I am a pretty optimistic person. Work is still busy. And the ultimate symbol of optimism, in about 5 months mm and I are having a baby.
The global financial crisis has dented a lot of people’s optimism – made us a little more cautious, feel a little more vulnerable, that kind of thing. Counter to this, there is also a lot of attitudes that oppose this – facing the crisis head on and saying “piss off”. Morgan Hotel group launched it’s “Fuck the recession” campaign late last year, Dirk Singer spoke of a hand written letter he received stating “We refuse to participate in the recession“. We even have the Sunrise show here with Reject the Recession – complete with a mobile phone ring tone. I admire this spirit (even as annoying someone like Koshie and his ilk can be). But a few weeks ago I watched a Four Corners episode focussing on the impact of the recession on the southern Illawarra region – not very far from where I grew up, and where I have some members of my family living.
It’s an area dominated by the industry of Port Kembla – a steel works, a copper smelter, and the once-busy harbour itself where steel and coal is shipped out, and overseas imports arrive. My grandfather worked at the copper plant and my uncle and aunt at the steel works. Wollongong had a “sister” steel city in Newcastle, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief when BHP chose to close the Newcastle plant over the Wollongong one. But lately steel production has been cut significantly, which then impacts on the amount of goods being shipped out of the port, which then ultimately impacts on the whole economy of the area. To top this off, Pacific Brands have shut down it’s factory there too.
So as I watched this episode of Four Corners that told the story of a worker at the port who was classified as “under-employed” but not unemployed – he gets one shift a fortnight, and a woman who lost her job at Pacific Brands, I thought, sure, I can say “Fuck the recession” – no fucking problem. My mortgage has just dropped and I have an extra few hundred bucks each month, and I get good rent from it to help out with this as well. Everything I’ve needed to buy over the last few months I’ve managed to be able to buy on sale. I earn a good salary. I have a roof over my head. I’m going to get some paid maternity leave, and have some holiday pay saved up so I can afford to take a year off work. But after watching that episode, and seeing a region sort of dying, it felt a little bit narrow-minded and naive to do so. Sure, we can say “I refuse to take part”, but we need to acknowledge there are a growing group of people who have no choice – they are wrapped up in this issue completely. So we can keep spending, and give the R-word the finger, but what happens to this group who are under-educated and under-skilled? A longer term solution needs to be found so some of us don’t all get left behind.