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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, No. 1, March 1, 1976

The Holidays

page 9

The Holidays

A favourite topic for primary school essays was "What I did during the Holidays" Unfortunately, primary school has left us behind, but students still have very rewarding work experiences during the holidays. These two articles are reflections on work experience. We will attempt to bridge the gap between the worker and the student in future issues, through publishing a regular column on union news and views.

When so much public money is spent on the Social Welfare Dept, and in particular, in the field of 'social work', it is amazing that these activities do not come under closer scrutiny. Successive governments have always played down the social work activities of the Social Welfare Department, especially recently, as the myth of New Zealand's egalitarian society gradually disappears and the pathological side-effects of a more and more stratified society become increasingly apparent.

The existence of an extremely large social work bureaucracy admits fundamental problems, especially for the working classes, evidenced by their relative predominance on the books of the Social Welfare Dept., especially in the Children and Young Persons Courts. Since 1971, the number of Child Welfare officers have doubled - an indication of the increasing juvenile crime rate, especially around the Auckland metropolis.

Yet the functioning of this bureaucracy maintains a constant ethnocentric basis, that is, "bringing unfortunates back to some sort of normality". The training of social workers and the nature and limits of the social work itself inevitably shapes the social worker into comparing his 'clients' with his own situation and typically middle-class life style. The result of this is that the social worker too often is disappointed by failure of the 'recipient' to fulfil those middle class expectations.

The fault does not so much lie with the social workers themselves, but with the Department's lack of stated objectives and it's need for some critical self appraisal in the ideological sphere. Instead, the Department sustains itself with a vague idea of what is should be going and justifies this by spending large sums of public monies to no apparent effect.

Lack of departmental directive can be blamed, in turn, on the highly bureaucratisation is not conducive to welfare work. According to a senior social work official the cost of dealing with one offense committed by a child or young person, i.e. under 17, is no less than 600 dollars. Not only are New Zealanders not getting their money's worth, but the present top heavy system also fails to deal adequately with offenders, as shown by staggering re-offending rates.

It's not that the offices of the Dept are full of mindless public servants (although this is sometimes not far from the truth). Rather that the highly differentiated nature of the Department means that the individual in the Department and the Department collectively, are discouraged from a critical appraisal of the tasks they perform, the results and implication of those tasks.

I would favour a large scale dismantling of the Department and a re-think on the role of the Social Welfare Department in New Zealand and it's implications. We must bear in our minds these questions. Why is it needed? Whose standards it is based upon and whose interests does it serve?

The advert looked promising: "Wanted, one Petrol Pump Assistant, generous wage with possible increase for suitable applicant." (Note well singular of increase plus adjective of wage. Everything, I was to learn later, is relative thus and for a starving refugee $55 per week is more than generous). "Pleasant working conditions". (Was that the four shining petrol pumps, the greasy garage or the lube bay?) "Apply Brown's Petrol Station." (Thus in a desperate attempt to join the ranks of the eight-to-fiveers I hurriedly buried my student past and disguised myself as a worker. Many people expressed envy at my newly acquired job; especially such unlikely subjects as fat middle-aged aged ladies languidly reclining in Jaguars and lazily throwing petrol-cap keys (often with inscrutable locks) at one inexperienced and increasingly flustered pump assistant.

Ah yes the myth of an outdoor job with plenty of stimulating contacts, (ie customers, for those a little slow), becomes the reality of a reluctant summer, an all too eager winter and the superficial brush with your typical car-driver.

Because of the physical nature of the contact with customers (both parties being in a hurry), the conversation tends to become limited to either enthusiastic discussions about the weather or the state of their respective dip sticks, radiators or petrol caps. Thus the most important relationships become those of fellow work mates which in my case were the other female pump attendant, the mechanic out the back and "the boss".

Needless to say my university experience did nothing to cushion the blow of meeting the idealized "proletariat" face to face. She voted National." I was going to vote Labour but changed my mind at the last moment, dun no why really, better super scheme, though Fred (husband) nearly killed me when I told him."

The mechanic out the back, young, newly married with baby, said he voted Labour not "cos I like Labour, but Jesus National's for the rich, eh ugly" .....(to the lady) "what have you got silly bitch? You don't even have a house." To this the lady retaliated "Yeah I haven't now, but when my mother dies, I mean, she's got two houses, and then I'll be rich You see you got to think ahead". Thus out of her meagre $60 per week she regularly buys a Golden Lottery ticket.

Attitudes to non-conformists were equally entertaining and encouraging When pressed to explain her and Fred's blind prejudice towards Indians (perhaps a personal or a friend's bad experience) she reluctantly admitted she didn't know any "but Jesus you can tell they're unclean.... well they eat with their hands" and "its their fault they're starving they're just too lazy to find a job. Why should we help them when Fred and I can't afford a house?"

Why Indeed! The more liberal-minded mechanic knew a "few" and thought they were "Ok" but didn't like "wog" food much - i.e. anything too far removed from chops and vegies.

The "Bludger", the student, the butch Lesbian bus-driver (all women who drove buses came under this definition) were consistently denigrated.

And yet, paradoxically, they're basically so honest and gutsy that for all their prejudices you like them. At least there is no middle-class hypocrisy of calling a shit a faecae. None of this superfluity in manners and conversation; they're frank and crude but hell of a funny. Perhaps the advert should have read: "Wanted one petrol pump assistant, average static wage, occasional unpleasant working conditions, but workmates promise to provide entertainment and instruction and generally make the job worthwhile."