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The grim future awaiting our boys

By Peter West - posted Tuesday, 31 October 2017


In this piece I want to start with the auto industry, widen the discussion, and then look at the implications.

Losing jobs in the auto industry

In the last two weeks we have seen the end of auto manufacturing in this country. A Sydney Herald piece cited the words of one worker:

"Ford, Toyota, Holden ..." sighed one auto worker recently, sunken-eyed, on the morning of his last-ever shift. "It's all gone now ... the whole thing ..."

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In the same article Nick Toscano and Eryk Bagshaw wrote:

In just 12 months, Ford closed down its factories in Broadmeadows and Geelong, Toyota ceased production in Altona, Holden stopped making the Cruze, and shuttered its Port Melbourne engine plant. And on Friday Holden, the company that began on Beehive Corner, the last Australian car-maker, will complete its exit from manufacturing.

As any thinking person knows, this means the loss of many jobs for ordinary people. Certainly, some are jobs for ordinary working-class women, but it seems that it's more of a male-heavy industry, along with all the jobs associated with making cars and all their parts. And those jobs have gone, perhaps forever.

But is this the whole picture?

Steel-making

Let's turn to steel-making. Gazing out at the BlueScope Steel works at Port Kembla, a friend said "That's where thousands of guys used to work". BlueScope now employs just 3,000 at Port Kembla directly (and 9,000 indirectly), according to a BlueScope corporate spokesman. That's a far cry from the thousands who once worked in the Illawarra. When I taught in South Coast schools, many a kid sneered at teachers, saying "I'm going to get twice what you get when I join the steelworks". The area hummed with industry and you could hear a hundred different accents and languages in the street. Those days are gone.

Merchant navy

Take another industry: our merchant navy. As someone said recently in the Sydney Morning Herald, we used to have a large merchant navy. Alas, no more. We don't insist on using national carriers as many other countries do (the US for instance, with its Jones Act). We, too, should insist that merchant ships are nationally owned and operated. Who does our government care about? Not Australian workers, for sure. The politicians' mantra of 'more jobs' usually turns out to be a phantom, just as it will be if the dreaded Adani mine ever opens.

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Education - not good for males.

If we turn to education, we look at yet another area hostile to males. Girls, we hear, do better and better at university, and there are growing numbers of female graduates and thus lawyers and other highly-educated professionals. Where are all the men, asked one UK newspaper about university entrants. Asked to comment on this, I heard a union spokesperson say "Things are moving in the right direction". Presumably things won't be right until male students are reduced to a tiny rump. Of course, job prospects for girls aren't unproblematic, though the 'gender gap' might need to be addressed sometime.

Teaching is another job that used to be a good career for working-class and lower middle-class men. No more. It's rare to find men in teaching, especially in primary schools. State primary schools are the most male-free. You can't raise a family on a teacher's wage, it's said. Stories abound of prospective teachers being told "We need someone to lift the heavy boxes and look after the little bastards". Male teachers are asked "Mary's finding this one a bit hard to manage, so can you take him in your class?" Research confirms the truth of these stories. Male teachers in primary schools will not just be an endangered species. They will be extinct, a researcher says. Teaching is yet another job which has been casualised. Another good job for men is gone.

Technical and Further Education has been hit by one disaster after another. In a stroke of genius – well, perhaps they thought it was genius - the Gillard Government created the Vet-FEE-HELP scheme. This was a brilliant opportunity- if you were some money-grubbing person clever at setting up dummy colleges designed to grab government funds and offer dodgy diplomas. Since then studies have shown that TAFE has been denied of funds, fewer and fewer good jobs have been created, and large amounts of money have seeped into the hands of various doubtfully qualified people. Warnings were issued as early as 2012- but nothing was done to stop the rorts. And technical education trains all those typically male jobs - like electrician, plumber, gardener, technician - that appeal to working-class boys.

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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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