Making our voice count
This year’s PSA Youth conference held at AUT in Auckland was a chance for 90 young members to explore new ways of doing things as a union, think about their role in campaigns, and find out how they can effectively use their voice and be leaders in their workplaces and communities.
The theme of the conference – Transforming our union and society: making our voice count – and a full two-day programme of activities were designed to beef up participants’ knowledge and leadership skills and send them back to their workplaces as catalysts of change.
Youth network organiser Susannah Bailey and national convenor Asher Goldman kicked the event off with a progress report on the last year. From making submissions on State Sector reform and the Employment Relations Act campaigns, to getting stuck in to centenary events around the country, this has been a year of increased activism for the network.
Not only has the network grown in numbers – it now has more than 10,000 members – but it has also grown in the way it structures and organises itself. Throughout both days members were able to split off into regional action groups to consider what the sessions meant for them and their colleagues back in workplaces across the country.
The first session of the day, a panel discussion with PSA president Mike Tana, network representatives, rūnanga and delegates, helped members in the room see how easily they can get involved with more PSA activities. In another session, social historian Ryan Bodman encouraged activism and showed the importance of unions in creating a fair and equitable society.
Helen Kelly, president of the Council of Trade Unions, spoke on the triple-threat of insecure work, health and safety in our industries, and the erosion of workers’ rights. Helen was able to draw on the recently published book Tragedy at Pike River Mine, by Rebecca Macfie, to highlight the need for transparent work practices and the role of unions as an independent voice for workers.
PSA Youth members were incensed to find that the lessons of Pike River have not been learned, with the forestry industry in particular still putting profit over the lives of its workers.
A political panel featuring MPs Jacinda Ardern, Tracey Martin, and Denise Roche survived an onslaught of questions from members on student debt, access to education, youth rates, job creation, first-time home buying, and the sorry state of rental property.
National secretary Brenda Pilott led a blue-skies session on how the union could look like in the next 10–20 years. The room was buzzing with ideas on how the union could change to better reflect the needs of its members. More passionate members believed that change could happen now and that ideas should be taken to PSA’s congress in 2014 in the form of remits and rule changes, rather than waiting decades to see transformation happen.
Taking the energy from this session members turned their attention to the upcoming asset sales referendum and general election. PSA campaign organiser Conor Twyford worked with members to brainstorm ways for young members to be active and effective in these campaigns.
Participant-led workshops, with members able to nominate and lead sessions on issues that they felt strongly about, helped build a sense of ownership and leadership at the conference.
Murray Riches, a PSA student member from Waikato University, led a session on his study: How Do We Make It Better? Mapping the steps towards a more supportive coming out environment for queer youth in Aotearoa New Zealand. Members were able to use this as a chanceto discuss a range of workplace issues commonly faced by gay and bisexual workers.
Other participant-led sessions included identifying and combating child poverty, Irlens syndrome and dealing with disability in the workplace, unions and climate change, insecure work, unions as an independent voice in decisions facing society, neoliberalism and its impact on the New Zealand economy, and multi-cultural diversity in the workplace.
After the participant-led workshops, the programme continued with sessions on the importance of social media and blogging, unions and the environment, working for unions, and globalisation.
All of the sessions met the goal of giving participants something to think about and take back to their workplace. As a result of the conference many members pledged to at least take the next step of becoming a delegate, with many more promising to take action on issues ranging from the environment to poverty.
Over the coming weeks, PSA Youth will be sharing outcomes from the conference through the PSA website and social media.
In the meantime, regional action group meetings have been set for Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin so members can continue the conversations from conference and plan what their involvement is going to be in the upcoming asset sales referendum and next year’s election.
Check out the PSA Youth Facebook page for more.
This article is from the December 2013 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.