Monday, September 24, 2012

The Obsolete

I've felt really sad tonight. Today the Spring Creek miners found out their mine is to be abandoned; the same day twelve of them left their homes to take their plan to save the mine to parliament. Two hundred and thirty jobs will be lost, plus sixty-three more at the Huntly East mine in Waikato, also owned by Solid Energy. According to the company's chairman, the mines have been operating at a loss for years, and it simply isn't feasible to keep them open.

The thing is, I haven't thought coal was a good source of energy since I was at primary school and we studied fossil fuels. I'm not really into mining as a practice, either. (I don't think I need to say I'm not down with unemployment?) Seeing the faces of the men when they found out that their trip was to be in vain broke my heart a bit, and I realised it was mainly because this is it. I wondered if I felt more sympathetic to them because mining is almost romantic in its evocation of working class ideals; dirty, physical, dangerous, and completely dependent on people who get to sit safely up the top and lick the cream. I probably did feel that way; aside from the fact that I love workers, I have this weird affinity for workers who are part of their own separate communities (like wharfies, and road-workers), and so I tried to think of them as being just like all of the other people who have lost jobs because the way we do things has changed (not necessarily for the better, or the worse). I thought about bank tellers, replaced by atms, and post shops, closed because we pay online and send more emails than letters.

I prefer to pay some of my bills to a person, and to be able to ask questions to someone standing in front of me, but I also embrace most technology. I think job losses due to the restructuring of society according to the technology we have access to is inevitable and, in most cases, necessary. But the thought of a lady in her fifties who worked at the old post office; who knew the cost of sending a parcel just by looking at it, the names of her regulars, and when it was four o'clock just by how her ankles felt - sitting at home, or even working somewhere else, where all of that specific experience is unnecessary, makes me want to cry. I felt that way when one of the Spring Creek miners was interviewed, and said he would have to leave his family in NZ to go overseas in order to find mining work.

It must have happened forever; I just hadn't thought about it so much - but there are so many people finding their jobs obsolete. Some of them might be able to retrain (although I don't see how, when tertiary education is becoming less and less accessible) or find new jobs (although even if some skills are transferable, there must nearly always be a pay-cut when starting something new). But I imagine most just have to do whatever they can; trying to make it to retirement, or simply trying to get enough money so that something similar won't happen to their kids. Maybe everything turns out fine for some. But it must be so horrible; so frightening, and soul-destroying, to feel like the thing you're good at and the thing you do to pay for living, isn't needed, or useful, anymore.

I think that's what's making me feel really sad. I'd like to think of solutions, and benefits to the changes. But I can't help feeling like It Was Always Thus etc, and that Life Is Suffering, and that Workers Are Always Pawns. And it's funny, but when I think this way, it makes me want to be a worker more than ever, because even if we are at the mercy of capitalist and technology, we always have something to fight for.

I won't leave you like that. Vincent said he had something to cheer me up, and while I didn't believe him at first, he was right. Enjoy!

PS Vincent also discovered that even thought stupid NZ tv doesn't show it anymore, we can watch The Daily Show here. Haha! Hip hip for more Romney jazz!

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