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Feral Coasters Considering New “True Labour" Party

Incensed that a Labour Prime Minister would call them "fairly feral," and comparing them to lynch mobs in places like Kentucky, West Coasters are now talking about the thing they really understand, forming a new political party likely to be called "True Labour". Scoop’s West Coast correspondent John Howard reports.

Prior to leaving for her overseas trip to London and Turkey, Ms Clark made the statements about West Coasters on talkback radio which are now being described as degrading.

Last week the Prime Minister's office said she never meant her comments to include all West Coasters, just the pro-logging group, Coast Action Network (CAN) and she will not be apologising to them.

But CAN had organised a rally in Greymouth, a couple of weeks before Ms Clark's comments, where around 5,000 people turned out to support their stance over Government's treatment of the West Coast.

Old timers say the attendance was the largest ever public turnout for a meeting on the Coast. The West Coast population is small enough that an injustice to one, is an injustice to all.

Greymouth Mayor, Kevin Brown, recently said in the local newspaper, " If we had the gumption of our forefathers we would not be allowing this to happen."

"Well, we have found that gumption again," he said. And they have.

Afterall, they say, the Labour movement started here and was born in poverty, cradled in lack of respectability and nurtured in vagabondage. Those early Labour pioneers were fiercely independent and rich in spirit which still remains part of the Coasts, if not New Zealand's, psyche.

During the winter periods in the moist West Coast mountain country where families never see a beam of sunlight for weeks, they will sit bent over the fireplace wondering what is happening to them and talk about how they see the modern Labour party, a party of betrayal.

Every rain drop that pelts down on the iron roof will beat each betrayal into their mental and physical being.

There seems to be an inhertied resentment against conditions such as those under which the West Coast coal miners, the foresters and the fishermen labour which causes them instinctively to tumble out of their beds singing "The Red Flag."

As the winter mountain rain saturates the country, so will the injustices by Labour's modern politicians saturate their souls with discontent. No wonder, then, that the betrayals and injustices will inflame passions and provoke agitation.

This was the genesis of New Zealand's early Labour movement where the soapbox orator's would often stand knuckle to knuckle and trade punches with opponents to get their message heard.

In those days, at every smoko room, at every few minutes of idleness at the pit mouth, wherever shifts gathered to await conveyance below the ground or to the forest floor, a grim dungareed orator mounted a soapbox to bless the coming Labour movement.

But today, as if to inflame an already volatile situation, Alliance Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton, recently sent a letter to the West Coast Mayors indicating that Government wants to control the purse strings for a promised $100 million development package.

The letter also said the Government proposed to make the initial appointments of those who would control an economic development trust. But only after taking into account the nominations by West Coast councils.

Buller Mayor Pat O'Dea said, " Personally I would rebel against that and I would hope any other fair-minded person would rebel against it."

"The guts of that is, it seems they want to set up the trust which we can have a word in, but they want to do it," he said.

Ironically, West Coast Mayors are to meet again with Government for further discussions next Monday - May Day. That is an irony which will not be lost on the mood of West Coasters.

Today, Labour names like Savage, Fraser, Semple, Seddon, Howard, Holland, O'Brien, Blanchfield and Kirk would hardly recognise "their" Labour party.

These were Labour people who fought for honour, principle, justice and equality. But above all, they believed in unity of the nation and a fair-go for all.

It's significant, then, that over the Easter break which celebrates renewal and hope, that a new political party with True Labour principles is being talked about being resurrected on the West Coast.

If it happens, and True Labour is formed, then the modern Labour/Alliance parties will have no-one to blame but themselves.


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