Aotearoa: Spilt coming in Maori Party?

At the rank and file level within the Maori Party, there has been disquiet and concern expressed at some of the actions of its co-leader Tariana Turia. In March, she accepted an invitation to the ACT Party’s annual conference in Wellington. The only dissent among the 4 Maori Party MP’s against her going to the conference came from Tai Tokerau member, Hone Harawira. This was consistent with his rejection of support for a parliamentary review of the 90-Day probation period bill for workers introduced by National’s Wayne Mapp. On that occasion yet again, Harawira went against the decision of his other 3 colleagues to support the parliamentary right wing. Does this signal an impending split in the Maori Party?
The Maori Party’s rightward shift away from its natural political ally the Labour Party, is a reactionary move in response to Labour’s anger at losing a significant part of its past support base. For a Party consisting of disillusioned castaways from the political mainstream, it’s only a matter of time before there is a clash between its pragmatic leadership and the more principled working class rank and file. The kaupapa (basic platform) that the Party and its constitution rests on, is being exposed as a weak excuse to accommodate political rivals.

The question being considered by members in many of the local branches is; are these early signs of an inevitable future split within the Maori Party centred on a breakaway led by Hone Harawira? From his earliest days in Nga Tamatoa, He Taua, Patu Squad, Kawariki and so on, Harawira has demonstrated an independent sense of leadership that has been at odds with many of his Maori political contemporaries. More importantly, he has an urban background that has not been entirely tainted by the backward politics of rural isolation.

His reluctant decision to enter Parliament shows a suspicion for an institution he regards as representing only one side of the Treaty deal. His passion is still the establishment of an independent Maori Parliament. In his time as an MP, Harawira has clearly identified with the grassroots rank and file by holding regular dialogue and consultation that has kept him away from much of the superficial parliamentary activity except crucial voting.

As his Party’s spokesperson for employment, discussions with workers and union leaders in the North have clearly put him on a path that focuses on the practical issues facing an area with the highest number of unemployed in the country. Central to that dialogue, has been his regular contact with workers at JNL Tri-Board in Kaitaia where he lives. In 1997, JNL workers were involved in one of the most significant strike actions that challenged both the ECA and the companies draconian work proposals for a new contract.

Maori Party support for striking meat workers at Ngaraunga Gorge in February this year bore more the hallmarks of Harawira’s genuine concern for people as workers rather than constituents. Regular contact with workers has forced him to face up to the limitations of the nationalist rhetoric of his youth. He increasingly has come to recognise that internationalising indigenous struggles as workers’ struggles, has more to offer in terms of strength and unity than the empty promises of misleaders governed by bourgeois nationalist class interest.

Politically, it is too early to see if he has matured to the point that he is able to make a clean break from the more limiting aspects of his past. His entry into a Parliamentary institution that he openly describes as cynical and representative of the ‘Settlers’, falls short of what could be described as the higher level of serious politics, that is ‘revolutionary’. To that end, he must engage with struggles where consciously, the break with ‘Indigenousness’ has had to be made by indigenous people. Without sacrificing their unique regional identities, they have come to realise that their battles cannot be fought alone.

In Latin America, struggles are being waged and led by native peoples who are at the head of the most politically advanced workers in the world. Their organisations are built on the ‘rank and file.’ For example in Bolivia landless indigenous peasants have united with workers to fight for the nationalization of gas against Evo Morales whose ‘Indigenous’ government is trying to do a deal with the oil companies. These struggles are in a frontline face-off against the most murderous anti-indigenous/anti-worker force ever assembled; ‘The Imperialist capitalist USA.’

In Aotearoa, the Maori fight for independence has tended to identify with a romanticised version of the past replicated in modern times by reactionaries such as George Speight in Fiji. By supporting Speight, some Maori nationalists such as Tame Iti, put themselves in opposition to Fijian workers because their ‘Indigenous’ perspective disorientated them from recognising the greater class struggle.

When Hone Harawira entered Parliament in 2005, he was in many ways going to be a cat loose among the pigeons even in his own Party. His belief in the power of the Maori Party branches to formulate policy has put him at odds with the non-parliamentary Party hierarchy. To stretch his workload even more, he has become the proxy-member for Tainui, a seat narrowly lost by left-leaning Maori Party co-candidate and Mana Maori (temporarily in recess) leader Angelline Greensill, daughter of legendary activist Eva Rickard. As a reluctant candidate herself, Greensill was perhaps going to be Harawira’s most valuable ally.

In many ways, Greensill and Mana Maori, reflect a cautionary cynicism that is aimed at the Maori Party as much as Parliament; a view not too dissimilar to that of Hone Harawira. At a meeting in Pukekohe, South Auckland before Christmas 2005, Harawira was challenged by a local worker as to the Maori Party’s industrial policy, to which he replied, “That matter is in your hands as rank and file members.” That challenge probably more than any at this stage, is going to be a sign of his future trajectory in the Maori Party.

Te Taua Karuwhero 

From Class Struggle 66 April/May 2006

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