Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The NZ Greek connection

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When I was in my early twenties I went to live and work in Sydney. In a butcher’s shop obviously and the first culture shock was how hard my colleagues laboured. I thought we worked hard in our shop back home, but I had to step up a notch to keep up with the Aussies. We started work at 7 each morning finishing at 5 Monday to Friday. The shop was open Saturday mornings from 7.30 to 12.30 but not everyone needed to work Saturdays as much of the preparation had been done.

In fact the bosses reward for working hard Monday to Friday was to offer you Saturday morning employment. We were all keen, but only the hardest workers were taken on. Eventually I got up to speed and was invited to do the Saturday morning shift which, wage-wise, was at time and a half.

Once we’d cleaned up on a Saturday we would repair to the pub for a few beers and a counter lunch; then we were off to the footy. Unlike New Zealand where the pubs closed at six, back then in Oz they stayed open till ten. So it was a night out on Saturday, usually at one of the well-appointed rugby league clubs and often a barbecue on Sunday after playing golf on a public course.

I soon came to the conclusion that the Aussies worked hard and played hard.

It was decades later that kiwi retailers decided they too would like to open on Saturday mornings, but the Shop Assistants Union wouldn’t have a bar of it. Strikes were held all over the country; even my own staff went out on strike and were only placated when I promised I would never force any of them to work on a Saturday.

This meant that for the rest of my retail life I mostly manned the shop on a Saturday with help from my family.

Aussie was subsequently to become a haven for New Zealand workers wanting to seek a new life and they moved across the Tasman in their tens of thousands. Most caught the Australian work ethic, but a disproportionate number found that the Aussie climate, in Queensland particularly, was conducive to living on the dole and going surfing and the name “Kiwi bludger” entered the vernacular.

The Australian government eventually decided enough was enough and cut out all welfare payments for New Zealand migrants, even though they still had to pay full taxes on their earnings. Entry was tightened up and passports were re-introduced.

There was often talk of an economic union with a single currency between the two countries, but the Australians were too canny to agree to that. The Australian dollar has always been worth more than its kiwi equivalent and I have generally considered this discrepancy was in direct relationship to how hard people toiled in each country.

So I see parallels with the situation in Europe. I could never fathom how the one currency, the Euro, could apply when work attitudes of varying countries are so diverse. For the dour hard-working Germans to have the same value currency as the Greeks or other questionable European nations seemed an implausible concept.

Although it was response to their socialist Prime Minister’s clear instructions I was shocked to see the Greeks dancing in the streets after overwhelmingly voting “No” to austerity measures that would allow them to pay back the debts they owed.

I imagine they will pay a high price for this moment of mad frivolity; it’s as if the realities of lending and borrowing between nations are just a grand fiction which can be written off without repercussions.

The handsome yet delusional Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras blames the European Union for Greece’s problems, but the voters and their spendthrift ways and their addiction to an unaffordable lifestyle is the real culprit.

What we are witnessing is not just a struggle about repaying money owed, or regional power or even democratic accountability. This must surely be the endgame for the mistaken belief that socialism can actually work. This failed Marxist theology is being continually promoted by sadly misguided left-wing fantasists, some of whom are now leading Greece and its hapless inhabitants into economic ruin and political chaos unless Europe’s hard working economies bail them out once again. No one seems to want to reassess the last fifty years and own up to the fact that to tax the rich and redistribute money that does not exist is never going to work and it never has.

The internet humourists have come up with their own answer. The new Euro they reckon will be printed on Greece-proof paper.

"Voters have some responsibility for the choices they make. That is what distinguishes mature democracy from the students union." - Janet Daly


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