Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 21. 5th September 1973
Workers Go to the Top — Demand for Action From Timber Town
Workers Go to the Top
Demand for Action From Timber Town
At 2 a.m. last Wednesday morning 15 people left the timber town of Kaingaroa in a convoy of cars for Wellington determined to have an urgent meeting with the Minister of Forests, Colin Moyle. Stopping only at Foxton for a hastily cooked breakfast they arrived at the Timber Workers Union offices in Wellington at 9 a.m. After receiving an assurance of support from union officials they called at NZUSA to discuss tactics for seeing Moyle. Salient was notified that they had arrived.
Outside Parliament Buildings the group explained to us that they were a voluntary deputation which had been sent to Wellington by a meeting of Kaingaroa residents on Monday night. This meeting followed a mass meeting of residents in July, which had laid down demands for a democratically elected local council and improved community facilities. Dissatisfied with the response they had received from the Forest Service, which runs Kaingaroa, and fed up with years of futile letter-writing to Government, the local people had decided to come to Wellington to put their complaints on Colin Moyle's doorstep.
We accompanied the delegation into Moyle's offices where a couple of rather shaken private secretaries told them the Minister was "very busy" and moaned that the delegation hadn't made an appointment. "We're busy workers" was the immediate rejoinder, and the delegation stood fast waiting for Moyle to return to Parliament. After about twenty minutes they were told that the Minister would see them and we all trooped into Moyle's office.
The spokesman for the group, Willie Wilson, began by saying that he and his wife had worked at Kaingaroa for 10 years and had tried to get facilities for the community. There had been a breakdown in co-operation between the community and the Forest Service. The idea of elections for a local council should be to give the people of Kaingaroa voice in running their community and solving its problems. There were community elections forth-coming but Kaingaroa residents had no confidence in them as they appeared to be top-heavy with the bureaucracy of the Forest Service which had a strong grip on the town. People thought it futile to stand in such an election, and they remained silent because the Forest Service, with all power in its hands was very persuasive to most people.
Willie referred to the way the Forest Service was organising the elections at Kaingaora, i.e. there would be a 7 member Council, 5 members of which would be elected from the general community, I member from the Single men's camp, and I member from the Woodsmen's Hostel. He pointed out that there was a glaring contradiction in these arrangements because a few staff personnel who were single men were quartered in the married quarters and were thus entitled to vote for 5 members for the council. But the great majority of single workers at Kaingaroa could only vote for one member. "We are one community and in this election we are being broken up into three parts".
Willie went on to state that the Forest Service had neglected community facilities and activities al Kaingaroa. He mentioned the local swimming pool, which was started in 1961 and built by the local residents with money they'd raised. All the Forest Service had to do was to paint the pool and provide a filtration plant. But the swimming pool lies empty. Similar trouble has been experienced over the provision of a children's playground. Members of the group cited the lack of parks in the town. And there were further complaints about the lack of maintenance of rental housing. One woman who had lived in the town for 17 years commented that residents had been left like babes in the wood. "We've the right to gain community services for our children", Willie Wilson said.
Instances of class discrimination at Kaingaroa were mentioned, where entry to particular clubs depends on one's occupation. A young woman in the group later elaborated. "If you're not staff, you're nothing — it's all class distinction at Kaingaroa. The staff are the only ones who have any privileges at all."
Mr Wilson summed up the group's feelings: "You as our Minister have ignored the community's feelings and adopted the proposals of the Forest Service. We're determined that the facilities be upgraded and we base this on the wealth which comes from our hands and our toil."
Talking about living conditions a married man in the group who had two children said he had lived in a Forest Service home at Kaingaroa for two years. When he'd moved in his section was so overgrown and full of rubbish that he needed machines to dear it up. He'd asked repeatedly, but he'd waited 18 months for it to be cleaned up. He said an Executive Officer had told him this was a short time to wait. "There are rats running wild on my section, and it any rat gets one of my kids I'll know who to see about it".
Moyle said he wouldn't be happy for a council to be elected that didn't have the confidence of the people of Kaingaroa, or fully represent them. He said he would find out what the situation was and added that he was unaware that there was a differentiation in the election arrangements between different groups within the community and that there was a bar to some people standing. It was pointed out to Moyle that the residents had proposed an eleven member council, with three members coming from the Forest Service to represent the Service.
Willie said that there was a racist undercurrent in Kaingaroa. The only families that were pul into the old mill houses in the town were Maoris who took these houses because they had to have a home. Maori people had been pushed into these old mill houses which are over 40 years old in "The Loop". The workers' huts are just little boxes", said one girl.
"There's no wallpaper, just flaking paint on hardboard with holes all over the place. Some people have got dog kennels that are better than the huts". Willie said he had appealed to the Minister of Maori Affairs to help in February because he thought the situation was urgent.
"If we ask the Forest Service for community facilities their reply is to say who'd look alter these facilities", Willie told Moyle. "Well all of us want to be involved in the community and are prepared to take the responsibility". Another delegation member said that senior Forest Service staff had moved to Rotorua because there were no facilities for their children in Kaingaroa.
A member of the group, Mr Corrigan, asked if the Forest Service would have the final power of veto over the council's decisions. Moyle said the Forest Service was responsible for the maintenance of crown property. If something was decided by the council which would be "detrimental to crown property" Forest Service officers would be responsible. He said the Forest Service was talking about property and their responsibility, while the members of the delegation were talking about people.
"I would consider that the use of a veto in a dictatorial manner is not intended anyway. I want to make it clear that my interest as Minister is that the property of the Forest Service is maintained, but also that the Forest Service's employees are cared for in a proper manner and that they are not expected to live in conditions that are unacceptable to other New Zealanders".
Moyle added that he was under the impression that the proposed council would solve the difficulties that had arisen at Kaingaroa. "But if you think that the council will be divisive then we'll have to reconsider the matter".
Moyle said he would look into the question of the form of the constitution of the council that was proposed by the Forest Service, and that he would go to Kaingaroa and devote a couple of hours to looking around with members of the delegation. He aid it was only fair and reasonable that he should hear all sides of the story.
"I'd like to make it clear that I think we're on the same wave length", he added. My responsibility is to property and people, but people are more important than property. We're not going to ride roughshod over anybody, I think the only way to satisfy everybody is to make sure that any council that's elected enjoys the confidence of the whole community. I've talked about this to Mr Rata and we don't want you to feel, or anybody in New Zealand to feel we've got a dictatorial attitude. I'll come to Kaingaroa but I can't give you a date at present".
Mr Corrigan then asked Moyle if he would give the delegation an assurance that the election would be called off. Moyle said he thought the election wasn't imminent anyway. Several angry voices told him that the election started on Saturday and that was why the delegation was in Wellington. On Saturday nominations closed and no more ballot paper a would be sent out.
Moyle said he would look into the matter, and said he was now much more concerned about the council election. He didn't think it would be any skin off anyone's nose if the election was postponed for a month.
Although some of its members who had had past dealings with Government fell sceptical about what Moyle would actually achieve, the delegation left Parliament feeling satisfied that it had forced Moyle to take notice of the Kaingaroa people's demands. The delegation members also felt that other working people could learn from their example of taking direct action without being put off by any government official.
The dispute between the Forest Service and the local people at Kaingaroa is by no means over. But last week's action by the Kaingaroa workers was a clear warning to the government that it must take immediate action to satisfy the people's demands for a democratic form of local government and decent housing and facilities for the community.