The week that was


By Kevin Healy

A bit of cooperation in the workplace, and all our troubles will be over. Take Alpha Engineering and Condoms, down there in West Brunswick. "It is imperative", chairman of the board Roger Rich told the staff and their unions, "that we become more efficient. We must eradicate crippling work practices, we must work harder, we must reduce the cost of labour, we must increase our profits so we can all — all of us, for we are one unit you know, all working together for the same cause — so we can all be better off.

"I must warn you that if we don't become more efficient, we will have to — most regrettably, and it hurts me to have to say this — we will have to shed jobs. You must realise that a product we can produce for $6.95 can be produced for 35 cents in Manila." Roger Rich also pointed out that there were too many unions in the plant, and this crippling division had to be rationalised.

And so the workers, with the cooperation of their unions, worked to make the engineering and condom factory more efficient. Four workers, Helen and Spiro and Carmen and Jack, worked really hard to achieve this because they knew unemployment was a problem, and they didn't want it to get any worse. The four unions in the plant became two, and before long — with lots of harsh work practices slashed, like morning tea and lunch times and weekends off and going home at night and excessive wages and penalty rates — the plant was much more efficient.

So efficient that Roger Rich gathered the staff one afternoon, after normal knock-off time, naturally, to congratulate them. "My board and I and senior management are very proud of you", he said. The workers beamed their pride. It turned out the plant was now so efficient that Carmen and Spiro weren't required any longer, and they were downsized. The CES and Social Security put them on a beaut retraining scheme, which they were still on when last heard of.

Then Roger Rich gathered the staff again, in their own time, naturally, for efficiency reasons, and told them he could not guarantee their jobs would be secure unless they became more efficient.

All the workers, including Helen and Jack, worked their guts out and spent hours trying to think of any work conditions they had left which they could give up to help Roger Rich and the board, and themselves of course, and they agreed that 25 workers in the big room should make way for 25 unemployed youth who would gain valuable work experience at $3 an hour. Roger Rich said it made him and the board feel they were contributing to the nation by this gesture. They also reduced the two unions to one union.

It was so efficient that Roger Rich gathered them together again, in their own time, but that goes without saying, and congratulated them that Helen wasn't required any more.

Shortly afterward Jack and the few remaining workers, and all the young people that the company now trained at $3 an hour in the spirit of national pride, were called together once more. "If we don't want to lose jobs", Roger Rich said, "we must become more efficient".

Jack had heard Little Billy Killthem and Martin Cliché and the ACTU leadership and the government and the opposition and the poor beleaguered employers' organisation telling him the way out of the unemployment crisis was this very road. "It must be the only solution", he said to Helen as he met her on her way home from her retraining program.

"Yes", she said, "if we become more efficient and internationally competitive, I'll be able to utilise my 146 training courses and get back into the work force". "I can hardly wait to start my courses", said Jack.