Saturday, 28 November 2009
by Pat O'Dea
Rarely has a chance presented itself, where coal miners and environmentalists could be standing on the same side of the barricades.
The coal-miners are fighting Solid Energy's plan to increase productivity, this plan entails removal of safety delegates chosen by the miners themselves. Solid Energy are also trying to employ contract workers for use in the mines, with the demand that these workers be excluded from the protection of the mining industry Multi Employment Agreement, (MECA).
This struggle broke out into the open when Solid Energy locked out the miners at the Rotowaro open cast mine in Huntly. Solid Energy launched this attack to try and force these workers to accept contracting out mine jobs, at lesser conditions.
Workers at three other mines struck in solidarity with the locked out miners at Rotowaro. Also rail workers from the RMTU put a ban on transporting all coal from the affected mines.
Since the start of this dispute things have developed further with the miners demanding shorter hours with no loss of pay. ie. a cut in productivity (see http://www.epmu.org.nz/news/show/172992).
In the struggle to save the world from global warming, environmentalists should also be in support of lowering productivity in the coal mining industry.
Like all "for profit" businesses Solid Energy will say these reforms will cost too much. Environmentalists and unionists need to promote the idea that such reforms go some way to reflecting the true environmental and human cost of this industry.
Environmental activists should seriously consider giving their support to this significant struggle against the intensification of the exploitation of nature and the miners.
If a delegation of environmentalists could be organised to join the coal miners on their picket lines, it would in itself be a newsworthy event, which would be an aid to these workers by publicising their cause. This would ensure that these workers would give a receptive hearing to the need to take up environmental concerns into their industry.
Imagine all the interesting debates on global warming, workers solidarity and the fight for a better world for all, on the night shift around the burning oil drum.
For these reasons and more environmentalists should be challenged to take up the coal miners cause. After all if coal mining has to be seriously curtailed to save the planet, it can't be done with out the support and understanding of the coal miners themselves.
Often the debate on the dangers of global warming is framed by the argument: jobs or the environment. Which is the classic win-lose position, environmentalists vs. workers.
In my opinion to become more accepted environmentalists need to move to a win-win position. We should take this chance to raise a more humane solution.
The mad market drive to increase productivity and consumption in an endless quest for growth, which in the long run is unsustainable in any industry, but which is more so in this industry, will endanger the natural world, if it is not cut back.
Environmentalists should enter into serious debate with these workers while standing in support of these workers on their picket lines.
The converstation can include alternatives to coal, redeployment and retraining, ideas for the eventual sane phasing out of coal burning and mining activities, overproduction, and the economic crisis.
On the national and international scene agreement on limiting carbon emissions seems to becoming more remote. In New Zealand our Emissions Trading Scheme allows polluters to protect their profits by continuing to pollute as before, whole the tax payer foots the bill.
But things could change dramatically when the workers involved in these industries and their unions are won to environmental concerns.
Instead of lobbying the corporates on one hand and facing off against workers on the other, environmentalists should be lobbying and working with workers, and facing off against the corporates.