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HomePoliticalMedia Blackout Of Growing Support For Full Investigation Of Pike River Disaster

Media Blackout Of Growing Support For Full Investigation Of Pike River Disaster


Tom Peters, Socialist Equality Group
2 June 2021,
original url: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2021/06/02/pike-j02.html

There
is growing anger among workers internationally over the New
Zealand Labour Party-led government’s decision to end the
manned underground investigation of Pike River mine. The
government is reneging on its 2017 election promise to
properly investigate the mine and retrieve evidence for the
prosecution of those responsible for the 2010 disaster that
killed 29 men.

Despite overwhelming evidence that the
mine was a death trap, and that warnings about explosive
levels of methane gas were continually ignored, no one has
been held accountable for the mine’s criminal safety
breaches. Police insisted they could not lay charges against
Pike River Coal’s managers and executives without physical
evidence.

After recovering the 2.2km drift or entry
tunnel, however, Minister for Pike River Recovery Andrew
Little announced in March that the investigation will not
proceed beyond a roof-fall and into the mine
workings.

Yesterday, Stuff reported that Little has
rejected a Conceptual Development Plan, written by
international mining experts, to continue the underground
investigation in order to examine vital evidence, including
the main ventilation unit. The plan was written on behalf of
the Pike River Families Committee, which represents 23 of
the 29 families, who are demanding that the Labour Party-led
government reverse its decision.

The World Socialist
Web Site has received nearly 100 responses from readers
throughout the world to its May 21 perspective Justice for
the 29 miners killed at New Zealand’s Pike River! calling
for an international campaign by workers to support the
Families Committee’s demand to open the mine and continue
the investigation. We have published powerful statements
from readers in New Zealand and internationally, including
former miners and their relatives, who have watched in
disgust as government agencies and the judicial system have
protected the company’s leadership for more than a
decade.

Expressing sentiments shared by many, Tracey
stated: “Everyone deserves the right to know what happened
in the mine and [to] hold people accountable. This was no
accident and could happen again.”

Others denounced
Little’s claims that the government has competing priorities
and his priority is the living. Rachel wrote: “This is
really about protecting big business. Protecting the working
class of New Zealand does not appear to be a priority.
Neither is compassion or closure for all the victims of the
Pike River disaster, either living or
deceased.”

There has also been major support for a
Facebook post by Olivia Monk, whose brother Michael died at
Pike River, demanding accountability and a full
investigation. The post has received 170 shares, 115
comments and 865 reactions. Hundreds more people have
commented in support of the families in Facebook groups
including “Uncensored Pike” and “Supporting the
Recovery of our Pike 29.”

An online petition
launched this week titled “Help stop critical evidence in
Pike River Mine from being locked away forever!” has so
far received over 550 signatures.

The sentiments of
working people stand in stark contrast to the entire
political establishment. Labour, its coalition partner the
Greens, the right-wing NZ First Party (which is no longer in
parliament) and the opposition National and ACT Parties all
support, either tacitly or openly, the decision to shut down
the re-entry. Standing with them are all the New Zealand
unions, which remain silent about the campaign to uncover
the truth about how and why 29 workers died.

The
growing support for the Pike River families has been met
with a conspiracy of silence by virtually the entire
corporate and state-owned media, which is helping the
government to bury the issue.

Neither the WSWS’s
campaign nor the petition mentioned above have been reported
anywhere in the media. Stuff is the only publication, apart
from the WSWS, that reported on the Facebook statement by
Olivia Monk, and the support for the Pike families from
Fiona Kidman, one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed
writers.

Following reports by Newshub and Stuff, there
has been almost no reporting about the Conceptual
Development Plan, which demolishes the government’s claims
that it is too difficult or dangerous to enter the mine
workings. The authors include Tony Forster, a
highly-respected expert who worked as NZ’s chief inspector
of mines from 2013 to 2016, and who previously advised the
government’s Pike River Recovery Agency. Forster resigned
from the agency in March, telling Stuff “no one is
listening.”

The New Zealand Herald, the country’s
largest circulation newspaper, published just two misleading
sentences, buried at the end of an article on May 18:
“Last week, some of the Pike River families released a
possible plan on how to go past a rockfall to the fan. A
process they say would take 12 weeks and cost under $8
million.”

The Herald chose not to inform its readers
that the plan was the work of international mining experts,
and that it is backed not by “some” families, but by the
overwhelming majority.

The state-owned broadcasters
TVNZ and Radio NZ have not reported on the expert plan,
apart from a link to Stuff ’s May 11 article in a news
round-up on TVNZ’s web site. The Radio NZ web site’s
most recent story on Pike River is from April 8, nearly two
months ago, when it reported Little’s insistence that
there would be no more funding for the
re-entry.

Newstalk ZB, the radio station with the
largest audience, is completely silent. On March 26, its
right-wing host Mike Hosking, who has long opposed the Pike
River families’ fight for justice and defended chief
executive Peter Whittall, praised Andrew Little as “my
political hero of the week” for refusing to provide more
funding for the investigation.

The trade union
bureaucracy is likewise backing the government. An appeal
for support sent by the Pike River Families Committee to the
Council of Trade Unions weeks ago has not been answered. The
E tu union, which purports to represent miners, told the
WSWS on May 5 that it “supports the government’s
position regarding not re-entering the main
mine.”

The pseudo-left groups that function as
cheerleaders for the unions—Socialist Aotearoa, the
International Socialist Organisation and Organise
Aotearoa—remain completely silent on Pike
River.

None of this is accidental. The unions long ago
ceased to be workers’ organisations: they are integrated
into the operations of the state and big business. Their
staff are part of a privileged upper middle class social
layer, which defends capitalism against working class
opposition.

The Engineering, Printing and
Manufacturing Union (EPMU), which is now called E tu, was
complicit in the Pike River disaster, which killed 11 of its
members. Union officials knew about dangerous conditions in
the mine, including the lack of a proper emergency exit, but
made no public criticism of the company and refused to
organise industrial action to shut down
production.

Following the first explosion, EPMU leader
Andrew Little defended Pike River Coal, telling Radio NZ and
the Herald that there was “nothing unusual” about the
mine and the union had no concerns about the company’s
operations.

For his services to big business, Little
was elevated to the role of Labour Party leader in 2014. He
was replaced by Jacinda Ardern shortly before the 2017
election, and now he serves as the Minister responsible for
Pike River Re-entry.

The political and media
establishment, including the unions, are conspiring to bury
the Pike River case—literally and figuratively—because
of their class position as defenders of
capitalism.

The government and its supporters
undoubtedly fear that the determined stand taken by the Pike
River families could inspire broader sections of the working
class, who are beginning to enter into struggle against
historic attacks on their living standards. Wellington bus
drivers are facing attempts to strip them of a week’s leave
and penalty pay rates; tens of thousands of nurses are
preparing to strike nationwide against an effective pay
freeze. A major issue in both disputes is unsafe working
conditions caused by lack of staff, long shifts and
under-funding.

The refusal to prosecute anyone over
Pike River sends a clear message to big businesses that they
can continue to operate however they like, with no real
consequences if workers are killed or maimed. The working
class, in New Zealand and internationally, must support the
Pike families. Stop the cover-up! Demand the full
investigation of the mine and justice for the Pike
29!

© Scoop Media

 



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