The Works! — a day in the life of Kennett's Victoria


A short story by Dave Massey

6am: Home. That bloody clock, it's happened again! $8 at a garage sale was not money well spent.

6.20am: The street. Mounting those steps into the bus, sometimes I feel I'm stepping into the abyss. "How's it going"? Well, it would be a lot better if I was home in bed curled around my better half's back warming her and guarding against substitute players. $1.40 ticket and I'm almost at work. Well, three buses and one hour later. Maybe a second car wouldn't be so bad. A quick reflection on the Dow Jones, the world economy and my featherweight wallet puts paid to that thought. Anyway I would miss out on the comradeship of public transport!

7.30am: The council works depot. I am going to walk into that place and not give a toss if the management has declared World War III. This shop steward is tiring of the industrial relations techniques employed by engineers who should be out building roads, bureaucrats who have hung around long enough to be called management, not to mention the odd Nazi reject from the Masonic lodge! What type of person writes "insubordination", as a sackable offence, into the new employee handbook! The same people who can't put the words "rate payer" and "service" in the same sentence without sniggering and licking their lips.

Unlike us hard-working council staff, chaffing at the bit to grab a shovel and hit the road. Well, when we have to! A slightly anarchistic bunch but quite likeable and rarely life threatening in our activities. As shop steward, I have settled on two guiding principles to get me through: (1) Never allow management to think they can sack someone; and (2) Never forget management come from another planet and can be sent back!

8am: The works office. Well, it's pretty safe this morning. Coffee, desk, shuffle papers while I get into work mode.

"That bloody idiot, I lend him equipment and he leaves it at home. Don't go out Johnno, you're seeing Morris with me !" This foreman has daily rituals based around either worshipping his crew or cursing them, or both.

Victor is known amongst the lads as the man most likely to commit mass murder. A tad schizoid! Johnno is thought likely to bring most of us to the point of murder. His credentials include setting fire to the truck cabin whilst on the way to a job. Exploding petrol in a wasp nest with resulting tower of flame effect. Not always destructive, he once exposed the workings of the two-way radio to allow him to light his cigarette off it.

Today they were off to see the boss, Morris. Great, I had ringside seats for the show. All I had to do was to ensure Johnno was tackling this issue as an individual, not a union member. Why ruin the show by taking sides.

Johnno was certainly an individual and the boss believed in "the individual" having a hearing. So it began. Victor, the aggrieved foreman, lanky in build and explosive in composure, took a theatrical pose against the wall. Somewhat like a praying mantis trying to climb the side of a glass jar. Johnno, super cool and bound to irritate, seated and sincere. Magistrate Morris presiding over the case, leaning back in his chair. Was he anticipating the shock wave or really enjoying this?

Johnno, a strong believer in attack being the best form of defence: "What? You think I've stolen the roller?! Well I'll do this council for libel, so watch what you say!"

Victor, smoke exiting his ear holes with great pressure: "Ah come on Morris, you're not going to put up with this act are you? This bloke is so unreliable. He's upsetting the whole crew. The other boys are flat out doing their best. Bloody Johnno can't even bring the roller back when he borrows it!" The drama queen in full flight now, arms uncurling and flung on Morris's desk. "He's making us bloody uncompetitive and a local joke (well more regional, actually!). Either he goes or I'm filling in a leave form!"

Hmm, Morris weighing up the statements thus far: "Johnno, nobody said you've stolen equipment. But remember we are all in the same boat here, it's sink or swim, the complaints must get done or it's history for all of the crew. Part of the contract we work under is to actually do the job!"

This fuelled Johnno's feelings of harassment no end. The wallet came out, his solicitor's card practically thrust up manager Morris's nose, threats of unending legal proceedings put paid to the lecture cum rap over the knuckles approach to this staff problem.

Victor now pressing his face to the glass door, dribble forming in the corner of his mouth, eyes narrowed, looking quite angry!

Thinking of the letter opener and other sharp objects on Morris's desk, I barged into the room. "Sorry to interrupt but some reso (short for resident, meant respectfully, of course) just called. They want to turn one of the parks into a memorial for all the dead pets in the municipality. I said I would discuss it with the boss. So what do you think?"

Well, what a calming effect that had. Victor curled into a ball and rolled out of the room. After Morris discussed trivia and my inappropriate entrance into the room, Johnno got off with the old "Don't let this happen again" and an offer of counselling to help him adjust to the new demands on employees in the contracted out 1990s.

10am: Union meeting. "They want what?! Get the bastards down here! We can listen to them, discuss the options and run the bloody state government stooges right back to Spring Street!"

"Bear" had summed it up. They were stooges; listening to them face to face would provide a human factor to their otherwise mechanical actions. But in the end running them out of town would be the best thing for us!

Welcome to the new regime. Bureaucrats with a capital B. These people must have been programmed by IBM or Microsoft. Their mental software (and I do mean soft) was set on "Contract Out", and this seemed to be the basis of most communications we had with them. Gone was the warm comfortable relationship where management were continually trying to screw our wages and conditions and sack individuals. This crowd wants to sack us all, thus avoiding the wages and conditions dilemma.

1:30pm: Late lunch. Busy times! This I contemplated over a rum 'n' coke at the local pub. Not that it looked very local now, very bourgeois decor. Shame about the noise bouncing off all walls. State-promoted poker machines and low income suburban ghettos. Gee, lucky I live in a democracy!

Speaking of democracy, the workers were expecting to give it a go soon. The meetings to arrange the mass meeting had gone smoothly as usual. The various factions had slugged it out.

The Trades Hall administrative officers (many of whom cuddled up to the executive set in their time off!): "Let's ask the bosses to slow the pace of reform a little". We depot staff favouring a full on war footing! Our union's head office organiser's idea of ongoing discussion, negotiation and delay was luckily talked down by all and sundry including the office staff organisers.

I can't figure it out but volatile work groups wind up with woozy union reps and the tea and bickie staff have an organiser who seems to be the genetic combination of Joe Hill (hanged for helping people) and Attila the Hun (ruthless in battle!).

3pm: Combined mass meeting. So there we all were, the combined council staff, 500 in all. Out on the grass, literally. Nicely maintained bit of turf at the front of the Town Hall. I know the cohesion of common interest cements the ties that bind workers in action but standing at the microphone there, it was hard to see it.

Hans, the one-legged committed Salvation Army man, swearing like a trooper and demanding action now. A group of garbos in a huddle, locked in discussion on the relevance of their participation due to their stranglehold on the world of garbology and the likelihood of a satisfactory financial outcome if they "lost" their jobs. The reception staff, well dressed, all smiling, all on medication to calm the effects of daily confrontations with the victims of the council executive's decisions. The by-laws officers, all on their own — sad really! Johnno, Victor, "Bear" and all the depot staff fuelled up and ready for action. Yet none of us wants to live in a world run by the "suits and hair gel set". We did have a common bond!

Tomorrow. I'm off sick! "Cause of illness?": industrial diarrhoea. Don't work just give it to you?!