Friday 22 November 2019

The Message From Messenger Park.

Coasters Turn Out In Droves: It’s precisely the widening gulf between those with actual experience of things like guns, chainsaws and drilling machines, and those who regulate their use, that accounts for the angry crowd at Greymouth’s Messenger Park on Sunday, 17 November 2019. In the rarefied atmosphere where decisions to shut down whole industries are made, hands-on experience is not only rare – it’s despised. What do workers know about anything?

THE NUMBERS WERE IMPRESSIVE. Indeed, it looked as is half the Coast had turned out to give this government a piece of its mind.

Many of those present wore their work-clothes. Lots of high-viz vests and brightly-coloured safety helmets – those universal signifiers of blue-collar labour – were on display. Hardly surprising. The West Coast has long celebrated its status as the birthplace of the New Zealand labour movement. Trade union historian, Bert Roth, dubbed its fiery founding fathers – Pat Hickey, Paddy Webb and Bob Semple – “Two-Gun Men from the West Coast”. Labour’s current MP, Damian O’Connor, has been called many things in his time, but a “Two-Gun Man” isn’t one of them!

About the only thing the modern Labour Party has to do with the region’s two-gun men is its grim determination to turn them all into One-Gun, or No-Gun, West Coasters.

It’s what makes law-abiding gun-owners so damned mad. Growing up with firearms invariably instils a strong ethic of care and responsibility in their users. Seeing up-close what a high-powered rifle can do to a deer or a pig makes sure of that. If the bureaucrats sipping coffee on Lambton Quay, most of whom have never fired a gun in their lives, understood that ethic, then they might be a little less fearful – and a lot less judgemental.

It’s precisely this widening gulf between those with actual experience of things like guns, chainsaws and drilling machines, and those who regulate their use, that accounts for the angry crowd at Greymouth’s Messenger Park. In the rarefied atmosphere where decisions to shut down whole industries are made, hands-on experience is not only rare – it’s despised. What do workers know about anything?

That’s the question isn’t it? What do workers know? The answer, of course, is “more than they think”.

For a start, they know that human-beings have been changing nature for millions of years. From the moment some brave ancestor pulled a burning branch from the edge of a blazing forest, our species ceased to be just another mammal. From chipping flint to smelting steel, humanity’s relentless drive to innovate and alter has granted it, in the solemn language of Genesis: “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

You don’t truly understand this truth until, using your own strength and skill, and the strength and skill of your workmates, you collectively transform your world. And that sort of truth: the knowledge you gain down in a mine or felling a tree: you won’t find in a book anywhere.

Workers know that all those people in the cities going on and on about “keeping the coal in the ground” don’t understand that without the high-quality coking-coal from places like the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, the world’s steel mills couldn’t function. Without steel there is no modern world. Without coking-coal we’re back in the Iron Age – cutting down whole forests to make the charcoal crucial to the smelting of iron and most other metals.

Workers know what civilisation is made of because they extract it every day.

Farmers are the same. They know what it takes to coax crops out of the ground. How much they are beholden to forces no human-being can ever truly tame or control. They also know what city dwellers pampering their pets in suburban bungalows do not. That the relationship between human-beings and animals has always been one of ruthless exploitation. As inescapable as it is irreducible: we consume them.

It’s a hard world – as hard as the callouses on the hands of those who work it. And there is precious little which the world is able to surrender to us without long and bitter struggle.

In the process of exploiting its plants, animals and minerals is humankind damaging this world? Are we ruining the atmosphere by wrenching from its bowels the fossil fuels that make our lives so much easier?  

The answer from the protesters of Messenger Park is “Yes.”, and “Yes.” And, unless we want to return to the day before that brave ancestor picked up that burning branch, they’re telling us to “get over it”. Nothing comes from nothing.

Nobody lives closer to Mother Nature than the people of the Coast.

It’s hard work.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 22 November 2019.


Sanctuary said...

Wah wah wah, cry me a river. I am heartily sick and tired of the whining exceptionalism of coasters and farmers. Plenty of people work hard for sweet f**k all, try being an all night cleaner in Tamaki's industrial sprawl.

The world is changing. Coasters seem to think they have a right to do what they want because, reasons. Nobody forces them to live in that rainy and dreary place. Yes, their way of life is out of date. So stop whinging that the rest of us have some sort of obligation to support a dying way of life, like some sort of giant outdoor paean to the 20th century and accept it.

Kat said...

Lovely people the West Coasters but just like other peoples in other areas they need a little guidance from time to time. Such as being made aware that clear felling large swathes of Beach forest leads to soil erosion and silting of the rivers, that excessive dredging for gold on the rivers turns them into barren drains with stockpiles of ugly tailings, that coal mining is last century's folly and well proven to be a scar on the land, a health hazard and sadly an all too often deadly occupation.

The West Coasters defiant dalliance with the National party is further evidence that more guidance is required. Don't tell me I don't know, I have been married to a lovely West Coaster for more than forty years.

Nick J said...

Well written Chris. I've hunted and fished for years, there is always something in my garden. When I've lived in metropolitan corporateland it has always defined me as somewhat separated from the urban types.

There's a strange psychology to the need to make safe that you allude to. Safety through learnt experience and the minds ability to project that forward to ensure caution is one method that comes down to self regulation. The other is that dwelling obsession with controlling your safety by enforcing regs which take real responsibility away from the individual. That I contend leads to resentment of power, and consequent breaking of regulations seen as red tape, interference etc.

My view is that leaving safety decisions to bureaucracy is mere legal arse covering. Real safety occurs in good instruction, example, training and practice. If you don't actively participate you shouldn't be near to any regulatory decision process.

Tom Hunter said...

I'm afraid that the likes of the West Coast are irrelevant nowadays. They should not be. It's unfair and cruel.

But that's the reality. They're literally outvoted on these issues by a good chunk of the rest of NZ, who apparently think that they make enough money from jobs of the modrn world to be able to buy from elsewhere whatever it was that NZ once produced. Shrug of the shoulders stuff.

Besides that, the Cossters have been tribally voting for Labour for a century, even as the last two decades had reality screaming at them that Labour and their essential partners, The Greens, were slowly screwing them into the ground. In this they have a lot in common with the folk in South Auckland.

I suppose it's possible that this time they'll vote National, but I would not be surprised to see O'Connor win again, and even if he lost, what would change for the Coast? National are just as enslaved to the urban vote as Labour is and too much has been destroyed to be re-built.

Nope. Coasters better get used to a slim life of supporting tourism, with a little bit of farming thrown in.

Tom Hunter said...

Yes, their way of life is out of date. So stop whinging that the rest of us have some sort of obligation to support a dying way of life, like some sort of giant outdoor paean to the 20th century and accept it.

I had a bit of deja vu as I read that for it seemed to come straight from the pen of any Rogernome in the 1980's that one cares to name.

So much for all the criticism heaped on the Right for crushing and destroying the outdated world of Sanctuary and his friends. Turns out that his only real objection was being the target. Now that the shoe is on the other foot it's time for his ideological enemies to suck it up.

In the present day it also reminded me of this piece written in 2017, Help Them Move:

But the dead and dying and white towns of Appalachia and the Rust Belt are another story. “Why should they have to go elsewhere?” our freshly created populists demand. The answer is, Because the lives they desire are not to be had where they are; their communities, along with their families in many cases, are terribly sick, and the hard truth is that they’d be better off putting some distance between themselves and them.

That was hardline Rightie Kevin Williamson, writing in National Review. Perhaps like the 1980's we are about to see a new "Rightish" alignment within the Labour Party between the likes of Sanctuary and Williamson?

In the meantime, Sanctuary's words, coming as they do from a hard-core Labour Party man, should be sent to every West Coaster along with the message: This Is What You're Voting For

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Can't understand this column. Previous columns have been about how we are ruining the environment and should do something about it. Now apparently because farmers in West coasters are complaining – we shouldn't? Because – reasons?
I tend to agree with Sanctuary. Yes farmers work hard, but in conservative terms "they chose to do it" – that's the general conservative response to people who are pissed off with their jobs. And one of the things that that control freak Jim Anderson did say that was exactly true was "my cleaning lady works hard". And for a lot less pay than a farmer.
And the wisdom of working people. Working people are no wiser than any other large group. I had seven great uncles – all working-class, some skilled some not so. About three of my might consider wise. The other four were fuckwits. So let's not make too much of working-class wisdom, because they are just as easily led astray as anyone else. And they are probably more likely to simply see their own small part rather than the big picture – whatever that may be.
And while I'm not a great fan of bureaucrats, without them as Bob Jones once said this country would be in the shit. For one thing they are responsible for making sure that your water is clean, and your food is unadulterated.
We may disagree on policy, that's to be expected. But when we stop basing policy on science and expertise, we might as well give up. And unfortunately in this country there has always been a dislike/demeaning of education. I suspect that's one of the reasons why we are still exporting raw materials rather than finished goods. And one of the reasons why management in this country is so poor – just look at Fonterra. They disregarded experts' advice about going into China and lost a lot of money. Farmers money so I'm not that concerned about it but they should be. Maybe if they spent more time choosing Fonterra's executives wisely and less time bitching about fart taxes we'd all be a bit better off.

petes new write said...

Coasters may realise they are part of NZ, not some little privileged piece of history. Times change and they have to realise jobs change too, if you have a regular one.They will have to keep up to date. The National party won't be doing anything for them. if they think about Pike River they will realise that. They may also learn that Pike River should have been an open coast mine too. This may apply to other area on the Coast too.

Tiger Mountain said...

“Stop me if you’ve heard this one before”… Dept. with these Coasters. They do realise that NZ National has urinated on them from a great height for decades right? Hospital Closures etc. No…oh well…vote National then I guess.

No amount of romanticising the resourceful provincial folk can obscure that extractive fossil fuel and ground zero native logging have no future. Less than zero actually, they exacerbate environmental decline. If these Coasters had as much gumption as some seem to think, perhaps they could have policed their own mining operations when the mining inspectorate was reduced to ONE inspector for the nation.

Nostalgia, and deep feelings of loss for the old New Zealand, and wanting to blame the city folks if at all possible, is being exploited by reactionaries for the purposes of vote herding. And it is not a pretty sight.

Anonymous said...

Sanctuary, Kat and Guerilla Surgeon encapsulate perfectly why Labour is no longer the party of the tradesman and working class. The West Coasters, like a lot of provincial NZ, don't spend their weekends in pretentious cafes, raving over the latest article in the Guardian. They spend it in the outdoors hunting and fishing, or doing maintenance around their homes, with a few beers and Barbie in the evenings. The way the Government has attacked those activities has increased the alienation from Wellington. And having effete commentators decry them as uneducated yokels just is the icing on the cake. The way things are going, Labour will become a boutique party for urban intellectuals (meant in the wider context). That is why Trump and Brexit occurred. There is no empathy or even a connection between the ruling class and the hoi polloi
Chis Morris

Trev1 said...

Good column Chris. I am sure there is a great deal of sympathy for the Coasters and the values they represent. Throughout the West politics are undergoing a fundamental readjustment to the consternation of the metropolitan elites. Perhaps the Coasters have just fired the first shot in that war in New Zealand?

Anonymous said...

As a West Coast native (albeit one who now lives in Dunedin), and as a lifelong Labour voter, I've got to say that some of these comments are downright disturbing.

"Times have changed."

Yeah, you're just saying that because it doesn't affect you, and you find invocation of historical inevitability to be a convenient way of silencing critics. As noted above, it's basically the Rogernome argument repackaged - honestly, you can literally justify any nonsense via that. It's the smug, patronising "we know best" mantra of a professional class.

(And as for our Tamaki cleaner, what happened to solidarity? You know, the idea that the West Coast and the urban cleaner have interests in common?).

Tom Hunter said...

Heh - I'd forgotten that Williamson had started down this path in early 2016

The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your goddamned gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget Ed Burke, too.

The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.

Amazing. I accept that Sanctuary is still a Lefty, and Williamson is most definitely a Righty - but the degree of convergence between them is amazing to behold.

sumsuch said...

These days you are admirably realistic about the current reality. Who do you recommend I go to for the way forward?

Something to staunch or blow up the fire that is the nearest to feeling I have these days --for our least and about our near end.

Is it in sum just a last party? With the powerful running the bar.

Let's get down to brass … knuckles.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"They spend it in the outdoors hunting and fishing, or doing maintenance around their homes, with a few beers and Barbie in the evenings. "
Funny, that describe my lifestyle for quite a long time – until I retired and surrendered my firearms license, because all my hunting companions were too damned old. This whole thing is part of what is wrong with society today, where one person's opinion is just as good as the experts. Try not to make judgements about people you know nothing about.

"Times have changed.
Yeah, you're just saying that because it doesn't affect you."

Yes I must've missed that part where I was made redundant twice because times have changed. But there are changes that ARE inevitable and changes that should be resisted. Some of the inevitable ones, like climate change we can maybe do something about in the long term. Some of them, like technological change we can't do anything about without completely rejigging society. And probably going a little bit further than the British Labour Party manifesto – which I rather liked by the way. Good luck with that. But there will still probably be no need for buggy whip manufacturers, and very little for vacuum tubes.

Anonymous said...

"(And as for our Tamaki cleaner, what happened to solidarity? You know, the idea that the West Coast and the urban cleaner have interests in common?)."

The scabs on the West Coast will throw that cleaner under a bus anytime for a ticket to the middle class bourgeois lifestyle. They would vote themselves a tax cut and dont care that funding cuts to school means that the teacher aide for her autistic son gets chopped because of it. They did it in Australia, the US and the UK (to a point).

As if they are going to close down the mines on the Coast anyway. It is the policy of all 3 parties to continue to allow mining operations to exist, and new mines to be established on PRIVATE land. Anyway, what people dont seem to realise, is that any new mines will be largely automated, with cheap Filipino, Chinese and Indian labour flown in to work most of the operations that need manual labour. Any efforts to start unions will be shut down, and future coal mining jobs will probably be at minimum wage. We are seeing that happening with farming and fisheries.


John Hurley said...

I know what people on the West coast do/did, I just can't figure out Auckland. What do they do apart from build houses for migrants (a population ponzi)?

John Hurley said...

I read that Gareth Hughes is leaving parliament and is going to take his family on a year long trip around the world? I'm not sure if that was true or not but any way, so many people think that they are part of the solution without actually doing anything (like fore going the overseas trip)?

Tom Hunter said...

Kat said...
Lovely people the West Coasters but just like other peoples in other areas they need a little guidance from time to time.


Like the old First Estate, the clerisy—what the French socialist writer Christophe Guilluy calls “the privileged stratum”—operate from an assumption of “moral superiority” that justifies their right to rule.

They represent the apotheosis of H. G. Wells’s notion of an “emergent class of capable men” who could take upon itself the task of “controlling and restricting . . . the non-functional masses.” This new elite, he predicted, would replace democracy with “a higher organism,” what he called “the New Republic.”

David George said...

Great comment Chris Morris (Anonymous); thanks for calling out the sneering contempt reminiscent of Hilary Clinton's "deplorables"; and we know how that worked out.
There really is a disconnect with reality, a little gratitude would be good. The abundance we enjoy; the food in the supermarket, the power at the flick of a switch, our easy, safe and free existence is built on the backs of those that came before us and the hard working folk that keep it all working. Your entitled, arrogant "progressive"; not so much.
I'm sure they believe we should dispense with democracy altogether; the very idea of giving the plebs any say at all is anathema.

Here's a very good article on that:
Excerpt: "I could say that what elites really need to do is get people on board with their programme, but most people never will be on board with it, for the good reason that it isn’t in most people’s interests. Changing your electricity company every 12 to 18 months to avoid being shafted is a right pain in the neck that no one gets around to – not in most people’s interests. Corporate forum-shopping for low wages isn’t in most people’s interests. Gutting health services – not in most people’s interests. Sky-high property prices that set off a real-life game of Monopoly – not in most people’s interests.
There’s a big, unbridgeable disconnect between the average person’s interests and elite interests. And in a direct democracy that would be settled quite quickly, in the interests of the average person.

It’s not because the average person is too stupid and can’t identify his or her own best interests that elites are so down on direct democracy – it’s because we are too smart."

Dr Roslyn Fuller

David George said...

There is increasing seperation in outlook, concerns and beliefs between the urban "progressives" and everyone else.

"The dividing line between core cities and the rest has been heightened by climate politics. As cities have de-industrialized, they have become increasingly detached from the physical economy. With little in the way of basic industries, they regard energy, like food, almost as an abstraction that can be ruthlessly suppressed. Green parties in places like Europe, North American, and Australia generally do best in urban areas.

The agenda coming from these cities is largely hostile to the middle class that has been deserting them. Greens envision a world in which there are no private cars, and people are crammed into shared “co-living” spaces that leave little room for privacy or family. It has, as one observer put it, something eerily in common with a “homeless tent city.”

David George said...

G S :"And probably going a little bit further than the British Labour Party manifesto – which I rather liked by the way"
There is a new book out you might enjoy then.
" It is tempting for Jeremy Corbyn’s critics to write off his electoral promises as bribes—a last-ditch attempt from the most unpopular major party leader in memory to buy his way to victory. There’s some truth to this when it comes to pledged levels of public spending. But Corbynism is not an opportunistic ideology. He and the people around him have a set of beliefs about the economy that they take very seriously, and it’s worth trying to understand them."
Stolen: How To Save The World From Financialisation, by New Statesman columnist and socialist campaigner Grace Blakeley, is one of the more serious attempts to set out a version of Corbynism

Ian said...

Being the party of the worker means protecting the worker. Protecting them from the greed of their bosses. Protecting their jobs from automation. Protecting their jobs when those jobs are no longer economically viable. Protecting their jobs from other priorities such as human safety and environmental protection. Protecting their houses and town dumps from erosion brought about by those jobs.