Convention Discussion: The Communist Party & the Young Generation

BY: CP/YCL Collective| April 9, 2014

Submitted by the Communist Party/YCL Collective

Young people today are facing enormous challenges. The Great Recession made these already difficult challenges far more severe. Even before the economic downturn, a 3-decade long right-wing assault on the social safety net led to enormous instability among this section of the population.

Now Congressional budget deals, the imposition of two-tier wage scales, high generational unemployment, student voter suppression, the attack on reproductive rights, unprecedented student debt, charter schools and stop-and-frisk policing have led some to see evidence of a “war on youth”.

Whether the fruit of a conscious yet undeclared “war” or simply the accidental confluence of policy and economic trends  a definite pattern has emerged: today’s millennials have been at the losing end of capitalism’s massive transfer of wealth and attempts to undo the hard fought benefits of the New Deal and the Great Society.

Pay scales for young workers have dropped significantly. Even in union jobs, earnings for first-time hires are $10 to $15 less than the standard wage. Older workers now make nearly double entry level wages.

Last year new employees brought home about 24 percent less than five years ago.

In today’s service economy, even workers with four year college degrees are taking it on the chin. Just a few years ago, in 2010 almost 50 percent of colleges graduates were working in jobs that didn’t require college degrees.

Since 1980, college costs have risen a whopping 128 percent. Incredibly at public universities tuitions have risen 400 percent.

Saddled with debt exceeding on average almost $25,000 an overwhelming majority of college students, some 84 percent are returning home to live with their parents.

One in four in young workers in their 20s are coming back home after attempting to live on their own. As a result, the concept of adulthood, which for over a half century was attained at ever younger ages, is now again being prolonged.

Unemployment is at epidemic rates among youth and students. Only 48 percent of 18 to 24 year olds are employed.

And of course it is this section of the working class that bears the full brunt of the GOP assault on the safety net, from food stamps, to health care, to access to education.

Black and Latino youth are the hardest hit, not only by the economics of racism but also its social policy of mass incarceration, stand-your-ground laws, and stop-and-frisk policing which have created veritable police states in ghettos and barrios across the country as young people traverse the school to prison pipeline.

Who are these young people coming of age in an era buffeted by financial storms, drone strikes, NSA spying, global warming, INS roundups, stand-your-ground murders and GOP voter suppressions?

They are of all classes, races, genders, sexual orientations, and disabilities half of whom work, the other half of whom never had a job. They are documented and undocumented. They speak many languages, enjoy all kinds of music, and interact in myriad ways on social networks.

Over 46 percent of millennials are young people of color are demographic that is continually growing.

They are a generation in ideological and social flux. Great optimism stands shoulder-to-shoulder with great worry about the future. Some see the American Dream as less about money and more about living a meaningful life, others find family and friends more important than security and many are doubtful of governmental support, employer responsibilities and their own ability to provide for their families.

They are socially progressive, racially tolerant, environmentally conscious and strongly in favor of LGBTQ equality. Young people today are less religious, and more civic minded than their predecessors.

They are a post-9/11 generation; a post-Bush generation, a generation whose thinking and fighting qualities have been forged in the fight against tea party extremism, too-big-too fail bailouts, and U.S. military interventions. They are a generation influenced by the power of the Arab Spring and the impact of Venezuela’s revolution.

Today’s youth’s thought patterns are being shaped by a forward looking and activist labor movement, an energized immigrant rights movement, and a growing upsurge for marriage equality, the right to choose and against voter suppression.

It is the Occupy Wall Street generation that militantly challenged the 1 percent and changed the national debate refocusing it on inequality. It is the generation of immigrant youth DREAMers whose courage and fortitude in the face of unprecedented deportations is legendary. It is the generation that twice provided the margin of victory for the Obama presidency.

And it is the generation that polls show increasingly favors socialism, with more 18 to 29 year olds favoring it – 49 percent – than oppose it, 43 percent.

While today’s millennials express strong Democratic sympathies, nearly half in a recent poll declared themselves independents, the highest in recent surveys.

How then are young people responding to crisis conditions they are facing in their day-to-day lives?

In the first Obama presidential campaign and in the Occupy Wall Street movement that followed, a distinct youth and student upsurge was present. Both mass movements while not exclusively composed of young people had strong youth followings. Similarly, the immigrant rights marches, along with the protests against stop-and-frisk policing and the stand-your-ground killing of Trayvon Martin drew significantly on the strength and energy of young people.

Today’s Moral Monday marches, the Idlenomore uprising and low-wage worker campaigns also have large numbers of young people in their ranks.

In 2013 both university and high school students were active on a number of fronts including environmental struggles, protests against tuition hikes, and school privatization. In Chicago last year this led to a citywide high school student walkout and strike.

Notwithstanding these important initiatives can one actually speak of the existence of a viable autonomous and independent youth and student movement on the scale of earlier periods?

Clearly, a sustained movement comparable to the 1960s has yet to emerge. The same however can be said of other democratic and class based movements.

On the other hand, in addition to the Obama and Occupy Wall Street movements, important surges are to be observed in a number of racial justice, immigrant rights, environmental, LGBT, women’s, student tuition and particularly low-wage worker issues.

Today, the labor movement has close ties with youth and student initiatives and is helping lead the campaign of low-wage workers. Labor and its allies are cooperating with young people on a wide range of equality, environmental, healthcare and political action campaigns.

This can be seen in particular in the low-wage and fast food organizing campaigns of today. Here is a hugely important site of struggle in which a new cadre of youth, student and young adult activists are being born and organized.

Just as in the days of the CIO today’s organizing drives are bound to have a profound effect on labor youth unity along with the tenacity and endurance of broader youth and student campaigns. When the working class moves its great weight is felt far and wide and it is moving.

In this sense the emerging youth and student movement today is distinct from that of the 1960s when the organized left had largely been defeated and the leadership in labor stuck to bread-and-butter issues, not seeing the need for a broader social policy.

In the absence of an activist labor movement, and seeking to break through the stranglehold of McCarthyism beginning with the Freedom Rides, the  Free Speech Movement, and later joining forces with the civil rights and and anti-war movement distinct youth formations like SNCC and SDS emerged that galvanized an entire generation. Even movements like the Beat Generation, the Black Arts Movement, the Black Panthers and Young Lords, the Patriot Party and the Chicano Moratorium were peopled by young activists.

During these years, the Labor Youth League, the Du Bois clubs, the Young Workers Liberation League, and the Young Communist League, to one degree or another helped lend focus, unity and a working-class outlook to broader youth currents.

Still the anti-war, civil rights, student New Left counter culture movement of the 60s precisely because of the absence of labor assumed a uniquely independent and distinctive character, one which may not be duplicated in new circumstances. For this reason it may not be a yardstick for measuring the present.

Today’s growing movement will neither repeat the 1930s nor the 1960s but will find its own singular forms of expression and organization. Occupy Wall Street was one such expression. There are sure to be others. If Occupy Wall Street is a measure, the labor movement will play a key supportive role, while respecting the youth and student movement’s independence and autonomy.

Understanding the need for youth expressions the AFL-CIO has supported the creation of NextUp and worked with the Student Labor Action Project and Jobs With Justice, and  the United States Students Association. The NAACP, La Raza, and DSA all have active youth organizations. In addition, young people and students have countless organizations in communities, high schools and campuses across the country. Youth gangs are one such expression.

That socialist sentiment is widespread among young people must be seen as fertile ground for building its socialist and communist current. Why has the organized left in its different detachments not seized upon this development? What will be its future forms of organization and expression? How will they relate and find form in social networks? What kinds of campaigns and initiatives are needed?

It is clear that broad forms of organization and membership are needed that give equal weight to virtual and on-the-ground campaigns. Equally clear is the need to tap deeply into the creative forms of youth expression with an emphasis on movement building, transparency and militant activism.

The Communist Party if it is to continue and rapidly expand its growth among youth must radically adopt these methods. It should give particular to attention to expanding its work with students who comprise one-third of its new members. Working with the Young Communist League it should explore multiple forms of youth organization, movement and affiliation including study groups, student collectives, and clubs. That said, it should provide space and activity for the overwhelming majority of its membership who have joined online but live in unorganized areas. Its very future may depend on it.

The creation of a mass web and community based party capable of helping lead the young generation in defense of its rights can do no less.

The views and opinions expressed in the Convention Discussion are those of the author alone. The Communist Party is publishing these views as a service to encourage discussion and debate. Those views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Communist Party, its leading bodies or staff members. The CPUSA Constitution, Program, and all its existing policies remain in effect during the Convention discussion period and during the Convention.

For details about the convention, visit the Convention homepage
To contribute to the discussion, visit the Convention Discussion webpage

30th National Convention, Communist Party USA
Chicago | June 13-15, 2014


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