By 2017, the planet was on the verge of a population explosion of young people. People under the age of 30 already accounted for about half the population of what was euphemistically known as the ‘developing world,’ and in Egypt, for example, they made up half the labor force. However, as the world economy continued to stagnate, there were fewer and fewer jobs, even for those young people who had some how managed to get an education. Even in advanced countries like Spain, youth unemployment had already risen to a staggering 50%, and in retrospect the Arab Spring of 2011, along with the occupations of public squares from Madrid to Wall Street, appeared as the opening stages of what was to become a planetary rebellion of billions of young people against an inherited economic and social system with no place for them.
Some of the participants saw it coming at the time. As the Egyptian blogger ‘sandmonkey’1) wrote in 2011:
Think of all the 12 year olds who are watching all the hot issues (secularism vs. theocracy, left vs. right, the role of the army, the role of the police, etc.) being debated all around them right now, and having their political consciousness formed right now and know that when they turn 18 it will be next to impossible for someone to trick or co-opt them. Think of all the 15 and 16 year olds who are watching the protests all around them and the lessons and mistakes that we are doing and think of what those kids will do the moment they get into college in a couple of years or when they join the workforce …The Virus is everywhere. The Future is AWESOME.
To be sure, it is the nature of youth to be impatient, and Sandmonkey’s “AWESOME Future” was still a long way off on the horizon, to be reached after dark years of reactionary repression and only through monumental struggles. But he understood that the Genie of rebellion was out of the bottle, and more and more of his younger brothers and sisters grew up without illusions about the benevolence of governments, the virtues of big business, or the possibility of reforming them. They had no memory of or loyalty to the historical revolutions – “national”, “democratic,” “socialist,” or “Islamic” – on which all the current corrupt, increasingly repressive regimes based their legitimacy.
The educated among them were aware that in 1848 a wave of democratic revolutions – the “Springtime of Peoples” – had spread across Europe (thanks to the telegraph, the ‘Internet’ of the period) and briefly toppled a number authoritarian regimes before “order” was restored by the army (as happened after the Spring of 2011). However the Communist Manifesto gave hope to the defeated rebels of 1848, proclaiming “Workers of all nations unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to win.”
Ironically, the cynical youth of 2017 knew they lacked even those consolations. With no jobs, they had no “chains” to lose. As for “a world to win,” since earliest childhood they had seen their world being destroyed before their eyes by unprecedented floods, droughts, famines, monstrous storms, massive pollution and the destruction of forests, fisheries, farms, families villages and cities – all for the profit of a few thousand rich old men and their well-paid governmental and military minions. No wonder they spent their idle hours on line playing the “Billions vs. Billionaires” game. And dreamed of putting its lessons into practice.
As a prescient business analyst2) wrote in 2017:
As we ponder our path forward, we should consider that the developing world’s youth boom coincides with four interrelated global trends: an information revolution, the largest movement of refugees and displaced people in recorded history, growing urbanization that will concentrate youth in cities, and a rise in terrorism and extremist ideologies. Together these trends will spread not just people but, more importantly, their ideas at an unprecedented rate. They will raise and dash expectations pushing and pulling young people toward and away from their hometowns and homelands, toward and away from their desired futures. They will make young people around the globe aware of how others are living, the divisions within their societies, and how those they identify with are treated by governments, security forces, and other groups. This knowledge can inspire or anger. Or both.
For many, especially in the US, an immediate target for this anger was student debt, which in the early 21st century had reached such proportions as to surpass home mortgages and consumer debt in size. In the so-called ‘developing world,’ austerity and privatization measure imposed by the International Monetary Fund, had virtually eliminated public education including the high school level, imposing impossible burdens on young people and their families. Millions were staggering under impossible loads of debt, with interest payments piling upon interest. This situation was not accidental, but created during the 1970s by the establishment to keep the youth in line after the wave of international youth rebellions that swept the world in 1968. In its wake, many new graduates, instead of joining the establishment and becoming good employees and consumers, ‘headed for the hills,’ formed communes and dedicated themselves to social and political organizing among the poor and downtrodden. Many of these free-floating activists had benefited from college scholarships or, like the leaders of the Black Panther Party, had been educated (and awakened) in the free community college system.
So now student loans would be substituted for scholarships or free public education so that upon graduation, instead of running free to become artists or rebels, students were obliged to take whatever jobs they could find to pay back their debts. Moreover, although in the U.S. Federal student loans were back 100% by the government, they were administered by private banks and and loan companies, who, although they ran zero risk, were allowed to charge high rates of interest surpassing 7% (in a period of unprecedented low rates of interest for mortgages and such). Furthermore, the government changed the bankruptcy laws to exclude student debt, so that there was literally no way out for these young people facing years of debt servitude. Some ran away to Canada; others committed suicide, but to no avail. The aggressive collection agencies hired by the banks went after their surviving parents! For years, students and ex-students had attempted to organize a boycott, but it never quite got off the ground. There was too much fear of standing out and being persecuted by the collection agencies and the government. Finally, the last straw broke the camel’s back. After a bloody incident where police, brought in to seize the property of a student in default, shot her in cold blood after a tug of war over her childhood Teddy bear. The video, made on the iPhone of her roommate, went viral, and millions joined the latest boycott campaign, which was based on the principle that as soon as a million students had signed a pledge not to pay any more interest on their loans, the boycott would become effective. Within 24 hours, the pledges had mounted to three million and rising. The collection agencies and law enforcement were totally overwhelmed. Even as the government promised to cover all their losses, the stock-holders of the banks and loan companies took fright and began to sell out; and without enough collateral to cover their short-falls, the banks themselves fell into default, triggering a long-expected financial crisis that made the panic of 2008 look like a picnic.
FUTURE HISTORIANS! Please help develop further details, like popular songs going viral on the internet uniting youth everywhere and overcoming racial and religious cleavages; with youth organized to aid victims of storms, floods etc. in conflict with FEMA, UN and other authorities; with repression of boycotters and saboteurs of polluting corporations as “eco-terrorists,” battles over animal rights, etc all in alliance with general strikes and other movements.
Meanwhile, thanks to the Internet, members of labor unions, peasants’ associations, native peoples’ coalitions in various countries were more and more interconnecting on a multi-national level. Whenever possible, delegations of activists, often simple rank-and-filers, followed up on these electronic contacts, organising visits and meeting at Regional and World Social Forums. Criss-crossing the globe, they brought with them – and brought home – the mutual understanding and the essential human presence that makes solidarity real.
Within the labor movement, activists also laid plans for bold cross-border campaigns. Mexican workers in the maquiladoras in the ‘free trade’ zones on the US border joined with Filipina and US textile workers to demand a minimum hourly wage in the NAFTA zone and borders equally open to sellers of labor-power (workers) and buyers of labor power (capitalists) in the name of free trade. In the European Union, independent and contract truckers formed an international alliance, and vowed not to break each others’ strikes or deliver gasoline anywhere in the Union until their joint demands were met for decent Europe-wide standard pay rates and safety conditions. And official sell-out trade officials in Beijing and Washington went bonkers when U.S. employees of the union-busting Halmart merchandising megalopoly joined with Halmart sweatshop subcontract workers in Communist China (where they were made to join official government-sponsored unions) and brought human rights suits before US courts, the U.N. and the WTO. Their demands? Enforcement of their right of free association in unions and damages of $11,180,000,000 in unpaid back wages.
Meanwhile, within a number of big multinational corporations, organized networks of employees talking seriously about the advantages of a global strike, potentially backed by international boycotts in alliance with ecological and economic victims of multinational corporate policies and their sympathizers around the planet.