Thursday, August 23, 2007

Coal Not Dole

Happy Valley - you may have heard of it. Solid Energy want to build a mine there, various people don't want it built so they chain themselves to chain tracks and the like. I've had friends involved with it at various times; I've made fun of the snails and kibitzed in the way activists do when they have absolutely no interest in organising for a cause, but know they could do better.

Sometimes my kibitzing turns to anger, as it did when I saw the Save Happy Valley forum that was organised last week in Christchurch "A Future without Coal"

I don't object to the idea of the forum - there's going to be a future without coal, since one day the coal is going to run out. What I object to is whose opinion is considered relevant to that future. The speakers were:

Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, renowned Antarctic and climate change scientist Professor Peter Barrett and a speaker on the local impacts of coal mining
The speaker on the local impacts of coal mining doesn't even get a name, unlike professors and political leaders. More importantly, how can you organise a forum about the future without coal without including coal miners front and centre? The first, the most important questions, when discussing a future without coal should be about miners and mining communities. Miners have struggled for generations to build what they have today.

Makes me want to make a badge like this to wear:


  1. Back when I was in SHVC, myself and another friend in the campaign (who you don't know, Maia) invented a game to efficiently see where the politics of other SHVC members lay. The game was called "Greenie or Miner", and was pretty simple: You simply ask the person whether they'd rather be a greenie (with all that entails) or a miner (with all that entails).

    The answer then tells you a lot about the reasons the person was involved in the campaign, their overall politics etc etc.

    "Greenies" being liberal Green Party supporters, perhaps aspiring to be a "green capitalist" (eg: organic farmer) and certainly an "ethical" consumer. These people predominantly "do activism" for a short period before "growing up", and certainly don't oppose capitalism, but rather (at most) neo-liberalism. They want to save Happy Valley for reasons mostly relating to climate change and/or biodiversity, and generally prefer to stick to legal tactics and lobbying, occasionally supporting civil disobedience.

    "Miners" realise that the coal miners on the Coast have traditionally been a bastion of working class militancy in Aotearoa, and despite the partially reduced role of extraction in modern society, they still play a vital role. Those who pick "Miner" are generally anarchists, pushing for greater discussion and interaction with West Coasters (inc. miners) and are generally involved in other groups/projects/campaigns outside of SHV, and see SHV as a stepping stone to greater goals beyond the campaign.

    There is a third category that wasn't initially in the game, but a few peoples responses created it - the socially/politically active miner. The example given is the two coal miners from Stockton who created Ngakawau Riverwatch, a group which pushed (and continues to push) Solid Energy to improve its water treatment standards to ensure the damage done to the rivers in the area is minimised. For this, the two miners were blacklisted by Solid Energy.

    Needless to say, both me and my friend picked miner :P

  2. Anonymous10:09 pm

    Its great to hear people in the campaign take the struggle of miners to heart. But, as a person not involved in the campaign who only gets info from posters and the media, I see very little support of these communities in a meaningful sense. That, I think, is the message behind Maia's post.

  3. Anonymous10:10 pm

    that was Josie btw.

  4. "I see very little support of these communities in a meaningful sense."

    For sure - I'd agree wholeheartedly.

    I think perhaps the best thing that SHVC was involved in in the context of engagement with the West Coast community was attending May Day events in Blackball earlier this year, which had a theme of discussion between SHVC and Coasters (including miners and mining union officials). My speech from that is up at

    Unfortunately, it's also one of the only things that have been done...

  5. Anonymous3:46 pm

    that was Josie btw.