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<nettime> Tram conductors for Christmas
Kevin Murray on Tue, 21 Dec 1999 18:39:31 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Tram conductors for Christmas


This may seem a little parochial for Nettime readers, but it's an
interesting case of the coercive nature of enjoyment in late late
capitalism.

The following article was published in Melbourne's The Age newspaper. In
accordance with their editorial policy, however, the name of the advertising
agency (Saatchi) was omitted in the final version. Its policy is to avoid
'giving companies free ads' -- an inversion of current disputes about domain
names. ('Post-Kennett' refers to the recent change of state government,
which replaced a charismatic Thatcherite with a more open and socially
concerned leader. Jeff Kennett's wholesale sell-off of state assets led to
the use of the verb 'to Jeff', meaning to privatise.)

>>

Will tram conductors be back? How this question is answered will tell us
what kind of shape post-Kennett Victoria is taking.

Their departure in May 1998 seemed part of an unstoppable process. The tide
of technological change swept away conductors along with service station
attendants, bank tellers and milk bar owners. Instead of conductors, we have
seen security guards at ticket machines, fleets of inspectors and even
undercover agents. We were ‘Jeffed’.

But there was resistance. Since their departure, ex-conductors have been
active in public life, organising Full Monty spectacles, Moomba floats,
candle vigils, Circus Oz acts and international exchanges. Their absence has
given us the opportunity to appreciate what we had.

This came home to me personally when I asked an ex-connie about his
favourite tram route. Roberto elected the #15 Moreland-St Kilda line and
recited a list of the people who use it, including Italian shoppers from
‘Morelando’, sewing factory workers, Mosque-attendees, university students,
St Kilda road businessmen, suburban tourists and St Kilda artists. I
realised that nothing else in Melbourne would bring these people together
apart from their use of a common route, and their ordinary contact with this
man. With so many of our traditions imported from elsewhere, here was a
welcome example of living cultural heritage.

With pressure from exiles like Roberto, the ALP election policy included a
promise to return one hundred tram conductors into active service. Will they
do it? And more importantly, how will they do it? We currently have two
approaches—virtual and real.

The virtual strategy comes from the MET, who are currently running a
campaign titled ‘Tran(sit) Stand-Up’. Windows are covered with jokes like
‘Does the psychic ever miss a train?’ Patter broadcast through trams charms
passengers to validate their tickets. And lurking somewhere is a comedian
ready to pounce on an unsuspecting commuter with prizes.

M & C Saatchi Advertising designed the $1/2m three-week campaign so more
commuters would validate their tickets.. Rather than enforce validation by
burly inspectors, they have enlisted the talents of three radio breakfast
personalities (including the Panel’s Kate Langbroek) and a fleet of clowns.

Why is validating tickets so important? Even if you have a legitimate
ticket, it is obligatory to validate it at every change of transport.
Privatisation has made tracking passengers essential. To the average
commuter, it seems an irrelevant exercise. To change this attitude, the Met
has to convert ‘passengers’ and into ‘customers’.

There are two major concerns with this campaign. First, it replaces a
home-grown tradition with a veneer of entertainment. In the place of daily
contact with a tram conductor, you contract some local Seinfelds to jolly
things along for a while. A comparable process occurs in Sydney, where acid
jazz musicians add a ‘vinyl crackle’ to give their digital sounds a little
‘warmth’. Like sprinkling dust on wine bottles, these short-cuts give the
look rather than the experience of authenticity.

Second, the campaign reinforces a ‘prize culture’ that puts individual greed
before cooperation. It panders to a consumer increasingly hungry for
freebies, give-aways, and privatisation dividends. Is this inverse coercion
the way of the future? Will breathalysing police offer random prizes to
sober drivers? What was before a moral choice becomes now an opportunity for
gratuitous acquisition. It has dangerous implications for how citizens are
expected to participate in public life.

The real alternative is to extract the machines out of the Class W trams and
replace them with people can respond to immediate passenger needs. This may
seem retrograde, but the Stolen Generation report provides a lead. Genuine
progress is sometimes a matter of acknowledging past mistakes and restoring
what has been lost. According to the Jewish proverb, we can ‘make our days
new as of old’.

Rather than shunt the hundred extra pay-checks into Customer Service
Officers, we need tram conductors back on the job. They are a living and
working cultural heritage unique to Melbourne. Fares, please!

__________________________________________________

Forecast for Melbourne Issued at 0505 on Tuesday the 21st of December 1999
Fine with sunny periods. Light to moderate southeast wind, freshening with
an afternoon seabreeze. Max 22

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