May Day at Blackball: Part One

My 'provocation' which I shared at the forum at Blackball today:

Invisible work

I’ve got a friend in Greymouth who cares for her baby granddaughter, her ten year old son and her suicidal adult son. Can someone tell me why this woman, this mother, grandmother, carer of our most vulnerable, is being badgered by WINZ to get paying employment?

With unemployment rising weekly, it is difficult to understand what prompts WINZ to badger and harass like this. I guess there won’t be a WINZ deputation at Steven’s* funeral. I forget who was the last extremely well paid consultant to suggest we rename and rebrand our government departments and focus on “joined-up thinking”. CYFS might have very good reason to hope that my friend can be home and provide continuity of care for her family. But WINZ appears not to have spoken to CYFS.

We live under an economic system which talks of labour units. I flinch when I hear the term. But of the people who care for the elderly, the very young, the new mothers and the struggling teenagers, of the people who care for the mentally unwell, the confused and the infirm, none of them for money, I never hear of a term for them. They are invisible under the neo-liberal economic paradigm.

I never imagined that staying at home with my children would be a radical decision. Not as a teenager, nor as a university student nor as a young working woman. So it was something of a shock as a new mother, when I realised what powerful inroads capitalism has made into family life. I began to see what an opening the feminist movement presented to that octopus which is capitalism. House prices began at double income level and fears about education provision in poor neighbourhoods intensified the notion that food and shelter were not nearly enough. Children had to be handed over to institutions so that money could be made.

My decision to teach only part time, later not at all, when we didn’t even own our own home was seen as foolish and ridiculous by many men and women. That was in London, six years ago. It’s not as different here in New Zealand, West Coast, as I’d romantically imagined.

Here, with two children now, I spend most of my week outside of the paid workforce. I spend most of my week in full control of my children’s health, I spend my time caring for my children, visiting an elderly relative, growing our own food and eggs, swapping childcare to support friends, running food co-ops and supporting non-profit local initiatives where I can.

I still find myself making such lists to justify myself, still not quite strong enough to totally shrug off the neo-liberal denial of the worth of community fabric, of caring, growing and sharing outside a state-sanctioned institutional framework.

So why, in a country where we all shed tears and wrung hands when the Kahui twins died, and the many abused children before and since, why do we not give respect to unpaid caring work? I know many grandmothers who work supporting elderly parents, vulnerable children and tiny grandchildren. What is the difference between those who stay warm at night and those who sometimes go hungry and are challenged to do more by the state? The difference is whether they are under 65 or not, as pensioner bashing is currently, thankfully, not part of our national and political psyche. For those under 65, the difference is whether they are poor and on benefits or not.

If we want a community where we are more than economic units, invisible unpaid workers and uncomfortable, unemployed reminders of the fag end of capitalism, then we need to demand and create change.

We need, in short, to honour the time which growing healthy families and communities requires.
* Not his real name.


Sharonnz said…
Preach it, sister.
nova_j said…
yeah we're 'irresponsible' types with three kids to support & no home of our own ;) funnily enough my dad (aka mr corporate ladder mountaineer himself) recently complimented us on our decision to sacrifice some luxuries in order to make our kids the main focus.. maybe it takes becoming a grandparent, struggling to see your grandkids after years of putting work first while your own kid grows up, to make it really sink in..?? (iykwim lol)
Very well said Sandra.


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