THE CON

by Ross Sharp

My father, now 84, spent the last half dozen or so years of his working life moving from employment to unemployment and back again, and then back again, until for the last two or three, it was a welfare cheque every fortnight until he became eligible for the aged pension.

A signwriter and commercial artist who began practising his skills in the 1940’s, he had never been accustomed to unemployment in his life until that time, rising at five or six every morning to be at the factory by seven, grabbing any overtime available, nights, weekends, for the extra cash to throw at the mortgage, put a little money away for the future.

The nature of his work, the industry he was a part of for forty years, began to change in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, became more and more automated, and brushes and paints gave way to pixels, and he found himself, in his late fifties, a man both out of his time and rapidly running out of relevance to the world.

The factories became smaller, the offices became larger, and the traditionalists, the artists, just got older and more expensive to keep, so they were always the first to go.

This was a man who struggled to operate a television remote control – brushes and easels and paints were the tools of his trade, pencils and charcoal, his hands, his eyes – these new machines that were taking his work confounded his senses, made no sense at all.

“It’s not as if I’ve forgotten how to hold a brush.”

Work hard, work harder, reap the benefits of your labours from the ditch you were told to dig, then die in it …

The con.

… and everything will take care of itself.

The bleat of the shill plays on while you’re the pebble in the eggcup shuffle of working life.

The scam a simple-minded mantra they slap into you from the time you can walk.

Until …

Ten years. Twenty. Thirty. Forty.

…. Stick a fork in their ass and turn them over, they’re done

They forget you, you forget yourself.

For them, it’s an easy slip into the lazy comic cliché, feet up, television all day, drinking beer, send “A Current Affair” around to do a story, all these louche louts living it large, we’re out here working our arses off, and what do you do?

“We’ve been told not to talk to reporters.”

“Twenty two years from 5.30am to 4.30pm, two jobs, two locations, overtime, on call, no extra pay, now I’m not good enough.”

…. Stick a fork in their ass and turn them over, they’re done.

Go.

We’ll talk later …

… about “getting people off welfare and back into work”. About “encouraging employers to take on more mature workers”, and “incentives” for doing so …

… about “single mothers”, two words which, when conjoined, appear to conjure an abomination in the minds of many; there’s always something needs be “done” about “single mothers”, but leaving them be is never one of them …

When all is said and done …

We’ll give you a pamphlet, you can call this number, press one, hold please.

Sorry for your loss.

It hurts us too.

Government can no longer afford to be government, you get a ticket and a queue, a slap upside the head, and a “heal thyself”.

We’re cutting our numbers and we’re trimming our fat, all the better to serve you. Tightening the belt and pulling our weight.

“Takin’ up the slack here, Boss!”

Work fourteen, paid for eight, how many years is it now and fourteen nervous breakdowns later you put a bullet through the top of your head when the pills stop working and the kids won’t shut up.

I still have my work bag in the cupboard. I haven’t emptied it yet, it has all the things in it that I used to take to work. I said that I wouldn’t clear it until five years. I suppose I’ll clear it in the next few weeks or so. I have finally realised that it is over.”

Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

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