President's message - December 2017
He aha te mea Nui o tenei ao?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.
I want to begin this issue by saying the most important thing I can to you all: thank you.
Thank you all for your efforts over the last few months. We’ve asked a lot of you while the 2017 election campaign raged around us. We’ve asked you to tell us your stories and to lend us your ideas and energy to make sure that the biggest issues for New Zealanders were front and centre in the debate leading up to September 23rd, when an historic new Government was elected.
Thank you to all of our PSA members for your solidarity and your solutions; for your courage in speaking out and your time spent supporting our events and campaigns. Thank you especially to the many delegates around the country – you make everything we do possible by supporting people to come together and think about what we share rather than what divides us.
I’m hearing the word ‘change’ a lot at the moment, and it’s got me thinking about how much things really have changed in New Zealand since my younger days. Sometimes the word ‘change’ can sound a little vacuous, especially in a political context; like you can never quite pin down what it really means for ordinary people.
My father was a low-paid worker; a grocer. Back in the 60s, that provided enough for me and my three siblings to have a fabulous childhood. Even on a relatively low wage like his, we could spend proper time together as a family and even go on holiday from time to time. And it wasn’t just the wages, either – we had a secure home, we were healthy, and we had access to a good education.
When I graduated, I was earning $2500 per year in my first job as a school dental nurse. That was still enough to eat, live, run a car, and have a good time socially. That certainly has changed.
It’s not all about how much money you have, of course. Back then, we had a proper safety net for when things didn’t work out, and we had time and space to learn from our mistakes. I think that has changed too – I don’t know how I would cope starting out in the workforce these days.
But maybe that’s why we’re talking about change again so much. It isn’t unrealistic that we should all have access to affordable, secure and warm housing. It’s not idealistic to think we should earn wages that pay for us not just to exist but to live. It’s not fantastical to want real action on poverty and homelessness.
The sounds we’re hearing from our new leaders are heartening: change is on its way. I hope it’ll be the kind of change that rebuilds the safety net while recognising that the future brings up a whole load of new challenges. But it’s not going to happen overnight, and not without us speaking up. It’s more important than ever that we stand together for a better society that recognises the value of the collective and listens to the voices of working people.
But I’m feeling hopeful: when I first entered the workforce, there was no supported childcare for women in the workplace. You could take a year’s unpaid leave, but that was difficult when you were living off steam. To see the new Government enacting 26 weeks of Paid Parental Leave is certainly a change from what I knew, and it makes me excited for what’s to come.
The future is unwritten and the present is still just a draft. I believe we really do have the opportunity to change things for the better. I hope that this Christmas, while you’re spending time with your loved ones and hopefully relaxing and recharging your batteries a bit, that you’ll be thinking about this: what would I like to change?
Sure, we have a lot of work ahead of us, but we have each other to rely on. I wish you all a very happy holidays and a new year that truly marks the beginning of something beautiful.