Britain - August riots, the symptom of a social crisis

Oct/Dec 2011

The rioting which broke out in London on August 6th, spread almost instantly to many other parts of the country over the next 3 days. It exposed an ever-deepening social fracture, a consequence of decades of cuts and private profiteering at the expense of public welfare and jobs. The measures over these decades under both Labour and Tory - and now Coalition - governments - were undoubtedly compounded by the impact of the present crisis and the latest austerity policies."

These sudden, but limited, social explosions were to leave 5 people dead, many injured and 2,000 "suspects" in police custody, who were to be processed through the courts. And yet while the riots were breaking out everywhere, and in their immediate aftermath, what was most remarkable was the utter complacency of the Con-Dems and almost all of the spokespersons who were pushed forward in the media to make out that there were no underlying social reasons for the "public disorder".

The few youth who were invited to speak about the riots, and who pointed to the obviously worsening problems of service cuts and dereliction in the rioters' neighbourhoods, were shouted down and rubbished by the likes of former Tory grandee, Norman Tebbit, who appeared for this purpose on the BBC's Newsnight programme, during the riots, probably because he was among the few reactionaries on hand during the summer holidays. But it wasn't only the voice of youth which was silenced. Those adults who "dared" to blame social conditions or criticise the police for their harassment of youth were sidelined and/or ridiculed.

The official line was that the riots were primarily the act of criminals, gangs, and re-offending youth, thanks to the revolving door of the prison system, this latter being a point made by the Secretary of State for Justice, Kenneth Clarke, who also notoriously used the word "feral" to describe the youth who were involved. If it was the manifestation of a "sick" or "broken" society as Cameron and several Tory ministers have said, this was because of a lack of parental discipline and individual responsibility - to be blamed on the individuals themselves - never mind that this is a circular argument!

Yet despite the government's attempts to brush aside the underlying causes of the riots, so that it could carry on arguing that its austerity measures were "working", the fact of the riots was there, to make the case against them.

Obviously such riots are a manifestation of social crisis. And obviously too, this social crisis is not something which has suddenly arisen. The poorer sections of the population have been targeted by all kind of measures - many of them implemented by previous (Labour) governments - which have had the effect of marginalising and impoverishing them more and more over time. So the anger and frustration which erupted in August had been simmering under the surface for a long while already.

Shoot-to-kill cops started it

The spark that lit the riots' flame was the police execution of a 29-year old black father-of-3, Mark Duggan, in Tottenham. This is not surprising in itself. Police killings, deaths in custody and overt police racism have been a familiar precipitant of riots, as in Brixton in 1981 and even more so, Broadwater Farm, in Tottenham, in 1985. So it was again.

According to the Independent Police Complaints Authority, which is officially "investigating" Mark's murder, this is what happened: at around 6.15pm on Thursday 4 August, "officers from the Metropolitan Police Service's Operation Trident and SCD 11 [investigating a drugs racket] accompanied by officers from the Met's Specialist Firearms Command (CO19), stopped a ...people carrier minicab in Ferry Lane, close to Tottenham Hale tube station in Tottenham to carry out an arrest. Mark Duggan was a passenger in the minicab. (...) Two shots were fired by one CO19 firearms officer. ... Mr Duggan was pronounced dead at scene at 6.41pm. A non-police issue handgun was recovered from the scene. A post mortem examination concluded that Mr Duggan was killed by a single gun shot wound to the chest. He also received a second gunshot wound to his right bicep."

The reference to the gun found at the scene in the IPCA's official statement, led to a lot of speculation. It was construed to have belonged to Mark, despite lack of any evidence. Another bullet had been found lodged in a policeman's radio and initially the police (and media) encouraged the perception that there had been an exchange of fire with people in the minicab - which turned out to be a complete fabrication. As it turned out later, this third bullet was actually fired by one of the police at the scene. Nobody in the minicab was actually armed and the "non-police issue handgun" was apparently found in a sock in the boot of the car, or so the police say.

On the Saturday, 3 days after his murder, Mark's family and friends held a protest outside Tottenham Police Station to demand answers - they had not even been told formally by the police that he had been shot, let alone been given any explanation. Quite a few people gathered around, including local activists and community workers - recalling the vigil held in the same way for Mrs Cynthia Jarrett in 1985, who died of a heart attack after 4 police had burst into her home - which was the precipitant of the Broadwater Farm riots.

The Duggan family and friends' protest was ignored by the police, just as they had ignored the protests in 1985. Not only that, but as evening fell, police tried to move people on, forcibly, and pushed around a young woman. This was enough to bring even more local people to gather around and shout at the police - and push back. Soon there was a physical stand-off - and then a full-scale street battle with the police, which spread up and down the high street and beyond. Molotov cocktails were thrown, makeshift barricades were put across the street, a double-decker bus was set alight and several buildings burnt down while emergency services like the Fire Brigade, not to mention the police themselves, seemed powerless.

There is no doubt at all that many among the local population - and not just the youth who are so regularly a target for police harassment - seized the opportunity to express their anger and frustration against the police and authorities. Tottenham and its big tower block housing estates like the Broadwater "Farm" (an absurd misnomer) may have had cosmetic facelifts after 1985, but over the last decade or so, service cuts, dereliction, youth and adult unemployment and its corollary - petty gang activities, which fill the vacuum left by the closed down youth centres - have left a large section of the population without any hope of improving their lot and the youth without any hope of a future.

The Tottenham riots spread west to Wood Green and north to Tottenham Hale and Enfield where a large electronics warehouse among buildings in a retail park was totally destroyed by fire. News spread fast and by the Sunday and Monday there were very few high streets in London which had not experienced some rioting and looting of shops - the worst affected being Croydon, Hackney, Walthamstow, Brixton, Clapham's Lavender Hill, Peckham, Ealing - but shop windows were even broken in Oxford Street before the police rushed in to prevent further damage. What was pretty clear at this stage was that there were nowhere enough cops to cope with such a widespread phenomenon - but they certainly were quick to intervene when more wealthy areas were threatened!

The only way to shop

Around the country, almost all the Midland towns and beyond were hit, with more or less widespread looting and arson, including in Leicester, Salford, Manchester, Nottingham, Liverpool, Bristol. In Birmingham there were minor skirmishes, but the rumour of "gangs on the rampage" led to a collective response from shopkeepers to protect their shops, as had been the case in London's Southall and Haringey Green Lanes. This was how the first deaths occurred: 3 young Asian men were killed when a car was driven into a crowd which had gathered on the pavement of Birmingham's Winson Green area. The exact circumstances of this incident were suppressed as it was felt there may be inter-racial revenge attacks since it was alleged that the men in the car were black African-Carribean. But in the immediate aftermath much was made by the media and politicians, of the "calming-down" speeches of the father of one of the victims, who apparently restrained members of the local community from seeking retribution. For the time being, anyway.

Then, after 3-4 days, just as they had suddenly started, so the riots fizzled out. Of course, after 3 days of widespread, but very localised disruption, the police had finally managed to round up 6,000 extra forces from outside of London and the home counties, in order to be seen patrolling every high street, visibly sweating in their thick and heavy, fire-proof, boiler suits.

The damage that resulted was visible. Burnt out and looted shops - and selectively - those with goods which most poor youth and adults would not be able to afford. A police video released towards the end of August showing the "seized loot" from shops in Manchester and Salford included more than "40 pairs of designer jeans worth around £7,000""(i.e.,£175 a pair, on average!) and "expensive plasma televisions, shirts, walking jackets and hundreds of bottles of alcopops, vodka and champagne... Even tubes of toothpaste and packets of headache tablets have been recovered following arrest." Significantly enough, the most targeted shops were those selling expensive fashion items, such as fancy mobile phones and sports trainers.

Although small shops were smashed and looted in some areas, these were probably "collateral damage", when groups who were fighting the police had to retreat - and this was also probably the case for the big furniture shops which were burnt down in Tottenham and Croydon. However, the fact that many of these furniture shops target the poor with overly expensive hire-purchase schemes may also explain why quite a few went up in flames. Some cars were set alight, but this was not a main feature of these riots. It is also the case that several banks were smashed into and graffiti applied. JobCentre offices also had windows smashed. As one homeless man in Walthamstow explained, "they call it a 'job centre' but go in there and try and find one!".

The government goes feral...

Unable to dismiss the riots, even if their official line was that they were caused by "endemic criminality", the government immediately recalled all MPs from their summer recess, for a special sitting of the House of Commons to debate the situation. It was also revealed that Cameron had convened the top level security committee known as COBRA - a body especially designed to deal with emergency situations, such as... the threat of civil war! And, indeed, this was nothing short of the government declaring war on the rioters and, more generally, all poor disgruntled youth.

On the 11 August, after the event, Cameron declared that the "fightback was underway": "police are already authorised to use baton rounds and we agreed that, while they are not currently needed, now we have in place contingency plans for water cannons to be available at 24 hours' notice." He went on to say that he would not allow a culture of fear to exist on Britain's streets and branded pockets of society as "sick". "When we see children as young as 12 or 13 looting and laughing, when we see the disgusting sight of a young man with people pretending to help him while they are robbing him, it is clear that there are things badly wrong with our society".

Of course this in no way meant that Cameron was going to take any responsibility for the social ills to which he was referring. The issue was transformed into one of individual parents' responsibility. The EU "human rights law" was even blamed for allegedly allowing children to challenge, legally, parental discipline! On hearing the Tories making this ridiculous claim, the parents of unruly rioters - who would certainly never have dreamt of calling in the despised police against their parents, least of all to defend their "human rights" - must have fallen off their chairs!

On the strength of their absurd denial of the social causes of the riots, ministers went on to float the idea that the relatives of convicted rioters should have their benefits stopped and an e-petition was duly started to that effect on a government website. As if adding hundreds to the existing homeless population was likely to stop frustration overflowing, again, in poor areas! But the government did not care. Having failed to anticipate, let alone pre-empt the riots, it was merely trying to placate the most reactionary section of its own constituency, which is always keen to see the poor being blamed - and, if possible, punished - for their poverty.

Cameron blithely added: "We have seen the worst of Britain, but I also believe we have seen the best of Britain - the million people who have signed up on Facebook to support the police, coming together in the clean-up operations." This was endorsed heartily by Labour leader Ed Millband, whose only refrain, apart from condemning the rioters, was that the police cuts should be stopped at once.

In fact if the austerity measures were raised as an issue by official sources, it was to condemn cuts in the police - not cuts in jobs, benefits, housing assistance, educational support services and youth services. So Boris Johnson, the Tory mayor of London demanded a rethink of the government's plans to cut 20% of the police budget.

Whether or not some of the seeming paralysis of the police to intervene was their way of making a point about the budget cuts, they certainly made their point to Theresa May the Home Secretary. Manchester police told her: "We really didn't have the staff, protection, or resources to deal with it." They explained how the riot squad had been outnumbered and forced to withdraw, out of "fear for their lives" as 400 people at one point were hurling missiles at them. But they added "We did a good job at protecting the Arndale Centre" (the city's largest and most affluent shopping centre).

None of the threats of "states of emergency", or curfews, let alone water cannon, was carried out, since the situation rapidly calmed down - helped by the cancellation of all police leave and then the saturation of areas by police and house-to-house raids to arrest suspected "criminals". Of course many of the arrested were opportunistic shoppers-for-free. But many of those targeted for later arrest - and these arrests are still going on - are people already known to the police, in keeping with the usual police practice of going for the same youth over and over again, no matter what. This turns the "criminal" label applied to the rioters into a self-fulfilling prophecy and means that the statistics given about rioters' previous criminal history (overall, 73% of adults and 55% of juveniles charged, had a previous caution or conviction) are likely to be very skewed.

The probably near 4,000 arrests (almost 3,000 in London alone) still ongoing at the time of writing, were aided by the widespread CCTV cameras positioned in every high street, in this nation of the "ever-watched", where there are more such cameras than anywhere else it the world! But given the police-induced media hysteria, many people who had taken advantage of an open shop door (or window), and helped themselves to "free" goods, handed themselves in at police stations, as well as the petty goods they had taken. Several kids were "shopped", by worried parents, no doubt affected by the "blame-the-parents" game being played out on the media under government prompting.

...and so does the judiciary

But this is where the official response to the riots became even more ugly. Because the so-called "independent" judiciary went on to enact an especially punitive policy towards the rioters, whether they confessed and handed back their burgled goods or not. Being the bulwark of private property in this capitalist social order, the judiciary proceeded to make an "example" of the rioters even though they were doing nothing which could ever have challenged this same social order. The message was that you may not dare vent your anger and frustration, or exhibit your deprivation by taking what you can never afford. Above all, you should never even consider the idea of doing it collectively.

So the Ministry of Justice decided to hand out abnormally harsh sentences for anyone involved in the riots. In fact, the sentences were so abnormal that, by mid-September, the aptly named Lord Chief Justice, "Lord Judge", felt it necessary to intervene and reprimand Andrew Gilbart, the first judge to pass sentence on defendants charged with rioting. Gilbart had claimed that since riot offences were "outside the usual context of criminality", they should get what amounted to double the length of sentence - up to 8 years in jail for "organising a riot" for instance!

The interim "Statistical bulletin on the public disorder of 6th to 9th August 2011" published on 15 September by the Justice Ministry, makes interesting reading. This is based on the 1,715 people who had appeared before the courts by 12 September. Another more complete bulletin will be published at the end of October.

According to these stats, 90% of defendants were male, of which 21% were aged between 10-17 years, 31% between 18-21 and just 6% over 40 years. So yes, the riots were carried out mostly, by youth.

Out of all those arrested, 66% were refused bail, compared to the usual figure of 15% in "normal circumstances"!

46% have been given jail sentences. In 2010, for similar offences, only 10% would have been charged and, of those, only 12.3% would have been given a jail sentence. No wonder a senior prison official called this a "feeding frenzy" on the part of the police and the courts!

One student got 6 months for stealing a £3.50 case of bottled water from Lidl. A woman was given 5 months for being found with stolen shorts - a sentence later quashed in Crown Court. An 18-year old from Manchester, who "entered looted shops, picked up, but dropped trainers, drank stolen champagne" got 2 years 4 months in a youth offenders institution. Another man from Manchester, who "took doughnuts from looted Krispy Kreme" was given 16 months! Three 22-year olds from Croydon, with no previous convictions were given 6 months just for "trying to enter a looted shop with intent to steal"! 2 years in jail was the sentence for an 18 year-old who attempted to help himself to cigarettes in a supermarket in Manchester, but was caught before taking anything.

So far, 315 have been sentenced, with 176 given immediate jail sentences for an average 11 months - at least double the length of time in prison which would be given outside the riot context - even if it is difficult to see how statisticians have compared like with like, to arrive at this conclusion. After all, anyone caught taking bottled water from a supermarket would normally get no more than a police caution.

Today there are numerous appeals being filed by barristers and as mentioned above, some sentences have been criticised by other judges. But that doesn't mean these sentences are being quashed. A 17-year old had his 8-month sentence halved. He had followed others into a branch of Sainsbury's, had a bottle in his hand when the cops arrived, which he immediately put down - but still got charged with "burglary", having stolen nothing. Having already been in jail (no bail granted!) for 2 months, he will serve another 2. The two lads who invited people to meet by MacDonalds via Facebook for a "Smash Down in Norwich Town" even though no-one showed up, will have their appeals against a 4-year sentence heard in late October.

It remains to be seen what will happen to the pending appeals against jail terms handed out in this way - sentences which can only be described as hysterical. And while "Lord Judge" has reprimanded QC Gilbart for going far beyond his remit, he is still in favour of specially heavy sentences for the rioters. He has announced that the Appeal Court's ruling (not yet available at the time of writing) would uphold the decision of judges to impose unusually tough sentences: "[It] will set out the reasons why given all the ghastliness of what was going on in the country as a whole the sentences have got to be significantly higher".

In other words it is precisely the context, not the acts themselves, that the government treats as a collective crime deserving "exemplary" sentences.

The riots last time

This year's riots can only come as a reminder of past ones. In rather similar circumstances, riots broke out in Brixton in April 1981. The context, during the 1980s, was the austerity policy imposed by the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher in the middle of a deep recession. Unemployment had reached a record of over 3m. Over the previous 5 years, against the backdrop of a worldwide economic crisis, household incomes had been steadily falling, exacerbated by the imposition of a 3-year wage freeze under the previous Labour government.

In fact there were riots off and on throughout the 1980s, almost always in the poorest, mainly black ghettoes of London, Liverpool, Bristol and Manchester. These were largely reactive riots, against the police, in areas with a disproportionate number of black youth, who were "even more" unemployed and suffering from unwelcome and oppressive police attention on a day-to-day basis.

There was another phenomenon which was striking about this period and that was the existence of organised far-right gangs belonging mainly to the predecessor of today's British National Party, the National Front. These gangs blatantly carried out racist attacks, especially in the east of London - setting fire to houses largely populated by Bangladeshi immigrants, putting excrement and razor blades through letter boxes and attacking children on the way to school.

The police were seen to stand back when these gangs went on the rampage and even protect them. In the months before the Brixton riots, a house in New Cross where a birthday party for two black teenagers was taking place, was set alight - killing 9 youngsters and injuring another 20. To this day the police have never "solved" these murders. Among the black poor of London there was therefore already a huge amount of resentment felt against the police and their apparent condoning not only of racist attacks, but of racist murder.

The police had been exempt from the provisions of the Race Relations Act (which made it illegal to discriminate or treat anyone differently on grounds of race) since 1968, when the Labour minister, James Callaghan argued in Cabinet that their inclusion would be a slur on their obligation to "serve the Queen in the office of constable without favour"! Police were only finally included in this Act in 2001 after the MacPherson report into the murder of black teenager, Stephen Lawrence in 1993 by racist thugs, found the police force to be "institutionally racist".

In 1981, under so-called "sus" laws, police had the powers to stop and search any youth (much like today, under anti-terrorist provisions), "on suspicion" of a crime. And in Brixton, they had been implementing a saturation policing strategy, referred to as "Operation Swamp", supposedly to crack down on petty crime and drug dealing, but in fact what it meant in practice, was squad cars tearing (dangerously) round corners, sirens blaring, every five minutes and youth being stopped and searched, manhandled and or arrested, several times a week, if not several times a day.

On one sunny April afternoon, after police had accosted one youth too many, groups of youngsters attacked police vans and squad cars, with stones and with their bare hands, pulling the police out of them, turning the vehicles on their rooves, and eventually, setting them alight and making makeshift barricades. The police station was besieged. The stand-off continued for 3 days and for at least one whole day and night the centre of Brixton was a no-go area for the police. Several buildings went up in flames and shops were denuded of goods, including fridges and similar large items - such was the "rioters" control of the locality that it was possible to wheel away the goods to the local housing estate with impunity.

However the nature of these riots was different from the riots this August, in that looting was hardly a feature. As said previously, these riots targeted the police and the criminal justice system quite explicitly for harassment of youth and racist behaviour. It was difficult to get away from this fact, as even the post-riots inquiry led by Lord Scarman had to admit: "racial disadvantage was a fact of current British life". It did not admit, as the MacPherson report later did, that the cops were racist, however. Nor did it refer - but neither did MacPherson - to the social dimension of police racism, targeted as it was against poor blacks, which was, and remains, conveniently swept under the carpet.

After the spate of such riots all through to the mid-1980s, so-called "community leaders", hand-picked by the state among religious figures, and more recently among "community entrepreneurs", were brought in to police their own neighbourhoods with the help of some state funds for local projects. Sports and youth centres were opened in some of the most deprived areas - most of which have now been, or will be, closed down due to the latest round of cuts. As to police racism against working class blacks, the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, which has only been re-opened recently, shows that nothing much has changed: 18 years after the event, the well-known local racists who committed the murder are still at large.

Tottenham then and now

In 1985, the death of Cynthia Jarrett as a result of a police raid on her house, precipitated the Broadwater Farm riots. During these riots, a policeman, PC Blakelock was beaten to death. There was a huge and frenzied outcry from the establishment and police. And this outcry has continued until today, since PC Blakelock's killer is apparently still "at large", and never mind the serial miscarriages of justice which have put innocent people in jail for his killing. In July 1987 a jury convicted three men, Winston Silcott, Mark Braithwaite and Engin Raghip of murder. They were all found not guilty on appeal, after spending 4 years in jail, although Winston Silcott was sent back to jail where he stayed in all for 12 years - on another, different, false murder charge.

For poor black people on Broadwater Farm (and elsewhere), there is no such thing as being innocent until proved guilty. You are just guilty, full stop.

Recalling the Broadwater Farm riots, in the context of today's riots, a local Tottenham activist, Stafford Scott says: "Those people who tell you it's not the same as 1985 were not here in 1985. It's exactly the same as 1985. 1985 was sparked by the death of a black woman and police trying to cover up that death. (...). Today they are trying to cover up Mark's killing (...) If you look at all the stats, they're all the same as 1985. Nothing has improved for the livelihoods of young black people who happen to find themselves growing up on estates like Broadwater Farm."

And at a meeting to launch a campaign for justice for the family of Mark Duggan he said: "When we hear them talking about punishing people, removing benefits, a feral underclass, that is not our reality. Our reality is that this erupted 26 years ago on Broadwater Farm estate."

Yes, in reality, not much has changed since 1985. But, while racial harassment was a decisive factor then, it is compounded today by universal social harassment against the poorest. Rising unemployment, social deprivation and, above all, the crisis, have destroyed, to a large extent, the racial divisions inherited from the past in the poor areas. Whatever the colour of their skins, large sections of the working class youth are now confronted with the same choice: either waste your energy by fighting cops, smashing windows and burning buildings, or get politicised, get organised, and get rid of this rotten system!

A brewing social crisis

Ironically, it is the bosses' Financial Times which has produced one of the few useful reviews of the riots in the mainstream press, by correlating social deprivation with the areas of the riots, and with the addresses of those arrested and charged with riot-related offences.

This FT study showed that over a third of the suspects charged with offences related to the riots in London, for instance, actually live in the poorest fifth of London boroughs. The FT, at least, is quite certain of a link between the riots and deprivation. It found that two-thirds of 1,354 suspects charged in London, live in neighbourhoods with below average income and that only 3% come from the wealthiest 20% of areas.

It is now generally accepted - except by the government - that a main feature of the August riots - beyond the clashes between the police and youth, which for many of these youth was seen as a chance for payback against continual police harassment of stop and search (disproportionately of black youth) in the inner cities, was the chance to "shop for free". As one youth from London's Peckham told the FT, "People just got involved for free stuff. They took what they could. Someone else started it so they jumped in, because this is a poor area. Someone basically opened the door and people just walked in". And indeed, why should they be blamed for seizing an unprecedented opportunity?

In other words, the riots do not just reflect the social crisis - and they have been in the making for a very long time.

Last year the Equalities Commission published a report entitled "How Fair is Britain?" which exposed the inequalities in society, after 13 years of Labour governments. For instance, it found that the gap between rich and poor was wider than 40 years ago. It also found that the total net household wealth of the top 10% was £853,000, which is almost 100 times higher than the net wealth of the poorest 10%, which was £8,800 or less.

It is in this context that the amount of national income going to the poor has been reduced even further by the Con-Dems since they came into power last year - with cuts in benefits, more obstacles put in the way of those needing social housing, and direct slashing of allowances for the poor, no matter how small, like child credits and the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) given to 16-18 year-olds in low income families, to help them stay in education. This latter cut was indeed a factor in the last big "public disorder" i.e., the student demonstrations last winter. Many of this summer's young rioters had been directly affected by the abolition of EMA, and probably quite a few took part in last year's protests against it.

As for unemployment in general - it rose by 114,000 between this June and August to 2.57 million - a 17-year high, according to official figures. And youth unemployment in particular? The unemployment of 16-24 year olds also hit a record high of 991,000 in the quarter, a jobless rate of 21.3%!

Unemployment is obviously not just the effect of the Con-Dems' austerity measures which, among others, propose a cut of 610,000 public sector jobs by 2016. Labour governments had a policy of cutting jobs such that in the previous period probably at least half-a-million jobs went in the public sector. And the start of the financial crisis in 2007/8 already precipitated the shedding of as many jobs again, in the private sector.

But, in addition, for more than a decade, official jobless figures have concealed the impact of the rise in casualisation which really took off the ground under Blair, since 1997, and the more recent rise in under-employment, also under Labour: the millions in part-time jobs, sometimes working no more than a few hours a week, often just under 16 hours, so that employers can avoid paying National Insurance Contributions! Decent jobs are just not there for the youth.

While there are jobs where the 4-tier minimum wage is ignored - even its top tier of £6.08/hr for workers aged over 21, is not a living wage. So what about the £4.98 for 18-20yrs, £3.68 for 16-17yrs or the 19yrs and under "apprentice rate", which pays the grand sum of £2.60/hr?

That is the reason, in a nutshell, why suddenly apprenticeships are blooming all over, under government sponsorship (the Con-Dems claim they will fund 360,000 apprenticeships in all)! Apprenticeships lasting a few weeks, a few months, or more, for "trades" like sweeping and cleaning, bottle washing, and any other non-skilled "skill" one can think of, with only the minority of employers actually providing the training for traditional skills one would expect, in engineering and the building trades, for instance. Any boss would be foolish not to leap at the Con-Dem-given chance to pay starvation wages legitimately, by offering a brand new bogus apprenticeship for jobs previously paid for at full rate minimum wage (bad enough!) after an hour or two's training on the spot.

So where does this leave the almost 1 million "NEETs", those youth not in employment, education or training? They may be out of education, but why should that make them susceptible to be tricked into these sham schemes? It is likely therefore, that the real youth unemployment rate will just keep on rising.

The government has tried to blame all kinds of features which can be observed in every poor neighbourhood in the country (and in fact, the world!), for the riots, like the endemic "gang culture" of youth. But whether youngsters get involved in gangs or not, the future still has nothing to offer them and they know it.

The politicians' arrogant contempt for the poor, their criminalisation of the rioters and the stigmatisation of their families can only make the social crisis, which is constantly bubbling under the surface, much, much worse. With the economic crisis and the offensive of the capitalist class weighing more and more heavily on the conditions of the working class, this social crisis will inevitably erupt again, sooner or later. It is not a matter of if, but when.

Obviously rioting can change absolutely nothing, especially at a time when the working class is still disorientated and apparently overwhelmed by the impact of the capitalists' offensive. But what might change things for these youth whose anger is ever-simmering (and for everyone else in the poor areas of Britain), would be the re-emergence of a militant working class movement, in which they would have a vital role to play.

For lack of such a militant example, several generations of youth have found no alternative to either cynical inaction, or aimless violence which so often ends in self-destruction. It is the responsibility of the working class movement to offer its youth the prospect of the future which this capitalist society is incapable of offering them. Yes, we need a working class movement which is determined to go on the offensive against the attacks of the capitalist class. And this does not mean only forcing the capitalists to reverse the cuts and taking what is needed to pay for services and the new jobs which go with them, from the wealthy, who have plenty to spare. It also means aiming at bringing society under the control of its working population at every level and freeing it from the parasitism of private profiteering.