Here Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement (AWSM) provides the 5th installment in our series of interviews with working class people who share their experiences of living under contemporary capitalism in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
"Statism is inherently ableist, the systemic issues that come with statism cannot be solved by mere reforms. All reforms merely serve as stopgap solutions, to kick the can further down the road for future generations to deal with, to placate the masses as to not seriously disrupt the flow of capital. […] All statism is ableist, end of story." - Oxyaena 2020
Q: Thanks for doing a worker interview, it really helps get the word out. So tell us about yourself, what’s your background?
A: Hi thanks for interviewing me. Well I'm an anarchist, a visual artist, and a newly out nonbinary trans guy! I'm also a disabled person from a screwed up family. That second part isn't usually how I'd introduce myself but I think if we're gonna talk about my experiences with Work and Income [the government agency responsible for welfare] that's useful information. Lacking a familial support structure and having unclear career prospects means I have to deal with WINZ a lot.
Q: First of all, congratulations on being out! Second of all, sorry you have to deal with Work and Income haha. WINZ is known for not being the most understanding or empathetic institution. Do you feel that they treat you differently because of your background?
A: Thanks! Honestly I think it's more like they've repeatedly glossed over and minimized my background and disabilities. They've always tried to force me into the mold of an able bodied and neurotypical ready-to-work young person instead of offering me any kind of relevant support.
Q: Tell me more about that, what does that look like and how does it impact you?
A: Well the first time W&I disregarded my health status happened within a couple months of me going on work seekers. They brought me in for a mandatory seminar about some kind of culty military camp. (which would be fucked up even if I was abled). I tried to explain that I physically could not participate in a military camp even if I wanted to and the lady just shrugged and said "you have to be here."
(Editor’s note: This is the programme known as LSV, Limited Service Volunteers. WINZ has been shown to be traumatising clients while also being innaffective and expensive. For more information, read here:
Q: Wow that’s so dystopian. How does the disrespect from WINZ impact you?
A: Honestly it really freaks me out.
I do not feel safe dealing with Work and Income because the way they disrespect me shows that they can't be trusted not to put me in bad situations for my health and safety.
Q: What are some other issues have you had with winz?
A: The worst issue by far was definitely the time that they lied to me about emergency housing.
I came in one day and I told them "I need housing, it's an emergency. I'm getting kicked out of my place" and they were like "sorry we've got nothing for that" even though they've got a whole ass emergency housing program made for exactly the kind of situation I was in.
I think they figured they could get away with lying to me because I was noticeably neurodivergent, and I don't even know why they wanted to make me homeless.
Q: Do you feel that the negativity you face at WINZ has an ongoing effect on your disabilities?
A: oh yeah for sure, lack of resources and support from Work and Income only makes my disabilities harder to manage.
Ironically setting up the benefit system in a way that's supposed to maximize our economic exploitability only made it harder for me to get medical help that might actually let me be employable.
For example if the benefit system was functional and W&I was not hostile to my very existence I'd at least have the money to legally access CBD oil by now.
That would be a start on getting my health in order.
Q: What short term changes to the welfare system should be implemented immediately?
We absolutely have to stop Work and Income from running people through a gauntlet of "work readiness" tasks and drug tests to access the resources that they need to survive.
The absolute bare minimum that a benefit office should do is give people money and resources that they need unconditionally.
Q: What would an anarchist alternative to state welfare look like?
Well in the long term the goal is to share resources communally instead of letting capitalists hoard everything and dangle necessities over our heads to coerce labour out of us.
Poverty doesn't actually have to exist at all.
All of this is avoidable.
Q: Before we close out, is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to talk about?
Well I would like to reiterate that the fundamental problems with Work and Income are a direct result of capitalism.
The coercion into "Work Readiness" programs and military camps is a way to groom us to be more exploitable as workers.
Ableism is rampant because disabled people are devalued under an economic system that measures human worth by "productivity" (aka how much exploitable labour a person can perform)
The whole bloody system is built for capital not for us.
That's why we have to fight for better treatment in the short term and revolution in the long term.
Q: Thanks for allowing us to interview you and to share your experiences. Have a great day!