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A hero – really?

Written By: - Date published: 12:31 pm, December 6th, 2010 - 41 comments
Categories: Mining, workers' rights - Tags: ,

The modern urge to label leaders who perform adequately during an emergency as ‘heroes’ astounds me. Particularly in the case of Pike River. Peter Whitall is a boss who just had 29 workers die on his work-site. While reserving judgment on his blame for that, I’m not going to call him a hero for doing a decent job for the cameras.

So, he didn’t freak out and he tried to answer questions – good job but how is that heroic? It’s like how Bob Parker was deified for his media appearances after the earthquake (even though his leadership on the rebuilding work in the worst affected suburbs is a disgrace) or how George W Bush won a huge approval rating for managing not to sh*t himself after 9/11. Merely meeting expectations, to my mind at least, isn’t heroic.

Now, Farrar is mocking what he calls union attacks on a national hero – “Fresh from the PR triumph of attacking Sir Peter Jackson” ha ha ha. Yeah, well it turned out Jackson and Warners were screwing us for millions in return for no tangible gain, didn’t it?

The EPMU and CTU are quite right to say: ‘hang on a minute, before we declare this guy a saint, let’s remember that 29 men, whose safety he was responsible for, lost their lives in his mine’.

I’m not saying Whitall is necessarily to blame. I’m agreeing with Andrew Little: “We need to reserve judgment until we get credible answers to questions about why it all happened. The company has been treated as somewhat heroic and in a way I think it’s somewhat undeserving.”

The fact that a lawyer employed by Whitall and the mine is trying to sit in on the interviews of witnesses only makes me less willing to call the guy a hero.

I’ve no doubt that Whitall is personally heart-broken by the deaths and it may be that, ultimately, he and the company are cleared of any wrong-doing. But, until that time, I’m not prepared to laud the man. As it stands, he hasn’t even apologised for the deaths at his mine.

PS. I’m also not a great fan of the miners being labeled ‘heroes’ or ‘brave’. It seems to me that such labels somehow validate or excuse their deaths. They weren’t in the mine because they were brave men taking on a challenge in which risk is natural. They were working men doing a job to support their families and, while mining is inherently dangerous, they oughtn’t have lost their lives in the process. Even the mine admits that the explosion that killed them should not happen in a modern mine.

41 comments on “A hero – really? ”

  1. vto 1

    All good points mr marty, but just watch out you fullas don’t overstep the mark or take your eye off the ball. Farrar is correct in that the left and the unions often do not play the best public relations moves, and it backfires. The unions would go for miles if they had more of the general public on-side. In fact it is an area where they could learn from the ‘other side’.

    The point about Whitall has been well made and should be well left alone for a while now imo.

    • Colonial Viper 1.1


      Remember how good it was for the unions re: Peter Jackson = a spoiled brat, anyone

      If the public could just remember why we need unions and how modern unions are an engine of productivity in the real economy, the union movement would be unstoppable.

      Why do you think the Right puts so much time and effort into union bashing? Its an entirely precautionary tactic on their part.

      • Swampy 1.1.1

        Well see, I remember why we didn’t want union in the 70s and 80s. We’re still not very far from that and never will be as long as Labour is still run by them.

    • PR Hack 1.2

      Not sure where you get the idea unions don’t do good PR. The actors union managed to tar the rest of the movement with their incompetence but the likes of Andrew Little know what they’re doing, as his remarks in the linked article show.

      The media’s canonisation of Whitall has been seriously I’ll-advised. If management is found to be culpable here there will be a lot of red faces. The idea that unions should fail their members and just go along with the media frenzy to avoid possible bad press is sickening. Thank goodness someone is asking the inconvenient questions.

      • grumpy 1.2.1

        I have no problem with the unions being heavily involved in the inquiry, and they need to take the lead in protecting worker’s rights. From what we have seen Andrew Little will be effective but Helen Kelly is now “damaged goods” and needs to butt out.

        I am sure the inquiry will yield pllenty of information for EPMU to get their teeth into but wild flailing by Kelly is not productive.

        The only issue I see is Little’s dual roles as EPMU and Labour boss.

        • The Voice of Reason

          “The only issue I see is Little’s dual roles as EPMU and Labour boss.”

          That’s a good point. I suspect the EPMU will use another of their staff lawyers or a friendly lawyer from outside the union to avoid that potentially confusing look.

        • Pascal's bookie

          Hey grumpy, I’m sure everyone is grateful that you have no problems with the union being involved.

          Now how about either an apology or some evidence for your claims about blue ducks and ventilation shafts.

          Or was that just an example of the ‘productive’ sort of PR you are in favour of?

          • grumpy

            What have blue ducks and ventilation shafts got to do with union representation?

            There will be many issues come up in the inquiry and the workers need representation. For you to include ducks and ventilation shafts in this topic shows why politics needs to be taken out.

            it may be that the union cannot seperate worker representation from politics and in which case, I am sure the miners can obtain alternative representation.

            • Dave

              It’s sad you’re trying to play politics with death, grumpy.

              • grumpy

                This whole thing is about death Dave, tragic though it is, without the deaths of the miners, there would be no inquiry, no discussion on these pages and Pike River would still be running around trying to raise capital.

            • Pascal's bookie

              grumpy. what I’m talking about you claiming that PRC asked for another shaft and were turned down due to the presence of a duck. I’ve not seen any evidence that even a single aspect of that is true. No evidence that PRC asked for a second shaft, and no evidence that any request was turned down. It seems to be a piece of bullshit from beginning to end. The sort of bullshit that floats up out of a certain type of PR campaign.

              In this thread you are claiming that Kelly is ‘damaged goods’ from a PR point of view. Jut as in a previous thread, it was all about how fantasy ducks had damaged the credibility of the environmentalists. I’m just seeing a pattern and having doubts about your own credibility mate.

              But if you can’t be straight up son, tells me all I need to know.

      • Richard 1.2.2

        The media’s canonisation of Whitall has been seriously I’ll-advised. If management is found to be culpable here there will be a lot of red faces.

        I doubt that there will be a lot of red faces.

        If Pike River management is found negiligant/culpable, then the media will be able to construct a nice narrative around a) whether Whitall has redeemed himself by his actions post-explosion and/or b) the Shocking Fall From Grace of the media darling, that has been revealed by the inquiry report. Either option will generate a lot of media “opinions” and create a lot of ratings, and therefore sell a lot of advertising. Which is all that really matters, of course.

      • Swampy 1.2.3

        There is no canonisation and never has been.

        Whittle was lauded for his leadership and fronting up.

  2. just saying 2

    A disturbing culture demonstrated in these kinds of sycophantic attitudes.
    Maybe being exacerbated by people beings so damn scared nowadays of losing what they have, particularly their ability to support themselves and their families.
    Almost like a kind of mass Stockholm syndrome.

    Absolutely don’t agree that the Unions should avoid challenging popular opinion. The are unions they need to act like unions – The fear of “sounding” left, and challenging misbeliefs in the discourse is a big part of what is crippling the left. It’s thinking through a neolib lens IMHO.

    • just saying 2.1

      Just wanted to add that once the public start hearing left/union rhetoric, in all public debate – whether they agree with or not, it won’t be so damned shocking, that’s for sure. Part of the problem is the left has been shut out for so long.

      • KJT 2.1.1

        Part of the problem with the Hobbit episode is the Unions sort of cringed under the attack. I reckon they should have said loudly that they were doing their job and wages will continue to decrease unless we had more battling from Unions.

        Make some more of the facts such like, Sam Purnell would not have been able to collectivise for an 8 hour day, under present day anti worker laws.

        • Dave

          No, the problem there was that there was an incompetent union running the dispute. AE walked into a gun fight armed with a spoon.

          • grumpy

            Maybe the miners will have more luck with EPMU and Little, than the actors had with CTU and Kelly.

            • Dave

              The actors were represented very well by Helen Kelly after their epic public relations fail. The only substantial criticism I’ve seen of Kelly is an off the cuff remark she made that Jackson was behaving like a brat. She can hardly be blamed for the hand she was dealt by Equity.

              • grumpy

                Dave @ 2.25

                “AE walked into a gun fight armed with a spoon.”

                “spoon” is a novel name for “Australian”.

              • Colonial Viper

                the hand dealt to her and oh yeah Jackson stabbing everyone in the back after they had come to an agreement.

          • Swampy

            No, they walked into a spoon fight armed with a gun.
            Like blackmail trying to get the international unions involved.

  3. George 4

    I thought the hobbit dispute made Jackson and Key look bad. The polling certainly showed that most people weren’t happy with Key crawling to warners. Maybe DPF is trying to rewrite history?

    • Bright Red 4.1

      take that back! the hole penguin has never tried to re-write history… he’s always relied on Hooton to do that and then copied him.

  4. Unions cringe because they no longer stand for the working class.
    They stand for the working person in partnership with the employing person,
    all persons, good and bad, strong and weak, leading and led, in the same bed.
    Go back to 1908 when the difference was clear, bosses lorded it over us
    and workers had to strike to stop work to eat their lunch.
    Now they can have a lunch break that lasts a life time.

  5. JonL 6

    “The modern urge to label leaders who perform adequately during an emergency as ‘heroes’ astounds me.”
    Or who are merely doing what they are paid to do…..servicemen, policemen,firemen, etc.etc.

    • Colonial Viper 6.1

      Another piece of Americana that we can do without.

      Next its going to be the tedious clapping at everything and ridiculous fake smiles in photos.

    • Vicky32 6.2

      As I write, TV3 is making with the schmaltz again – including comments from an (as far as I can see) irrelevant elderly American woman! Huh?

  6. As it stands, he hasn’t even apologised for the deaths at his mine

    Oh come on Marty, that’s a low blow. These days we have it drummed into us that we’re not to even utter the word “sorry” when involved in a car accident or we’ll be dropped by our insurers for having “admitted liability”. I’m sure Whittal has received strict instructions to that effect and, even if he was willing to take the risk on behalf of the company, may have been told that he’d be held personally liable for consequential losses. It’s the same tactics business uses to muzzle directors or staff whose ethics compel them to warn the market about some potentially loss-making screw up.

    Aside from that, I agree entirely with your post. Performing your assigned role, even performing it admirably, doesn’t make you a hero. I reserve that term for people like the 10 year old boy who dragged his 5 year old sister from a burning car minutes before it exploded this weekend.

    And also – and more pertinently – that we should wait till the results of the inquiry before assigning “hero” and “villain” tags to people involved.

  7. Red Rosa 8

    The NZ media have been remarkably superficial in their analysis of the initial explosion and response.

    Clearly, those 29 men should never have been placed in the spot where critical levels of methane were present and disaster highly likely.

    Here is informed overseas comment, apparently reported in the Herald, but containing questions for which answers should be demanded.


    • Swampy 8.1

      It’s nothing of the sort. It’s opinion written by an anonymous person, like most of the posts in this thread.

  8. Swampy 9

    McCarten’s and Kelly’s attacks are obvious sour grapes, they think that Andrew Little and the union leaders should have been getting more of the limelight. Those types will piss on anyone’s parade.

    I doubt that Whittall sees himself as a hero, more as someone who was virtually unknown before this accident, who stepped up to the plate for what was necessary at the beginning of the crisis, and who has hardly been seen at all in the last week. We heard a lot more from NZOG lately and hardly anything from PRC itself.

  9. Swampy 10

    Let’s put some perspective on it

    “The EPMU and CTU are quite right to say: ‘hang on a minute, before we declare this guy a saint, let’s remember that 29 men, whose safety he was responsible for, lost their lives in his mine’.”

    Sure. However it is like saying an airline pilot whose plane crashed and 29 people were killed, we just ignore that there were 150 people on his plane and most of them are still alive.

    Glass is half full/half empty.

    • felix 10.1

      That is not only offensive and disrespectful but is also far and away the stupidest analogy I have ever read.

      The were no 150 people on the “plane” you fucking disgusting moron.

      Your glass is half full alright. Unfortunately it’s half full of cat piss and phlegm.

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