Tags: market capitalism

2 Oct 2005, Comments (0)

No Choice

Author: Helen


If you’re a parent and you work, and it’s not the 1950s so you don’t have a wife at home to pick the sproglets up from school, what do you do?

You use After Care, or Out of Hours School Care, or whatever your child’s school calls it. You can imagine how important After care is to a working mum.

Imaginary conversation following Howard’s IR reforms. Scene, job interview room:

“I’d like to negotiate a finishing time of 2:30 PM to enable me to get to my child’s school by public transport by the time school finishes.”

“OK, see ya.”

I’ve had a child or two in After Care for the best part of eight years. It’s a demountable building and it looks anarchic, but it’s a home away from home for the kids who go there.

Evelyn (until last year) and Cathy provide a motherly brand of crowd control, snack provision and supervision. Cassandra, looking like she should be auditioning for HAIR in 1968, is the craft queen, getting the kids making and doing. Marie and Pam have them cooking something different every night, from pikelets to samosas. Steve is the Outdoors, bat-and-ball man, and is also good for putting the hard word on little boys who get above themselves. There are computers and videos, but they are strictly rationed. Mostly, the kids get to indulge their inner eccentric, working on projects so dear to their hearts they are hard to get home. “Just a few more minutes mum!”

I wonder what I’ll find when I pick the boy up from After Care tomorrow, the first day of term?

In the last week of term we were “advised” by the school Principal that a corporation called Camp Australia was to take over the service. How’s that for the superior consumer choice available under Market capitalism?

Bullshit! There was no choice at all. And competition?

This is not possible. Kids aren’t allowed off the school premises by themselves – that’s why they have After Care in the first place. It is not possible for another business to function as a competitor. Need I mention Camp Australia charges more? Choice, competition, market forces…Bah.

No, we were just told Camp Australia were taking over and that would be that. As for “consulting stakeholders”: the After Care workers were given as much choice as we were. None. Oh, they have been told they can all apply for new jobs with Camp Australia in the same place. I’m afraid nice, hippy Cassandra will be passed over for some “bubbly” little chick in Nike gear and trainers with some Diploma in Phys Ed or something. Steve and Marie won’t be applying.

Cathy and Cassandra are still thinking about it.

The rationale given by the Principal in their letter to parents was that the School Council just “could not continue running an after care service”. Now, they weren’t running it at all, Cathy and Evelyn were – and subcontracting their service to the school just as Camp Australia will be. The Principal accused them of being in the red, but Cathy says this wasn’t the case. Will we parents be allowed to see the books to see who is right? No, Camp Australia has come along with a glossy promotion and a slick sales pitch, and the school has unilaterally decided to go for it.

Looking at Camp Australia’s website, my heart sinks as I see the activities they promote: Sport, sport, sport, and just for a change… sport. Now I have no objection to sport per se, but I see nothing that would approach the multifarious hive of activity that is our old After care. You can google and find actual schools’ programs which mention cooking, craft and other stuff, though. Good. I hope that means CA’s program isn’t as agressively sporty as it appears on its website.

Anyone clicking on these links will notice the repeated references to Nike (also Uncle Toby’s and McDonalds). As Naomi Klein points out in No Logo, Nike has been sponsoring sports programs in schools in the US for years – as fast food companies have been taking over canteens and corridors – thus removing the schoolyard as “the last unbranded space” the kids have left.

Public space, or pseudo-public space, is now a luxury item that is only really available to the very rich. Once you move up the class hierarchy, things get a lot more tranquil and quiet, and you sort of pay not to be marketed to.

That’s funny, because with the increased fees, we’ll be paying more to be marketed to. I’m not sure of the form this will take, so I’ll be on the alert for Nike promotions here, there and everywhere – This item suggests free giveaways are the weapon of choice.

I’ve done a lot of googling on Nike and sport programs, and it looks fairly innocuous. We’ll see. But the element of choice and competition are just not there. Where is the beneficial effect of the market in this one? And why are we increasingly leaving these essential services up to profitmaking corporations?

(Image from here)