A Plea for Peace from Suva City Auditorium
At the last minute on Saturday police revoked the permit for ECREA to hold a march celebrating the UN International Day of Peace. This is the speech Fr Barr gave from the Suva City Auditorium before he joined another march at the Parliamentary Complex where marchers presented their recommendations to the Constitution Commission. I shall have more to say on the question of these these marches and their aftermath as soon as I can put the pieces together.
INTERNATIONAL PEACE DAY
- Some reflections from Fr Kevin Barr
Today we are celebrating the international day of peace. Peace is something we all want to see in our world and in or country. Governments want peace and our government sends peace keeping forces to various troubled spots in the world. And of course peace is good for business. So everyone wants peace and prays for peace.
But there is a price to pay if we really want peace. There is a saying which goes: “If you want peace you must work for justice.” Thus justice – social justice – is a pre-requisite for peace.
Unfortunately some people think that if we fight for social justice we are promoting confrontation and conflict and that this is opposed to peace. However Johannes Galtung (an authority on peace building) says that if we want peace we must open our eyes and identify and address the various forms of structural violence or injustice at work in our society. This structural violence can be in the form of racism, discrimination, poverty, inequality, exploitation or exclusion.
History has shown that there is a strong (but complex) correlation between failure to address structural injustice and the growth of instability, violence and crime. We only have to think of the recent uprisings in some Arab countries in Africa and the Middle East as well as the recent riots in London, Rome, France Spain and India.
I say all this because talking about peace can appear to be a very comfortable and romantic idea and it becomes very easy to gloss over the realities of structural violence and injustice that need to be addressed
One of the big issues of social justice around the world has been the issue of just wages. We have seen uprisings in China for an increase in wages and very recently strikes in the South African mining industry for large wage increases. Riots in France and Spain have also revolved around wage issues.
Here in Fiji also we are witnessing a lot of injustice surrounding wages. For 36 years the evidence shows that employers have continually opposed decent wages increases. And, because wages have not kept up with the current cost of living, we have seen an increase in levels of poverty. Currently at least 60% - 70% of our workers in full-time employment receive wages below the poverty line. Thus the deterioration in wages over the years has led to a dramatic increase in poverty. Nearly two thirds of our population either live in poverty or close to poverty. (Yet many employers deny the connection between unjust wages and poverty.)
In my four years as Chairman of the ten Wages Councils I have seen the setting of three wage adjustments. The first was deferred for 6 months, the second was deferred for almost a year and was also decreased by 5% and the third most recent one was deferred by three months. And each time there was no consultation with me or the members of the Wages Councils. The deferments were due to the interference of a small lobby of selfish and greedy employers who went to their friends in government to by-pass the due process and autocratically cause deferments and decreases in the modest proposals for wage increases.
I finally resigned as Chair of the Wages Councils in strong and public protest against this group of selfish, greedy employers and also against government for allowing their interference against the interests of the workers of the country. How can we honestly say we want to see poverty alleviated if we do not provide just wages for our workers?
In an address in early August 2011 defending the Essential National Industries (Employment) Decree, the Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, said:
“The Bainimarama Government, as you can see from our track record, has been on the forefront of improving wages for those workers who have been on the margin of poverty.” (Fiji Times 8th August)
This statement is far from the truth.
Our present government has not just been extremely pro-employer and pro-investor, it has been anti-union, anti-worker and anti-poor. It has a lot to answer for and it is no surprise that the visiting ILO team was sent packing a couple of days ago.
[We cannot pretend that we have peace if strong controls are set in place which prevent people from expressing their opinions and voicing opposition and where an atmosphere of fear pervades society. A forcefully controlled society may seem peaceful on the outside but inside it can be a boiling cauldron of discontent which can erupt at any time.]
On our T-Shirts you will find the message for today –
- Just Peace (meaning Peace comes as a result of fighting for justice).
- And on the back of the T-shirts is a biblical message from the Letter of James 5:4: “Listen to the wages you kept back, calling out; Realise that the cries of the workers have reached the ears of the Lord.”
On this International Day for Peace we want to stress that Peace demands justice and for us in Fiji today just wages is an issue of justice we must fight for if we do not want to see further poverty and inequality.
Working for peace can be a very acceptable project but fighting against injustice can cause strong opposition from many. It is a strange fact that many of those who have worked for peace by addressing injustice in their societies have been assassinated – Jesus of Nazareth, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Steve Biko, Martin Luther King, Deitrich Bonhofffer, Archbishop Oscar Romero, John and Robert Kennedy. Usually it was not their desire for peace which stirred up opposition but the fact that they worked against the structural injustices which stood in the way of peace.
Peace is ultimately a never-ending struggle to overcome various forms of injustice and it demands courage and determination. One great consolation is the realization that when we work for justice we have God on our side.
Thank you and may God bless you all.
It is good to note that Government has Social Justice as one of its non-negotiables for the new Constitution. However, if government considers that social justice is really so important, why does it not make sure we have social justice here and now?
Lord, Make me an instrument of your peace.
Lord, Make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, let me sow pardon,’
Where there is doubt, let me sow faith,
Where there is despair, let me sow hope,
Where there is darkness, let me sow light,
Where there is sadness, let me sow joy.
O Divine Master!
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved, as to love.
It is in giving, that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
It is in dying that we are born to eternal
(St Francis of Assisi)