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Speaker: Let's talk about class

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  • bob daktari,

    As much as I agree with you on the battles that Pike should spark - those same flash points are found in the world of beneficiaries and the seemingly lack of care and action surrounding the vast number of the young who are under employed (if lucky) or simply stagnating for lack of opportunities in the workforce

    Where is the anger? Are we all just numb to our reality trying to get by these days?

    Of course there are many who are angry, incensed by the treatment of the miners families and the miners themselves... they are on social media and blogs (http://thestandard.org.nz/tag/pike-river/) - they won't find you, you have to go find them

    Thing is never expect middle class liberals to fight a class war

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 540 posts Report

  • william blake,


    I did think at the time this letter was disclosed that a path would be beaten to the PM's door and the government would collapse, Whittall brought to (judicial) account, and re regulation in dangerous industry would naturally follow. I suppose I'm just young and naive.

    The same protocol in Christchurch, repair the business district before the working class areas.

    Since Mar 2010 • 380 posts Report

  • AceMcWicked,

    I think there is always a lot made of the left being split by ‘old left’ type issues (workers rights, welfare activism etc) and the ‘new left’, and usually framed as more fashionable ‘identity politics’ and environmental activism. I am not sure how they break along class lines, though I have my theories, I find the split unusual.

    Caring about identity politics (or ‘civil rights’ as I prefer to call it, because at its core it is what it is) and the rights of workers and the poorest should be part of the same impulse – the desire to live as part of a fair and equitable community.

    It is a bit concerning, as you point out, how few activists of New Zealand’s progressive political wings were there because I think there’s a huge amount of importance in both.

    In my opinion, the fence shouldn't be between civil rights and workers welfare, but between how you answer the question: Does society serve the economy or does the economy serve society and which do you live in?

    Since May 2014 • 4 posts Report

  • Bart Janssen,

    For me it isn't being numb, it's a feeling of being unable to change anything. I was one of the many that voted out the National government of the 90's and their horrific drive to deregulate everything, based on a simplistic ideology of private is better.

    But instead of reversing those changes the Labour government we voted in continued the drive to management instead of leadership. Let treasury make the decisions and forget social responsibility. The same result with different coloured ties.

    So for me it's not that I care less about working class miners it's more that it feels like there is nothing we can do to make the governments respond to anything other than the dollar.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4461 posts Report

  • Euan Mason,


    Thanks for this. It's a timely reminder of an abominable series of events. Clearly everyone concerned would have wished life for the miners, but if Whittall made decisions that contributed to their deaths then he should have been held accountable. In my view dropping charges was a mistake. Some may have felt that financial compensation was worth it (after all a court case isn't going to bring anyone back from the dead), but I think they are mistaken. After such a conviction some compensation would have been demanded from the company.

    Canterbury • Since Jul 2008 • 259 posts Report

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to bob daktari,

    Thing is never expect middle class liberals to fight a class war

    Bingo. Asking middle class liberals to be more class-conscious and at the same time expecting them to fight or care for the working class is a contradiction.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report

  • TracyMac, in reply to AceMcWicked,

    Co-signed. I'm glad that the article and this comment don't throw civil rights/"identity politics" under the bus. A fair society should be fair to everyone, whatever boxes your identity ticks.

    That said, economic fairness is fundamental - I'm afraid that as a queer person, I care a lot less about gay marriage as I do having fair pay, and decent employment rights. But both should be achievable.

    As for terms like "class war", they make me very tired. No revolution has succeeded without the co-opting of a good chunk of the middle classes. So too with getting any decent labour rights and so on.

    The most glaring divide these days is between the super-rich and the working and middle classes. We need to band together to stop labour rights being eroded to help keep those elites in check.

    For the silence around the miners, I believe its lack of prominence is its lack of "sexiness" from a media perspective. Again, a mining company is "big business", and even Labour wants to position itself as "corporation friendly" .

    The Greens have less of a problem there, but I'm sure some of their foot-shuffling is due to that sizeable sub-group whose opinion is "all mining is bad". If there wasn't a mine, no workers would have been harmed.

    I'm not in favour of open-slather mining myself, but until there are viable alternatives, we need those minerals. The Greens should step up to promoting safer mining practices, and the use of more efficient, sustainable, and less intrusive technologies for all forms of resource extraction.

    We are nearly all affected by worker's rights, and we need them for everyone from ditch diggers and care workers to the middle class occupations. No-one wants to return to the bad-old days where most of the employment cases in the courts were about unions fighting each other for jurisdiction of some industry (true story), or "closed shops" or the like. Unions should be promoting their lean-mean ethos as advocates for workers, not nest-feathering (as they are much more so these days). Fighting for German-style industrial relations could be a worthy aim, where businesses and unions negotiate business changes, and the aim is to produce and innovate without being solely accountable to stock holders.

    Canberra, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 701 posts Report

  • izogi,

    Both tragedies were characterised by high death tolls, and both showed the impact of the National Government’s deregulation agenda in the 1990s – and the failure of subsequent Labour Governments to reverse those changes.

    I think the problem goes back even further than that, if you consider the 1995 Cave Creek Tragedy where 14 people died and 4 more were left with serious and mostly crippling injuries. It’s less of a corporate thing, but that was an indirect consequence of the mess which the Labour government made of DOC’s formation in 1987, followed by 5 years of a National government doing very little to address a department that was so uncoordinated internally that basic safety issues were being ignored against a priority expectation of low-paid workers doing more with less.

    Nothing significant happened regarding responsibility for anyone at the top there, either, despite Commission of Inquiry comments that the upper management of DOC didn’t seem to understand the concept of accountability. Denis Marshal, who’d by then been the Minister of Conservation for 5 years, even managed to find a quote from Geoffrey Palmer to describe why he wasn’t personally responsible for everything done in his name. Those who came nearest to being prosecuted were those worker individuals on the ground, who’d been most closely tied to building the actual platform, but to me this ignored that the whole department had had this type of thing going on all-over New Zealand, and the victims were probably just unlucky to be the ones to discover it.

    Following that there were claims (eg from the Herald) that the problem was obviously that government couldn’t be held accountable to the same standards as the private sector, because people in the private sector are automatically accountable with their jobs at stake, but I think the more recent examples, like Pike River, are evidence that the issue is far more complex than that.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1142 posts Report

  • Russell Brown,

    With Pike River, I keep coming back to what my brother-in-law, a miner in Australia told me about several of his mates who took up contracts at Pike River. They arrived on site, saw what was going on and walked off and went home.

    If they could see it, then so could Whittall and others. They knew.

    But have I done much about it here? Apart from venturing at the time that Whittall might not turn out be the great man everyone seemed to think, no. There's a lot of work involved in understanding that story. Christchurch was easier: I grew up there and have friends there who can write. But although I strongly suspect I went to school in Greymouth with some of those families, Pike River soon started to seem distant.

    By contrast, sexism-racism-ableism-homophobia-transphobia play out on Twitter as set pieces. Everyone already knows the lines. That doesn't mean they're not important, they're just easier to get aboard. (Although, as someone with a close interest in disability issues, I feel slightly allergic to the word "ableism".)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to TracyMac,

    Again, a mining company is "big business", and even Labour wants to position itself as "corporation friendly" .

    Back in late 2013 I remember, and there was this from Cunliffe about Pike River Miners families. I recall Cunliffe trying time and time again to raise this in the House and I suspect their policy is a consequence of that. I consider that a fair attempt from Labour to respect the families and protect future situations that could occur. Until the laws in place to protect workers and until the systematic funding cuts from this current lot are stopped we will continue to have the likes of Whittall and Companies like this one at the helm, I believe. It smelt of asset stripping to me. That's never good for the working class in a business.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report

  • richard,

    Pike River was on about the same scale as the recent disaster in Turkey, relative the size of our country -- people SHOULD be out in the streets about this. Or the slow motion disaster that is unfolding in our forests.

    Ironically, at the same time you can find any number of people complaining about namby-pamby health and safety rules that won't let you do anything, and yet it is so toothless that not only did 21 people die in a single "accident", but no-one is going to go to jail for it.

    Not looking for New Engla… • Since Nov 2006 • 268 posts Report

  • Rosemary McDonald,

    Diane, my only memory of my paternal grandfather is of him paralysed and bedridden after a pitfall in the coalmine he worked in some years before I was born.

    So every mining disaster triggers an automatic response of fear, grief, anger and a deep empathy for the families of those lost. It is in my genes...the wait at the pit head for news from below, the anguish as bodies are retrieved, the despair at realising that some will never come back unless more lives are put at risk.

    I also can understand the soul destroying realisation when the 'system' fails utterly to hold anyone accountable for yet another tragedy.

    I watched as those families ran the gauntlet of cameras to participate in the 'process' of the Inquiry, hoping that by participating, something meaningful would eventuate.

    It didn't. For all the usual reasons. Other commentors have covered most of them.

    Perhaps there was little response from your usual followers, but others, maybe a little less removed from the coalface, were and still are outraged.

    Where do we direct that outrage?

    The ballot box?

    Civil unrest?

    Waikato, or on the road • Since Apr 2014 • 1346 posts Report

  • Rosemary McDonald, in reply to Russell Brown,

    (Although, as someone with a close interest in disability issues, I feel slightly allergic to the word "ableism".)

    Seriously needs discussion Russell.

    Another post, perhaps????

    Waikato, or on the road • Since Apr 2014 • 1346 posts Report

  • Russell Brown, in reply to richard,

    Or the slow motion disaster that is unfolding in our forests.


    Helen Kelly's speech to the Labour Party conference last year.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Rosemary McDonald,

    Seriously needs discussion Russell.

    Another post, perhaps????

    Yes. It would be a good one for Access.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report

  • Di White, in reply to william blake,

    William, I felt exactly the same. I felt like I was being "punked": how could this happen, and how could it be, as you put it, the PM's door was still standing. I get that some people will say there was judicial accountability (in that the company, albeit defunct, was prosecuted), but even the judge that made the order was pretty cynical about what that decision meant in real time.

    There's been a lot of people trying to raise attention to the issues in Christchurch, and I can only imagine how frustrating the rest of the country's apparent disinterest must be.

    Auckland • Since May 2014 • 2 posts Report

  • Di White, in reply to Rosemary McDonald,

    Rosemary, I totally agree. And I have never doubted for one second that there are a lot of people out there agitating for action and accountability on Pike.

    The issue I was referring to was whether the left, and the politically aware and articulate have been part of that agitation -- I would argue they have not. These are broad-brush strokes, of course, and there are some people in the left who have been loudly pushing for accountability on Pike, but from they've met the same kind of disinterest from their political peers that I have. I put that down, at least to some extent, to the fact we are not talking about class. Which, compared to how we talk about a lot of aspects of identity politics, is somewhat of an anomaly.

    Auckland • Since May 2014 • 2 posts Report

  • Rob Stowell,

    Nicholas Davidson on the trail of responsibility and negligence -

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2120 posts Report

  • Graham Dunster,

    We have the government that we deserve, collectively. And we accept the framework that the government gives us, as far as I can judge. There are a few commentators who rail against the status quo - Chris Trotter (http://bowalleyroad.blogspot.co.nz/) and Gordon Campbell (http://gordoncampbell.scoop.co.nz/) stand out - but their entreaties only give rise to the sage nodding of heads. We all (and I include myself here) seem to be too busy with our own wee lives to break out for the greater good.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2009 • 184 posts Report

  • Kevin Hague, in reply to TracyMac,

    Sorry Tracy, but you pushed some of my buttons! I don't think it's fair to accuse the Green Party of "foot shuffling" on this issue. Indeed, working to uncover what had occurred at Pike River, and then to achieve mine safety improvements, has been one of my main areas of work as an MP. You'll find a lot of the detail at www.greens.org.nz/pikeriver if you're interested, but the key points were our involvement in getting the Royal Commission established in the first place, our exposing some of the health and safety issues in the mine, forcing the Government to establish the High Hazards Unit, and then forcing (or at least being a significant contributory factor) the Government to overhaul Occupational Safety and Health legislation and underground mining regulations.

    My huge frustration is that nobody at all has been held accountable (apart, I guess, from Valley Longwall, who in the scheme of things were a minor offender). I focused on trying to have the Department of Labour held to account, entirely without success. I was angry and exasperated that Gordon Ward and the owners and directors of PRC were not charged, but it never occurred to me that Peter Whittall would not be. He's now back in Australia, available to work on, amongst other mining-related work, health and safety.

    Di's post is really interesting. I guess I became involved because I'm the MP who lives closest to the mine, and I knew a number of those who died and their families. I probably wouldn't have been involved otherwise, but it's not really my portfolio and I hope our Party would have taken on the issues anyway. As someone who is probably more associated with "identity politics" I really don't see a distinction between those civil and political rights, and the economic rights of workers - they all fall under a human rights umbrella if we choose to pitch them that way.

    Greymouth • Since Jan 2010 • 2 posts Report

  • Rosemary McDonald, in reply to Di White,

    the left, and the politically aware and articulate have been part of that agitation -- I would argue they have not.

    Methinks, perhaps, these people are suffering from outrage overload.

    Or simply resigned to the fact that that is just how it is.

    As for discussions about "class"....are New Zealanders allowed to have such conversations?

    Are not many of us actual, or decendants of, refugees from the class obsessed UK?. Don't we like to think we are an egalitarian society?

    Elderly friends, in their eighties, living in a comfortable retirement complex run by the "notorious for its slack care standards" Ryman. Elderly couple...if I were applying the same UK class distinctions I was raised on, are definately 'working class'. Hard workers, hard savers.

    In a discussion about the poor care in the residential arm of Ryman, I brought up about the low pay and poor working conditions of the care workforce. Elderly friend said "Oh, but they seem so nice and happy!". She did, however, observe that most of the workers were from the Phillipines. I gently explained that the work they have to do for the rate of pay makes it an untenable job for many New Zealanders. "Oh, yes! she agreed, .."but they are used to living on practically nothing."

    As if that makes the shit pay okay.

    Maybe this is an indication that we have matured as nation?

    Waikato, or on the road • Since Apr 2014 • 1346 posts Report

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to Graham Dunster,

    We all (and I include myself here) seem to be too busy with our own wee lives to break out for the greater good.

    I’d like to think I care enough to have empathy for others. I like to think I can put others well being before mine and I like to think I have never and would never vote for the Government we currently have. I am also pretty loud at explaining how I feel about NActional MUFPets I do notice that the system we have has thrown the people into a cycle of “what’s in it for me?” or” How does this affect me first?” because I think many are struggling to make ends meet. Also as soon as someone disagrees ,they get labelled conspiracy theorists or they are considered outside the hive which can make one unpopular very quickly and some people are not strong enough to need that shit in their lives. However it is demoralising when a personal issue throws you at a brick wall everytime you turn a corner and once that happens that transcends the next issue and slowly one stops believing that the good will prevail. I heard Cunliffe saying he cared about the Pike River Miners Families. No matter anyone else saying negative stuff about Labour and their past ,I’m still going to support them because their policy says “We Care about you”, and I’d sleep better knowing those men didn’t die in vain and that their families are not worthless.

    Oh now, thanks Kevin you guys have shown much empathy that I know is sincere and Ilook forward to the Greens and labour being able to work together on issues such as this. Keep up the good work.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report

  • Sacha, in reply to Euan Mason,

    Some may have felt that financial compensation was worth it

    I don't think any of the families were asking for it. Recall how they reacted to the trade-off that the court and insurers facilitated to secure Whittall walking scot-free.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report

  • Sacha, in reply to Di White,

    we are not talking about class

    We are however talking about poverty and inequality. Maybe those terms resonate more in this country now?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report

  • Sacha, in reply to Kevin Hague,

    working to uncover what had occurred at Pike River, and then to achieve mine safety improvements, has been one of my main areas of work as an MP

    and I for one have really appreciated it. thank you Kevin.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report

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