Student leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois: "Our system is broken on a systemic level."
by Dave Coles
An in-depth Globe and Mail Report on Business article titled Generation Nixed: Why Canada’s youth are losing hope for the future noted that the real unemployment rate for youth 18 to 25 has reached 1 in 5, the highest in fifteen years. Concurrently, skyrocketing tuition fees and housing costs have pushed up average household debt levels among this age group to $74,100 from $44,500 ten years ago.
The Globe reports that more and more companies are closing their traditional defined-benefit pension plans to new employees and are pushing them instead into group RRSPs or defined-contribution plans. A defined-contribution pension plan, which does not pay a guaranteed level of income in retirement, will cost someone who begins working for $40,000 a year at age 25 an average of $500,000 in benefits throughout their working lives versus someone on a standard defined benefit pension. This will force them to retire later in life as will the Conservatives recent cuts to the Old Age Security program.
This sounds like we are leaving an unfair future for the upcoming generation: work for cheaper and longer and never get to retire.
The Globe is right in highlighting that youth will be disproportionately affected by decisions made today. They do, however, fail to mention other important challenges such as degrading public services, two-tiered wage schemes and growing environmental uncertainty. The “Frankenstorm” that recently swept through the US North East and Caribbean is yet another reminder that run-away global warming may have dire consequences.
To deal with the unfolding ecological crisis — and youth unemployment, for that matter — we must jettison corporate-centric economic policies in favor of policies that broach social and ecological concerns. A way to reduce youth unemployment while cutting greenhouse gas emissions, for example, would be to train young workers to develop and administer the green economy of the future.
Blue Green Canada, an alliance of labour, environmental and civil society organizations, recently released a report showing that six to eight times more jobs could be created by redirecting the $1.3 billion in federal subsidies that currently go to oil and gas companies, into renewable energy, energy efficiency and public transit.
At a time when the young generation is being robbed of their chance to build a better future, the idea that we should work together across sectors, generations and interests has a renewed urgency. For the situation to improve, we will need to build greater solidarity. Workers and their unions will need to go to bat for affordable education and good sustainable jobs to fight unemployment now and in the future. At the same time, it is helpful and necessary to see students oppose two-tier wage schemes, cuts to pensions and old age security and defend collective bargaining rights.
We are lucky that many progressively-minded young Canadians have chosen not to simply accept deteriorating social conditions. After months of strikes and protests, Quebec students recently won a significant victory for accessible education when the Parti Québécois overturned the previous government's tuition fee increase. Student groups and progressive organizations struggling to reduce tuition fees — an average Ontario undergraduate student now pays $7,300 — can learn a great deal from the Quebec student movement.
Just last month a thousand youth activists from across the country gathered in Ottawa to attend PowerShift 2012. Organized by and for young people, the conference featured a bevy of speakers who facilitated dozens of activist skill sharing workshops designed "to build an environmental and climate justice movement that can transform our society, so that our future can be enjoyed by everyone, not only those who can afford it."
Prominent Quebec student spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois told the opening session: "The problem is not consumption, it is our economy and production. Our system is broken on a systemic level. The destruction of our environment is a natural and inevitable result." He added, "Without radical change we will be faced with extinction. Resistance in these times is not an option, it is a duty." In closing, Nadeau-Dubois said "the choice for our generation is clear: liberty [from capitalism] or death."
Nadeau-Dubois' ideas are likely to gain adherents in coming years and should compel us all to pursue policies that simultaneously expand youth employment, reduce education costs and build a sustainable future. These issues need to be taken seriously, by progressive groups and political parties, before young people's prospects deteriorate any further. We are running out of time.© Copyright 2012, All rights Reserved. StraightGoods.ca