Guy Trafford writes of the West Coast’s protest against government policies:
The West Coast managed to do what the major centres couldn’t and had “thousands” turn out on Saturday to register their dislike of the government policies. A couple of things made this protest somewhat unusual.
The protesting crowd was made up of odd bedfellows with farmers, miners and members of the fishing industry forming the majority of the number. The other unusual factor was that it was held in what is traditionally considered to be heartland Labour territory.
The crux of the protest was that people had had enough of not being allowed to make a living from the natural resources. . .
This is echoed by Chris Trotter:
…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.
Meanwhile mining here is regarded as bad but the country is importing coal from elsewhere. Most of it is of lower quality and at least some of it comes from countries with far laxer employment and environmental standards than ours.
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.
The irony is that cities, where most of the politicians, bureaucrats and their supporters who want impose far bigger blots on the landscape than farms, mines and selective logging.
But cities are where most voters and so the government is more likely to listen to urban voices than provincial and rural ones.
However, around 10% of the West Coast’s population turned out to protest.
The significance of that is amplified by the fact that Labour would have counted many of them as friends, and a party that starts losing its friends finds it very much harder to win elections.