Today was the last day of my working life. It didn’t come as a great shock as I made my decision over a year ago, and it was a phased retirement. Starting 6 months ago I’d been gradually reducing my working week till I was only in one or two days a week.
I can’t say I’m sorry or sad. I’ve not been happy with my job, or my place of employment, for years. In fact things have just gotten worse and worse as time has gone on.
First my chosen career, that of Telex Operator, went down the drain, overtaken by newer technologies such as fax and email. This meant I was no longer using any of my keyboard skills. Then I was given work to do on the phone system, for which I showed neither any interest nor aptitude. The fact that training was totally inadequate did not help.
Then I was given Reception/Switchboard duties, despite the fact that I have no people skills whatsoever, frequently lose my temper, have a hearing problem, and again had no training on how to handle the public or difficult telephone callers, many with psychological problems.
Next the Amnesty International Mandate was scrapped, and ever since nobody has known what AI stood for, except the broad definition ‘human rights’. Under the old Mandate we worked for the release of prisoners of conscience in all countries, i.e. those who had been imprisoned because of their beliefs and who had not used violence to further them. Also we campaigned against unfair trials, torture and the death penalty. That was about it. Now AI is expected to campaign on all this plus so-called Economic and Social Rights.Â This is quite ironic considering in the days of the Cold War it was the Soviet Union and its allies who claimed to be protecting Economic and Social Rights (the right to work, to social security, an adequate pension, etc.) whilst AI was critical of these countries for their inadequacy in protecting the human rights described in our Mandate.
As if this isn’t bad enough, in order to campaign for clean water supplies, education rights, access to medical treatment, economic and social rights, etc. AI has cut back on its traditional area of campaigning under the old Mandate, where we had real influence. AI now has a list of countries it works on under the CAP (Country Action Programs), so any not on that list are ‘not a priority’. How do you tell someone who has relatives imprisoned for their beliefs in some country ‘Sorry, that country is not a priority for AI at the moment. We are too busy campaigning for clean water supplies elsewhere.’
It is not as if AI has the resources to do anything practical in any of these newÂ areas it has taken on board – other NGOs such as Oxfam, War on Want, Shelter, etc. are able to do this. All AI can do is campaign – a voice in the wilderness nagging governments on what they ought to do, and which they can ignore as just a bunch of do-gooders spouting off.
Embarrassing governments by revealing they have people locked up for their beliefs, that they use torture, etc. was quite a different matter. It publicized things they didn’t want publicized, and therefore often brought results.
Then the International Secretariat spent millions on refurbishing their London headquarters, when many of us considered a big center in London was old hat, and if it was needed it would be better to move to a more accessible office and sell the old buildings which we had outgrown, and which were not near any tube or mainline station.
Finally, I was moved, with my colleagues, into the clinical new Reception, which I absolutely hated. We were totally isolated, since the staff now came in thru a separate entrance, and I felt I was in the Reception of a funeral parlor or something.Â On the occasions when I was on my own on Reception, I never saw or talked to anyone apart from theÂ visitors and telephone callers, quite a few of which were mentally disturbed individuals I simply did not have the training, qualifications nor the temperament to deal with.
So I have finally made my escape. I wish AI well in the future, but fear unless it goes back to its roots,Â making its mainÂ taskÂ campaigning for the release of prisoners of conscience andÂ against torture, then it has lost its way and will gradually decline. The choice is AI’s and only its members can decide which way it is going to go.
I, meanwhile, intend to enjoy my retirement, do productive things, andÂ spend some precious time with my mother, looking after her and taking her out. She is now 92, soon to be 93, and I am 62. We have earned this time together without the distraction of having to work for a living.
From my first job as a Work Study Clerk (working out bonuses) at a printers in Welwyn Garden City for Â£4.50 a week (or Â£4.10s0d as it then was) in 1961, thru working 6 years at CND head office as first an office boy/duplicator operator then accountant, to becoming an Overseas Telegraph Operator at Post Office Overseas Telegraphs, then a telex operator at various places, and finally a reluctant glorified Receptionist, I feel I have now earned my retirement after 46 years non-stop working for a living, plus another 11 years before that at school/college. After 57 years I can finally put my feet up and call my time my own.