Blame capitalists, not foreigners: The need for internationalism in Aotearoa / New Zealand

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by Ian Anderson and Thomas Inwod(Fightback).

Recent weeks in Aotearoa / New Zealand have seen further housing crisis controversy, triggered by Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford’s comments about people with “Chinese surnames” buying houses. Unfortunately many on the left have come to Twyford’s defence, for example John Minto in a recent Daily Blog article:

What we need is an outright ban on foreigners owning land or houses in New Zealand, a tough capital gains tax to drive local speculators and investors out of the housing market and a massive state house building programme to meet the housing quality and affordability crisis where it’s having its most devastating impact.”

Some strong progressive policies here are sullied by the racism of the opening line. The problem with Minto’s term “foreigners,” like Twyford’s “Chinese surnames,” is that they don’t distinguish between international investors and migrants.

Around 40% of homes are owned by non-occupants, and foreign buyers make up less than a quarter of that number (while ‘Chinese surnames’ are a very poor indicator, former Labour leader David Shearer’s estimate of 7-10% is higher than most official estimates). House prices and rents have skyrocketed, while real wages continue a thirty-year decline. Local profiteers are no better than ‘foreign’ profiteers; all forms of speculation, price-gouging, and private ownership must be restricted (see Housing: Foreign Ownership is not the Problem, Ian Anderson, Fightback; Chinese Are Not to Blame, A New Zealand Housing Crisis, Joshua O’Sullivan, ISO).

Restricting only ‘foreigners’ is not only a half-measure, it’s scapegoating a minority for economic problems, a truly dangerous path.

Some on the left have highlighted National’s history of racism to discredit accusations levelled at Labour. However, Labour has its own racist history – including both an active role in oppressing tangata whenua, and in scapegoating migrants. Last time they were in government, Labour deprived Māori of customary title to the foreshore and seabed, and oversaw the Urewera Raids of October 15th 2007. On the migration front, Labour oversaw the unjust detention of Ahmed Zaoui, among others. As far back as the 1920s, Labour campaigned for a “White New Zealand” policy.

National’s racist history does not excuse Labour’s racist history. Drivers behind racism in Aotearoa / New Zealand are deeper than any one party.

Aotearoa colonised by New Zealand

Capitalism was imposed in Aotearoa through colonisation, through the alienation of Māori land and labour. Colonisers imported a legal, political and economic infrastructure under the name ‘New Zealand.’ Despite contemporary attempts at nation-building through shedding the colonial flag, we still live with the legacy of that socio-economic origin.

Some say Aotearoa/NZ is facing neo-colonisation under the TPPA. We contend that Aotearoa continues to be colonised by New Zealand. Whereas Aotearoa is an indigenous Pacific nation, New Zealand is part of the imperialist Anglosphere – joining the US, the UK, and Australia in militarily and economically dominating poorer and browner nations.

Tangata whenua continue to fare the worst in all social stats. Treaty claims have cost only $0.9 billion, with much of this going to undemocratic iwi corporations rather than redistribution of land and resources, compared to a $1.6 billion bailout for South Canterbury Finance.

Solidarity with migrant workers

While oppression of tangata whenua is the original sin of New Zealand capitalism, scapegoating of Asian and Pacific migrants has also helped to divide the working-class. As comedian Raybon Kan argued in a recent piece for the NZ Herald:

“Historically, Chinese have never been welcome. From the gold miners and railway workers who weren’t allowed to bring women, to the Poll Tax, we’ve always been singled out for worse treatment.”

This is a divide-and-conquer strategy; capitalists draw the colour line to justify offering worse conditions, and white workers in turn accept the Faustian pact. The only effective way to combat this strategy is to stand with migrant workers.

This may sound like idealist rhetoric. To give a concrete example, in February 2007 management at bus company Go Wellington introduced new conditions to cut down drivers’ access to overtime. When a number of drivers quit over these changes, the company shopped around for cheaper labour in Fiji, expecting applicants to sign scab contracts. However, the migrant workers got wise and the majority signed up to the Tramways Union. When the company locked bus drivers out a year later, the majority were union, and public pressure resulted in a swift victory. As always, we’re stronger together.

Just as Pākehā workers must support Māori sovereignty for any chance of justice in this country, so locals must stand with migrant workers. In the case of housing, this requires distinguishing between international investors and economic migrants.

International investors

The problem with foreign capitalists is that they’re capitalists.  The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), a major effort at entrenching international inequality, is an attack on workers. Currently under the TPPA, French conglomerate Veolia is attempting to sue the Egyptian government over loss of revenue from raising its minimum wage (Veolia also operates Auckland’s rail network).

Meanwhile, New Zealand and Australia are negotiating a less prominent trade agreement, the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER Plus). Pacific trade unions and NGOs support delaying PACER Plus. In the words of Solomon Islands opposition leader Manasseh Sogavare:

“As far as Solomon Islands is concerned, the arrangement would amount to opening up one-way traffic of trade benefits from here to Australia and New Zealand, which in any case is already in favour of these countries without the PLACER-PLUS arrangement.”

Financialisation over the last 30 years has benefited local capitalists – prominently merchant bankers Sir Michael Fay and David Richwhite (speaking of ethnic surnames), who gained billions from the sale of telecommunications and rail infrastructure. National and Labour’s rich friends, both local and international, benefit from asset-stripping.

We oppose all privatisation, all commercialisation, all profiteering. Focus on ‘foreigners’ is a diversion. During the asset sales campaign, Fightback raised the slogan ‘Aotearoa is not for sale, to local or foreign capitalists.’

Sovereignty and internationalism

As Syriza’s electoral victory in Greece this year demonstrates, even if leftists win any kind of power at a national level, we will still face the combined weight of international capital. Both sides of the class war are international. Without working-class power on the ground, in communities and workplaces, control of a nation easily becomes co-opted into management of the status quo.

Moreover, in a globalised economy the need for struggles to be regional, rather than nationally isolated, is even greater. Solidarity and coordination throughout key regions lays the foundation for a sustained break from the status quo. While still facing many difficulties, relationships between Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia hint towards pan-regional approaches; sharing uneven resources like oil and doctors, and countering pressure from US imperialism.

During the great labour struggles of Aotearoa / New Zealand; the 1951 waterfront lockout, the 1913 and 1890 general strikes; Australian maritime unions were some of the key supporters of local militants, going to jail for their brothers and sisters across the Pacific. When Māori sovereignty activists re-occupied Bastion Point, Communist Party militants ensured union support. This history of solidarity, rather than the history of Yellow Peril scares, must be our inspiration.

Fightback stands for open borders, full rights for migrant workers, and self-determination for all Pasefika nations. We demand sovereignty, but the sovereignty of organised workers and communities; “rangatiratanga for the poor, powerless and dispossessed,” in MANA’s words. In the 2011 and 2014 General Elections, MANA stood for an expansion of state housing, recognition of Māori claims, opposition to imperialist agreements with the US, and rights for migrants. Scapegoating of ‘foreigners’ weakens this programme and prospects for liberation.

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