Saturday, March 1, 2008

Workers and the Environment

Lately there has been a protest against the development at Bear Mountain, specifically the protests are against the building of the highway interchange. This is another case of where workers and enviro protesters are up against each other.

Yesterday there was a morning protest in Langford against the development and about 20 workers showed up as well. The workers were angry, very angry over having lost wages due to the protests. These workers are angry at the system and the protesters are the part of the system they can justifiably rail against.

Meanwhile the protesters are clearly more and interested in opposing the very existence of Len Barrie's Bear Mountain development. They are enviros on the margin that are more just as much poverty activists. Their anger is against high end housing that is being built, the opposition to the interchange is only a means to stop the bigger picture.

On Friday morning Julian West was at the protest and on a video you can see him in a heated debate with the workers. I raise this because the Julian, a friend of mine, is also the NDP candidate in Saanich and the Islands in the next federal election. What this raises is the internal problem in the NDP, how can you be green and support the workers?

Local NDP MLA John Horgan has come out in favour of the interchange because building it will have some part in alleviating the hell that is the commute that most of the workers that voted for him have to go through each work day.

But the worker first aspect of the NDP is getting weaker all the time.

If you watch this video, you can see your typical blue collar worker

These guys work hard, they bring home a moderate income, they have houses and cars to pay for, families to support and they like a beer after work as they watch the hockey game.

These men are the old core to the NDP. They want a fair deal for their work they do. They also have pride in the work they do.

Meanwhile the highly skilled work that they do is called rape of the land, destruction of the world. Quite rightly they look around themselves and see how much worse was done in the past and what an amazing job they do now. They are not idiots, they can see there is a need for more houses and roads in this region and they have a pride in building them. They will be able to drive past the interchange with the children and point with pride at what they had a hand in building.

I have looked at the pictures of the cutting and I can see that they did a very good job. Falling is a very difficult job and takes a highly skilled person to do. Operating the big yellow equipment takes a lot of skill as well. No one is saying "I would prefer this interchange was not built, but you guys are doing an amazing job". Instead they are treated as if they are quasi criminals.

These workers are doing a job, and doing it well, that has been approved by all the correct people and is being done in a very sensitive manner. They are fully within their rights to work but people are stopping them.

The blue collar workers look at their pay cheque and see how much money is being taken by government in the form of taxes. They then look at how they earn less than most civil servants and believe that they produce something of value, certainly much more so than most government workers.

These workers see the protesters and see a lot of people that look to them as if they are collecting welfare. They are paying taxes so that people can be on welfare and stop them from working. They also look around and see that there jobs all over the place looking for people and there are still these people on welfare. There is an anger from the workers that they are paying such high taxes to effectively pay for what they see as leeches on society.

The NDP needs to understand that the blue collar workers, the guys with pickups that drink beer and swear, are unhappy that they are not valued, that they are being made to pay for all manner of crazy things government does. The NDP lost the blue collar vote in the 1990s because the Reform party spoke them in a way the NDP did not. The commonsense revolution worked in the same in Ontario.

The NDP is in danger of losing the last of the workers if they are seen to be on the side of marginal environmentalists.

The time for protest on Bear Mountain is long over, the workers want to work, let them. There are much more important environmental issues that need to be addressed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As one of the protestors that have been involved in this campaign for the past year, I find this latest turn of events extremely difficult to deal with.
Watching media reports of the last week of confrontation, one might be led to believe that this confrontation is between us and the workers, when in reality we are on the same side.
Sure, as far as clearing land goes, a professional job was done. The workers have every right to be proud of the fact that they work hard to provide for their families.
The fact that they are being hurt is an example of how the capitalist system pits working class against working class so that if we decide to stand up against the damage that development has on the land, we end up hurting those who do not deserve to be hurt.
This is not just about the red-legged frog. These workers may get paid for a few montsh work to clear the interchange area, then what? How many will be laid off?
What will become of the future generations who rely on intact ecosystems and clean water to survive?
The blasters are hard working, good people, and no one wants to see their families go hungry. But the area they are blasting is the watershed for the lakes that feed into the Goldstream, and that is a salmon bearing stream and there are indigenous people whose livelihood and culture rely on the salmon in those streams. there are camas meadows on that mountain being destroyed, and this being unceded First Nations territory is the key to the health of the indigenous people in this area. People are dying from diabetes related to the unhealthy western diet, and access to wild foods in this area means being able to protect their people from going extinct.
This land is more important that you realize. People in this world get paid for some of the most horrible things. Protecting jobs is important, but protecting this land is protecting the future of many people, protecting many species and protecting us from environmental collapse. These workers are in an industry that is inherently destructive and the writing has been on the wall for a long time. When you make a choice to make a living contributing to environmental destruction and First Nations genocide, you risk losing a few days work here and there and maybe your job completely. I may love you and your family and want you to survive, but I will not tolerate the serious damage being done by this project.
Our beef is not with the workers and we are sorry and wish to be in solidarity. They need to turn around and see who the real enemy is, the bosses who have pitted us against each other and will throw them out with the trash when they have finished raping the land.
My name is Kalanu, by the way, and I welcome discussion.