Let;s Occupy the Foreshore, not Cabinet!

An Open Letter to supporters of the Maori Party

Kia ora comrades,

We were proud to march alongside so many of you on the great seabed and foreshore hikoi. The hikoi has already taken its place beside the Great Land March of 1975, the waterfront lockout of 1951, and the anti-Springbok campaign of 1981 in the history of resistance to injustice in Aotearoa. We salute the courage and endurance of the marchers who defied the threats of politicians, the slanders of the media, and the verbal and physical attacks from racists and made Labour’s confiscation of the seabed and foreshore into a burning issue up and down Aotearoa.

We were proud to hikoi with you to Wellington, but we won’t be travelling to Wanganui for the launch of the new Maori Party. It’s not that we’ve changed our minds about the seabed and foreshore – on the contrary, we think that events since the passage of Labour’s legislation confirm the arguments of the hikoi ten times over.

We won’t be with you in Wanganui because we believe that the Maori Party represents a sharp turn away from the path of the hikoi. We don’t recognise the spirit of that great struggle in the Maori Party. In fact, we think that some of the pronouncements of the would-be leaders of the new party – Tariana Turia, Peter Sharples, and the rest – represent a betrayal of the politics of the seabed and foreshore hikoi. We think that you are setting out on a hikoi to hell, and we want to try to convince you change direction before it’s too late.

Hikoi to the Ballot Box?

We’ve been disturbed by some of the korero at pro-party hui held around the North Island, and by the statements that leaders of the new party have been making through the media. Movers and shakers like Tariana and Sharples have announced that they want the new organisation to be a ‘centre’ party, which can sit between National and Labour and negotiate with both to get the best deal – or, at any rate, the biggest number of Cabinet seats - for Maori.

Tariana tells us that the new party will be open to people of all political persuasions. Tuku Morgan has welcome at pro-party hui, and National’s Georgina Te Heuheu is being courted as a possible candidate in next year’s general election. Sharples has claimed that the new party ‘will have the same basic philosophy’ as Labour, and that Labour ‘would be fools to treat us as enemies’. On television with Gerry Brownlee soon after the hikoi, Tariana refused to rule out a coalition between the new party and National after the next election. Tariana’s by-election campaign manager Matt McCarten has defended the overtures to National as a ‘strategic’ measure designed to increase the Maori Party’s bargaining power. According to Tariana and McCarten, ‘the next hikoi will be to the ballot box’ and into a coalition with one of the big parties.

But why were we on the hikoi in the first place? Why did Maori and their supporters need to march all the way from Te Hapua to Wellington? What were all those blisters for? Wasn’t the hikoi necessary because Maori seats in Cabinet were not able to get a better deal for Maori? Hasn’t Tariana tried and fail to influence government ‘from the inside’? And didn’t Tuku and the rest of Tau Henare’s brat pack try and fail to do the same back in the late 90s?

New Party, Old Mistakes

We think that Tariana is repeating the mistakes she made after the occupation at Pakaitore back in ’95. Tariana won a lot of mana as a leader of that occupation, which defied the power of the state and won back a piece of the Wanganui River foreshore for Maori. After the Pakaitore, Labour dropped Tariana a line, telling her that she should occupy parliament. Tariana bought Labour’s line, and the rest is history.

Tariana lost a lot of her mana by becoming a Minister in a government which helped the US invade Afghanistan and Iraq, and which continued to implement National’s right-wing economic and social policies at home. Tariana’s decision to dump Labour for the hikoi has made her a hero again, but now she’s talking about going down the same old parliamentary road. Not only has Tariana not learnt from her mistakes, she’s hasn’t even learnt from the mistake of Tau and his New Zealand First mates. She’s talking about the possibility of going down Tau’s own road to nowhere, by forming a government with the Nats!

Local Battle, Global War

But why is the hikoi through parliament so hard? Why did Tau and Tariana fail? Why did Mat Rata fail? Why did Apirana Ngata fail? Why are Maori still second-class citizens, after more than a hundred years of Maori seats?

To answer these questions, we need to step back and look at the big political picture. We hikoied to Wellington, because Wellington is the political capital of Aotearoa. Wellington is where parliament sits and the big bureaucrats draw their salaries.

But Wellington is not the place where the most important economic and political decisions affecting Aotearoa are made. To go to the real heart of power, we’d have to hikoi to Washington DC, or to the Wall Street Stock Exchange in New York City. Aotearoa is an economic semi-colony of the United States, and that means that the US dictates the economic direction and general political programme of both National and Labour governments.

Multinational companies based in the US and other imperialist countries control most of the biggest businesses in Aotearoa, and wealthy Americans are snapping up our land. US money has effective veto power over important economic and political decisions in Wellington. US military and spy bases are dotted around Aotearoa, and Labour’s participation in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is driven by a fear of offending US money and the US government. ‘Free’ trade treaties like GATT only tie government hands more tightly.

The US exports its own economic problems to the rest of the world, and calls its export globalisation. In Aotearoa, globalisation has meant the privatisations and cuts in education and health spending of the 80s and 90s. Globalisation continues today, as Labour works hard to win a ‘free’ trade deal with the US by removing remaining barriers to foreign investment and the purchase of land, opening the door to GE, and doing the US’s dirty work in ‘little Iraqs’ like the Solomons and East Timor.

It’s not hard to see why Labour is crapping on Maori. Those cheeky darkies who descended on Wellington are a threat to the smooth progress of globalisation in Aotearoa. The Maori Land Court and the Waitangi Tribunal threatened to tie the government up in red tape, when it wanted to get on with reducing the barriers to the US buy-up of coastal land, and the US colonisation of the sea farming business. And the Maori demand for better funding for kohanga reo, housing and other necessities runs straight into Labour’s concern to keep government spending down so that it can cut company tax and woo US investors.

How they Hikoi in Bolivia

The hikoi was a challenge to the politicians and bureaucrats in Wellington and to the globalisers in Washington DC. It was our local front in the global war against the imperialists’ globalisation. It’s no coincidence that many young people on the march identified with the Iraqi resistance, and that some wore the head dress of the Palestinians fighting colonisation in Gaza and the West Bank. And, there’s no doubt the hikoi scared the shit out of the local agents of globalisation. Helen Clark was too afraid to show us her face, when we made it to Wellington! (Of course, Helen will be much less worried about a Maori Party which refuses even to call her the enemy. She’ll be keeping that Cabinet seat warm for Tariana...)

Maori and working class Pakeha have to understand that winning seats in parliament and at the Cabinet table means nothing, as long as their country is owned offshore. To defeat the enemy, we have to think globally, even as we act locally. We may have a powerful offshore enemy in US imperialism, but we also have a power offshore ally too, in the international working class. From Iraq to Argentina, US imperialism is being resisted by working class and oppressed people. When we talk about strategy and tactics, we should be looking at success stories overseas, not at local failures like Tau and Tuku.

We all know about Iraq, but too few of us are aware of the massive anti-US revolts that have been shaking South America for two years now. South America’s workers and peasants are fighting US imperialism, and they are winning. In Argentina, workers have reacted to globalisation by occupying hundreds of factories that US-owned companies wanted to close down. In Venezuela, the CIA has twice tried to overthrow the anti-US government of Hugo Chavez with military coups. Bush wants to get control of Venezuela’s oil reserves, but he’s been defeated, because millions of workers have taken to the streets, and others have occupied their factories.

In Bolivia, workers and peasants last year staged a hikoi of their won, pouring into their capital city La Paz to protest the US-backed government’s plans to wipe out coca farming and steal the country’s natural gas. In La Paz the Bolivians built barricades and stormed government buildings. President Sanchez de Lozada needed a US helicopter to sneak him out of the country, as his government collapsed and the people took over the capital. That’s how a hikoi should end!

Unity with Workers, not the Nats

There are many lessons to be learnt from the victories in South America. In Bolivia, protesters united across ethnic lines, because they had a common interest in getting rid of Lozada, a wealthy businessman nicknamed ‘the Yank’ because he spoke with an American accent. The Indian coca growers the US was trying to ruin united with mixed race urban workers, against a common enemy. In Aotearoa, we need the same sort of unity between Pakeha and Maori workers. Many Pakeha trade unionists and leftists marched to Wellington, but the majority of non-Maori were sucked in by Labour’s promises that its legislation would protect their access to beaches.

Now, only weeks after the first reading of Labour’s bill, the Department of Conservation has teamed up with Tourism New Zealand and some local councils to promote plans to charge the public for access to popular beaches, including Coromandel’s Cathedral Cove. In the south, Clutha District Council has plans to make motorists pay for access to the road that follows the scenic Caitlins coast. In the Hawkes Bay, locals are up in arms over local government’s decision to allow a US billionaire to desecrate the beautiful Cape Kidnappers by building chalets and tunnelling into a cliff. Pakeha are beginning to understand what Maori have been so angry about!

We all know that the politicians and the media slandered the hikoi, by telling the country that it was made up of greedy Maoris who only wanted to privatise the foreshore and exploit the seabed to line their own pockets. The hikoi challenged those slanders: at hui after hui speakers reiterated their support for public access to the foreshore, placards on the march called for Pakeha to join in, and Hone Harawira constantly emphasised that the seabed and foreshore issue was one for ordinary Pakeha as well as Maori.

By the time it reached Wellington, the hikoi had attracted a significant minority of Pakeha members, and the media had to drop some of its more outrageous slurs. But now, just when Pakeha are beginning to grasp the real meaning of Labour’s legislation, Tariana and other Maori leaders are discrediting all the arguments of the hikoi, by extending the hand of friendship to Labour, and even finding kind words for National! The Pakeha who took part in the hikoi were mostly left-wingers disillusioned with Labour. They understand Labour’s pro-globalisation agenda and oppose its involvement in wars in the Middle East as well as its racism at home. These people will be disgusted by Tariana’s and Sharples’ overtures to Labour.

And the great majority of working class, Labour-voting Pakeha will be even more angered by the Maori Party’s overtures to National. Seeing Tariana cosying up to Gerry Brownlee will only reinforce these workers’ misunderstanding of Tino Rangatiratanga, and tie them more closely to Labour. For their part, working class Maori who have broken with Labour over the seabed and foreshore will also be alarmed to see that ‘their’ new party considers Brash and Brownlee possible coalition partners. If Tariana isn’t careful, these workers will rush straight back into the arms of Labour!

Occupy the Foreshore!

Tariana’s ‘hikoi to the ballot box’ cannot solve the problems of Maori. It can only result in another generation of Maori being chewed up and spat out of Wellington’s political machine. Only direct action which takes back land and resources – land and resources stolen from working class Pakeha, as well as Maori – can reverse the tide of globalisation in Aotearoa. The time is ripe for Maori and Pakeha to unite and occupy threatened sections of the foreshore. We need to revive the spirit of Bastion Pt, Pakaitore and the seabed and foreshore hikoi, and safeguard places like Cathedral Cove, the Caitlins Coast, and Cape Kidnappers with direct action! Let’s occupy the foreshore, not Cabinet!

Kia kaha,

Communist Workers Group  
From Class Struggle 56 June-July 2004

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