The Sigh Of The Oppressed Oppressor

Durham police officers mix with pupils at a Newton Aycliffe comprehensive school. When the boot comes in.

BM Blob on kids, youth workers, teachers etc.

Submitted by Fozzie on April 15, 2022

Youth/Social workers

Those 12 nights in early July '81 marked a watershed. Revolutionary potential remains both a real and distant possibility. The youth valiantly fought the coppers but when it comes to subverting intermediary bodies of the State - youth work/culture/alternatives etc are easily thrown off course. Though the special pleadings of social workers in riot situations goes largely unheeded the youth clubs have yet to be consciously attacked. Though sly kicks are frequently aimed at them only in one notable incident has a youth club come under attack. This was during a small riot in Leicester in the summer of '80 when a mainly black youth club was attacked. The incident however was not reported in the national press.

In these hard times youth clubs must find room for the growing numbers of young unemployed. They are consequently stretched to breaking point and youth workers are being sent loopy with even heavier work loads. As they cannot recruit more staff enabling them to do their job 'properly' preacher man pep talks become a victim of the cuts and static manning levels. With the result kids minds are just that extra bit liberated from the paralysing effect of youth work.

Physically youth workers are often light weights having to contend with real heavies. They are extremely reluctant to call the cops yet are often in need of protection themselves nervously selecting keys from loaded key rings, dutifully locking doors behind them to keep youth club property safe from never miss a chance snaffling fingers. In their heart of hearts how many yearn to be a strong arm Cagney outsmarting the not so angelic upstarts at their own game?

Ever since the State systematizing of social work first took off in a big way during the 1880's, social work in the name of more spiritual capitalist values has thumbed its nose at the 'cheap thrills' on offer in the market place. Nowadays the private market in youth entertainment, more expert at grabbing kids attention, is a source of competitive annoyance to youth workers. They dislike the rampant commercialism of amusement arcades and space invader emporiums where the only source of authority is the dubious money changing bouncer. Confronted with this racketeering magnet either the youth club makes concessions or risks losing all custom. But swimming with the current is also an admission of defeat and there is an unhallowed something in the spectacle of a youth workers attempting to become as slick as the next kid at playing space invaders on one of the clubs two machines. The market induced drift into backsliding ends the day the youth worker quits.

Having become more mechanised (videos, sound systems, music rooms, recording studios) youth clubs find themselves having to hire technically minded youth workers, fix-its. Employed in a less ideological capacity they tend to poke fun at their harassed colleagues who obediently read and swear by The Guardian, New Society etc just like they've been trained to do. As pure cynicism this dismissive gesture takes some beating in a scene which is noted for its close professional naivete. Only time will tell if it is at all capable of progressing beyond mere cynicism.

There are other pressures leading the youth worker astray. Some gain the respect of kids by infringing the law in rather minor ways and generally making out they are tougher than they really are. Holding high their self esteem and the esteem of others they are easily nagged into continually proving themselves. However there shortly may come a day when on account of former braggardly actions they get pressured into throwing petrol bombs just for the sake of keeping up appearances. If caught they will quickly find out they have thrown away their job - and probably the keys to the jail.

In Britain the time has long gone when there was a manifest relationship between the owners of large scale property and social work. There are echoes amongst today's social workers of Beatrice Webb's 'new consciousness of sin amongst men of intellect and property' but the 19th century combination of guilt and fear of personally being expropriated has greatly diminished. The moralizing function of social work has become progressively detached from defending individual property being more a question of protecting the State as the collective capitalist. Social workers today dread the onset of role crisis more than they fear expropriation of their property, which in any case is rather petty. But low rates of pay, long hours, being on call, add their weight to a significant number correctly gauging their role as merely compounding misery.

Come this potential major turning point and the greatest danger comes from honey tongued marxist ideologists of 'social welfare work'. They step in to save the social worker from a social crises of deep personal significance. Arguing the State is not a monolith built to safeguard bourgeois class rule enables the social worker to pick up the pieces and cheerily soldier on convinced, having made the switch from liberal or Christian values to a marxist approach, they are now helping the proletariat. When have social workers ever believed they were doing otherwise?

Social workers cannot initiate any authentic activity themselves, while the activity of those they police gets out of hand. Yet social workers can all of a schizoid sudden flip in with the insurgents. For example a social worker was arrested for throwing a petrol bomb in Brixton in April '81. Exactly a year later he was sentenced to 3 years in nick. At the trial the judge made it clear if he had not been of previous 'good character' and a social worker the sentence would have been much stiffer. Obviously in some eyes social work still counts for something. Amongst those arrested and present at the scene of rioting were a number of teachers and professional sports people. Class pressures from below, the strains of the job etc also cause them like the social worker to act in this explosive, definitely 'unprofessional', manner.

The teacher as informer

The tensions of social work corresponding to the era of mass youth unemployment are analogous to those of teaching: increased workloads (but usually as a result of cutbacks rather than having to cope with more pupils) and more, much more police involvement. Moreover there has been over the past 8 years or so a slow but sure process of weeding out the more liberal and 'rebellious' teachers leaving behind a core of either frightened or avowedly conservative teachers. Sir Keith Joseph's pronouncement (Jan 6th '82) to local authorities to find 'better ways of getting rid of ineffective teachers' is the latest in a long line of similar strictures.

The strain of the job contributes amongst teachers' hardening of attitudes and a defensive posture bordering on hysteria. To typify education nowadays as compulsory mis-education is, if secondary school teachers are present, tantamount to a declaration of war. Assembling the nitty gritty of details enabling one to form some kind of accurate picture of what is happening in schools is then halted by abusive, crass apologetics. Necessarily an analysis of the changing role of secondary teaching is fragmentary because details are lacking. Teachers keep mum about the shocking reality they are a witness to.

But the kind of policing activities teachers are progressively involved in was revealed with refreshing and chilling clarity in Toxteth. The Times reported that 'during the weekend riots school teachers had reported seeing not just children from their own schools in Liverpool amongst the rioters but those from schools outside the city'. That just about says it all.

Though schoolteachers needn't in private uphold the views of e.g. education committees, they are virtually constrained in practise to follow suit or risk disciplinary proceedings and the sack. In Liverpool for instance there was a striking concurrence between Councillor Michael Storey's (Chairman of Liverpool education committee and headteacher of a school outside the city education area) opinions and those of the Home Secretary, Willie Whitelaw. 'Parental responsibility' he said 'has gone out of the window. Not knowing where 8, 9 or 10 year olds are is disgraceful. The position is quite clear. Parents are responsible for their children' (The Times July 9th).

Councillor Storey refrained at least publicly from endorsing Whitelaw's proposals to punish parents (never incidentallly enforced by fining parents directly) but he did call a special meeting of education officers, inspectors, welfare officers and school attendance officers (once known more appropriately as kiddy catchers). Teachers were conspicuous by their absence from the meeting which had the merit of laying bare the power structure in which teachers either rest content playing second fiddle or get out. But with the rising incidence of arson in schools (c/f the wave of arson that engulfed school after school in Tyneside during the early '70s) truancy and general hooliganism, a school teacher cannot distance him/herself from the job. A take it or leave it approach was always a luxury in the teaching counter-insurgency front line ever since the beginnings of so called mass education. Today it is non existent.

Education cuts have also caused a resurgence of powerless liberalism in 'educational' matters particularly among concerned middle class parents. The pressure exerted by this body of people is wrapped up usually with the preservation of the local State. In so far as they view education as a positive good it is diversionary, inhibiting, in a perhaps rather minor way, the emergence of revolutionary theory which must never be confused with State education. It is also idealistic and severely elitist because it tends to equate 'information'(?) with survival chances: to reformulate Francis Bacon: knowledge is employment. On this reckoning the unemployed are condemned to remain claimants for the rest of their inferior lives because they lack 'knowledge'. It is nothing short of scandalous how the shining truths of clear as mud liberalism stand revealed as raving reaction.

However it is true that the kind of person who holds these views recoil if pushed, before this sort of inexorable logic. The same goes for their public utterances (letters to newspapers etc) on the riots, which were chosen with a snobby view to sounding respectable rather than from inner conviction. Judged from this privileged vantage point, education should have provided the tools for the full enjoyment of leisure (failing which kids rioted for lack of adequate preparation) rehearsing once more themes that started to become familiar from the mid '50s onwards. Mass unemployment has knocked this nonsense for six and it is only naive dreamers not Ministers of State who continue to believe in this. A final word - ironically many liberal teachers who profess to hold these opinions dear spend much of their 'educated' leisure time getting rotten drunk or stoned! (There's nothing wrong with getting continually drunk or stoned in this alienated day and age. It is the holier than thou facade which is inexcusable).

It is possible to locate one major drawback in the crisis of mass secondary education. (Higher education is of no consequence here because struggle, since the qualitatively different ones of the late '60s, has centered on restoring grants, extending facilities and not on the outright rejection of courses, the destruction of the university and an end to the Student role.) Quite simply the runaway subversion is seemingly happening without any theoretical elaboration. It should come from the kids themselves. (We looked in vain for even the merest glimmer of a message that however fleetingly might have explained the arson in Tyneside schools. Resistance to corporal punishment in one school unaffected by arson is all we could come up with).

The inconsistency of school rebellions was also brought out in the riots. The mass truancy in Liverpool schools wasn't accompanied by a single recorded incident of a school coming under attack. Since the riots however Liverpool schools have experienced an upsurge in destruction. At the now notorious St Saviours Church of England School in Toxteth pupils 'have wrecked class rooms by fire and vandalism and turned fire extinguishers on any teacher who dared to remonstrate' (The Daily Telegraph Feb 23rd, '82). To begin to put together an absent critique even in the midst of so much destructive activity is not easy. The educational system in Britain has certain specific features that set it apart from most other highly advanced capitalist countries. It is perhaps less closely integrated with vocational training than any other major industrial country. Excepting maybe pure science and basic literacy, the main function of mass education here is unobtrusively ideological and 'cultural', unrelated at first glance to the need to reproduce certain work skills necessary for the capitalist labour market. If this is the case then the revolt in secondary education contains within it the seeds of a critique which is far more complex than a straightforward resistance to being force fed for a particular job at the end of it all. Where does it lead? To what beauty?

They hurt you at home, they hit you at skool
Crisis of the school - Family couple:
The looming into view of other horizons

The declining importance of school and the family, the two main institutional covers for kids almost inevitably brings the law more prominently into children's lives. With children especially in mind extra police powers had been projected a good while before the riots by the Royal Commission for criminal procedure (Jack Jones the former 'radical' General Secretary of the TGWU had sat on this commission). Its recommendations to finger print children of 10 and over were enough to freeze the blood, marking something of a watershed in the criminalization of children. If the Chief Constables get their way the recommendations will become law.

The relevance to capital and the State in putting children under the police microscope has now become of pressing importance. The massed presence of children in the riots made public to astonished onlookers what the State had been maintaining all along; children were being progressively lost to view. It couldn't add - for their own good. Over night kids became strangers filled with new powers and parents and other adults peered quizzically at them as if they'd just hatched out. Yet this - one of the most advanced affirmations children have ever made - had not gone unheralded and parents had cause to wonder at their past casualness at not setting a time when children should be back and only occasionally asking them where they were going. Even going to skool is, because of rising levels of truancy, no longer the safe bet it once was.

Aries in Centuries of Childhood linked the rise of school education to a 'desire on the part of the parents to watch more closely over their children'. It is this dual surveillance process which is now in such crises. Once it presaged the rise of the bourgeois family just as loosening opaque family bonds, moving out onto a new terrain with no known reference point in the past, now signals its disappearance. Under the growing sway of police surveillance an eye as sharp as Fourier's is needed to see the potential.

Responding to the failing authority of parents, the Tories drastic solution is, first isolate the family unit before proceeding to give back its former powers. Like the 'magic of the market' this is deemed to occur spontaneously. But what really happens is this: their redrawing of the boundaries of the State, like other instances, is more a question of substituting existing bodies for other ones. What is actually taking place is a realigning of extra parental authority rather than a return to base. replacing family guidance councils more with the courts and the police. The two in any case have never been totally separate but shit social workers are more likely in the future, irrespective of changes at Government level to be drawn into co-operating more closely with the police. Almost certainly the greater encroachment of statutory police authority is bound to put a severe strain on their woolly liberalism.

Thus parents, particularly working class parents, are not expected to assimilate the witchcraft of the 'experts' but instead hand out clouts around the earhole like there's no tomorrow. The onus of the blame still falls on the parents but the terms have changed. (The findings of a survey commissioned by the News of the World on rioting kids was headlined 'It's our fault children go wrong'.) They are not now accused so much of a lack of sympathy and understanding but of a failure to act with brutal promptness.

At the time of the riots there was much talk of coercing parents into acting 'responsibly'. But the idea had been in the wind for some time. Only 3 weeks before, a research project was forwarded to the Home Office Research Unit proposing a study of the effectiveness of fines on parents for controlling their children. If the amount of doggerel now piling up is anything to go by the ruling class are clearly very preoccupied with 'lax parents'.

Not all lax parents of course, only those belonging to the working class. For once the inherent bias of sociological studies is there for all to see because it all depends on which side of the class fence you happen to be on. Laxity amongst working class parents becomes acceptable permissiveness amongst middle class parents. The Times (July 11th '81) was sympathetically frank about this in an article titled 'Why so many children take to the streets' summarizing these views as follows: 'permissiveness in child rearing during the past 10/20 years, while perhaps all well and good for the educated middle classes in leafy suburbs - is counter productive for the families of manual workers living in inner city housing estates.'

(By quoting from this newspaper article we are not entering a plea on behalf of permissiveness. Whatever the differences both contending approaches are essentially about how best to bring up that pain-in-the-arse, a model citizen).

Particularly in child rearing methods, the bourgeoisie has liked to think of itself as a vanguard confident that what it has pioneered today will benefit the proletariat tomorrow. But dual standards like these means its crusading days are over because it implies one method for the rich and the other for the poor. Using children as scapegoats (and anyone else in the family who gets in the way) easily provoked working class violence is, in this way, cynically whipped up.

But this controlled experiment in a punishing society hadn't banked on the effects of a rapidly rising unemployment surpassing that of the '30s. When an unemployed parent lashes out from frustration it nullifies the rationale behind this narrow minded dogmatism. Differences in brawn aside (which matters) beater and beaten are alike in at least one respect. Both are the trapped victims of an indivisible system, losing the power to divide and rule to its own satisfaction. As more and more tales come to light of wife, baby, child and granny bashing linked to rising unemployment, State manipulated violence rebounds to the detriments of its strategists.

Inner cities as inwardness

The riots do not presage an era of novel concern with the particular 'problems' of inner city areas. They come at the end of a dozen or so years of official anxiety.

The first efforts at isolating inner city areas date back to 1968 and the Labour Governments 'Urban Aid Programme'. The future PM Callaghan warned of the 'deadly quagmire of need and apathy'.

By confining problems geographically the program had a clearly divisive intent, isolating locality from workplace and the rest of society. Callaghan's statement needs to be set beside Harold Wilson's made in the same year warning of an assertion of power on the shopfloor which Governments have yet to find an answer to - and never will be able to. The immediate background to these parallel and complimentary statements were the riots sweeping American cities and revolutionary struggles in France and Italy.

The great fear was that the consensus in workplace and locality which had bound the proletariat to social democratic reformism was cracking apart. To repair the consensus was given henceforth top priority.

At the level of the factory much more emphasis was placed by the TUC and management on the training of shop stewards. Courses set up to addle the minds of shop stewards included company finance, management, industrial law, labour relations etc. Since Harold Wilson first made his remark the role of the shop steward has undergone a conservative reversal. The only point in history the shop stewards movement has posed a revolutionary threat was during and just after World War I. They have ever after periodically marked time in a drift into rank and file 'chaos' they weren't able to control. Neither the State nor management can allow their activities to go unchecked even given their shop floor werewolf prestige has irreversibly declined.

At the level of the older industrial cities which had once formed Britain's industrial heartland a series of 'community' measures were planned outside the more orthodox channels of political enfranchisement (e.g. the local Labour Party.)

This apparently ambiguous function was attractive to '68' radicals' who were none too clear about the State's sophistication in these areas of policy making. Without doing much damage to itself, the State was able to use the catchwords of '68. Robbed of any precision, 'alienation' was bent to merely signify 'unneighbourliness'. In this way contradictions inherent to capitalist society were pushed to one side and the go ahead given to redefining inner cities in pathological terms suited to remedial treatment, (delinquency, crime, deprivation, children at risk, problem families, etc.)

The range of these 'unorthodox' bodies was astonishingly varied covering health, education, urban planning, housing and social services. The approach was as near total as possible: political reintegration accompanying economic regeneration.

For this purpose organizations like the Community Development Project were founded in 1969 to pioneer unconventional approaches to unemployment. As often as not CDP activities were viewed with suspicion as 'communist' by chain bearing Labour Mayors and local councillors. They need not have worried: the State has long known how to dress up over-due modernization with feigned subversion. But they did and these ossified responses only enhanced the allure of the CDP.

'Community strategies' accorded well with the historicizing tendency of the times. Potted histories of selected areas and localities were prepared. All depending, State sponsorship was either direct or more discreet. Sometimes it was a bewildering combination of both. But having shaped the overall retrospective spirit of the '70s decade, the State had little to fear from quasi independent initiatives. Like for example the Hackney writers workshop formed with the intention of encouraging old timers to write about the neighbourhood as it once was. There was more to this venture and others like it than recollection of things past1 . Memoirs like Coronation cups and jam jars (1976) evoke an unfailing neighbourly good humour and stability circumscribed by the Labour Party and the Trade Unions, able to take on the chin the very worst blows capitalism could deliver. The riots of '81 vividly brought home the near total absence of comparable punch drunk safety valves today.

Local histories and the unbearable image of harmony they conveyed were a preparatory vector of communication to the local State. But they were only able to properly act as an emotionally charged stimulus to the political economy of the area if shuffled with 'alien' cultures now flooding the inner cities. That is why local community centers like 'Centreprise' in Hackney trade on the paradoxical affinity of a pre war white working class and politically stable post war images of ethnicity both about as relevant to the present as pit ponies and dug out canoes.

The principles of political economy never in the 19th century included the principal of getting to know one's own work force, their past histories, neighbourhoods etc. Or if it did it was a comparative rarity. The political enfranchisement of the masses more an achievement of the 20th century than the 19th changed all that. In so far as they constitute the majority of the electorate 'their' history is important to the bourgeoisie just so long as it doesn't threaten its interests. It is an indispensible part of the representative apparatus of Government. When consensus breaks down the historian is called on to secure the present for the past. What passed for radical local history coming straight from the horses mouth with a moral in it for today's generation was not meant to form part of an eventual digest of international capitalism. The whole aim of the project was to encourage an introverted 'community pride' covering identity, self help schemes, individual and co-operative ownership all tied in with the resumption of the voting game. The net effect sometimes is so claustrophobic it's like going around with a feather pillow strapped to one's face.

  • 1c.f. Looking Back at Bristol - a Bristol Broadsides publication. Revealingly the central St. Paul's area, the scene of the riot in 1980 was the subject of the first transcribed interview given by a woman who had been rehoused on the Hartcliffe estate four miles from the city center.