Why we must win youth to the political struggle

Excerpts from a talk by youth organization FIST leader Larry Hales to the WWP National Conference, Nov. 14.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for people between the ages of 16 and 24, unemployment is 18.5 percent, the highest it has been since after the Second World War. For Black youth it is 32 percent, 22 percent for Latino/a youth and the percentage for Indigenous youth is hard to come by, but according to an ABC News report, on some reservations the general unemployment rate is 80 percent.

The BLS statistics for unemployment can be misleading, however, as bad as they sound, since the numbers don’t account for discouraged workers. For July of this year the proportion of unemployed youth was 51 percent, the highest it has been since 1948. From April to July of this year unemployment among youth grew by 1.1 million people. The summer months are a traditional time that young people, of high school age especially, begin to look for work.

Poverty, especially among young people has increased. One quarter of the Black population is in poverty, 23 percent of Latino/a families, 60 percent of Indigenous people outside of metropolitan areas live in poverty, and overall the more than 13 percent of the country in poverty will grow to 15 percent. Because the poverty threshold is ridiculously low, a family of four would have to make at least twice as much as the threshold to have some sort of security.

The number of youth in poverty increased from 16.2 percent in 2000 to 18 percent in 2007. As of last year, 34 percent of Black youth live in poverty and 28 percent of Latino/a youth.

These are just numbers, a snapshot of the reality of this country at a time of severe crisis. Along with poverty, dropout rates are increasing and higher education is getting further out of reach and, despite this, the cost of education continues to climb. Public and private institutions of higher education are raising their rates. The City University of New York last year raised tuition $300 per semester and is looking to raise it $45 per semester every succeeding year.

Incarceration rates continue to rise. One in 11 Black adults is under correctional control. The rate is one in 100 adults for the entire U.S., the highest rate in the world.

One in eight Black males in their 20s is in prison and 60 percent of the prison population is people of color, mostly Black and Latino/a, but a large percentage, per their population numbers, is of Indigenous young people.

The numbers are stark on their own but have to be put in a political context. When we talk about employment and unemployment and the crisis, we have to acknowledge the political period young people grew up in.

Young people may have grown up using computers, but the technological advances have wiped out the good-paying jobs their parents may have had, or those jobs have vanished as bosses have shipped them to areas where they have to pay only a small part of the wages workers in the U.S. were making.

Young people have grown up in the age of global competition for jobs, of retreat by the working class and of an offensive by the ruling class backed by the capitalist state, where unions have been pushed back and workers forced into accepting concession after concession, where the prison population has exploded as jobs disappeared and repression increased.

Youth live in a world where they are cut off from the history of struggle and have not had the benefit of social movements or the worldwide struggle for socialism. The political consciousness of young people in the U.S. lags behind. The willingness to struggle lags behind.

I don’t want to generalize from one event, but the tragedy of young Derrion Albert has stuck with me, and the tragedy of the young brothers who are facing being locked behind bars for the rest of their lives.

It was an ugly event, but it is a symptom of a decadent society of young people filled with frustration and anger but nowhere to direct their anger. The mainstream capitalist media take advantage of that and the recruiters hope to use it to push young people into the arms of Uncle Sam, for his war against the poor and oppressed of the world.

But we have to win over youth to the struggle. It is the only way to cure the hurt, the depression, the self hate, to fight for a future they can believe in, one of people being in solidarity with one another.

Our class is battered and young people are no different, but we’ll take the battered and bruised, the scarred, and make them revolutionaries to fight against their abusers for a better world. We must build our mass organizations, our youth group FIST and the party to do that, to forward the struggle—not a struggle of individuals for things but of the masses for dignity, for needs, for power. All power to the workers and the oppressed! Fight imperialism! Stand together!

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