Following on from our posting of the Gaza Manifesto, Roy Ratcliffe, a leading figure across three decades in youth and community work and a long-standing activist in the Palestinian Liberation Movement, has sent his thoughts on the tumultuous situation in Tunisia.

As ever comments and criticisms welcomed.

He begins:

1. The background.

The recent explosive events in Tunisia were triggered in December 2010, by the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old university graduate. Although the full reasons go back much further. Still jobless after graduating, Mohamed ran a fruit and vegetable stand which was confiscated because he lacked of an official permit. He was part of the growing international army of jobless and low-paid young workers, created by the global system of industrial, commercial and financial capital. In the case of Tunisia youth unemployment had been rising, at least since the IMF intervention in the late 1980’s. It can now be as high as 50% in some areas of the country and in the present global crisis, can only creep higher. In periods of inflation, an addition problem for those in Tunisia, was that wages in tourism, textiles and agriculture, were and are, invariably low. As in most other capital dominated countries, the contrast between poverty and extreme wealth in Tunisia is glaring. A recent Wikileaks cable from the US embassy in Tunis, for example, suggested that the prime Minister Ben Ali, and his oligarchy had their hands in and on 50 per cent of the country’s economy.

When this brutal oligarch delivered a speech on the twelfth day of the revolt to promise (as he had done on many previous occasions), that he would allow democratic elections, nobody believed him and the masses responded that the protests would continue. The government ordered the closure of schools and universities and the police to physically quell what they considered was simply a flash in the pan by rebellious youth. Dozens were shot in various towns but this only had the effect of bringing more people into the fray, such as Trade Unionists, some Islamists and Communists. The President only ordered a halt to the beatings and shooting, when it became obvious, that any further slaughter by the police would provoke a mutiny in the army ranks which might also occur even at the senior military level. When Ben Ali later secretly left the country he was following something of a tradition set by previous fleeing discredited politicia

2. The participants.

The first participants were the unemployed youth who initially demonstrated and were later were joined by workers from industry, university and school students, teachers and even lawyers. Eventually the national leadership of the sole legal trade union confederation, the UGTT, which initially denounced the movement (“unlike some of its local and regional bodies“) was finally obliged to give its official support. Young people played a new and important role in the communication and organisation of the protests through their frequent and skilled use of modern technology in the form of mobile phones, the internet and in particular Facebook.


Published in: on January 20, 2011 at 11:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Detached but Defiant!

This year’s Federation for Detached Youth Work  conference focused on ‘detached youth work in a multi-agency integrated setting’. Echoing Aldous Huxley, it pondered whether this would be a Brave New World. As usual the Planning Group led by Geoff Brand brought together a diversity of speakers and facilitators –  at times almost too rich a mixture! Last year I scribbled a report on the stimulating gathering, but in a sense I am saved the task this year. Into the ring of recollection have jumped Roy Smith, the FDYW secretary, aided by self-confessed ‘geekish’ Tim Davies, who in the twinkling of an eye  set up a social networking site for the Federation – go to

Federation Conference Plenary

Federation Conference Plenary

Having signed up, which is dead easy, you can access videos of almost all the platform speakers, something of a first in my experience.  This does saves you wading through my distorted accounts of what people said. Thus I will comment briefly upon the sessions I attended. I was impressed and moved by the disarming directness of Tania de st Croix’s self-critical exposure of the way in which the pressure to spy and ‘grass’ threatens the very heart of detached youth work. As Tania is less than keen on her video debut, we are pleased to attach the text of her contribution.

bureaucrats-and-spies-speech -Tania de st Croix

Graeme Tiffany, fresh from completing the recent Mountain Marathon in weather that reduced the media to hysteria, brought a vital internationalist dimension to the proceedings and in the process continued to make the case for democratic education. For convenience, find below both an absorbing international paper on street and detached youth work methodology and Graeme’s contribution to the Nuffield Review, which forms the substance of Issues Paper 11, ‘Lessons from Detached Youth Work: Democratic Education’‘, published in June 2008. Earlier this year we welcomed his emphasis on a radical definition of inclusion and engagement.

international street and detached youth work methodology guide

detached youth work and democratic education – Tiffany

At the second plenary, Trudi Cooper, a former Lancashire youth worker and trainer, now a Senior Lecturer in Social Science at the Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia, offered a challenging assessment of the possibilities and pitfalls of integrated working, based on her active involvement in a research evaluation of an inter-agency project aimed at troublesome youth within the rail station! Her grasp of the contradictions was made all the more resonant, given that funding came via the Western Australia Office of Crime Prevention. She was followed by Tim Davies, who, despite a nasty cough, gave a witty and stimulating account of the possibilities of social networking and its potential harmony with the values of youth work as espoused in Bernard Davies’s ‘Manifesto’. On an immediate level Tim’s presence at the conference was dynamic, leading to the Federation’s new site and indeed our humble effort. The final contribution saw Mark Smith ‘safeguarding the essentials’ in a riveting, ‘knockabout’ assault on the contemporary undermining of classic youth work values. Such was its impact – some were enraged by his suggestion that if they were just servants of State policy, they should pack in their jobs – that the ensuing lively argument forgot that Trudi and Tim had opened their mouths. This observation leads me to repeat a concern I voiced a year ago. Sometimes, I think, the Federation overloads the platform.  On occasion there is a strong case for having a single speaker as the stimulus to a more focused collective conversation.

Stand Up Tragi-Comedy from Mark Smith

Stand Up Tragi-Comedy from Mark Smith

For the moment I’ll close this post as further comments relate to my workshop, ‘The Neo-Liberal Project Crashes: Time for Youth Workers to Fight back’ and the final plenary contributions made by Tony Jeffs and Jason Wood, which I missed in person, but now have watched on video. To say the least they are well worth seeking out.  Once again congratulations to the Federation for hosting such an open and engaging gathering. Photos pinched from Roy Smith, the secretary of the Federation. Thanks, mate.

Published in: on November 23, 2008 at 9:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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It’s been a busy, often enjoyable, if frustrating few weeks.  Given the  latest crisis of capitalism [weren’t these irritating occurrences supposedly a thing of the past?] the neo-liberals have been in headlong retreat. Their sycophants within the political class and its bureaucracy, symbolised by Gordon Brown, tongue glued to his cheek, have embraced the new  would-be Olympic sport, Ideological Gymnastics.  Daring somersault after another allows him without a hint of embarrassment to chastise the rich and greedy and to introduce regulation into the market. Times are evidently a-changing.

If this is the case, what price the fate of ‘new managerialism’, the servant of neo-liberalism, which has burrowed its way deep into all spheres of our lives, including youth and community work and the voluntary sector? Given its suffocating grip on practice and the sense, promulgated by our bosses, that there is no alternative, is there now a chance to turn back the tide? This question haunted  all three of the events we’ve attended this November.

Bernard Davies opens the debate

Bernard Davies opens the debate

On November 7 in London we hosted jointly with the National Coalition for Independent Action [NCIA] a meeting, ‘We Won’t Roll Over’, which brought together a diversity of people from across the voluntary sector – Social Action for Health, Community Action, Advice Centres,  Black Parents and Teachers Associations and the People in Common group – as well as a youth work contingent. In the morning Bernard Davies, almost now the guardian of the  post-Albemarle liberal and radical tradition, explored as a case study the suffocating impact of neo-liberalism upon Youth Work. Following Bernard’s exposure of the way in which neo-managerialism seeks to standardise and regulate the unpredictable, Andy Benson from the NCIA pursued how this self-same ideology threatened independent action and the capacity of communities to get what they need for themselves. I’ll return to the content of the animated discussion in the summary of this contribution. However it’s important to stress that the final session of the day focused on practical collective activity, ‘what can we do now to start making a difference’ – more news to follow on how this is working out.

Andy Benson responds

Andy Benson responds

The masses cogitate

The masses cogitate

A few days later in Wigan I submitted the relationship between Neo-Liberalism and Youth Work to further scrutiny at a Critically Chatting meeting, which drew support from Derbyshire, Manchester, Liverpool and London! Thence I ran two workshops under the title ‘Neo-Liberalism Implodes: Time for Youth Work to Fight Back’ at the energetic and stimulating Federation of Detached Youth Work Conference. I’ll do a separate post on this event, especially as the Federation’s new web site, stuffed full of videos, photos and comment, offers a direct glimpse of what was going on.

Throughout  these various encounters between workers and volunteers in the youth, community and voluntary sectors a number of questions and concerns consistently emerged:

– overwhelmingly the anecdotal evidence emphasises the apparent stranglehold of new managerialism on practice, the suffocation of critical debate and the acceptance, albeit reluctantly, by many workers of an agenda of social control;

– for those hardy souls still battling, it is difficult struggling against a culture of conformity and even fear, but there are splendid examples of cussed creativity;

– and,  on the optimistic side of Gramsci’s famous couplet, there are promising signs. The political and economic crisis itself throws up turmoil; rumbles of discontent and resistance are rolling around education and welfare as a whole; oppositional groups are on the rise.

It’s all muddy and messy, but just as much as ever we need to remain critical and collective. As a small example it was heartening to see detached workers taking away the NCIA’s flyer to give to the community groups on their patch. The struggle certainly does continue.

Tony Taylor

Published in: on November 21, 2008 at 11:34 am  Leave a Comment  
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