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A loud, lively Youth Fight for Jobs (YFJ) demonstration stopped traffic and drew widespread support from shoppers in Leeds city centre on Saturday 13 February. Around 100, mostly young people, protested against mass youth unemployment and education cuts.

Ian Slattery, Huddersfield Youth Fight for Jobs

700 staff at Leeds University face redundancy as the management attempts to slash £35 million in anticipation of a national financial crisis in higher education. The UCU lecturers’ union has won a ballot for strike action over these attacks and will take the first of their three one-day strikes on Thursday 25 February.

A representative from the union, which supported the YFJ demo, spoke at the closing rally, explaining to the crowd that the university management are simply not willing to discuss alternatives to the cuts. He also said that the union must make a serious effort to explain to the wider public why they are taking strike action.

Despite the efforts of Leeds student union, who continue to oppose the strike on the grounds that it damages students’ education (as if 700 less staff wouldn’t!), students are generally supportive once they understand the issue and many joined the protest.

Brionny Fox, a fine arts student at Leeds Met, joined the protest having seen the lack of jobs on offer for graduates. “My boyfriend left Leeds Uni with a degree in English, yet a year later he’s working as a car park attendant. We’re always joking to each other about needing to get involved and do something about this situation in society and once I saw and read what this demo was about I realised I had to join in.”

YFJ national organiser Ben Robinson described the situation young people face when they attempt to get a job, the sight of 100 or more people applying for a single job is increasingly common.

“There is an utter waste of talent in society, with university graduates and skilled manual workers competing for the same, minimum wage, dead-end jobs,” Ben said. “But the government have no way out other than to force people to work for free, throwing them onto the scrapheap of poverty. It is the government itself that should be thrown into the gutter if they cannot find a real solution to mass unemployment.

“In this country we have many vital services which are hugely understaffed, so to say that there is nowhere for people to work is a lie. It was a different story when the banks were in trouble, when £1.3 trillion was conjured up to bail out a system which is now condemning millions to unemployment and poverty.”

Solidarity

YFJ members and supporters from all over Yorkshire and from Manchester joined the demonstration. Roberto, a young worker from Halifax, said he was marching, not only in solidarity with students and staff in Leeds, but also in protest at the wider attacks on the working class in society and to help build the much-needed response.

YFJ in Leeds will be at the forefront of the campaign to defend education and jobs at Leeds University, including supporting the picket lines later this month and joining the UCU-organised regional rally in the first week of March.

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