Coal miners across Aotearoa strike after negotiations break down

June 30, 2007

A feature I just wrote for Aotearoa Indymedia:

Coal miners across Aotearoa strike after negotiations break down

800 coal miners with the EPMU have been engaged in industrial action since Monday June 25th after negotiations in their multi-employer pay agreement (meca) broke down earlier this month. The miners are seeking a 5 – 5.5% pay increase, while Solid Energy (which directly employs 1/3 of the miners, and more indirectly via contracters) has refused to go higher than 4%.

The action started with an overtime ban, enacted on Monday, and “spontaneous rolling stoppages” at sites around the country since Wedneday. Additional informal action has also taken place, with miners turning up late to shifts, leaving early and refusing to load trucks.

On Wednesday night, Solid Energy’s largest mine, Stockton, was shut down after Doug Hood Mining workers, who remove overburden and mine coal, all walked off the site in solidarity with 3 workers who refused to accept final warning notices, as they had not recieved verbal or first written notices as per their agreement.

Friday saw further escalation after Solid Energy refused to transport miners at the Spring Creek mine to the mine entrance after the miners struck for the first two hours of the morning shift. In response, rather than walk the dangerous 2km road in hazardous weather conditions wearing full mining gear, the 45 miners decided to go home. Friday afternoon saw the Spring Creek miners along with those at the Terrace mine vote to not return to work until Tuesday at the earliest. Both Huntly and Stockton mines are also expected to have stoppages during the weekend.

Ged O’Connell, EPMU Acting National Secretary said “This strike action is a message to Solid Energy that our members will not be bullied, they will not put their safety at risk, and they will continue to fight for a decent pay rise.”

Links: EPMU | Coal Miners’ Strike Escalates — EPMU

Radical mental health zine

June 30, 2007

The Sydney Icarus Project, a radical mental health group thats recently started, have put out a great little zine, titled Anarchia – no relation to me/this blog though.

It can be downloaded by clicking here – well worth a read.

A lack of language, an abundance of masks

June 28, 2007

Grumpy. Down. Shattered. Emotionally exhausted. Blergh. Not great. Mentally fucked. Crappy.

These are all words I’ve used to describe my state of mental health to my friends, all woefully inadequate. The total lack of language I have to adequately convey the (at times) complete debilitation I feel no doubt is a contributing factor to the lack of support I frequently get from friends (see Depression and support). If I can’t describe what I’m going through, how can I ever hope to get what I need in terms of support?

During recent reflection, I have realised that a number of times this year, I was feeling something I’ve always denied to myself. Only in the last week have I finally been able to label where I was (and perhaps still am) – suicidal (at times verging on, at times more than that). Perhaps, if I had used that word, my friends may have had a better understanding of my mental state. Unfortunately, I can’t help but feel that much of the response would have been to deny my experience, to tell me I was “over-dramatising” the situation.

After suffering from mental illness for 8 years, I’ve got very good at putting on masks when interacting. In all but my lowest periods (and sometimes even then), all but those who know me the best (and sometimes even them) see a very different array of emotions to those which I am actually feeling. I’ve gotten pretty good at appearing happy or at least content, at feigning enthusiasm or excitement. For me, these false emotions serve two main purposes:

  • A coping mechanism – I figure that I’m stuck with my mental illness, and other than tinkering on the edges, there’s not actually a hell of a lot I can do about it at its roots. By putting on a mask, I am still able to participate to some extent in things, whether they be socialising, political activism or whatever.
  • An avoidance of pity – There are few things that frustrate me more than being pitied, and, unfortunately, that is frequently the response I get from friends when I let my mask drop. If its not pity, I get patronised, which is just as bad. By projecting fake emotions, I’m able to interact with people without being pitied or patronised for my mental state.

Unfortunately, these masks also certainly serve a negative purpose, to hide my true state from my friends and therefore lessen the chance of receiving the support I need. Together with the lack of language I possess for when I do choose to voluntarily drop my masks, is it really surprising that the vast majority of the time, I feel like I’m going through this alone?


June 25, 2007

A taster of the upcoming second issue of my zine, Anarchia. Shouldn’t be too much longer til it’s done. 

Growing up as a Jew in Aotearoa/New Zealand, the month of December has always played host to some weird feelings that I’ve never quite been able to pin down, and certainly never able to name. This year, for the first time, I have really tried to dig deep within myself and work out what it is about the “holiday season” that really gets to me, and for the first time, I have been able to get a real feeling for the issues, and to put a name to them – Christonormativity.

Christonormative practices legitimise and privilege Christianity and Christian practices as fundamental and “natural” within society, to paraphrase Cathy Cohen’s definition of Heteronormativity. In doing so, of course, they serve to delegitimise my experiences and culture as a Jewish person and further alienate me from the surrounding society. Needless to say, this becomes most noticable in the “Christmas period”, with advertisments, songs, signs, trees, tinsel and family gatherings, even amongst my nominally atheist friends.

In a South Park episode I once saw, Kyle, the Jewish character, sings a song with the chorus “I’m just a Jew, a lonely Jew, on Christmas”. Indeed, this has traditionally been the feeling I have had around this time of year, as many of my friends return to their parent’s hometown to celebrate this so called “secular, family holiday”. I recall when growing up never quite knowing how to talk about this – even on a simple level, as a child, wondering what to say in January when friends asked “so, what did you get for Christmas?” The question was asked with a surprising frequency, even from friends who knew I was Jewish. My answers changed from year to year as I became more and more sure of my own culture – what began as attempts to fudge the question and move the discussion on soon moved into affirmative statements of my Jewish identity, These affirmative statements, however, are often met with a response that I’m sick of hearing: “Christmas isn’t a Christian holiday, it’s a secular family one!”

This is the key to Christonormativity – rather than outwardly and openly forcing Christianity upon people (as in the Inquisition), Christonormativity seeks to make Christian practices applicable to all and to allow non-Christian practices only so long as they reside within a Christian framework (see the relatively new tradition of giving presents at the Jewish festival of Channukah, often at a similar time to Christmas). In doing so, it disempowers those who are not part of the dominant Christian culture and gives them two choices: assimilate or consign yourself to the margins.

Through the implicit threat of violence, this pressure to assimilate or marginilise has been internalised by the Jewish community. Right through my childhood, we were told it was not a good idea to be “too” open about our Jewishness, and in a community where the majority of people have family members who either survived or were murdered in the Holocaust, this feeling was especially strong. We should be proud of our culture, we were taught, but there’s no need to take it beyond the walls of our homes and community centres. The threat of violence was visualised by the community security that would stand at the entrance to any community event. This threat was further reinforced by many ultra-Zionist members of the community – those who would constantly state that Jews needed Israel because, even though New Zealand might seem friendly at the moment, things could change at any moment, and ultimately, we could only trust Jews to look after Jews.

Many friends of mine who have moved to Israel from elsewhere have expressed how one of the things they enjoy most about living there is the fact that they live in a culture where it is normal to be Jewish and to celebrate Jewish holidays – in short, Israel has replaced Christonormativity with Judeonormativity. Unsurprisingly, the dominant culture pays little heed to the many Muslims, Christians, Druze, Bah’ai and others who live there, who have become the minority cultures and again, given that same choice – assimilate or be marginalised. Again, the threat (often acted upon) of violence is used to enforce and display the power of the dominant Judeonormative culture.

There is a third option that the varying forms of religonormativity tries to hide from us, an option infinitely preferable both to assimilation and to marginalisation. This option, of course, is social revolution – a revolution to destroy not only religonormativity, but also capitalism, patriarchy, statism, racism and all other forms of oppression and social control.

Against veganism as individual boycott

June 18, 2007

For most of those supportive of animal liberation, veganism is the norm. The idea that animals are not ours to eat, torture or abuse, but rather should be able to live their own lives, fits well with the vegan philosophy of not eating, wearing or using animals or animal products.

How we see our veganism, however, differs from person to person. For many, perhaps most vegans, it is the idea that by being vegan, one is not responsible for the death of millions of broiler hens, factory farmed pigs or skinned minks each year, or the torture of millions of dairy cows & battery hens in fields & sheds all over the world. This idea rests on a similar basis to that of other individualised “consumer” boycotts, such as not buying sweatshop made clothes, or not eating/drinking Nestle products.

The supporter of individualised consumer boycotts believes that, if only enough people “saw the light” and joined them, these industries would collapse upon themselves. While perhaps true in a limited fashion, this analysis sorely misses the basis of the capitalist society we live in today.

Individualised boycott is intimately linked in with that concept that liberals seem so adept at gifting themselves, guilt. Those who boycott so-called “bad capitalists” feel that by not directly supporting these corporates, they are removing any blame from themselves and can thus live a guilt free life, the only thing that is seemingly important to them. Likewise, by engaging in the occasional ritualistic A-B march and/or writing a letter to the local newspaper or MP, they are “showing their opposition” to the latest war/trade agreement/other bad thing. To the liberal, showing your opposition often seems more important than actually opposing anything in any meaningful way.

The liberal concept of showing opposition is remarkably similar to the (“radical”) Christian practice of “bearing witness”. In both, it is the display which takes importance over the action, with the ultimate goal of leaving the liberal/Christian able to live their own lives with the self-important knowledge that they spoke out, and if the powers-that-be didn’t listen, well, it can hardly be the liberal/Christian’s fault, can it?

Supporters of boycott often point to apartheid South Africa as an example of how boycotts can work. They fail, however, to note the massive difference between that example and whatever they are engaging in on any given day. The boycott of South Africa was just one part of a huge campaign, it was a mass collective boycott (not a small-scale individualised one), and, of course, within South Africa there was also a huge movement pushing for societal change. Today’s boycott campaigns, without exception, are nothing like this.

My veganism does not hurt the meat, dairy, egg, leather or fur industries. Their level of production did not change one iota when, around 18 months ago, I decided to go vegan, and nor did I ever expect it to. My veganism is simply a personal choice, albeit one with a political logic, similar to my choice not to vote, which most certainly will not hurt the state in and of itself in any way.

To be continued…

Secretive Industries Must Be Exposed After Spying

June 17, 2007

Below is an op-ed I wrote and submitted to the Dominion Post, the local daily corporate newspaper. They didn’t accept it – they said they didn’t want something that contained the facts, but rather something which argued why spying was not a good thing. Also, they didn’t want to call Somali Young, the Wellington spy, as definately a spy, because she hasn’t admitted it publicly (because clearly, when confronted, 99% of spies admit what they do?!?!?). Anyway, enjoy it. Thanks to V & M for the edits.

Secretive Industries Must Be Exposed After Spying

The recent revelations of corporate spies paid to infiltrate the Wellington Animal Rights Network (WARN), Peace Action Wellington (PAW) and Save Happy Valley Christchurch (SHV) has made a significant splash in the media over the last week, something which the corporates who hired the spies traditionally like to avoid. In Wellington, law student Somali Young was spying on WARN for two years and PAW for eleven months, while in Christchurch, Ryan Paterson-Rouse reported on the activities of SHV for 7 months. Both were hired by Thompson & Clark Investigations Ltd (TCIL), who in turn had contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars with Solid Energy, NZ Bio and, most likely, the New Zealand Defence Industry Association (NZDIA).

Solid Energy, New Zealand’s largest coal mining company, are also the most environmentally destructive state owned enterprise. They are responsible for mining coal which, when burnt, will result in carbon emissions equivalent to New Zealand’s entire domestic transport fleet each year.

NZ Bio, who advertise themselves as “representing the New Zealand biotechnology sector”, are an umbrella group covering a range of companies across the country that engage in vivisection and genetic engineering. Both industries have traditionally had large public opposition, and both have done their utmost to prevent information about their practices reaching the public. NZ Bio receive state funding for their work. They link to TCIL from their website, labelling them one of four “NZ Bio Partners” and the “Security Providers to the Biotech Industry”

The NZDIA are an umbrella group containing most of New Zealand’s weapons manufacturers. Working closely with the Ministry of Defence, the New Zealand Defence Force and New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, they hold an annual conference which for several years has been a target of protest by PAW, who are opposed to the trade in arms and munitions. Andrew Gibson, owner of Gibson Security, has revealed that TCIL would contract the services of his company specifically for events such as these annual conferences.

TCIL paid Ryan Paterson-Rouse a base rate of $400/month, plus $30 an hour for the time spent spying on SHV and $300/day for any time spent in Happy Valley. For this, all emails he received were forwarded directly to Gavin Clark of TCIL, he provided a report on the 30th of each month and responded to any questions from Solid Energy via Gavin Clark. Topic of discussion ranged from who was coming to meetings, what people’s roles within SHV were and who was in a relationship with who through to legally privileged information on SHV’s defence strategies for the upcoming defamation hearing and the planning for the recent coal train blockade. In fact, the action planning meetings for the train blockade were held at Paterson-Rouse’s house!

One can imagine that the pay received, and information passed on, by Somali Young was of a similar nature. Additionally, her position as a law student enabled her to offer her services as a legal advisor to both WARN and PAW. Prior to the October 2006 protests against the defence industry conference held at Te Papa, Young provided a space for the planning meetings, meaning TCIL knew the entire plan for what would occur, which was then passed on to security present on the day, as revealed by Andrew Gibson of Gibson Security in the Sunday Star Times (June 3). In her role as legal adviser, Young collected names and phone numbers (including family contacts) of many of the participants. Lastly, Young also offered to be the collection point for all still photography and video footage taken during the demonstrations – footage that no doubt ended up with TCIL.

Solid Energy have rightly been subject to hard questions this past week, but the vivisection and arms industry have thus far managed to avoid public scrutiny. The three industries are some of the most destructive to people, animals and the planet, and all have spent state funding on spies to enable them to hide information and frame public debate in a way that is directly opposed to transparency and accountability.

In the late 1990’s, Timberlands West Coast Ltd, a state owned enterprise, was caught out using similar methods in its bid to shut down public debate over West Coast native logging. In this case, the conspiracy went straight to the top, with Jenny Shipley, then Prime Minister, and other National Party hierarchy fully enmeshed, as revealed in Nicky Hager’s book Secrets & Lies. While Helen Clark and Trevor Mallard have condemned Solid Energy’s hiring of Paterson-Rouse, it is still speculation just what the Labour Government’s involvement in the spying prior to its exposure was.

TCIL’s first foray into spying on political groups came through genetic engineering, an area with heavy involvement from Crown Research Institutes such as AgResearch and Crop & Food Research. It appears, then, that TCIL have a long history of spying on political groups for Government owned companies.

This kind of spying is, unfortunately, totally predictable. These corporations are involved in destroying the planet, torturing animals and manufacturing war material. Until our economic, political and social systems stop rewarding such activities, there will be plenty of people willing to sell their services to the highest bidder. Over the last week, we have seen what may be simply the tip of the iceberg – as the pieces fall into place more will become clear. Only then, perhaps, will we know how deep the well of deceit and subterfuge sinks.


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