The YTS, set up by the government in 1983, was presented as a voluntary workplace training program for 16-17-year-olds. However, this seemingly beneficial initiative had a darker side. Many employers used the scheme to hire young people as full-time workers, paying them less than £30 per week, with no job guarantee at the end. Sounds unfair, right? Well, the young people thought so too.
Things took a turn for the worse in 1985 when the government threatened to make the scheme compulsory. To add insult to injury, they planned to withdraw unemployment benefits from any young people who refused to participate. This move essentially echoed today’s workfare schemes and was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
In response, an unexpected wave of rebellion swept across Liverpool’s schools. As many as 10,000 school students, most of whom were due to leave school at 16, went on strike against the proposed YTS conscription. Thousands of teenagers standing up against a government policy – it was an awe-inspiring sight.
This strike wasn’t just a spur-of-the-moment event. It was carefully organized with the help of the Labour Party Young Socialists. The students gathered at St Georges Hall, intending to march through town to the Pier Head. But such was their enthusiasm that they ran straight down Dale Street, bypassing the town center.
The rally at the Pier Head was addressed by Terry Fields MP, reflecting the significance of the event. The students’ collective voice was so loud and clear that it couldn’t be ignored. Their protest had an impact. Government minister Tom King postponed the controversial bill for a year. Sadly, the YTS conscription was eventually brought in by Thatcher, but the spirit of that strike, the essence of that resistance, has lived on.
Below are some photos that documented the strike of school students in 1985.