Red and Brown: Helen Clark's indigenous enemies
I've dug up an interview I did with my mates Justin Taua and Jean Ayre three and a bit years ago, at the beginning of the seabed and foreshore hikoi which ended up bringing 30,000 people into Wellington. The interview circulated on the internet, in a paper called Class Struggle, and - if I remember rightly - as a leaflet. Some of what Justin was saying in 2004 - his discussion of the possibility that Maori activists would be branded terrorists, for instance - was prophetic.
I'm not sure if Justin and Jean, who are veterans of trade union and Maori sovereignty politics, are on the latest hikoi, but I caught up with them at the big march to Mt Eden prison a couple of weeks ago. Justin plays a mean guitar, and isn't bad at the speechifying either, so I've asked him to perform on December the 1st. Here's hoping he finds time in his busy schedule...
RED AND BROWN: CLASS POLITICS IN THE SEABED AND FORESHORE HIKOI
Justin: The hikoi began today. A lot of people are talking about a repeat of the Great Land March of 1975. Some of the leaders of that hikoi are marching again. Some of the old flags are being used again. There’s a feeling of connection with that heroic past.
The current situation represents a watershed in New Zealand politics like no other – it reflects the disillusionment of a whole generation with the institutionalised politics of the Treaty process. I think the thing could snowball. There’s a lot of interest, with iwi preparing big contingents. There have been a lot of enquiries from Aucklanders wanting to travel up north to take part in the early stages.
Q: Jean, what are you as a Pakeha doing in a protest about what a lot of people still think of as a Maori issue?
Jean: The confiscation of the seabed and foreshore will be bad for all working class New Zealanders. The people who will benefit from Labour’s legislation will be capitalists who can afford to bid for leases on pieces of coast and buy blocks of coastal land and ultimately the foreshore itself.
This legislation might look on the surface like nationalisation, but it’s actually about globalisation and the continuing privatisation of New Zealand. Don’t forget that it all started when a Maori legal challenge disrupted a plan to give a lease for sea farming to a business group. US imperialism is ultimately driving the whole thing, and Maori understand this. I’m finding that a lot of young Maori, in particular, identify with the Palestinians. They understand that what has happened to them in the past and what is happening now, is the same as the situation for the Palestinians.
Justin: Yeah, even the more backward kids who aren’t very political, who aren’t initially sympathetic...the other week I was at a demonstration protesting the murder of the Hamas leader Yassin, and it was on at the same time and place as the Mana Day concert in Aotea square...this young Maori guy comes over, looking pissed off, and asks me, ‘Hey bro, what the fuck is going on with all these bloody foreigners whinging and moaning?’
I said ‘What do you mean bro? Didn’t you hear the news about some shit that went down in Palestine the other day? Those US backed Israeli terrorist mongrels, just blew away a Rangatira and respected Kaumatua of theirs. Just imagine if Te Atairangi Kaahu was wasted by those pricks, wouldn’t you be pissed off?’
The bro by understanding the plight of the Palestinians in simple terms in relation to a Maori example got the message. He left a more enlightened man with the simple expression, ‘Kia Kaha (Be Strong).’
Q: Is there an empathy with Iraqis, too, as another colonised people now coming under the hammer again?
Justin: Yeah, although it’s only the more articulate protesters who are actually talking about the connection. Annette Sykes made the parallel in the aftermath of the Waitangi protests, saying that the Iraqi struggle and the Maori struggle were one. It’s early days yet, though, because most don’t understand imperialism, which is the real link. Explaining the link, that’s the job of unionists, communists...we know where most ordinary people are at politically – it’s a long way from where we want them to be.
We have to be really articulate and link the local to the international, because the parallels are plain as. Brash is pushing Labour, local business leaders are pushing Brash, the US is pushing local bosses because it wants nuke ships visits; total co-operation in the War of Terror and open-slather investment.
Labour wants to be rid of Maori claims to the seabed and foreshore for the simple reason that the international trade agreements, such as the GATS and all things prescribed by the WTO it has signed up to would prefer collectivised forms of ownership to be extinguished.
Q: Some leftists who lack information about this movement imagine that it is made up of Maori capitalists – the ‘Brown table’, as they’re known. Who are the people you’re rubbing shoulders with on the hikoi?
Justin: I recently heard an interview with Tipene O’Regan of Ngai Tahu – he’s like the classic right-wing Browntable capitalist, and in recent times he’s been under a lot of fire from progressive Maori. O’Regan said that he didn’t like the people leading the hikoi – the ‘young radicals’, as they’re being called. I’d say that O’Regan’s view is representative of the Browntable’s.
The seabed and foreshore issue has woken up a lot of young people, and they have nothing to do with the Browntable. Apart from the war on Iraq and the whole war drive of US imperialism, I’d say that a key radicalising influence on these young people has been the underground youth culture that Maori have developed over the past ten years. Hip hop, for instance, has become very political, and rappers like Dean Hapeta are going to have a lot more influence over young Maori than Tipene O’Regan.
I couldn’t give you a profile of the average protester – the movement is still very fluid. There’s just this big swell of interest...one new development, which again is a result of the struggles in Palestine and Iraq, is an awareness of the need to internationalise the struggle, to get solidarity from overseas. The speeches at Waitangi this year were full of this.
Jean: We were up at the big Hui at Ahipara, the day after the Waitangi protests, and among the most vocal people there were young working class women who felt they needed to do something about their situation. They and their young men are really coming out on this. They’re giving the movement a lot of its energy. They are being backed up by older women whose politics date back to the land marches of the seventies.
Q: Do many of these new protesters identify in class terms? Do they see themselves as workers?
Jean: Maybe not as workers. Maybe more in terms of haves and have nots.
Justin: At the moment many identify more in a Third Worldist way – they quite rightly see themselves as oppressed people, like the Iraqis and Palestinians. That’s what Dean Hapeta’s politics are all about, really. Nanaia Mahuta, who is defying Labour over this issue, is a young woman. A lot of young Tainui identify with her. A lot of young Tainui would follow her out of the Labour Party.
Q: It’s interesting that Mahuta was one of the few Labour MPs to express misgivings about the invasion of Afghanistan. Of course, as you know, there’s a long history of opposition to unjust wars amongst Tainui – Princess Te Puea led Tainui opposition to the First Imperialist World War, and a lot of young Tainui men were locked up for refusing to fight...
Justin: Nanaia Mahuta as an individual can’t carry this thing. She’s had a reputation as being a very quiet MP – it’s only this issue which seems to have sparked her up. Perhaps Tariana Turia is having an influence.
But I think the big challenge for Mahuta’s supporters is to develop their own politics and break from Labour. It’s good that Labour has been put into power and exposed, because a lot of Maori workers had expectations in Labour, where they had none in National. But now that they’ve learned what Labour’s like, rank and file Maori members have to leave.
Q: Justin, in recent years you’ve been pretty critical of the political intrigue within Tainui – the proposed prison near Te Kauwhata and the army recruitment drives which are aimed at Tainui youth and held on local marae. What’s the news on these fronts? Is the seabed and foreshore movement having a flow-on effect?
Justin: My marae was the first one used by the army to promote its ‘lets mop up the unemployed among Maori youth’ programme. ‘A bloody insult’ considering the timing in relation to the US led imperialist attack on Afghanistan. The day of that first meeting, was the day the US Congress passed the USA Patriot Act which is what our own so-called Anti Terrorism Act is modelled on.
Our line in the Communist Workers Group and Anti Imperialist Coalition at the time was that the prison and the War on Terror were linked – that the government was aware it might need to lock up a lot of ‘terrorists’ in the future.
Just look at the present situation with regards to the F&S. If things get out of hand for the government in terms of dealing with militant protests and an escalation in direct actions then the likelihood of imprisonment for those concerned will be the outcome. As a communist and trade union activist, this is of particular concern. History records that it was that layer who were the first to be dealt with by the state in the event of struggle.
So there’s a link between the prisons and the ‘anti-terror’ legislation and the seabed and foreshore struggle. If this movement gets really big and radical the government might well want to brand us as ‘terrorists’. And now we have outfits like the Maori Revolutionary Army talking about armed struggle.
Q: Is there a feeling within parts of Maoridom that if the seabed and foreshore legislation goes through, and if Brash comes in and really guts basic democratic rights – the Maori seats, for instance – an armed struggle could begin?
Justin: Yeah, there’s a chance of that. But it’ll only happen if we as unionists, as socialists don’t do our job – if we lose the arguments with radicalised Maori. We have to get in there and say that being a REAL revolutionary means getting the support of the working class, Pakeha as well as Maori, and acting on a mass scale. Workers only have to fold their arms and they can bring the economy to a standstill. The support of unionists was crucial to the victory at Bastion Pt, and to the success of the Great Land March.
Don’t get me wrong – I support and the CWG supports armed struggles. I support the struggles in Iraq and Palestine. But workers have to be in charge. Look at South America – in Argentina and Venezuela workers faced with economic crisis and job losses have taken over hundreds of factories and are running them themselves, and they’re defending themselves with their own militia. That’s the way to go.
Take the Maori Revolutionary Army for example. They talk about arms stashes and so on. Problem is they haven’t organised among the working class and their organisations, the UNIONS. The MRA is not accountable to any rank and file of any kind. They don’t know the first thing about strike committees, workers councils or even workers militia.
I’m hoping to talk to this MRA crowd and say to them – if you’re a revolutionary, what have you done to organise the working class? Are you setting up committees in your workplace to support this hikoi? Are you pushing your union? If these guys talking about armed struggle can’t do the ABCs and organise workers then they’ll never get anywhere. If they are just hotheads then they need to be exposed, because they could do a lot of serious damage that will undermine the movement. The sooner we have the arguments with them the better.
[Comment: in light of recent events, it needs to emphasised that the 'Maori Revolutionary Army' that Justin and I discussed in 2004 was not in any sense a functioning paramilitary organisation. I didn't get the impression that it was an organisation of any kind, so much as a bit of hotheaded rhetoric. There was no connection between this rhetoric and the people arrested during last month's 'terror' raids. Essentially Justin was critiquing the idea of a 'Maori Revolutionary Army', not a real organisation.]
Q: At last December’s conference of the Council of Trade Unions a group of Maori unionists issued a declaration calling for trade union support for this struggle. What sort of progress has been made in getting the trade unions involved?
Justin: The Service and Food Workers Union, the Manufacturing and Construction Union, the Maori runanga of the National Distribution Union and the Maori runanga of ASTE have come out against Labour’s legislation. The NDU as a whole has not taken a position but more or less seems to support Maori. A CWG member reports that the Amalgamated Workers Union is holding debates this week on its position.
The NDU was part of a big public meeting held in Auckland just before the Waitangi protests, where unionists like Syd Keepa, who was part of the drive to put the foreshore and seabed on the union agenda, spoke about the issue. In Auckland, the International Women’s Day Committee included the seabed and foreshore in its platform and had SFWU activist Helen Te Hira as one of its official speakers. I’m hoping Mayday in Auckland will highlight the issue.
A lot of Maori trade unionists are taking this issue into their worksites as individuals. There has been support from other organisations – the Green Party, the Peace Movement of Aotearoa – but the unions are the key, and we are a long way from making the links we need to make.
Q: How will you express your communist politics inside the hikoi? Is it easy?
Justin: Not an easy job, given that among so-called left tendencies and groups, views tactics and strategies are so disparate. With the amount of historical distortion, prejudice and association with despotism that has been inflicted on our movement and the ceaseless barrage of post Stalinist era self-satisfaction from the capitalist quarter, the battle is uphill, but not impossible.
The workers' everyday experiences have to be conveyed in such a way as to have direct relevance to the purpose of the hikoi. To the politically advanced Maori worker, an objective argument has to be made to express the contradictions of some of the ideas being proposed by a few advocating on behalf of Maori. To the not so advanced, a more subjective approach might be necessary. The outcome at least would be to establish links. As a Maori and a communist I think the collectivised ideal common to both, would be a starting point.
Q: What about concrete strategy and tactics? How can we win this one? What are you arguing for?
Justin: I think Labour is determined to push this legislation through, but I don’t think it’ll end there. For me the keys are union involvement and internationalism. We need international solidarity partly to protect ourselves.
Look at working class hero and activist journalist Mumia Abu Jamal in the USA, framed for killing a cop and left to stew on death row for more than 20 years. The scumbag US justice system would have judicially murdered him long ago if he had not become the subject of international solidarity.
Then of course there’s Mordechai Vanunu in Israel (occupied Palestine), the nuclear whistle blower–he would have been killed ages ago by the Israeli MOSSAD if he had not come to the attention of the international struggle. Look at the solidarity which is developing with Palestine and Iraq.
Q: Recently at Potaka, just to the west of Hick’s Bay, a hapu of Ngati Porou were flouting regulations and setting up a sea farming operation without running it past the local government. They were planning to run the thing collectively, and share the income, and they emphasised, as Maori have done so often during the past year, that Pakeha were welcome on their foreshore. I thought of the Potaka operation as potentially a sort of homegrown equivalent of the factory occupations in South America – we don’t have many big factories, but we do have a very long coastline, and sea farming is going to be huge over the next few decades. Unfortunately the Potaka crew seem to have pulled back for now. Do you see occupations as a viable tactic for Maori?
Jean: Yes. I think there will be more of these actions but the danger is they’ll be coerced into line by the powers that be, and end up trying to work through existing regulations, which discriminate against Maori because Maori don’t have the economic resources...
Justin: We need occupations to put the government on the spot, to make them feel the heat. Like Bastion Pt did. We should seize and socialise the foreshore and also seabed-based activities – let’s run the mussel farms collectively!
Q: Any final thoughts?
Justin: I think quite a few Pakeha are being educated about this issue. The forums Maori have held around the country may be having an effect. You don’t get as much of the raw racism you got a couple of months ago. I notice some political commentators are saying Brash is going to need a new issue, that Maori bashing won’t win him the next election and that it is unsustainable.
Jean: One thing I have noticed is the way that this issue has finally united urban and rural Maori. Now they have to take it a step further and unite with working class Pakeha...
Justin: A few months back there was much more separatism than there is now. In part that was a reaction to the strength of the racism being directed at Maori. Brash’s Maori bashing was a factor. This is a complex struggle and the CWG and those who agree with us are trying to do a number of things at once – counter Maori separatism, counter racism in the Pakeha left...
Q: What do you say to the Alliance, which has now come out behind the government’s legislation, and to Pakeha unionists who still don’t think this is their issue?
Justin: I’d say don’t confuse the sort of nationalisation the left wants with the expropriation of indigenous people. We want workers’ control of resources, not nationalisation by the bosses’ state designed to protect the rights of private business (local or overseas) and US investors.