Appointment at Metro West: Jousting with Max and Sarina

robert-crumb-self-portrait

 

Metro West is one of those failed attempts at creating a mini-mall. A coked-out developer’s dream turned 90s nightmare.

A two-storey tomb for small business set up in a largely Vietnamese community who prefer to trade at street level and avoid such places like the plague.

Cavernous, the only people who enter through the sliding glass doors head for the escalators that run to the top floor which houses a clutch of Job Network providers squatting in each corner.

Sarina Russo and Max Employment are in residence, along with a couple of fly-by-night ‘Training’ organisations.

The mall’s security guard is standing eye-ball to eyeball with Owen Bennett, secretary of the Victorian branch of the AUWU.

The guard is muttering in Hindi and giving it his best Bollywood Badmash. “You will delete my photo from your phone” he demands and makes a grab at Bennett’s phone.

Bennett doesn’t answer and side-steps the security guards attempt. The guard turns to another volunteer and says; “Tell him to delete my photograph. He has no right to photograph me.”

Bennett and a couple of volunteers from the AUWU have arrived to hand out ‘Your Rights’ pamphlets and have arranged signs at the top of the escalators. When Bennett attempts to set up a photo, the security guard places himself in front of the signs.

Bennett politely asks him to move. When the guard refuses, Bennett takes the picture anyway.

This enrages the guard who accuses Bennett of taking his picture without his permission. Bennett ignores him and continues to hand out pamphlets.

The guard becomes even more agitated and announces that he has called the cops. While he’s waiting for them to arrive, he paces up and down muttering into his phone and shooting dirty looks toward the pamphleteers.

Meanwhile, the escalators disgorge a steady trickle of clients scurrying to meet their appointments with Max or Sarina.

The leaflets are met with surprise and approval – and questions, lots of questions.

The union members are kept busy giving advice and handing out leaflets while the security guard hovers in the background.

He paces up and down, occasionally turning to grimace at the pamphleteers. His phone rings and he scurries away.

An assortment of staff members from Max and Sarina Russo shuttle up and down the walkways giving the Union members curious glances. Some students of the Training organisation arrive and happily accept the leaflets. Later they come back for more to give to their class-mates.

One of the volunteers greets a staff member from Sarina Russo. “Hi, Dan, how’s it going?” Dan mumbles a reply and avoids eye-contact as he heads for the escalators. “He used to be my case officer” says the volunteer loudly.

Dan looks like he wishes that the earth would open up and swallow him.

The cops arrive in the form a street-wise sergeant who rises up from the escalators like Brunhilde in final act of the Ring Cycle.

After a brief exchange and an examination of the leaflet, the sergeant is satisfied that the Union members are not blocking passage or harassing passers-by.

” Any place where the public have access to is a public place, and as far as I’m concerned; If they can protest outside abortion clinics, then I see no reason why you can’t protest against unemployment here” she tells them.

The sergeant leaves, and a heavily pregnant woman arrives. “No thanks” she says to the offered leaflet. “I’m seven months pregnant and I’ve still got to come in here once a fortnight and they still say that I have to do Work for the Dole.”

Bennett tells her that its all the more reason for her to read the leaflet. She takes it and hurries into Sarina Russo to keep her appointment.

Five minutes later, she emerges in tears of rage and frustration. “This is the third time that they’ve cancelled my appointment without telling me!” she sobs.

Bennett and another volunteer calm her and offer help. Bennett takes her back inside Sarina Russo to negotiate another appointment. The woman emerges with Bennett a few minutes later and is all smiles.

She thanks everyone profusely and takes a handful of leaflets to spread the word among her friends.

The Union members stand around and share a moment of warm inner glow before approaching a man who looks as if he could go several rounds with a battle-ship. He refuses to take the leaflet but says he’ll get one on the way back – which he does.

Again, the questions. “Do you  have to do Work for the Dole if you’re over fifty?” Bennet says no you don’t, and explains the options.

“Hmmm…” He raises a hand the size of a steam shovel scoop and scratches his jaw. “I haven’t been on the dole for very long but I’m gonna tell ’em to stick this up their arse.”

“I’ll take a few of these” he says, “and pass ’em ’round.”

The two hours have passed and the Union members begin to pack up their signs and seek out lunch.

“It’s been a good day’s work” says Bennett. “We raised the union’s profile, given advice and actively helped some one solve their problems. It doesn’t get much better than that.”