up on the social and political dilemmas of the day. Thus each month we will flag up an issue we think young people might well be raising and offer alternative readings to those dominating the media.


A piece in the SUN newspaper captures the slippery slope created by this dispute over the consequences of contracting, the free market, the European Union, all set in the context of the economic recession and political crisis. In the midst of a populist article, which muddles willy-nilly appropriate and inappropriate commentary, the author slides to the following contention:

All minorities, even those with no link to this country, take priority over the established population.
Inner cities are colonised by entire communities who live, pray, dress and speak as if they still lived in tribal villages.
Shockingly, there are 300 schools where English is not the first language.

Thus does racism rear its ugly head, even as within the strikers themselves there is much confusion as to what constitutes racism. In particular nationalism and racism are conflated. Some of the British strikers accuse the company, TOTAL of racism. Some Left groups suggest that the strikes should be called off as the slogans play into the hands of the BNP.  We have a scenario in which the right-wing press implacably opposed to strike action support the first militant wildcat strikes for many years. For this section of the media the imperative to back a nationalist agenda overrides the unofficial and ‘illegal’ nature of the action. New Labour is in turmoil as Brown squirms, while Mandelson is forced to defend the right of European workers to work across the Union.

Within the ranks of the strikers the debate bursts into life- see Clearly the dangers of chauvinism, nationalism and racism are apparent, but also actively opposed. Thus one contributor argues:

We want to be careful with the nationalism, lads, so that things don’t turn nasty. I’ve got nothin against the Italian workers as such, they’re just doing a job, putting food on the table for their families. They’re not W*** (Without Papers- as they are EU citizens and are legally allowed to work here)- besides this is racist. Many of us have worked abroad- Germany, Spain, Middle East- did we think or care about jobs in those countries? Getting at the workers is just going to give us a bad reputation, and turn the public against us.The problem is with the tenders, Total management and probably the govt. for allowing foreign companies to undercut. The govt. shouldn’t allow this to happen. They haven’t thought about the social price to the area, only the price of the contract.These jobs should go to British workers, cos we can do the work and we need it. Just leave the racism and aggro at home- it doesn’t do anyone any favours.

whilst another worries:

If this is true what I read , then I believe the dispute will gradually lose support.  Demonstrations where foreign workers, holed up in former floating prisons, are howled at will only attract the *** fascists and the bullying idiots who plague our communities.  The corporate media that have stirred up the nationalist elements will then turn on you, showing the demonstrators in the worst light possible.  Game over.  The last thing the bosses and the government want is for British workers to unite with workers from overseas.  They think they can keep fooling us into fighting each other over jobs.  It will send a shiver up their spineless backs when we don’t.

“It scares me when I hear there are going to be demonstrations outside other sites where there are workers from Poland, Spain etc, this only helps the media to present the struggle as being anti-foreign worker.It also worries me that there are reports of people abusing the Italian and Portuguese workers in their floating prison.”

I know it’s difficult to predict, but I can’t believe that young people are not picking up on these events and voicing contrary, and contradictory sentiments about the situation. If you’ve time it would be informative to hear of  youth workers’ experiences when in dialogue with young men and women about this issue.




Bowing to overwhelming demand(!) we are adding to the Contemporary Critical Thoughts page the notes of my contribution ‘The Crisis of Democracy’, given to the 2007 Federation of Detached Youth Work Conference, which focused on Youth Work & Citizenship. Certainly the debate about what we mean by democracy does not go away. In the latest edition of CONCEPT, a favourite journal of ours, William Al-Sharif explores the need to widen the scope of community education for democratic criticism, the need ‘to engage the unengaged’, whilst Maurice Mullard ponders the health of democracy. From my perspective both authors, despite many thought-provoking points, accept too readily that democracy equals representative democracy. In contrast, following Castoriadis (see preface to my piece) I argue that we do not live in a democracy, but in a ‘liberal oligarchy’, where the few continue to maintain their power over the many.

Go to the Contemporary page to read more . . . . . . .and if you’ve got a bob or two spare, subscribe to CONCEPT, the Journal of Contemporary Community Education Practice Theory through NIACE, on-line at



On the Contemporary page you will see a new piece put together by Tania de St. Croix on detached workers’ experiences of information-gathering, surveillance and tracking of young people. She has brought together deftly and sharply the range of responses from people attending the workshop she facilitated at the Federation for Detached Youth Work conference in November. It’s already generated a good response from its appearance on the Federation’s site and we hope posting it here reaches out to an even wider audience.


Here you will find an eclectic choice of links to articles that have tickled our fancy and our intellect.

1. The rise of pushy helicopter parents is holding children back, argues Carl Honore in the pages of the New Humanist. This light piece explores the way in which children’s lives are evermore micro-managed. Its concern is with parenting, but touches on a collective obsession with supervising children’s and young people’s lives. And, isn’t it the case that youth workers are thoroughly integrated into this contemporary version of society’s desire to mould young people into shape and at what cost to an emancipatory youth work practice?

cut the strings | New Humanist.

2.   “These should be good times for the “alter-globalisation” movement. The unprecedented combination of crises in the global economy, environment, and governance makes its argument for a just and equal world – “another world” – seem more relevant than ever. Yet the 100,000 activists expected to assemble at the eighth World Social Forum (WSF) in Belém, Brazil, from 27 January- 1 February 2009 are at a crossroads.  The ideas they have been proposing for much of the last decade have in many ways been vindicated by the global financial breakdowns, food riots and elite failures of 2007-09; but even as it celebrates the demise of forces it has unrelentingly challenged the movement itself is divided over its political and organisational direction.” Its triumph is qualified as it searches for a way to turn global breakdown into political opportunity, says Geoffrey Pleyers.

World Social Forum 2009: a generation’s challenge | open Democracy News Analysis.

3. I’ve been fascinated by the life and works of Edward Carpenter ever since a part-time worker on a training course in the late 1970’s brought him to my attention. She did so during a session on Sexuality, Youth Work and Young People. This review of Sheila Rowbotham’s biography of Carpenter will help you surely to see why he is such an inspiring, if maddening character.

Colm Tóibín: The revolutionary Edward Carpenter

‘On or about December 1910,’ Virginia Woolf noted, ‘human character changed.’ It was hard in or about March 1977 in Barcelona not to feel that human character had changed again, or had changed back, or might change more. Franco was less than 18 months dead, and many of the sights and images in the city were puzzling. One day, as I stood watching a newly formed Communist group march by, I saw in the middle of the marchers a barman whom I had grown to love for his winning smile and general meekness. His fist was raised; he was roaring out some radical slogan. He was not simply looking for better wages for barmen, but wanted, it seemed, something new for all mankind. [ read more . . . ]

via London Review of Books.


Whilst ducking and diving in the stream of the Internet I found some folk, who are possibly swimming in the same direction as ourselves, namely, The Critical Thinking Community, who under the auspices of The Foundation and Center for Critical Thinking ‘aim to improve education in colleges, universities and primary through secondary schools. We present publications, conferences, workshops and professional development programs, emphasizing instructional strategies, Socratic questioning, critical reading and writing, higher order thinking, assessment, research, quality enhancement, and competency standards.’

I need be wary as my caveat is based on my political prejudice. There are some excellent resources on the site, but the underpinning belief of the community is that the world can be changed by changing the ideas in our heads without sufficient weight being given to how we might change our circumstances. Nonetheless this classic difference between a liberal and revolutionary humanism can be explored as we go along. We’ll certainly be chatting to the Foundation and sharing their thoughts. For the moment a quote from one of their inspirations, John Stuart Mill in his essay, ‘On Liberty’


‘If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind…the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error’ (p. 53).

see –


Informal Education

We bring you advance notice of a one-day conference entitled ‘Informal Education within an Informal Setting’, organised jointly under the banner of Durham University, UK Youth and Youth & Policy. This is to be held on May 29th at the welcoming Hinsley Hall in Leeds. The title of the conference exudes irony and contradiction, which should make for a fruitful gathering. Clearly though the conference wishes to go beyond being merely a talking shop. The organisers want to explore the possible formation of Federation of Informal Educators. All power to their collective elbows.

For more information contact Tracey Hodgson at

Anti-Sexist Work

After the event we are fascinated to know what transpired at a seminar organised by the North West Regional Girls Network and the Youth Federation in late January. The day sought to tackle the classical questions: How is sexism affecting the young people we work with? What is effective anti-sexist work and how do we support and promote it? Youth Workers of any gender were invited.

Hard on the heels of the emergence of Feministwebs this is a welcome development. All the more so as in the recent centenary edition of Youth & Policy, Bernard Davies documents how, even in the pages of this forward-looking journal, feminist analysis had become muted over the years. He reflected on the disappearance of the debate around anti-sexist work with young men. In this context I’m sure he will be delighted to hear of the setting-up of a regional network of anti-sexist male workers. We would be pleased to hear about how things went.


In the forthcoming March Blog we hope to feature the promised article on ‘Politics and Youth Work’, partly stimulated by a comment from Mike Amos-Simpson prior to Christmas; an indication of responses to the Open Letter; at last a couple of articles on a new page, Critical Thoughts from the Past  –  we were always tantalising our readers with this promise on the old site at http://www, ; and loads of feedback from your good selves?


Graeme Tiffany informs us that:

India’s Icfai University Press will publish his paper on ‘Detached Youth Work & Democratic Education’ as a chapter in a forthcoming book: Holistic. Transformative and Democratic Education: The Future of Education. This will go to  thousands of professionals and students in the sub-continent. And they picked it up via the Critically Chatting web site!

Easy now, says Graeme!

Well, wellingtons firmly stuck in the mud, we won’t get carried away, but we are pleased for Graeme and a bit chuffed that our tentacles are spreading!

[Blog put together by TT on behalf of the Collective, 3/2/2009]