Spied on group demands resignation at tear filled meeting
The Christchurch Save Happy Valley group met Tuesday night with Ryan, the infiltrator hired by Thompson & Clark Investigations to gather information for state owned enterprise Solid Energy. The Save Happy Valley Coalition is today reiterating its demand for the resignation of CEO Don Elder for engaging in devious, underhanded and illegal practices.
“It was an intense discussion last night, with Ryan and many members of our group in tears. We conveyed to Ryan that while we were deeply disappointed and hurt by his behaviour, we understood that he was merely a small player in Don Elder’s deplorable game,” said Coalition spokesperson Frances Mountier, “Despite both Helen Clark and Trevor Mallard labelling his practices ‘totally unacceptable’, Elder continues to defend Thompson & Clark hiring unregistered private investigators to spy on our group, an immoral act that is also a clear breach of the law.”
“As the head of New Zealand’s most environmentally destructive SOE, Elder is responsible for mining coal which, when burnt, will result in carbon emissions equivalent to New Zealand’s entire transport fleet, for driving a native species to extinction and now for employing some of the most insidious practices ever seen by an SOE,” said Ms Mountier.
“If Elder does not offer his resignation, it must be demanded by the Board at their next meeting. A new CEO must immediately give an assurance that they will not hire private investigators to spy on us or any other group,” said Ms Mountier.
“We are more determined than ever to see this campaign through to victory. Up against all the odds, Happy Valley is still safe and it’s resident Great spotted kiwi / Roa, Western Weka and other native species remain protected in their homes. Happy Valley will be saved, and New Zealand will make a socially just and environmentally sustainable transition away from coal. Nothing – not Don Elder, not spies, not political interference – can stand in our way,” said Ms Mountier.
The Christchurch Save Happy Valley (SHV) group, the Wellington Animal Rights Network (WARN) and Peace Action Wellington (PAW) have exposed corporate spies operating within their groups. In Christchurch, Ryan had been involved in the group for 7 months, while in Wellington Somali had been spying for around 2 years.
The pair were employed by Thompson & Clark Private Investigations Limited, an Auckland firm that specialises in “covert physical and electronic surveillance” and “political activism”. In Ryan’s case, the money came from Solid Energy, while in Somali’s, it was likely to be the NZ Biotech Industry for WARN and the NZ Defence Industry Association for PAW.
Frances Mountier, spokesperson for SHV Christchurch, said “It is shocking that a state owned enterprise would use such insidious and underhand tactics to undermine the public debate on climate change”.
“Thompson & Clark are a leech-like company, feeding off political groups while making sure not to kill their main source of income” stated WARN spokesperson Mark Eden. “Companies that abuse animals like to keep their practices their dirty little secret, and it seems they will sink to any low to keep it that way.”
Peace Action Wellington has expressed solidarity with the other groups. “This corporate infiltration and spying combined with the spying and violence of the police is part and parcel of speaking out in this so called “democratic” State. We wish to extend our solidarity towards those other groups infiltrated seeking to do the same”.
The Save Happy Valley Coalition has previously exposed Thompson & Clark on two occassions – in February 2006, people at the Happy Valley occupation came accross two T&C spies on a ridgeline overlooking the campsite, while in September 2006 a camera with a powerful zoom lens was discovered at the start of the track into the Valley.
This article by me was in today’s Dominion Post:
On Sunday April 29th, two activists from Save Happy Valley Christchurch locked-on to the Main South Line, blocking a coal train. This delayed the delivery of climate-polluting coal from state-owned Solid Energy’s Stockton mine from reaching the Port of Lyttelton . The activists were connected via a welded steel pipe buried in concrete laid under the train tracks, and were removed and arrested after several hours.
The protest was the latest in over three years of activity against the proposed destruction of Happy Valley. Solid Energy plans to turn the ecologically significant sub-alpine wetland ecosystem, approximately 25km north-east of Westport on the West Coast of the South Island, into an open-cast coal mine. Other actions include the fifteen month long occupation of Happy Valley itself by activists and supporters from across New Zealand and the world, banner drops on Wellington motorways and the waterfront, and actions at the state owned enterprise’s Christchurch HQ.
Climate change is increasingly recognised as one of the major issues facing the planet today, yet the Labour Government refuses to take any meaningful action on the matter. They applaud themselves for their plans to increase the efficiency of the ministerial fleet while at the same time coal mined by their own company is responsible for adding as much CO2 to the atmosphere as the entire vehicle fleet (all trucks, buses and cars) on New Zealand’s roads each year.
Until Solid Energy ends their plans to mine Happy Valley, and New Zealand begins a serious, socially just and environmentally sustainable move away from coal, the Save Happy Valley campaign will continue across New Zealand. For more information, see www.savehappyvalley.org.nz
I may not exactly be a regular Subway customer (in fact, I can’t remember the last time I went there, if ever) but that doesn’t mean I can’t support fired Subway worker Jackie Lang, fired from a Dunedin Subway branch and charged with theft for sharing a drink with a friend. Oddly, Jackie was apparently the last member of the Autonomous Workers Union at that Subway branch – perhaps this has something to do with her harsh treatment.
Good on the Autonomous Worker’s Union and Jackie for staying staunch and fighting this – the support will only keep increasing. Pickets/fundraisers are being held this weekend to support Jackie in Auckland (1pm Sat 12th @ 155 Queen St Subway) and Christchurch (1pm Sat 12th @ High Street Subway).
Donations to the legal fund can be made to the AWU KiwiBank account, 38 9003 0045483 00 with the reference SUBWAY.
Update Thursday 10th: The charges have been dropped, but the employment issue is still ongoing.
In other news, Greenpeace made this nice little spoof of Genesis Energy’s latest ad, calling them on their greenwashing bullshit. If you can’t see the embedded video, click here.
Over May 4th and 5th, the small West Coast town of Blackball held its annual May Day celebrations. Blackball is an old mining town, and one of the places where the union movement first began in Aotearoa. It soon became a hotbed of the radical workers movement, and remained so until the depression in the 1930s – the New Zealand Communist Party was even headquartered there for a time.
These days, the town has a permanent population of just 360, with many local residents employed at the Roa underground coal mine nearby. The town also gets a number of tourists every year, situated as it is in a beautiful part of the West Coast close to a number of walking tracks.
For the last 13 years, locals have started again celebrating May Day, with a march and other events occuring over the weekend closest to May Day every year. This year, a forum was held between the Save Happy Valley Coalition and locals, to discuss coal, the environment, the campaign to save Happy Valley (around 2 hours drive to the start of the track from Blackball) and the West Coast.
The forum, and subsequent discussions over the rest of the weekend, began a process of real engagement between SHVC and Coasters – in general, while there were undoubtedly disagreements, everyone left with a strong awareness of our commonalities and many with a commitment to furthering these.
Below is the speech I gave to the forum, as one of the four SHVC speakers. The other speakers were a Blackball resident, forum organiser and unionist; a miner from the Roa mine and EPMU member; and an EPMU organiser that works with miners employed by Solid Energy at their Stockton mine (near to Happy Valley).
Hi, my name’s Asher Goldman. I thought I’d start with a brief introduction and background on myself, because I firmly believe that it is only once we understand where we are all coming from that we can begin to imagine any future working together.
I’m 22, and was born and bred in Wellington. At age 17 after dropping out of high school one year earlier, I spent around a year in Israel, working with Israeli and Palestinian children on co-existance projects. This has continued to be an inspiration to me, as an example of two seemingly intractable sides being able to look past their apparent differences and realising that, as their future lies together, they need to develop methods of cooperation and shared understanding.
Since returning to New Zealand in 2004, I have worked with children in minority groups on self-confidence issues, and done freelance journalism. As of last year, I am a fulltime writer, on issues of religion, politics and the environment. Through researching climate change, I decided to get involved in the Save Happy Valley Coalition in late 2005.
I’m very excited to be a part of this panel, here in Blackball, a town with such a rich history of worker’s struggle. Blackball is, of course, one of the places where the worker’s movement in New Zealand really began to step up in the early 1900’s, culminating in such events as the miner’s strike of 1908 and the great strike of 1912.
Of course, union activity has never just been limited to involvement in workplace struggles. Environmental, indigenous and political struggles in New Zealand and all over the world have a long history of union support and involvement.
In the late 1960’s and early 70’s, the New South Wales branch of the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) instituted over 40 “Green bans” on various construction projects around Sydney that would have destroyed areas of native bush and low-income neighbourhoods for motorways and high rise apartments. The BLF enacted the green bans after requests from local community action groups, as a method of preventing development when legal avenues had been exhausted – without the involvement of the union labourers, nothing could be demolished or built.
To the BLF, like the New Zealand unions that were involved in action against nuclear ship visits, apartheid in South Africa and the war in Vietnam, these involvements in areas perhaps considered outside traditional union activity came naturally. They knew that when their collective power was realised, they could create huge change that would not only benefit their members, but local communities, wider society and the environment.
Since the imposition of the anti-worker Employment Contracts Act of 1991, union activity in New Zealand has undoubtedly taken a hard blow. With solidarity and political strikes banned, activity has generally been confined to workplace struggles. Unions are on the rebound however, with the EPMU’s “fair share” campaign, Unite’s SuperSizeMyPay and last year’s lockout of NDU Progressive Enterprise workers all recent prominent examples. Could we also see a resurgence of union solidarity on struggles not directly related to workplace issues?
Where then, does the West Coast community fit into this picture? Can miners and their unions on the Coast take a leading role in moving the West Coast towards social and environmental sustainability?
Coal mining in New Zealand will end. Of that, there can be little doubt – it is a comparatively easy target that Governments increasingly pressured to take action on Climate Change will make use of, at some point. If we take that as a given, the question then becomes not “what to do about coal mining?” but rather “if coal mining must end, on who’s terms will it be?”
We should have no doubt that if it is left to the Government or big business to dictate the terms of the end of coal, workers in the coal industry and their local communities will lose out. In a system where economic interests reign supreme, all of us here today lose out. When we reach the end of coal on the Coast, it won’t be the owners or executives of Solid Energy or Francis Mining taking the economic hit – they’ll return to their plush homes and find other natural resources and workers to exploit to continue making their profit.
The only way for Coasters to ensure that you are not left behind is for you all to take the initiative, to dictate where the Coast will move after coal, and the steps to take between where you are today and where you want to be in the future. It is not our position, as Save Happy Valley, to be telling you what you should do – rather, it is our responsibility to offer you all our support and solidarity in order that you can choose your own future.
SHVC has failed thus far to constructively engage with Coasters, and for that I do genuinely apologise. Today, I hope, we can all begin this engagement. Over three years into our campaign, we can all agree this is late in coming, but rather than holding back, can we now we move forward from here? If we realise that, in the long term, our interests in equality and autonomy are aligned, even if in the short term they appear to diverge, then we can discuss, as equals on a bedrock of mutual respect, what practical steps we can take to support and show solidarity with each other, even on matters where we might disagree.
It could begin, on a simple level, at the upcoming contract negotiations with Solid Energy. They will, no doubt, attempt to use the Save Happy Valley Coalition as their excuse to refuse pay increases. One only has to glance at CEO Don Elder’s pay packet of around $670,000 and its frequent increases and bonuses to realise the farcical nature of this claim. I will support you 100% in getting your desired pay rise in any way I can, and, from our newfound basis of solidarity, I would hope that you all call Don Elder and the rest of the executives on the falsity of their claim and refuse to allow them to distract you from their own selfish interests.
It is in their interest of Government and big business to further widen the divide between workers and environmentalists – it is in all of ours to bridge it.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.
Below is an article I just wrote for the next issue of Auckland Animal Action‘s newsletter/zine.
As the campaign to save Happy Valley, on the West Coast of the South Island, from being turned into a destructive opencast coal mine by state-owned Solid Energy enters its fourth year, the Save Happy Valley Coalition (SHVC) is continuing to take action around the country.
In Happy Valley itself, SHVC maintains the country’s longest lasting environmental occupation in history. On January 28th, 2006, 75 people made the three hour tramp into Happy Valley to begin the occupation and now, more than 15 months later, the occupation camp is looking beautiful and is ready to withstand its second harsh West Coast winter with snow, seemingly endless rain and biting cold. The Roa/Great Spotted Kiwi in the Valley call out to us every night and Western Weka roam around the campsite in a potent reminder of what stands to be lost if Solid Energy is allowed to destroy the precious ecosystem to mine climate changing coal.
Meanwhile, in Auckland, Wellington, the top of the South Island, Christchurch, Dunedin and the West Coast itself, local SHV groups are running stalls, public talks and film screenings, putting up posters and stickers, protesting and engaging in direct action.
On Sunday April 29th, two SHV activists in Christchurch locked themselves onto train tracks to prevent a coal train from Solid Energy’s Stockton mine arriving in the port of Lyttelton. At the same time, other SHV activists swarmed the coal train (which had stopped upon being informed of the locked on activists) hanging a 22 metre long banner reading “Solid Energy = Govt Sponsored Climate Change – http://www.savehappyvalley.org.nz”. The two activists, secured by metal pipes inside concrete laid under the tracks, remained there for several hours until fire rescue crew were able to remove them after jack hammering, grinding and digging away at the concrete. Both activists were charged with “interferes with railway line”, while their support person was arrested and charged with “communicating with a prisoner” after passing a bottle of water to the locked-on activists. In solidarity with this action, the Wellington SHV group hung a 10 metre long banner reading “Coal Mining = Climate Chaos – http://www.savehappyvalley.org.nz” from a motorway overbridge on the morning of Monday 30th.
SHVC needs your help! Join (or start) a local group and get involved in the campaign, or come and join our occupation (for 3 days, 3 weeks or 3 months). We aim to provide food and transport costs for longer-term occupiers, so money shouldn’t be an obstacle. If you are interested, or want to find out more, visit our website at http://www.savehappyvalley.org.nz or email firstname.lastname@example.org for occupation related questions.