Saturday, October 23, 2010

Auckland and the xenophobes

Back in 2004 the Sociology Department of the University of Auckland pulled together a book of essays about New Zealand's largest city called Almighty Auckland? Two of the most interesting texts in the book came from a couple of department members who disagreed strongly with each other about the relationship between the northern metropolis and the rest of New Zealand.

Bruce Curtis, who moved from his native Canterbury to take up a job at Auckland and has never wavered in his support of the Crusaders and other southern sporting outfits, used his essay to argue that Auckland enjoyed a parasitic relationship with the rest of New Zealand. By using empty slogans like 'what's good for Auckland is good for the country', the city's business and civic leaders routinely manage to extract an unreasonable amount of cash from central government for their often-dodgy projects, and also manage to dominate events like the Rugby World Cup.

Curtis' argument was a convincing indictment of the arrogance of Auckland's tiny, super-wealthy elite, but it didn't seem very relevant to the behaviour of the vast majority of the city's inhabitants. Dave Bedggood's essay, which opened Almighty Auckland? and seemed to me to be the best thing he had published since his canonised book Rich and Poor in New Zealand a quarter century earlier, dug deeply into sociology and history to argue that Auckland is not some sort of parasitic aberration, but rather an expression of the nature of New Zealand capitalism.

Dave argued that Auckland has always been a sort of portal between New Zealand and the rest of the world, and a city where major structural changes in New Zealand society first become evident. He cited a number of key transformative moments in Kiwi history - the conquest of the Waikato Kingdom and the establishment of an export-oriented Pakeha pastoral economy there in the nineteenth century, the creation of the welfare state and a state-managed form of capitalism by the first Labour government in the '30s, and the brutal globalisation of the economy by Roger Douglas and his mates in the '80s and '90s - and argued that Auckland was in the vanguard of each. Dave insisted, though, that Auckland did not impose radical change on the rest of New Zealand: change came as a result of economic contradictions and political struggles which occurred throughout the country, and in many other parts of the world too. Auckland was simply the part of New Zealand where the future first became reality.

Although I didn't and still don't agree with the teleological, 'the future is already written' undercurrent I found in it, Dave's essay did strike me as a very good argument against the notion of Auckland as some sort of inexplicable parasite living off the rest of New Zealand.

As I noted in a recent post, the view of Auckland as a massive parasite, filled with alien cultures which are either decadent or dangerous, supplies the fledgling New Munster Party with a good deal of its policy programme. The Munsterites want the South Island to secede from New Zealand, and thus reject both Auckland's economic parasitism and the hordes of brown people it apparently threatens to send to the fair cities and towns of the south.

A number of supporters of the aims of the New Munster Party left comments under my post on the outfit. Reading these messages, I was struck by the way that the image of Auckland-as-parasite is being modified in the light of recent political events. Where Auckland's detractors used to present the city's inhabitants as a bunch of yuppie stockbrokers who took the hard work of real Kiwis and turned it into dodgy bonds, quick cash, and flash yachts, they now seem to want to identify the city with a sinister brown-skinned underclass. Auckland has gone from being a city of arrogant suits to a city of dole-bludging crims. Here are a few of the comments the Munsterites left under my post:

We'll stay down here and be white and right-wing and successful and everything else you hate, and you can decay into a third-world banana republic riddled with brown rot...

I think you'll find it's the brown rot itself...brown whining, brown entitle-itis, brown moaning about the past, brown welfarism, brown laziness, brown crime, brown bitter and twisted ness, brown lack of educational achievement, dumb brown rap music, brown bad diet, brown child beating and molesting, and a sucky-up dumb white liberal press who constantly tell brown people that all these things are cool and OK, as well as brown people breeding faster and all the whites moving to Aus or the SI...

You stupid JAFAs have been so busy discrediting us as racist rednecks that you haven't seen what was coming... New Munster can survive without Auckland but the "Super City" will be fucked without us!

The apparent transformation in the perception of Auckland by out-of-town bigots probably reflects the towelling that Len Brown has just given John Banks in the Super City mayoralty race. Brown attracted huge support in South Auckland, where he had everyone from Samoan pastors to Labour Party functionaries to trade union firebrands out door-knocking for him. The growing assertiveness of Pasifika and Maori communities in South Auckland and other working class parts of Auckland has also been reflected in trade union campaigns. Thirty years ago, immigrant Britons were so active in the unions that Tories like my old man liked to attribute every industrial dispute to 'those flaming Pommy trouble-makers'. Nobody who witnessed last week's big rally in Auckland against National's anti-union legislation could have taken such a stereotype seriously.
With Rodney Hide's plans to create a corporatised Supercity in disarray, the trade unions apparently revitalising themselves in South Auckland, and Labour seemingly keen to emulate Brown's success by moving leftwards and rebuilding some of its activist base, Auckland has suddenly become, for some right-wingers, a city of menacing proles.

The notion of Auckland as an undifferentiated sprawl of high-end restaurants and yuppie condominiums was always ridiculous. As the varied and excellent contributions to Almighty Auckland? showed, New Zealand's biggest city is itself a set of regions, some of which are just as neglected by central government and New Zealand's economic elite as Reefton or Tuatapere.

The new attempts to argue that a brown-skinned worker in South Auckland is somehow a threat to a white-skinned worker in the South Island are equally irrational. A bus driver from Otahuhu has far more in common with a forestry worker from Tuatapere than he has with a company director from either Remuera or Avonhead. And, as the global economic crisis and the campaigns in a score of countries against brutal austerity measures show, both North and South Island workers have more in common with their counterparts in Aussie or Europe or South America than they do with the wealthy of any nation.

But it's not only the international working class which has a web of connections and a set of common interests. Employers, as well, are bound together in the global economy of the twenty-first century. Munsterite rhetoric about an autarkic South Island capitalism is bound to collide in all sorts of ways with reality.

Kym Parsons, the most active spokesperson for the New Munster Party, offers a lesson in the economic limits of nationalism. The blogger LJ Holden has pointed out that a company Parsons owns and runs, Southlink Refrigerated Transport, has a registered office on Ponsonby Road, in the heart of the decadent metropolis of Auckland.

The Southlink website names the company's headquarters as Nelson, and reveals that it specialises in delivering goods to various parts of the South Island. Where, though, do these goods come from? Given that New Zealand is such an import-dependent country, I'd assume that many of them come from distant lands - and I'd also assume that many of them have reached the South Island via North Island ports and the Cook Strait ferry link. Even if the goods Parsons is moving were unloaded in the South Island, how many of the ships which supplied them would have made visits to North Island ports before or after reaching the south? Given the cost of long sea journeys to New Zealand, how many ships would be prepared to service ports in one island but not the other? Does Parsons' business not depend, in a variety of ways, on the integration of the economies of the North and South Islands?

I wonder whether Parsons might owe aesthetic as well as economic debts to the world outside the South Island. One of the stranger aspects of the New Munster Party is the flag it has designed for the independent South Island it wants to create. For reasons I am wholly unable to fathom, the party has used a Nordic cross, a symbol found on the flags of nations like Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, and territories like Aland and the Faroe Islands, to decorate its banner.
How could Parsons and co they have created such an alien banner, if they were truly in tune with South Island culture? How can they lay claim to the land where painters as original as Colin McCahon, Toss Woollaston, and Ralph Hotere have worked, and offer up such a feeble symbol?

The logo Parsons has created for his company is pretty enough, but I notice it bears a certain similarity to the logo of a South Australian bus company which also uses the name Southlink.

Did Parsons pinch his logo as well as his flag from abroad? Aren't xenophobes supposed to be less attracted to foreign symbols?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

These New Munster people claim to have an army in preparation.

From Chris Trotter -

'But Mr Goff and CTU President, Helen Kelly, need to be on their guard. By walking away from the Neoliberal Consensus they have dramatically increased its fragility. Not since the early 1990s, when populist movements led by Jim Anderton and Winston Peters momentarily threatened its complete destruction, has the Neoliberal order felt so threatened. And as Helen Clark and Michael Cullen discovered to their cost in the Winter of 2000, when the elites feel themselves being backed into a corner, they can become extremely vicious.'

In this situation the aims of groups like the NMP which claims to have its own armed wing become dangerous. And why are the police paranoid about Tuhoe 'terrorists' but not investigating this group the NMP which openly says it is building an army???

5:03 pm  
Anonymous herb said...

these people talk big on their website about having fraternal relations with the 32 country sovereignty the political wing of the real ira...ok, where is this confirmed by the 23 country movement...I think the Munsters are fantasists...

& whatever you think of irish republicans - they're not the type to bash brown peoples...they declare their solidarity with anti-colonial struggles...

11:33 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

herb - an almost rational comment seeing how what you are a demoralised Trotkskyist

11:52 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

But let's get real.

Everyman man and his dog knows that...New Zealand = Auckland. All the rest are just appendages. For crynging (or is that crying?) out loud you aren't trying to say the the South Island is a part of new Zealand!! What a crazy idea!! HO HO!!

"For God's sake you're in your fifth year!"

keri hulme exceptionated..well enuff said....

11:57 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:58 pm  
Anonymous herb said...

fuck richard...are you trying to line up with these crazy bastards from the new munster party...if they took over you would be the first to a red...go back and study what happened when their sort won in 1951 and 1981...

they will fuck you up...

12:01 am  
Anonymous herb said...

some of the new munster party policies are not worth getting hot under the collar about...

'nationalise mount cook airlines as the new munster national airline'...ok, whatever buddy...

'We support a campaign of non-violent resistance including ostracism against New Zealand Government officials, anti-nationalists and North Islanders in general.'

so...if you're opposed to 'new munster' becoming independent they will harrass and fuck you up...ok...

and these guys claim to be building an armed wing to their party?

12:06 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Real IRA has just been decalred a terrorist group by the New Zealand government.

If the New Munster Party claims fraternal relations with the real IRA/its political wing the NMP could be in strife.

12:15 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS Editorial from the Otago Daily Times last week:

The knife has long been pointed at the South's throat, and if we are not used to it by now then we ought to be.

One of the most telling effects has been in the gradual disenfranchising in the political numbers game, with successive realignments of electoral boundaries which reflect population imbalance, meaning that over the next 50 years or so we could find the South Island represented in Parliament by half a dozen or so electorate seats along with perhaps a handful or two from the noncombatant list.

Auckland's population growth and economic power has for so long been touted as "good for the country", especially by Aucklanders, that few have commented upon let alone argued the case for objection on the grounds of the top-heavy strain the nation has to shoulder to maintain Auckland's population concentration.

The spirit of independent regionalism has intermittently appeared in southern provincial politics, more frequently of late as the South's share of the state's resources have been spread ever more thinly, but there is as yet no serious hint of a revival of South Island political and economic independence.

The creation of Greater Auckland and its impact may well foment such a revival over time, for the dream of sovereignty needs a strong motive and Auckland may provide it.

It will require geographical unity and a continuing belief in the South's remoteness from the capital and its obsessive concern with expanding the northern megalopolis.

MMP has delivered to small political parties an opportunity to exert leverage quite out of proportion to their numerical strength, and the creation of a political movement, perhaps like the Scottish precedent, has a better chance of life today than it ever has had in the past.

Unity and co-ordination, however, have never co-existed in comfort in the South Island, for which we may blame provincialism and the historical memory of independent regional foundation.

The English founders of Christchurch sneered at the Scots digging in at Dunedin, and vice versa, and the flavour of that contempt remains to this day manifesting itself not just in sporting clashes, but also in comparisons as ridiculous as the daily maximum temperatures.

So the urgent prospects of political unity are probably remote, but that does not contradict the matter of whether the South Island can find a community of political interest, even if initially it is a matter of the regions having continually to speak up for themselves against the ever-growing weight and influence of the so-called "super city".

It is a familiar story - examples exist all over the globe...

It may well be that quite soon South Islanders recognise that the broader political lesson to best counter the troublesome effects of big-city dominance does not lie in such examples as Scottish devolution or a South Island party, but in the creation of a broader and more permanent political movement which speaks for all regional and provincial city interests throughout the island.

12:18 am  
Anonymous Edward said...

what planet do these munter people live on? Interesting post highlighting the untenable reality of SI nationalism, it's always been a phenomena that has confounded me.

8:55 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

how can someone live in nelson and be a south islander? that is virtually in the north. the true south starts at te anau. beware of poseurs.

12:55 am  
Anonymous Sean Miller said...

"One of the stranger aspects of the New Munster Party is the flag it has designed for the independent South Island it wants to create. For reasons I am wholly unable to fathom, the party has used a Nordic cross, a symbol found on the flags of nations like Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, and territories like Aland and the Faroe Islands, to decorate its banner"

Or perhaps the flags of the Scottish islands of Shetland and Orkney provide an answer....

6:10 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

South Island Independence

Submitted to the Otago Daily Times by Richard Prosser on Thu, 21/10/2010 - 11:13am.

Since migrating to Canterbury from Central Otago almost two years ago it has been my observation that Christchurch does not in fact have the animosity or disdain for Otago and Southland as is suspected of it in the more Southern provinces. Cantabs look south with friendly affection, they regard the Highlanders as being most definitely their second team, and people in Christchurch are every bit as aware and supportive of the undercurrent of separatist sentiment in the South as their southern cousins, though they have an understandably less Celtic and therefore somewhat more dispassionate manner of expressing it.

If I were to find any fault with their attitude it might be to suggest that it is a little paternalistic, but no more than can be expected between any major city and its provincial neighbours, and in fairness, more than a few southerners harbour a slight distrust of anything north of the Waitaki.

Your comment that:

“It may well be that quite soon South Islanders recognise that the broader political lesson to best counter the troublesome effects of big-city dominance does not lie in such examples as Scottish devolution or a South Island party, but in the creation of a broader and more permanent political movement which speaks for all regional and provincial city interests throughout the island.”

I believe is right on the money, and it was for almost precisely that reason that we abandoned attempts to resurrect the South Island Party in 2008, in favour of the South Island First movement which, although aimed ultimately at eventual sovereignty, is non-partisan and will not be involved in Party politics.

I think Canterbury knows full well that we must all stick together, and it is good to see the ODT taking a lead on this most important matter.

6:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'perhaps the flags of the Scottish islands of Shetland and Orkney provide an answer....'

oh great. the 95% of southerners not descended from these small islands will be delighted!

8:52 pm  
Blogger Dr Jack Ross said...

Your account of the book Almighty Auckland? is fascinating, Maps. It makes me glad that my co-editor Grant Duncan and I decided against our first choice of title for the book of essays we're presently putting together on more-or-less the same subject. It was going to be called "Super City?", but now we've decided to go with the quieter 11 Views of Auckland. It's supposed to represent the multiple perspectives of our multidisciplinary School of Social and Cultural Studies at Massey Albany, and hopefully will be as good a read as Almighty Auckland was ...

You can find more details at: if you're curious.

8:40 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

true south is the auckland islands
all else are fakers

3:42 pm  
Anonymous Keri H said...

As a person of both Kai Tahu & Orkney origins (and English) with a huge whanau, I am so glad none of us
a)are aware of these munters
b)support their divisive claims at all.

It's a popular southern joke to say "Let's just cut the cable and let those buggers sink" BUT - it is a joke.

If The Fish goes west, what happens to The Waka?
It may float, but foodless....

6:54 pm  
Anonymous Mark said...

The key problem for these Far Right xenophobes is that the South Island has long been far more Left-leaning at elections than the North.

9:52 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe because of north islanders rigging polls here mark...wake up!

and read what the NMP has to say. the nmp calls for a boycott of the 2011 elections...

10:12 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where is the evidence that election results are fabricated in the South Island?


10:52 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

experts can dig it up

11:03 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Definition of "expert":

'x' is an unknown quantity, and a spurt is a drip under pressure.

12:21 am  
Blogger Carey said...

Every now and again you get some loser cropping up calling for 'Yorkshire Independence.' This sort of reminds me of that. But it did prompt me to think about a more general point.

On my way up from the far south I stayed with a semi-retired Merino farmer in bleakest Mackenzie Country who ran a guesthouse on his land. He was nuts. The combination of rural isolationism and the self-sufficient agricultural ethic with having quite a lot of time on his hands to read conspiratorial right-wing literature had produced a particularly potent individual. He would talk at length about the need to attract more efficient Central Europeans (i.e. Aryans) to run things and displace all the orientals. Not surprisingly he thought Helen Clark was satan. His outlook on the world was extremely psychotic. Fascinating guy though, and obviously very intelligent in a deeply unsettling sort of way.

Shortly afterwards I arrived in Wellington. What a different world. From a purely aesthetic/outsider perspective, the North and South Islands always struck me as vastly different. (I must admit to being slightly seduced by McCahon's vision of the land, but maybe that's because I come from windswept Yorkshire and have always found empty hills quite appealing.) But I suspect no different from some of the contrasts in British society. The biggest parallel to the South-North divide in NZ here would probably be the difference between the deprived, white, inner-city areas of northern cities like Oldham and Bradford and the latte-supping cosmopolitanism of London. While there are obvious differences - this has a country pioneer dynamic that we don't really have, and also these areas of Britain were traditionally the constituency of the left, whereas most of the South Island strikes me as being overwhelmingly influenced by National/the right - I see a commonality in the language the New Munster people use; this sense of white aggrievement at their perceived marginalisation by 'liberal' ideology and a reaction against political correctness. And both are deeply informed by petit-bourgeois ideology. I think part of this stems from the fact that the left has collectively given up trying to address the mass of people in society leaving the door open for pernicious right-wing populist ideology that can invert reality. This can have serious consequences, as we're seeing in Europe.

Not that I can imagine the South Island waging some sort of racially-motivated war on the North any time soon. Not with only two ferries, anyway.

12:59 am  
Blogger Carey said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:59 am  
Blogger Carey said...

P.s. Wait a minute Scott, I thought you were a fan of spurious claims to independence! *cough* Wales *cough*

1:17 am  
Anonymous Mark said...

Can't blame Yorkshiremen/women for wanting independence. Good Labour-voting region stuck with a vicious Tory government. (sure, rural Yorkshire votes Tory, but the bulk of the population live in the cities). Mind you, I've never been a fan of Leeds United. But, then again, who has ?

10:06 pm  
Blogger Carey said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:33 pm  
Blogger Carey said...

I always thought Bradford City needed the support more. Underdog etc. But that was in the pre-Ridsdale days. How times change...

As for claims for Yorkshire autonomy. Is voting preference a justification for seperation? You could make the same point re: voting for Labour about any working class urban area, particularly in the north. Should Manchester become independent?

There is an interesting point, however, the national aspirations of Scotland and Wales are recognised now but Yorkshire has a bigger population than either (and you could probably argue that its claims to cultural distinctiveness are no less spurious than Scotland's) Yet there is no serious claim to greater autonomy in the ridings. I seem to remember Prescott offered an assembly to Yorkshire during the time of the Scotland and Wales devolutions. Support was desultory. I suspect this had a lot to do with Labour riding a wave of success at the time etc and people not seeing the point, but I have never sensed any great desire on the part of the Yorkshire people to break away from the yoke of the British state. Perhaps this has to do with the decline of working-class militancy? The 'People's Republic of South Yorkshire' has sounded very dated in recent years.

In any case, I don't think seeking independence will ever be an effective way to overcome Conservatism in these Isles. In Scotland or Wales, either. I look forward to the days when a UK-wide movement of working people comes together to launch a full-scale invasion of the Home Counties.

Sidenote: I live in Scotland now and the election of this government doesn't seem to have intensified support for the nationalist cause quite as much as you might think.

11:36 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Thanks very much for the comemnts Carey: fascinating stuff which I'm inclined to make into a guest post, if you don't mind. Good to get a report from the UK, post-election. As far as Weslh nationalism goes: I admire the poetry it has inspired. If the South Island nationalists can inspire anything like that, I might change my mind about their cause. Btw, did you see the post I did a while back on Sheffield? It's an excerpt from a forthcoming book...

I'll chat to you soon about the book project Jack: sounds like a good idea.

11:13 am  
Blogger Carey said...

Of course, post anything you like! If you want more I'd be happy to elaborate.

I didn't catch that post the first time around; not sure how I missed it though. Threads is one of my 'favourite' films (I put that in inverted commas because I never want to sit through the experience of watching it again - I saw it alone on a cold night in Sheffield and I've been adjusting to the shock ever since.) The last few months have been a bit hectic, I've been getting used to having an actual job for the first time over the last few months and been travelling around a lot too so have been neglecting some things a bit. Sent you a bit of a catch-up email last week, in case you missed it.

12:09 pm  
Blogger maps said...

I missed that e mail! I'll hunt it down. I heard about your move to the home of Mogwai, and interpreted it as the beginning of a CPGB entryist move into Scottish nationalist politics...

1:00 am  
Anonymous Mark said...

The difference between Welsh/Scottish nationalism and the Far Right South Island separatists is that Plaid Cymru and the SNP are left-leaning parties.

Communitarian Socialism has always been at the core of PC ideology, while the SNP transformed itself in the mid/late 1970s from a 'Tories in Tartan' nationalist party to highly-progressive Social Democratic Nationalism.

The UK should never ever allow Yorkshiremen/women in the Foreign Service. They tend to speak their BLOODY mind !!!, and call a spade a BLOODY shovel !!! I can just imagine them in the diplomatic core: "No !,No !, mate, I'm gonna have my BLOODY say, ya BLOODY towelheads !!!, I mean YOU LOT, eh ?!, you come over here, you take our BLOODY women... No BLOODY way !!!, your culture don't mean ought to us, mate..." They'd be starting wars all over the place.

3:12 am  
Anonymous Daveosaurus said...

The New Munter Party (thanks to Edward for the spelling alteration) is but one of numerous small groups who have been seeking self-determination for the South Island for decades now. It would be as wrong to base one's opinion of such groups on the New Munters' example as it would be to base one's opinion of all anti-monarchists on the example of Kerry Bevin's virulently racist and sexist Republic of New Zealand Party.

2:30 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home