MANA and resistance to the next National government

Protest

Fightback is committed to the MANA Movement, however we are still in the process of assessing the 2014 electoral defeat and future prospects. Grant Brookes (Fightback/MANA Poneke) offers one perspective.

Over the coming week, MANA leaders Hone Harawira and Annette Sykes will tour the country, talking with members and supporters about where next for the Movement after the election.

The media called it a “landslide victory” for National, a “catastrophe” for the opposition. John Key was labeled a “rock star politician”, said to be “even more popular” than he was three years ago.

National won 61 seats in Parliament – enough to govern alone, based on the provisional count.

The election turnout, at 77 percent, appeared slightly higher than the 74 percent of registered electors who cast a vote in 2011. But fewer people registered to vote this time. So the percentage of the population who voted in 2014 is much the same as in 2011. That was the lowest election turnout since 1887.

Of the 3.4 million eligible voters in New Zealand, just over a million of them wanted three more years of National. But over 2.3 million – 70 percent of the people – didn’t vote for that.

John Key does not have the support of the majority of New Zealanders. And popular opposition to National appears to be solidifying.

There is the potential for resistance, leading to a change of Government in 2017. Where will the resistance come from?

John Key has already outlined his three primary targets for the next National Government: “the economy, reforming the education system and changing the New Zealand flag” (http://www.3news.co.nz/politics/keys-priorities-economy-education-and-the-flag-2014092209)

According to the New Zealand Election Survey, non-voters are predominantly young, poor and Brown. John Key’s talk of focusing on “the economy” is code for helping the rich get richer. The suffering of the million non-voters will increase.

Four years of confrontation over national standards, Novopay, charter schools and executive principals have turned teachers ¬– especially those belonging to the NZEI union – into implacable opponents of this Government. Key’s plan for further “education reform” is a recipe for even greater tension. Lining up ACT pup David Seymour for the associate education portfolio could be one provocation too many.

Key has also signaled “the biggest shake-up of the State Sector so far”. This will mean renewed privatisation and attacks on public sector workers. So teachers could be joined in struggle by other groups – like nurses, who enter negotiations for a new national collective agreement in November.

The coalition deal with the Māori Party will ensure that some of the lucrative fruit carved off the state sector will go to Māori service providers, widening the rift between the favoured few around the tribal elites and the sufferers at the flaxroots.

New anti-union laws set to be rammed through before the end of the year will deepen the divide between the Government and organised workers. Workers could expect to have to fight for their rights after Saturday’s election, said Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly.

Key has also said he also expects rapid progress on signing the unpopular Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) after the election. The Petroleum Summit in Auckland next week is expected to announce new offshore oil drilling projects.

These could also be flash points for opposition. But in reality, this National Government is propped up by a minority of the population which is cocooned from the realities facing wider New Zealand society. The disconnect between the Government and most of the people means that resistance could emerge from just about anywhere.

As a smokescreen for all these unpopular moves, John Key will surf a wave of patriotism around the Gallipoli centenary next year to launch his great distraction – a referendum on the New Zealand flag. On issues like this, even small groups of socialists with clear ideas – like those in Fightback, the International Socialist Organisation and Socialist Aotearoa – can play an important role in stopping the opposition from being side-tracked.

To translate into long-term change, however, the struggles which emerge will need to connect with other streams of resistance. And they will need to articulate viable alternatives, as well as protesting against the Government’s agenda. This means that the struggles will need connections back into the political arena.

Three days after the election, MANA leader Hone Harawira wrote to his supporters, “The next three years will be tough, with National continuing to pass laws to make the rich even richer, destroy our environment, attack beneficiaries, and make even more families homeless. On top of that you can expect to see more attacks on Maori as people interpret the win as a license for Maori bashing.

“Unfortunately I don’t see anyone in the Opposition having the balls to lead the fight back. Sure there will be ‘outrage’ and ‘condemnation’, but after the big talk… nothing.”

Labour MPs have already shown they’re more interested in scrapping amongst themselves for the top job than in taking the fight to National.

“That’s why MANA is so important”, added Hone, “and why you are so important, because unless MANA campaigns for these issues and stands up for those who are vulnerable, the people will suffer.”

It was a call for MANA activists to be active in the resistance. This will not only reduce suffering. Visibly identifying with the struggles will allow MANA to publicly voice alternatives, and rebuild public support. The call will be well received. Most of us came to MANA from the Movement, and we are at home there.

But we shouldn’t just be resisting National’s agenda. MANA members should also represent our kaupapa by working in positive programmes to help the community, from volunteering in school breakfast schemes to teaching free classes in Te Reo Maori. Many of the million non-voters have switched off from “politics” to such an extent that they won’t notice our flags on protests and picket lines. But they might notice the MANA t-shirt worn by a volunteer over the counter at the soup kitchen.

Finally, where does this leave the Internet MANA alliance?

When MANA members agreed to a temporary alliance with the Internet Party, lasting until six weeks after the election, we accepted that it was gamble, but one worth taking for the chance to expand our appeal beyond Māori and a radical fringe and to get more MPs. The gamble did not pay off. The election result has badly damaged the public image of the alliance. It could be beyond repair.

If the perspective for MANA over the next three years is to turn “back to the streets” – joining the resistance and embedding ourselves in our communities – it is unclear how well-equipped the Internet Party is to join us.

Some Internet Party members have already joined MANA, including leading candidates like Roshni Sami and Miriam Pierard. But the party as a whole does not have the same roots or experience in struggle.

Laila Harré has said that the Internet Party will hold a general meeting to consider its future in the next few weeks. She said all options were open – including winding up the party.

If the Internet Party disappears, or decides not to join MANA in returning to the streets, I hope we will welcome any new friends willing to support our kaupapa.

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