Interview on Public Eye Radio

Tonight I spoke with a Canadian radio broadcast from B.C. about lowering the national voting age there. It seems there is a conference of municiple leaders there, and they have a serious proposal on the table to suggest the federal parliment to lower the voting age.

Its always strange being a talking head, disconnected from the breadth or extent of my work to oversimplify the necessity of universal suffrage for all citizens in a democracy. Its particularly wierd for me to talk with Canadians about this, for a few reasons. Aside from being a voting Canadian myself, I think its kind of strange that a country that is so fragile and influence-able as Canada is seriously considering this radical step.

Giving young people the vote inherently acknowledges their social disenfrachisement, which is, of course, footed in the systematic denial of rights meant to subjegate young people. While Ivan Illich and John Taylor Gatto have explained it far better than I ever could, the basic notion here is that American capitalism relies on the continued oppression of children and youth. While I would not go so far as to wholly agree with them, there is some truth in the argument that if young people were given the freedom to choose what to do with their days – if they were seen as valid, capable, and responsible enough to make those decisions – would they actually choose to participate in the structures that have confined their very essence for more than 60 years? Schools, youth programs, and government agencies of all sorts would be forced to transform their staid historical approaches to working with youth into practical, relevant, and powerful opportunities that young people actually want to participate in! What a vision!

Regardless, I can’t expound on any of that in a 10 minute radio interview shared with another talking head.

Despite that, I feel I was able to represent the cause fairly, especially because Alex from NYRA has provided so many great recordings of his speeches online. Thanks man. And thanks to Public Eye Radio for seeking me out – anything to spread the message that young people are leading social change around the world.

3 Replies to “Interview on Public Eye Radio”

  1. Kia ora from New Zealand Adam. Below is a transcript of a speech by Te Ururoa Flavell the Maori Party Spokesperson about a youth pay bill that is now before parliament here. I thoyught it pertinent to your analysis. Thanks, Tony Ward (www.TonyWardEdu.com)

    ______________________________________________
    From: Helen Leahy
    Sent: Wednesday, 5 September 2007 5:27 p.m.
    Subject: Speech: Minimum Wage – New Entrants – Te Ururoa Flavell

    Minimum Wage (New Entrant) Bill

    Te Ururoa Flavell, Maori Party

    Wednesday 5 September 2007

    Tena tatou i tenei po.

    Four years ago, Radio Waatea carried an interview with a passionate union activist, a veteran broadcaster, employer, Board director, Maori rights campaigner, Chief Executive – a man of Ngati Kahungunu and Ngati Porou, the freedom fighter Syd Jackson.

    Syd issued a challenge which I believe bears relevance to the challenge of this Bill, when he said:

    You have to be prepared to put yourself on the line, to take to the streets, to act, to highlight and articulate your grievances. Simply get on and do the mahi…..

    There is no better way to honour this leader, than today, to honour his lifelong campaign for justice through standing up for our young people.

    Standing up for our young to get on and do the mahi without being discriminated against on the basis of their age.

    This Bill was purely and simply about eradicating discrimination. It was a cause that Syd Jackson lived for – leaving no-one behind, caring for te pani me te rawa kore, standing up for the poor and the impoverished.

    We were proud to stand with Sue Bradford at the First Reading, to stand for the chance for young people to benefit from adequate employment protection.

    We argued that rangatahi should not be vulnerable to arbitrary dismissal or unilateral changes to their terms and conditions of employment.

    They had the right to freedom from discrimination – as in the Human Rights Act 1993.

    They had the right to benefit from the anti-age discrimination provisions set out in the New Zealand Bill of Rights.

    They had the right to enjoy freedom of discrimination as the most fundamental freedom.

    Freedom from elitism, sexism, religious intolerance, racism, ageism.

    Freedom from discrimination against beliefs, against cultrual values.

    Freedom from discrimination as manifest in slavery, in racial profiling, in hate crimes, in ethnic cleansing.

    Madam Speaker, discrimination is not, of course, a novelty in Aotearoa. As most Members might remember, we recall a shameful history in the 1950s when it was not unheard of, for landlords to erect signs saying ‘No Dogs or Maoris’ outside their accommodation.

    But we had thought there was sufficient progression in legislation to seriously challenge the systematic oppression and mis-treatment of particular sectors in our community. Maori, Pasifika, the young, the old, the vulnerable.

    The original Bill convinced us that the discrimination that was being liberally experienced by young New Zealanders would stop.

    The discrimination revealed in the fact that currently 16 and 17 year olds can be paid a minimum wage of a mere $8.20 per hour compared to the adult minimum of $10.25 per hour.

    And so we voted to end age discrimination; to end ‘adultism’ – the predisposition towards adults which is seen in the ugly combination of prejudice married with power.

    The Youth Advisory Council of the Child Welfare League of America concluded that the end result of adults practising ‘adultism’, is that young people become disempowered and disenfranchised. Surely a Parliament that values an investment in our future, our growing young population, would not want that.

    Except this is where it became unstuck.

    For at the select committee stage, suddenly the Greens Bill became renamed. Discrimination was deleted. Abolition was abolished. A new vocabulary was created, introducing the new entrant to the workforce. Or as my colleague Hone Harawira called – it’s just another name for the Young Slave Bill.

    The select committee recommended that the first 200 hours worked by a young worker after he or she turns 16 they will be paid at a “new entrant” rate.

    This is a new term, as Darian Fenton explained during the committee stage, and I quote: “It is quite a strange term, particularly as it is used to describe school-children who are entering school for the first time”.

    A strange term – and a misleading term to make discrimination acceptable, the ongoing discrimination that these new entrants will be paid a lesser rate than even the minimum wage of adults.

    It is a term of pretence – because it is not actually to describe NEW entrants to the workforce. Not a 50 year old new entrant; not a 30 year old new entrant; just 16 and 17 years old will be entitled to this measure of divide and rule.

    What we were repeatedly told, as I understand from my colleague, during the committee stage of this Bill that this strange new version of the original bill was, if one could quote the proverbial, better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. We were scolded, how could we object to progress?

    But for the Maori Party, we are not prepared to settle for a watered down version of justice.

    We are not about to meekly comply to a second rate version of the truth.

    Another bizarre piece of persuasive political posturing that came out through the committee stage was the concept that what was “really wonderful” about this Bill, is that thousands and thousands of 16 and 17 years olds will get a pay increase after they have done two hundred hours of work.

    Union workforce statistics, however, show 50% of the 16 and 17-year-olds who are working, currently work 10 hours or less each week. So we’re looking at the minimum of five or six months as a base, before young people are considered worthy enough to earn the basic minimum wage; before they are entitled to that wonderful pay rise!

    What does it do to a community to legalise adult privilege in legislation in such a way as to mean that young people will not be paid equally for work of equal value?

    What does it do to young people to be paid less simply because they are not deemed “adults” by the country’s law makers? What message does it send about the worth of our young people? What further abuse is made more likely as a result?

    The Human Rights Commission told the select committee that:

    – the youth minimum wage has a significant impact on the earnings of young workers;

    – it perpetuates stereotypes about their capabilities and that they are worth less because they are young;

    – paying 16 and 17-year-olds less than other workers breaches fundamental principles of fairness and equity.

    So you see, it is about fairness, justice, decent wages for decent work.

    It could have been so different.

    We have a saying which demonstrates how it could have been. E ki ana te korero:

    E ngaki ana a mua, e toto mai ana a muri

    While people go ahead and weed, others follow behind and plant.

    The meaning being that if the first group do their work properly, those following can accomplish their task and everybody together gets the job done.

    What we are doing tonight, is not about doing our work properly.

    What message is this Bill giving to our children, your children, our grandchildren? To put up with injustice? That second best is good enough? That’s their lot and they should be grateful?

    What does the Minister of Maori Affairs, Youth Affairs, Pasifika Affairs have to say? How can they defend this tangled plot of weeds that are left behind to constrain our young?

    I would remind the House, that a massive 35% of the Maori population are aged under 15 years. And that the median age of both Maori and Pasifika populations is a mere 21 years, compared to the total New Zealand population of 36 years.

    We are a very young population, and we must stand here tonight, with the interests of that population at heart.

    Those young people deserve to be treated by the system in a way which is tied unreservedly to their skills. We should be united in calling to abolish any differential wage based on age.

    It is unfair. It is discriminatory. It is exploitation.

    Voting to support a ‘new entrant’ sub-minimum wage will worsen youth poverty and make it harder just to meet basic living expenses. It perpetuates a low wage climate by allowing wage standards to be lower than minimum rates of acceptability.

    New Zealanders need far greater employment protections. Ending youth rates is just one part of the picture.

    As a union champion, activist and freedom fighter, the Syd Jackson we knew would never compromise his principles, he would never live on his knees, he would die fighting for the things he believed in and he would say to us now

    You have to be prepared to put yourself on the line, to take to the streets, to act, to highlight and articulate your grievances.

    Our young people deserve nothing less.

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