Friday’s explosion at the Pike River Mine, and the unknown fate of the 29 miners still below ground, has been the catalyst for a number of emotions. Compassion and love, between members of the effected community; hope, for the families and friends of the workers; and anxiety, of that which is unknown. Our sympathies and thoughts go out to all of those fraught with such emotions, and hope that their loved ones can return to them soon.
Another emotion we cannot overlook is anger. Legitimate anger at an economic system that has seen such accidents occur again and again. Anger at an economic system which has seen generations of miners perish below the earth, simply to earn a living and get by in the world. Anger at an economic system which sees the pitfalls of profit fall squarely on the worker’s shoulders, while the CEO’s and shareholders sit in their plush offices and measure losses in terms of figures and dollars.
The owners of Pike River Mine should not be spared such anger. Staff had concerns over safety in the mine. As recent as three weeks ago, the Pike River mine was flooded with methane gas. “Two to three weeks ago the mine fans were out and the whole mine was gassed out. It’s a gassy mine. When the fans stopped it took 20 hours to clear the mine.” A mining expert claimed miners had bored through “high flow methane holes” without any risk assessment conducted or procedure on how to manage gas flow from the hole in place. Another mining expert, who visited the mine last year, noted that operating standards were “extremely poor”.
The fact that the mine was also built on conservation land, and on a fault line, cannot be overlooked. For those in power, where’s there’s coal there’s money — regardless of the consequences. 29 miners and their families are now feeling those consequences.
Only a few months ago Gerry Brownlee has the nerve to tell us that mining in the 21st Century is clean, safe and technologically advanced. Pike River Mine is said to be one of the most advanced in New Zealand. Yet nothing has changed. The few, who run the show, still trumpet from above the benefits of mining to their economy, while the workers suffer. Miners continue to work in unsafe and hazardous conditions, and pay the price when things go wrong. Families loose their loved ones — CEO’s loose a few nights sleep.
We live in an upside down world. The means to support and sustain a way of life free from such hazardous employment exist. There is plenty of food for all, and the means to provide everyone on this planet with all the necessities for a decent life exist today, though much of this capacity lies idle or is squandered by the capitalist class. The Pike River explosion, and others like it, don’t need to happen. That it happened at all is a tragedy. For it to happen again would be a farce. We must not let it happen again.