Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Tariana Turns to Labour?

More than three months after forming the Maori Party, Tariana Turia has gotten around to pledging not to put Don Brash into power next year.

After breaking with Labour over the theft of the seabed and foreshore and other Maori Party figures repeatedly said that the Maori Party was prepared to 'work with' and 'sit down with' National, which was not unnaturally taken to mean that she was open to forming a government with National. Tariana repeated these phrases when directly questioned about whether she'd support a National government.

The perception was reinforced by Tariana's overtures to National MP Georgina te Heuheu, whose right-wing record has been fulsomely praised by Maori Party leaders. Matt McCarten certainly believed that Tariana was open to a coalition deal with National - he devoted a chunk of the letter he wrote to Alliance members defending his decision to work on her by-election campaign to an explanation of the logic of Tariana's stance.

I think that Tariana has figured out that her overtures to National went down like a lead balloon with ordinary Maori and Pakeha who are terrified by the prospect of a National government and have nothing but contempt for the likes of Te Heuheu. It's no secret that the Maori Party has attracted little support from the left and organised labour, and Tariana probably guesses that changing her line on National might make the party's ongoing efforts to win the support of union rununga easier.

So where does Tariana's latest statement leave us? Even if we assume that Tariana's word is worth something - and her record as a right-wing, union-bashing, pro-war MP and Minister suggests that it isn't worth a great deal - we are left with the prospect of a Maori Party keeping the Labour Party government in power. Is this something that leftists want to support?

It's perhaps good to have Labour in power in the very limited sense that many workers have illusions in the party, and these illusions can potentially be shattered when the party shows its true spots by acting on behalf of US imperialism and its local crony capitalists. We have seen some disquiet over Labour's participation in the War of Terror, over its anti-worker attitude towards the pay claims of public sector workers like the nurses and teachers, and of course over its racist seabed and foreshore legislation.

A lot of Alliance members and more recently a lot of Maori have learned that Labour serves the interests of the bosses, not the people who vote for the party. Maori expressed this realisation by supporting the hikoi and walking from the party; the Alliance expressed it by leaving government and reorganising itself around a Socialist Platform.

Does it now make sense for Maori and for the lefties in the Alliance to turn again to Labour, and look to go through the whole rigmarole all over again? Tariana thinks so, and there's nothing to suggest she has any regrets about the role she played as a cheerleader for George Bush's wars, Labour's anti-strike legislation, and dozens of other reactionary policies she voted through Cabinet and parliament.

But ordinary Maori Party supporters should think twice before they go down that road again. The Labour Party is incapable of delivering any real gains to ordinary Maori or ordinary Pakeha. It is implementing Brash's agenda already, with measures like the S and F legislation, the beneficiary-bashing 'Jobs Jolt', the ban on strikes in the ERA, last week's tightening up of sick leave rules, and so on. A vote for a Maori Party deal with Labour is a vote for neo-liberalism.

I would support a Maori Party only if it ruled out putting either a Labour or National government in power, and instead promoted the direct action of the working class in pursuit of progressive goals like the defence of the seabed and foreshore and the pay claims of the nurses and all the other workers who are witing with far too much patience for their support for this government to be rewarded.


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