Hunter coal miners: 'The fight's not over'

Issue 

Green Left Weekly's KAMALA EMANUEL visited the miners' picket line at the Hunter Valley No. 1 colliery on the July 22, the day of the mass meeting at which the miners voted to return to work. She reports here on some of her discussions with the miners about the dispute.

The miners are determined to continue the fight and maintain a strong union. As one miner said: "The strike was terrifically well run by the delegates. Everything fell into place, everybody pulled their weight and there was a lot of really good infrastructure.

"I disagreed with the return to work because I just do not trust this company at all. They just lie all the time. It's not like working in a small place. This is a big place and there's no way you can get away with not a having a strong union representation.

"The staff and management are quite prepared to go public with their lies too. It just doesn't worry them. They've been proved wrong, but the media haven't published any sort of detractions or questioned them. The media seem to take what the company hands out as being the gospel truth, which is very disappointing."

The miners received support from many unions, exemplified by the Public Transport Union. One miner said: "I think we owe an extremely large vote of thanks to the PTU drivers who refused to cross the picket line, and rightly so because lives could have been endangered."

The miners are angry at the company and the Workplace Relations Act. As one miner explained: "The way this legislation was constructed around the CRA [now called Rio Tinto] policies, it seems they'd like to see the Australian industry degenerate to a Third World standard — maybe not in production, but for people to live in.

"That coal in there does not belong to CRA; it belongs to you and me. Every Australian owns that coal and we've all got a right to profit out of our minerals. We're supposed to share in that wealth, not get a bowl of rice from CRA.

We all did that work, and not so they can export the dollars out of the country and give the head of CRA, Leon Davies, another wage rise of $1.3 million. [Rio Tinto manager] David Klingor got $800,000 too. That's over $2 million for just two people when the company is doing so poorly. They've negatively geared the mine so that they don't have to pay any tax, that's all they've done. The profits are there; they're just hidden by good accounting."

Many of the miners were unhappy about going back to work. One said: "Not everybody's happy about going back to work. [At the mass meeting] there was a lot of questions, a lot of sentiment, a lot of emotion. None of it was hostile or negative; it was all really a question of whether we were going the right way. It was all in the one direction, but it's just a matter of how we get there. People realise the fight's not over and it's pretty hard to get them to stop for a while."