by Philip Ferguson
Yesterday, unfortunately, the blockade of the Pike River mine entrance ended. Families of the 29 dead workers from the 2010 explosion had been blockading the mine entrance since November 12 to prevent Solid Energy from sealing it, thus making any attempts to retrieve the workers’ bodies impossible. The blockade by the families and their supporters had included erecting gates and locking them to prevent the company sealing off the entrance way.
The families are not taking down the gates but they have been forced to cease locking out the company. Families’ spokesperson Bernie Monk notes, “I understand they (Solid Energy) have legal right of access, but we will be protesting as usual. The landowner signed an easement with Pike River Coal way back, but it was never registered on the title and that’s why we never picked it up. He has let us know that we can’t lock that gate like we have been doing. He feels for us, but there is no legal way we can stop them.”
The families have been able to keep Solid Energy from sealing off the entrance due to several factors – in particular their blockade and the solidarity of contract workers who simply refused to seal the mine for the company. In relatin to these workers’ solidarity supported them and allowed them to occupy the land at the entrance, but the company has now invoked an easement he signed back when the mine opened.
Solid Energy is a state-owned enterprise but, like the other SOEs, operates on a profit-making corporate model and behaves just like any other corporate – something people on the left who think the SOEs are “our assets” might reflect on.
Pike River should have been made a major cause of the entire labour movement. The families should have been toured around every city and town in the country to address workplace and community meetings and build pressure on the company and the government to retrieve the bodies. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been made that priority.
This, too, is unfortunately not s surprise. After all, current Labour Party leader Andrew Little was the head of the EPMU who signed off on the safety of the mine and Labour was in power when the original deal was being done for the mine. Labour and National both presided over the run-down of mine safety inspections and it quickly became clear after the explosions that Pike River was not some tragic, unforeseen accident, but a disaster waiting to happen.
The lessons of Pike River are that workers need a new movement – one that is of, for and by us – that neither Labour nor National can be trusted, and that the state and the law are not on our side.
We need to support the Pike River families more than ever. But is also long past time to go on the offensive. What we really need are active support groups across the country to organise meetings and highly visible protests in support of the demands of the families of these workers whose deaths could have been – and should have been – avoided.
Check out our stories on Pike River:
Pike River Blues: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/pike-river-blues/
Pike River lessons: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/pike-river-lessons/
Pike River – ‘cashflow’ versus workers’ safety: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2012/11/01/pike-river-cashflow-versus-workers-safety/
Pike River company’s safety breaches killed 29 workers – it’s official: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/pike-river-company-found-guilty-of-safety-breaches/
What’s the latest at Pike River? https://rdln.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/whats-the-latest-at-pike-river/
Pike River third anniversary: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/pike-river-third-anniversary/
Pike River injustice – taking up Helen Kelly’s offer: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/pike-river-injustice-taking-up-helen-kellys-offer/
Pike River – the final cover-up? https://rdln.wordpress.com/2014/11/07/pike-river-the-final-cover-up/
Pike River – tragedy without end? https://rdln.wordpress.com/2016/11/14/pike-river-tragedy-without-end/