May Day in Blackball

Last night we marked May Day in Blackball. At 5pm the memorial wheel for the men who have died in the mines since 1990 was opened. Around the edge of the wheel are the names of the 29 men who died at Pike River. Each family designed their own tile and a local pottery made them. In the middle are the tiles for the two other men who have died in the mines in this time frame. Darian Fenton, spokesperson for labour for the Labour Party, spoke, mostly well but for too long and the last third would have been better omitted. More on her later.

Bernie Monk, spokesperson for the families of the 29 men, spoke. He thanked us all for our support of the families and asked that we keep it up. Their number one goal is to get their men out of the mine and he noted that it has been a long time fighting for this and morale is low. 'Please help us by carrying on supporting us', was his request. I'm looking out for every way I can honour that request.

Then the opening of the new exhibition: Brierley vs West Coast: the Lane Walker Rudkin story. This fellow below, Paul (I'm sorry I don't remember his surname), was the union delegate when 21 years ago, Brierleys bought out Lane Walker Rudkin and shut down the Greymouth factory with immediate effect one Friday when many staff were at a tangi. The local workers put up a big fight, with a six week picket. I haven't had a good look at the exhibition yet as it was time for me to be useful in the kitchen for the upcoming pot luck shared meal at the working mens club.

When Paul the union delegate was talking, he was very interesting and it was new material to me and I'm sure to many - not just rehashed-same-old like so many public speeches. So I was very unimpressed to notice Darian Fenton texting on her phone during his speech. We all listened respectfully to her speech just fifteen minutes previously. She talked about Blackball being a special place and all that in her speech, but what her rude texting showed was that it was just another photo op and she didn't respect local people at all.

After the yummy dinner, Damien O'Connor, Chris Auchinvole and Kevin Hague each spoke, with brackets of singing from the West Coast wobblies in between each speaker. The singing was superb, really beautiful. The violinist in the photo, who I think is called Heather, had taken a poem from the Pike River deaths and put it to music. I'm hoping to get the entire words and permission to post them here another time, but the opening lines and refrain have stayed with me:
Men and women have
the right to go to work
And come home alive.

I see Kevin Hague has put his speech up on frogblog. Make of it what you will. I think there are some good things in there, but I lack faith that the Greens would carry much of it out.

Chris Auchinvole smiled nicely. He did try to say that the 90 day fire for any reason law was good for workers and that National had done a lot for beneficiaries. Difficult claims to back up.

Damien O'Connor tried the Christian values tactic. Oh dear. It's not that I disagree with the idea that looking after your neighbour should inform how we all live, individually and collectively. It's that I am very wary of the conservative overtones of the term 'Christian values'. Damien spoke first (in fact I have commented on the speakers in reverse order). He attacked the capitalist model with terms I suspected were thrown in especially for a Blackball May Day audience. But when a local man had a question for him about the price of coal, Damien and Labour's true colours showed through pretty fast.
Why, when we work to pull the coal out of this mountain, can we not afford to heat our own homes with it? Coal has gone up from about $70 per scoop last year to $120 per scoop.

So here was the perfect opportunity to actually engage in a real problem affecting local residents. For a man presumably with some brains, who had just been talking about the problems of big capital, here was the evidence that while the worker bears all the physical risk of extracting coal and uses his/her labour to produce a saleable commodity, the value extracted out of that commodity by big capital is so much larger than what the worker receives that the coal is too expensive to buy back. From an alternative viewpoint, here was the chance to talk about the challenges of mining coal in an increasingly polluted world. So what do you think Mr O'Connor had to say?

He responded that the challenge was to create more high end jobs and increase wages so that everyone could afford the coal. He responded that coal is worth so much that Stockton Mine (Westport) had invested in 100 million dollars' worth of coal sifting technology to comb back through their waste coal dump and sell it. He refused to engage with the real substance of the man's question.


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