It worked for me... the key lessons Extinction Rebellion activists will learn from having a job - David Behrens

After all these years, it turns out I might have been doing something right.

Members of Extinction Rebellion protest on the streets

I don’t think I’m betraying any trade secrets when I tell you that writing for a newspaper is not the best paid job in the world, unless you’re Boris Johnson. But it’s steady work, and I was brought up to believe that that was what mattered. Publishing a paper or wrapping chips in one – it made no difference if it paid the bills.

My parents had been born into the Great Depression, and like many of their generation, they never quite escaped the fear that there was another one just around the corner. That is perhaps why, as soon as I was old enough to ride a bike, they packed me off to the nearest newsagent to get a paper round. It would keep me in sweets and comics, they said.

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By 15, I had a Saturday job at Saxone, applying silver paint to the grubby metal shoe racks that they put out on the street at sale time.

Members of Extinction Rebellion protest on the streets

Most of my friends were similarly employed. Statistically, seven in 10 of us were earning our keep in those days, I now learn.

But times have changed. Today, according to Barclays, just half of those between 14 and 21 are in part-time work. The jobs are still there, but the motivation is evidently not. Which is a shame because, as the bank points out, early work experience is a good way to gain valuable life skills.

Yet, contrarily, parents are quite prepared to take on second jobs to support their children through university. That was the finding of another report this week, which also discovered that many are routinely sacrificing holidays and new cars because they are handing an average of £360 a month to their kids. Only a third had encouraged them to earn money of their own.

Members of Extinction Rebellion protest on the streets

As the parent of a university student, this rather blindsided me. I had been making the odd contribution to his upkeep, but not on anything like that scale. He had found himself a job within a couple of months of arriving on campus, and has been doing it ever since. It’s the sort of work he could parlay into a career, if he wanted.

I realised that this must have been what he meant when he wrote on my Father’s Day card last month that he had inherited many of my traits. I thought he was being facetious, for there are many idiosyncrasies of mine that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but being a tightwad, it appears, has its advantages after all.

What, though, motivates other young people, if not getting a job? In Leeds this week, members of the protest group Extinction Rebellion, a self-styled “activist movement”, have been camping out on the streets. They blocked a main route into the city, and some roads have been closed since Monday. Police leave has been cancelled, to help keep the peace.

Extinction Rebellion seeks to galvanise young people into taking action that will force politicians to protect the environment more proactively. Nothing wrong with that, except that it knows it can motivate them to give up their time only if it means they can bunk off maths lessons.

That’s why it staged its “classroom strikes” earlier this year on school days, not at the weekend. And it was why this week’s protests took place before the schools broke up for the holidays.

The organisation called its sit-ins, which also afflicted four other cities, “creative acts of civil disobedience”. But what was creative about them? It was clear by Monday morning that by doing little more than getting in people’s way, they were making enemies faster than friends. Some of the students they had brought along were, for all their youthful idealism, motivated by having nowhere else to be.

That is not to say they are wrong to demand action on saving the planet. But positive change seldom comes from negative energy.

I hope their parents, who may themselves be veterans of student protests, appreciated the irony of having to negotiate the barricades to get to Barclays, in order to stump up their £360 on time.

I was not a protester. They wouldn’t give me the day off from Saxone. But I did gain an important life skill from my boss there. He was stripped of his keys when the books didn’t add up at the end of a routine stocktake, and summarily fired. I vowed there and then not to bunk off any more maths classes.