It has been nearly seven months and as both a journalist and local resident, I’ve witnessed the impact of the forestry strike and seen the toll it is taking on the people of the North Island.
During that time, I’ve been amazed by the spontaneous formation of volunteer support groups who have done everything possible to make sure no one goes hungry. I’ve seen caring people, often suffering from the effects of the strike themselves, cry in frustration and worry as they worked day and night to make Christmas happen for families who were also struggling. And I’ve seen tears of embarrassment as mothers struggle with the idea of accepting what they see as welfare.
It has been a time where the people of the North Island showed they truly cared and proved again and again that they had the back of all forestry workers. It was about walking the talk.
However, what I have seen has not always been a two-way street. Everyone, including those on strike, has had a single-minded focus on the strikers and their families.
However, the shopkeepers, the small businesses or the minimum wage employee who has lost their job have been silent, unrepresented and for the most part, forgotten.
They are collateral damage in a war they didn’t start. They too have rent to pay, loans to service and families to feed. Yet they are also the people who, despite their own problems, have been doing everything they can to help the forestry worker.
At times I begin to wonder if we’ve become so single minded in this fight, this war in the woods, that we’ve forgotten about the consequences the battle is having on our neighbours. And I worry and wonder if this is how we begin the slide into the ‘it’s all about me’ urban styled culture.
We all have opportunities in our lives to create legacies and I think we are close to the tipping point of attaching our names to a North Island legacy. Whether that legacy is good or bad and whether our names and our companies are remembered as community builders or community destroyers is still, at least for a while, ours to decide.
Unfortunately, nobody wants to back down. Losing face seems more important than economic Armageddon. Strutting and chest pounding on both sides has replaced common sense and solution based negotiations and so here’s what I suggest.
Let’s go for that cooling off period. We all need it and when I say all of us, that includes those without a voice in this strike, the upwards of an estimated 10,000 North Islanders who in many cases, are now in the last throes of economic starvation.
We need cooler heads to prevail. We need a break that allows for the swagger to transition into the reality of the give and take of negotiations. We need a break where the support forestry workers were shown is returned to those now facing ruin.
To both employer and employee, I say the lives and well being of so many others are in your hands and it’s time to step away from the fight. It’s time to take a deep breath, go back to work, earn some money and over the next four or six months, cool down and then settle your differences.
Bill McQuarrie is a former publisher, photojournalist and entrepreneur. Semi-retired and now living in Port McNeill, you can follow him on Instagram #mcriderbc or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org