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Issue #1728      April 27, 2016

Contrasting two systems

CPA Youth in Politics roundtable

Too often in Australia we hear that our youth are apathetic, not interested in political engagement, spending too much time on the internet and not interested in working or looking for work.

The Round Table on youth.

Challenging this the CPA Perth Branch held a Round Table on youth with a representative from the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People, Yexenia Calzado and Edith Cowan University Guild officials Azlan Martin (Committee President of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students) and Lewis Price, the current ECU Guild President, to share their views and experiences on being engaged in politics in Australia today.

Both Guild representatives spoke about childhood experiences that guided them into politics, family background and participation in rallies against the Iraq war.

Yexenia’s parents grew up during the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in the eastern Granma province of Cuba where there was much poverty and repression by the army and police. At that time the province lacked good education and health facilities. Yexenia’s parents were part of the popular movement led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara to liberate the island and when the liberation triumphed her family were part of the popular support for the Revolution, which was to bring social and economic benefits to the people of Granma and all of Cuba.

The chair Fayeza Khan opened discussions with a statistic: 20% of 18-25 year olds in Australia are not registered to vote, and the question – why? Aslan said that many of the policy changes by the government do not reach rural areas and especially Aboriginal youth who often felt that not only did the system not work for them, it worked against them.

Lewis reiterated the view that youth did not see any point in engaging with a system that did not work in their interest and added an aside that engaging in politics was sometimes seen as “uncool”; if politics raised its head in a discussion, it was, “Time to change the channel.”

In contrast Yexenia said talking about politics was normal in Cuba and people were engaged from a very young age. The affects of the US Blockade on everyday life also means people are acutely aware of the effects of politics. She said that with the generation who made the Revolution now getting older it was time for the younger people to step up and take responsibility for the Revolution and their society. Yexenia is one of the 300,000 members of the Young Communist League.

The chair asked “What is important to youth in Australia?”

The panel identified fee deregulation for universities, affordable student housing and being able to afford healthy food, access to jobs (let alone often secure and well paid jobs) and transport as major issues. In Cuba, Yexenia advised that the youth wanted greater access to recreation options. University students did not have to worry about jobs as government planning insures that graduates are guaranteed a job in their area of study.

This is a function of planning in a centralised economy whereby the government with good economic data is able to advise universities and technical colleges at what numbers of graduates it is looking for and which knowledge and skill sets are needed.

In contrast university graduates in Australia have on average to wait five years to get a job in the field of their study if at all.

Yexenia spoke about student unions in Cuba who are very much seen as part of the decision making process saying that without students universities wouldn’t exist, and “therefore what we want is important to the people who run the universities.”

Obama’s visit

Obama’s speech to the Cuban people referred to the lifting of the “trade embargo”. Yexenia said this was a distortion of reality; an embargo is just between two countries, the US has imposed a blockade because the US punishes other countries for trading with Cuba therefore it affects third countries also!

Yexenia also talked about how in Cuba the young are respected and consulted about the society they live in and the shape it is to have which is why they feel ownership of it.

A young attendee raised the issue that the roundtable was focussed on young people in university studies but that many other young people in Australia had problems finding secure and suitable employment.

Aslan said that students and potential students were also worried about the recent suggested changes to be brought in lowering the rate of earnings at which graduates would need to start paying back their HECS.

The Turnbull government wants to lower the trigger from $50,000 to $41,000 threatening to cripple the quality of life of graduates who are also facing increased cost of living pressures on limited incomes.

Lewis spoke about the fee increases and the model that treats students as “clients” resulting in universities that look more like “job factories”.Aslan and Lewis also said they had confidence that university guilds could achieve gains and protect rights of students.

But also that this is always under threat, including new legislation currently being proposed by the Western Australian government to weaken funding arrangements for guilds.

Next article – Dingo

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