Auckland’s no-choice elections: blue-greens and conservative leftists

ponsonby-auckland

By Daphne Lawless

The election of former Labour Party leader Phil Goff as mayor of Auckland on October 9, by a margin of 75,000 votes over his nearest challenger, will at best have provoked “half a cheer” from people who want a sustainable, equal, democratic and liveable future for Auckland.

The mayoral election was probably a foregone conclusion once the Auckland right wing failed to agree on a challenger and ran three separate campaigns for Mayor. But even if you added all the votes together for business figures Victoria Crone and John Palino and career National Party hack Mark Thomas, Goff still came out with a clear majority.

Phil Goff was one of the eminences grises of the neo-liberal takeover of the Labour Party in the 1980s. As Minister of Education he was the first to impose tertiary tuition fees. He spent 30 years as a reliable but inoffensive member of the right wing of the Labour Party caucus and caused the National Government no problems during his single election as Opposition Leader in 2011.

Goff’s campaign to succeed the centre-leftist Len Brown as Mayor of Auckland was similarly marked by carefully avoiding taking any stands. In Labour-leaning areas of Auckland, his campaign signs carried slogans like “Let’s sort out transport”. In the National-leaning zones, they said “Let’s get council spending under control”. Goff’s honestly described his campaign strategy to the NZ Herald on September 9, distancing himself from the sex scandal which dogged Len Brown’s second term:

“I’ve slept with one woman for 45 years – that’s all,” he declares when Sainsbury asks him about potential scandal. “Why am I so boring?” should be the question, he suggests.

The sole element of interest in the mayoral election was the late run of 22-year-old Chloë Swarbrick. A qualified lawyer running on a left-liberal platform which took clear stances where Goff fudged, she was initially ignored by the mainstream media for whom her age was considered an obvious disqualifying factor. Nonetheless, a groundswell on social media eventually propelled her to 3rd place in the election, beating two of the mainstream conservative candidates. The Wireless website reported on 9 October:

Chlöe doesn’t own a home, she takes public transport and she’s in $43,000 of student loan debt. “I’m not just some rich kid from Epsom. I’ve had no financial support since I was 17,” she says.

As @tiredsounds put it on Twitter: “Swarbrick shows that soft-left but sensible ideas, if not attached to someone with a rap sheet that makes NZers hate them, can feasibly contest elections.”

Auckland’s growth: UP or Out?

Leftists and socialists might have wished for more candidates like Chloë Swarbrick in the elections for the Council Governing Body and Auckland’s 21 local boards. Not only because of her appealing personal qualities, but because her youth-focussed campaign drew attention to the fault-lines in Auckland caused by the ongoing housing crisis. As Simon Collins reported in the Herald on April 14:

Young people in their early twenties are now the most likely age group to be living in overcrowded conditions, as Auckland’s unaffordable housing crisis bites hardest for young adults. A quarter (25.2 per cent) of all young people aged 20 to 24 in Auckland are now officially considered to be in “overcrowded” housing in the 2013 Census, up from 23.6 per cent in the previous Census in 2006.

One reason for the overall dullness of the election might be that the most controversial and important issue for Auckland’s future – the Unitary Plan – was endorsed by the Governing Body before the election. There has been a lot of misinformation circulated about Auckland’s Unitary Plan on both sides of the political spectrum, so it’s probably worth setting out some facts.

The purpose of the Unitary Plan was to replace the jumble of old zoning schemes and development plans left over from the previous Auckland city, district and regional councils into a single “rulebook for Auckland development”. That is, the Unitary Plan was never going to build a single house – it was solely a question of setting rules on what houses and other buildings and infrastructure could be built, where. As urban design student Niko Elsen explained on The Spinoff:

The Unitary Plan lifts up and loosens that web of rules so more homes are allowed to be built. It doesn’t actually build homes – that’s for architects, developers and the Government, but it’s a super important step to let them get on with it.

Unfortunately, given New Zealand’s centralised political system, radical measures which could actually reduce housing costs – such as the 50% “crash” in house prices proposed by Green Party leader Metiria Turei, or a massive build of State housing for rental and not for speculation – were not among the options for the Auckland Council. The question that the Unitary Plan was to solve was more a question of urban form. Given Auckland’s continued exponential growth, to the point where it now embodies something like 1/3 of the population of Aotearoa/New Zealand, the Unitary Plan could have decisive influence on what kind of city it will become. Would it continue its current growth pattern of low-rise urban sprawl, with single-dwelling houses on “traditional Kiwi” lots spreading out north and south over productive farmland? Or would “high-density” living – apartments and townhouses – become more widespread?

In a previous Fightback article, I made an argument that urban intensification and an end to sprawl is not only the pro-worker solution, but the pro-environment solution. Energy-efficient housing close to reliable public transport routes not only requires less infrastructure but has a much lower “carbon footprint” than Auckland’s traditional housing model – or would do so, given proper planning and design. This analysis was matched by lobby groups in the election such as Generation Zero and Greater Auckland, the latter being the advocacy group behind the popular Transportblog.

Left-Right bloc against intensification

As I said in the article referenced above, it is to be expected for the traditional Auckland right to oppose intensification – both because of the downward pressure on their property values, and because of the influx it might cause of “undesirables” into the “leafy suburbs” which they traditionally monopolise. And certainly this was the position of such traditional-Right councillors such as George Wood (North Shore), Cameron Brewer (representing the Remuera and Kohimarama areas) and Dick Quax (Howick).

It might be surprising, then – if you don’t follow Auckland politics – to know that, in the Council debates and in the election that followed, the spectrum of opinion generally considered “centre-left” ranged from deep suspicion about the Unitary Plan to outright opposition. Daily Blog supremo Martyn “Bomber” Bradbury called the UP a “scam”; perennial mayoral candidate Penny Bright described it as the “Lunatic Plan” and accused Generation Zero of being “the youth wing of the Property Council”.

More seriously, left-leaning politicians representing the central suburbs – in particularly those attached to the City Vision ticket – were in the forefront of those opposing the Unitary Plan’s vision for a more intensified, compact Auckland in its planning stages. City Vision councillors Mike Lee and Cathy Casey both voted for the Council to withdraw its initial submission to the Independent Hearings Panel calling for more intensification. While Cathy Casey eventually supported the UP at the final vote – saying she wanted her children to be able to grow up and live in her local area – Mike Lee kept up his opposition to the last, voting against more aspects of the UP than any other councillor. This UP-critical stance was supported by other City Vision candidates in the election, like Casey’s running mate Peter Haynes. In contrast, Labour-aligned councillors in western and southern Auckland were generally supportive of the UP.

Mike Lee – the King Canute of the Auckland Left

So what exactly was City Vision’s problem with the UP? For a lot of traditional, older leftists, the answer was simply a personal preference for the low-rise sprawl which characterises today’s Auckland. In one Facebook discussion I had with an opponent of the UP, their position eventually summed up to “I don’t like those apartments downtown”. Clearly, radical urbanists need to work harder to promote the ecosocialist case for high-density housing against the arguments of what I have previously described as “the conservative left”.1

But is personal preference for things the way they’ve traditionally been really the reason for the anger against the UP on the central Auckland centre-Left? Let’s examine closely a few of Mike Lee’s posts on his own blog, reprinted in the glossy freebie Ponsonby News. From February:

The council’s massive un-notified change to zonings is essentially another example of business deregulation, which would make Auckland even more of a free-for-all for the development lobby. Interestingly some young ‘climate change’ activists lined up with big business to support the changes. ‘Generation Zero’ argues that the all-out assault on the historic garden suburbs of Auckland is a good for young people, taking as an article of faith vague promises from the developers of ‘affordable housing’ close to the desirable city centre. They also believe a further round of intensification will force more people to use public transport. Sadly they have bought into the endless growth ideology and are not too bothered about the wider environmental impacts of overcrowding (sewage disposal for instance) nor indeed, as they freely admit, about the loss of people’s democratic rights and due process.

Lee goes on to criticise “the weird assumption that unsustainable growth and urban overcrowding is the formula for quality of life and better public transport”. In the second article from May, which concerns his opposition to a Government Special Housing Area (SHA) in the suburb of Herne Bay, Lee argues:

In regard to Auckland’s housing problem, government policies stoking up immigration into Auckland (demand) and its reluctance to build state houses (supply) are also contributing factors…

While population-driven pressure on the property market is a feature of cities in other countries – the difference is that in New Zealand a disproportionate amount of growth is loaded onto one city – Auckland. And Auckland ratepayers are expected to pay for more and more for increasingly expensive infrastructure.

While I support intensification over suburban sprawl (subject of course to the availability of adequate infrastructure) the current debate assumes that Auckland must continue to grow disproportionately. …

With State Highways and motorways increasingly congested on the suburban fringes and sewerage capacity under pressure in places like the historic western bays, such growth is neither environmentally sustainable – nor in the end affordable. An intelligent government-led balanced population and development policy for the whole of New Zealand is what is needed.

There are several issues that need unpacking here. Firstly, Lee makes some nods in the direction of being opposed to “deregulation” and “property developers” – phrases which would evoke an instant knee-jerk response as Bad Things among traditional leftists. We might wonder firstly how “property developer” got the same emotional loading as “drug dealer”, why this particular sector of the capitalist economy is being stigmatised, especially when housing is the number one issue facing us. (Penny Bright’s jibes at Generation Zero show the same scapegoating move.)

But let’s look more closely about what is being deregulated here. Lee claims to be defending the “property rights” of his constituents. But he’s not. Rezoning under the UP actually gives property owners more rights about what to do with their own property. What Lee is defending is restrictions on what can be built and where. These restrictions on property rights act to maintain property values – and the personal preferences of Lee’s mega-wealthy constituents.

Herne Bay is probably the most “exclusive” suburb in the central Auckland region, with an average house price now at a whopping $2 million. The expensive suburbs are that way because that’s where people most want to live – central, with good public transport, with views of the sea and in walking distance of cultural and work opportunities. It is precisely in these areas where people want to live the most, that intensified housing is most needed! The argument that “leafy” suburbs must be defended by restricting them to existing residents and property owners is nothing but a defence of unearned privilege. The benefits of such suburbs should be available to all social classes.

Similarly, Lee’s argument against the Herne Bay SHA is ostensibly based on the inadequacy of wastewater facilities for fitting any significant amount of new homes in the Herne Bay region. But infrastructure can be built and improved, given sufficient funding and political will. As one US Twitter commentator put it: “Something’s fishy when people oppose new homes within walking distance of jobs and transit on environmental grounds.” Lee takes great offence at being accused of being a NIMBY (someone who wants development “not in my back yard”). But the question arises – if intensification is not to happen in Herne Bay, then where?

It’s true that, absent other interventions, intensified housing in the most desirable suburbs would still be unaffordable for most working people. But as mentioned above, the affordability issue cannot be solved at the level of the UP, which only controls types of development. If the UP were to leave the “leafy suburbs” alone, then any intensified housing would have to be concentrated in existing working class/affordable suburbs. This would of course replicate the phenomenon of British “estates”, French “banlieues” and US “projects” – all of which have become bywords for terrible slums. The socialist approach should surely be one which breaks down social apartheid – as the original NZ State Housing project of the 1930s did by “pepper-potting” affordable housing rather than concentrating it in single areas.

Lee’s final and most basic argument – to which his special pleading on behalf of his super-wealthy constituents takes second place – is an argument against “Auckland’s disproportionate growth”. That is, that the problem would not exist if Auckland were not growing so quickly. To show that this is not just one individual talking, this concept was endorsed by another elected official from City Vision – Albert-Eden Local Board member Graeme Easte – in a comment on a Transportblog post:

I advocate a national population strategy to share growth more evenly throughout NZ. …The so-called ‘zombie towns’ are very real, as I have personally discussed with the despairing mayors of a number of them. I fully realize how difficult it will be to incentivize more business activity (jobs) in the provinces but this is the only realistic way to persuade more people, especially the young, to remain in or relocate to the smaller centres. I have been attacked on this blog for previously suggesting such policies but remain firmly of the view that this would be a win-win for all concerned … Auckland would be better able to address growth if there were just a bit less of it while the rest of New Zealand would actually have some growth.

There is room for argument as to whether Auckland-centric urbanisation is preferable from an ecosocialist point of view than encouraging similar intensified urban living elsewhere in the country. But the more immediate question is – exactly what do Lee or Easte think can be done about this at local body level? The problem of population growth will not go away if Council simply refuses to allow intensified housing. At best, we would end up like San Francisco – where no-one who works in the central city can afford to live there, with available housing monopolised by privileged tech-workers who commute 2 hours down the road to Silicon Valley. In this respect, Lee and Easte are like the ancient English King Canute, said to have attempted to order the rising tide to turn back.

Kill your children

Peter Nunns on Transportblog has convincingly demonstrated that “local governments do not represent the young, except occasionally by accident or in a mood of generosity.” This is certainly borne out in both turnout figures and the ages of candidates in Auckland’s recent elections – which is why Chloë Swarbrick’s quixotic tilt at the mayoralty was such a hopeful sign. But it became increasingly important as the young became one of the major targets for the wrath of conservatives from both Left and Right railing against Auckland’s urbanisation.

One disturbing manifestation of the anti-Unitary Plan movement, noted by several commentators, has been its outright ageism – older, asset-rich people expressing their contempt for younger people who complain that traditional urban patterns in Auckland would lead to them not being able to afford to live in their own city. At a hotly contested hearing on the UP in February this year, which was packed out with older anti-UP protestors from the “leafy suburbs”:

Flora Apulu from the council’s Youth Advisory Panel told the council she and her colleague Alex Johnston were “probably the only young people in this room”.

Oh, poor things,” called out someone at the back.

But this anti-youth attitude doesn’t just come from the traditionally selfish Right. On the conservative left wing, Penny Bright described Generation Zero as “wolf cubs” and “the youth wing of the Property Council”, while Martyn Bradbury railed against “blue green millennials” and elsewhere repeated the argument that Millennials are lost to the left as a generation as they have only ever growing up knowing neoliberal values.

Our old friend Mike Lee, writing on The Daily Blog, continued in this vein:

It is rather sad and unfair that the generation of Aucklanders who bought run-down villas and bungalows in Grey Lynn, Ponsonby and Westmere etc., and lovingly did them up, often with their own hands, are now meant to feel guilty.

Of course, the “generation” he speaks of were beneficiaries of racially-biased gentrification. Grey Lynn and Ponsonby were heavily Polynesian working-class suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s. They were pushed out of the area in the 1980s, as industrial jobs shifted to the outer suburbs such as Mangere or Ōtara, and young, “hipster”, Pākehā took advantage to buy up cheaper housing in what were then insalubrious but culturally rich suburbs. This generation subsequently benefitted from the massive neoliberal housing boom. They may have “done up” their Ponsonby villas, but no amount of “doing up” can justify a 2000% increase in capital value over 30 years.

Gentrification of previously working-class suburbs can be seen as an act of violence against their inhabitants – a modern echo of the colonial dispossession of the indigenous people of Tāmaki Makarau (whose rights are, sadly, still not recognized in the final Unitary Plan). Lee’s statement shows a lack of awareness of his and his constituents’ privilege which should disqualify him from being considered part of the “left”, if we consider that to be the political movement for social equality.

Immigration: the conservative left’s dirty secret

We saw above that young people were one of the scapegoats of both traditional Right and conservative Left for the changes in the face of Auckland they are resisting. We saw Mike Lee above put forward what we might call a “populationist” argument, that if Auckland’s growth threatens his constituents’ privileges, then growth should be slowed or stopped. But, almost as an afterthought in his blog spots, he touches on another scapegoat – immigration.

This is the traditional domain of the conservative right. An organisation called the Public Transport Users Association has combined advocacy for reform of Auckland’s mass transit system with arguments from its leading figures that Auckland’s issues can be solved by cutting immigration – which is what you would expect from people associated with the NZ First party.2

But let’s return to one of Mike Lee’s blog posts already mentioned above, this time with emphasis added:

In regard to Auckland’s housing problem, government policies stoking up immigration into Auckland (demand) and its reluctance to build state houses (supply) are also contributing factors.

If Lee were a consistent opponent of Auckland’s “overpopulation” (which, as Transportblog has consistently argued, is a natural consequence of its pre-eminent position in the current New Zealand economy), he might find out that natural increase – simply put, people having babies – is a larger component of Auckland’s population growth than all migration from overseas and from elsewhere in New Zealand put together. Therefore, if Lee (or Graeme Easte) were really worried about Auckland’s population growth, they might more fruitfully consider putting contraceptives in the drinking water.

Sadly, this goes along with the reprehensible recent embrace of immigration-control rhetoric by both the Labour and Green Parties. Phil Goff himself decided to pander to anti-immigrant sentiment as part of his all-things-to-all-constituencies campaign. But every socialist and social progressive must draw a hard line against any such scapegoating of immigrants or immigration as a problem. Lee might well argue that by “immigration” he meant all migration to Auckland, including that from other parts of the country, such as the exodus from rural areas which worries Easte. But whether a migrant is from Tehran or Tokoroa, freedom of movement is a basic human right. A left-wing politics which makes sense in the globalised future must argue strongly that all migrants are welcome here, especially in our most multicultural city. Rebuilding our cities to sustainably welcome those who want to live here will surely be cheaper than building a Donald Trump-style wall along the Bombay Hills.

It seems only fitting, finally, that the population/anti-migrant stance of the conservative Left is mirrored by an open or tacit reliance on emigration to maintain the status quo. Like Ireland, New Zealand has historically encouraged its young, ambitious troublemakers to go overseas to make their fortune and express their creativity – only returning here to retire, or perhaps to bring up their children in a carefully insulated environment. But the radical Left has an interest in making Auckland, and all of Aotearoa, a place fit for young people to live and work – and build a better tomorrow.

Whose Left is it anyway?

This article has concentrated on Mike Lee’s blog posts and public statements because he’s the loudest and most prominent promoter of anti-urbanist ideas on the Auckland centre-left. Of course, as his defenders at The Daily Blog loudly proclaim, he has a good track record in Auckland local body politics, defending public assets and promoting public transport (though Transportblog have argued that he has also pushed through some blunders)3.

Marxists have a saying that “being determines consciousness” – simply put, that how you live your life determines how you think. Mike Lee’s main achievements for the Left were as chair of the Auckland Regional Council, when he was elected by all the people of the old Auckland City, from Avondale to Remuera to Otahuhu. His anti-Unitary Plan stance, however, has been as the councillor for the Waitemata/Gulf ward – including the central city but dominated by the gentrified, superwealthy suburbs of Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, Herne Bay et al. The other City Vision councillors are elected from either that ward or the less-gentrified but still well-off Mt Albert/Mt Eden/Mt Roskill area. One does not need to be a Marxist to point out that a good elected politician promotes the interests of their constituents.

Lee’s “grumpy old man” stance on the UP provoked the liberal, pro-urbanist blog The Spinoff to endorse his main rival in the election – former broadcaster and traditional Tory Bill Ralston. Ralston’s stance on the UP – expressed in a tweet as “Pass the Plan and move on guys” – was the only thing to recommend him, and third candidate Rob Thomas would have been a much better choice for progressive voters in the Chloë Swarbrick mode. This endorsement led to a predictable storm of condemnations by Martyn Bradbury, Chris Trotter and other older leftists on The Daily Blog. This went as far as “shill-baiting” – accusations that The Spinoff and Transportblog had actually been paid off to take their position.4

The outrage that any progressives might pose a threat to their existing social and institutional circles is a recurring feature of what I call the “conservative left”. Similar anger was raised among supporters of Phil Goff at the Swarbrick campaign, arguing that “a vote for Chloë is a vote for Victoria Crone”. But in the case of Bradbury, Trotter, Lee et al., we seem to see simple anger and incomprehension of a challenge by a younger generation to their prejudices, and their old mates. Those who jumped to Mike Lee’s defence should have remembered that when an “old Leftie” defends the rights of the wealthy and privileged, that doesn’t make it a left-wing position.

A Left which writes off the next generation, which distrusts the ways it wants to live, work and shape its future, is simply doomed. 30 years of globalised neoliberalism have ended the optimism of the baby-boomer generation that their children would have a better future than they did. Now it is an asset-rich generation which, ironically, has itself internalised the tenets of neoliberalism – in particular, that of ignoring the future in the interests of defending current privilege.

Is this the future?

One amusing point in the campaign was where Bradbury smeared Generation Zero and Transportblog as privileged “blue-greens”, even though he himself had argued two years ago that there was no such thing. However, one notable feature of the election might have been precisely the emergence of a blue-green constituency – that is, economically privileged voters supporting the concepts of sustainable urbanism. Rightist mayoral candidate Victoria Crone uncovered this when, at a candidate’s meeting on the solidly blue North Shore, she argued that Auckland desperately needed a new car tunnel under the Waitemata Harbour. To her apparent surprise, this didn’t go down well. Under Len Brown’s carefully centrist promotion of public transport and intensification, North Shore voters seem to have been won to the need for prioritising a cross-harbour rail connection. This was borne out by the North Shore ward giving both its Council seats to liberal pro-urbanist candidates Chris Darby and Richard Mills.

The very close result on the North Shore may have tipped the balance on the Council. It seems that the incoming council will have a similar 11-9 split between progressives and conservatives on the interrelated issues of housing and transport. Two of the most negative right-wing councillors have gone (Wood and Brewer), while Mike Lee beat Bill Ralston back by a small but comfortable margin, Rob Thomas coming a creditable third. Of course, the previous council was marked by the sometimes erratic but generally progressive leadership of Len Brown. Whether the beige man Phil Goff will carry on this tradition, or skew towards the conservatives, can’t be predicted right now.

So – to raise the inevitable socialist question – what is to be done? The most important task of radicals in reactionary times is to swim against the stream – to continue promoting unpopular ideas until such time as the tide turns. To call Generation Zero, Transportblog and The Spinoff “blue-green” is a slander, but neither are they red-green ecosocialists. Discussions on Transportblog of placing tolls on motorway driving, for example, have shown a blindspot as to how road pricing would hit the most vulnerable in our society – such as cleaners who have to travel from the outer suburbs to the CBD. What is needed is for socialists to engage with the “New Urbanists” who congregate around such organisations, to challenge these blindspots and to make sure that an environmentally sustainable Auckland is also socially just – while rejecting the conservative leftists who, in The Spinoff’s memorable phrase, are “intent on trapping Auckland in a 1950s time prison”.

Ideally, by the time of the next local body elections in 2019 – or even for the general election of 2020! – we might hope for a new, radical political vehicle which would stand on something like this, as suggested by @tiredsounds on Twitter:

1) open borders, with full legal protection for migrant workers, encourage unions to work with migrants and the unemployed to ensure labour is not undersold;

2) intensification of cities – higher density housing, light rail and forms of electric based mass transit.

To this, we might simply add a new programme of public housing – intensified, environmentally sustainable, located in the desirable parts of the urban area rather than new ghettos, built for occupation not speculation. Such a simple project would at once challenge the conservative left to stop their grumpy scapegoating of young people and migrants, while challenging the “blue-greens” to take issues of social justice seriously. Could it be that the people who supported Chloë Swarbrick and Rob Thomas are keen to take such a challenge on?

1 I developed the concept of “conservative leftism” in a previous article. It refers to the trend for activists from the traditional left to take up reactionary positions in opposition to neoliberalism, which include the anti-urbanist and populationist/anti-immigration positions discussed in this article.

2 PTUA leader Jon Reeves was a NZ First candidate at the last election. Anti-immigration comments from PTUA members can be found regularly on posts on Transportblog.

3 Chief among these would be the tourist tram loop at Wynyard Quarter and the siting of the future Parnell railway station – see comments on this post for more.

4 See Trotter in previous note on The Spinoff, and Bradbury on Transportblog. It was reported that Mike Lee had made similar accusations about The Spinoff on Twitter, but we can’t find references for that.

One Nation legitimises fascist ideas – The time to stop Hansonism is now!

racist-hanson

This article by Debbie Brennan was originally published by the Freedom Socialist Party (Australia).

Debbie represents Radical Women in CARF and is a community member of the National Union of Workers.

Contact Freedom Socialist Party of Aotearoa at freedom.socialist.aotearoa@gmail.com or Freedom Socialist Party of Australia at freedom.socialist.party@ozemail.com.au.

“I’m back — but not alone.” Pauline Hanson, leader of the extreme-right One Nation party, made a parliamentary comeback in Australia’s federal election this past July. These taunting words are from her “maiden” speech to Parliament on September 15.

In 1996 Hanson was elected to the House of Representatives, but lost her seat two years later. Back then, she said Asians were taking over the country. Twenty years later, she warns, “Now we are in danger of being swamped by Muslims”—who, she claims, will commit terror and impose sharia law.

It gets worse. As Hanson says, she’s not alone. She’s one of four newly elected One Nation Senators: two, including herself, from Queensland and the others from New South Wales and Western Australia.

Pauline Hanson and the One Nation party she formed in 1997 are notorious for their racism. In her first 1996 parliamentary speech, Hanson went on the attack against First Nations people, who, she stated, are privileged over whites. Asians were not only “swamping” Australia, they weren’t assimilating. She praised Labor Party leader, Arthur Calwell, who said in 1955: “Japan, India, Burma, Ceylon and every new African nation are fiercely anti-white and anti one another. Do we want or need any of these people here? I am one red-blooded Australian who says no and who speaks for 90 percent of Australians.”

Fast forward to 2016: Asians are replaced with Muslims. In 1996, Hanson called for a “radical review” of immigration and the abolition of multiculturalism. Today, she demands that Muslim immigration be stopped and the burqa banned.

More than racist. The notion of race was invented in early capitalism to justify slavery and plunder. In times of class conflict—like now—racism has been indispensable to capitalists as a weapon to split the working class and destabilise resistance. Islamophobia is that weapon now. But sexism, nationalism and anti-unionism are also instruments of control, and Hanson’s oratory is full of it.

Hanson’s close connection with men’s rights groups is reflected in One Nation’s policies. Since 1996, she has called for the scrapping of the Family Court—claiming a bias toward women who “make frivolous claims and believe they have the sole right to children.” She further blames the court for pushing non-custodial fathers into poverty and causing many to suicide. One Nation would force women to stay in miserable, often violent, relationships. Hanson instructs women to “put your differences aside, make your peace and come to agreements outside of the law courts.” If not, any woman going to court for custody better be ready to pay all costs if she loses.

She slams people on welfare, especially single mothers for “having more children just to maintain their welfare payments.” One Nation would deny payment increases to women after the first child. In Hanson’s words: “Get a job and start taking responsibility for your own actions.”

Hanson calls for an Australian identity card to access welfare, healthcare, education or any other tax-funded service, and she defies “do-gooders” to “complain about people’s privacy.”

In September, Hanson gave a thinly veiled attack on unionism when she accused “overpaid public servants” of bludging off the budget. Throughout the country, public sector workers have been in a tough three-year battle against the federal government over wages, which remain frozen, and the shredding of hard-won conditions. Community and Public Sector Union members in the Department of Immigration and Border Protection are planning another week of industrial action (See: Trans-Tasman Union Beat, page 9). The potential power that public workers hold in their collective hands is massive. This fight is historic: these unionists are taking on the State, and the government wants to crush them. No wonder the rabidly anti-union Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash hugged Hanson at the conclusion of her speech.

A former fish and chip shop owner, Hanson typifies small capitalists’ contempt for workers’ rights and hatred toward militant unionism. In a recent media interview, she said, “we need to protect the small end of town, the small contractors and subbies so that they have a chance to get jobs and not be bullied by unions.”

The nationalist fantasy. Hanson’s style may not be Donald Trump’s, but, like him, she appeals to prejudices to answer why life for most people has become so insecure and hard. As the global economy disintegrates and the capitalist class foists the burden onto workers and the oppressed, these far-right demagogues offer up scapegoats—served with a big dollop of nationalism.

Hanson paints Australia as expanses of farmland and infrastructure, Australian owned; a land of families, nuclear, Christian, Australian born and assimilated. The school day starts with raising the Australian flag and singing the national anthem. TVs in homes and pubs across the country show Australian athletes competing for their country and saluting the flag from the victory podium.

She condemns “foreign” capital, especially Chinese, which she says is buying up Australia’s farms, real estate and resources. These investors, she claims, put housing prices beyond Australians’ reach. She denounces big business for being behind Australia’s intake of immigrants.

The illusion she constructs is of a hardworking nation exploited by foreign capital. This idea isn’t new—fascists used it in post-World War I Germany and Italy to deflect attention from local industrialists who backed the unleashing of jackboots on a working class that was in revolt. Today, Hanson directs the attention of those attracted to her vile ideas away from the source of their problems: the global capitalist system itself.

Understanding the threat. Hanson’s September parliamentary speech had the eerie ring of fascism. Her inflammatory calls to strip women on welfare of their rights to independence and reproductive choice, her anti-union comments and demonisation of Muslims and immigrants are classic far-right speak. But is this fascism?

Fascism is more than a vicious ideology. It’s is a movement, built to destroy the capacity of the working class to organise and revolt. Fascism’s social base is the middle class—small business people like Hanson—which, caught between the two powerful classes of capital and labour, will flip to whichever side looks likely to win over the other.

In her speech, Hanson was appealing to the middle class as well as less conscious working class folks looking for scapegoats to blame. In so doing, she legitimises fascist ideas, creating fertile ground in which a jackbooted fascist movement can take root and grow. One Nation is well positioned to coalesce the far right, inside and outside of Parliament, including neo-Nazis forces, which until now have been fragmented.

Hanson is well connected with this milieu. She has spoken at Reclaim Australia rallies. Leading members of the neo-Nazi United Patriots Front campaigned for her in the federal election. UPF even offered to be her bodyguards. Hanson is also friendly with the fascist Party for Freedom. These are the known connections.

If this leads to the cohering of a mass movement aimed at crushing the ability of the working class to organise, we’re dealing with fascism. While such a movement has not yet emerged, the danger is all too real. And Hanson is a contributor, encouraging more assaults on Muslims, immigrants, women and unionists—legislatively and physically. The need to countermobilise in our streets and communities—as we’ve done from Melbourne to Bendigo—remains urgent, because the threat could escalate.

Build the united front. Since Reclaim Australia first attempted to rally at Melbourne’s Federation Square in April 2015, Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF) has countered these ultra-right and fascist groups whenever and wherever they’ve gathered. This united front of unionists, feminists, socialists, anarchists and Aboriginal justice activists has successfully prevented them from growing into a movement.

As the global economy continues to sink and the need to resist intensifies, a fascist movement could materialise—unless there’s a strong working class-led movement to stop it. The time to build this anti-fascist movement is right now. The CARF united front needs to grow into a force of today’s and tomorrow’s scapegoats—Muslims, women, First Nations, LGBTIQ, refugees and immigrants, unions, radicals, welfare recipients, the homeless and unemployed.

 

Life after sexual assault

stop sexual assault

Fightback stands for liberation for women and gender minorities, including appropriate support for survivors of sexual assault.

This piece on one survivor’s experience of sexual violence, and recovery, was submitted to us by Hannah Beatie.

When FRIEND asked me why I was giving away all of my stuff, I replied that I

needed a change.

Actually, I had been planning for weeks to slit my wrists in a little field a few

blocks away from my house; not a significant place, nor a creative cause of

expiration, but it was somewhere where my flatmates would not find me.

A month earlier, I had been raped by a boy whom I had a crush on; a musician

with nice fingers and a charming, hesitant smile. He had asked me questions and

made me feel interesting⎯ Then he had forced my thighs apart, as I said “no”

and “stop” and every word that is suppose to protect you.

When I told my ex about the rape, our nine month relationship did not prevent

him from being too busy to discuss it; he was moving houses and doing an arts

degree, and he just couldn’t deal with it right now.

I began to cut myself.

In the days that followed there was a lot of drama, crying and attention; after

witnessing so many of my friends experience assault and quietly disappear, I was

determined to resist the role of invisible statistic.

I grieved loudly, without inhibition; indignant that someone would use my body;

consume me and discard me, like a doll or a tissue.

Some things I had expected; the deep sense of shame, the feeling that this was all

somehow my fault, the sense that my body was now ruined and I was unlovable.

What I had not expected was the rejection which followed; suddenly, I was a

walking crime scene and people whom I had previously been friendly with,

seemed to find my presence uncomfortable and regard me with a strange

combination of embarrassment and pity.

I had been raped by someone popular, someone whom everyone knew, and my

presence at gigs and parties represented an ugliness that was all too close to

home.

I stopped eating. I filled myself with emptiness and became as small and invisible

as I could. If this had been a punishment for my being too loud and too big and

too full, then I would occupy as little space as possible.

If I grew thin enough, perhaps I would be too ugly to rape.

I threw away every bit of colour in my room.

My memory of the next few weeks is foggy; I cried a lot. I would dream about

what had happened and have to wake up and remind myself that this was not

that night.

One day I told FRIEND about it.

I did not know him well; Beyond the fact that I had drunkenly attempted oral

copulation with him once, in a churchyard, but I sent him a message, saying that I

was terribly sorry to bother him, but I thought that maybe I had been raped and I

didn’t know what to do.

He was at work and responding on his bathroom breaks; He was sympathetic

and caring and told me not to apologize, that he was my friend and he would help

me.

What is more is, he did.

Long after my assault was salacious and interesting, when I was worn out and

exhausted and other friends became weary of my continued mood swings and

glum expression, FRIEND was there.

He would meet me outside of doctor’s appointments and bring me groceries

when I did not eat. He offered to lend me money and stay at his parent’s house

and when I panicked at parties, he was the one to walk me home.

We would spend nights watching goofy YouTube clips or serenading one another

with comical songs and gradually, as time went on, I began to feel more human.

It was FRIEND who saved my life.

One day, when he was giving me a ride home, he told me that I mattered and that

he loved me and I ought to live; not for him or for anyone else but because my

life was one worth living.

It was peculiar; I felt so unlovable, yet FRIEND cared about me.

I mumbled embarrassedly that I loved him too and thank you.

And somewhere in the back of my mind, I stopped wanting to die quite so badly.

Recovery from depression is slow and not a simple upwards trajectory. One

moment you can feel fine, and the next you are sinking and it feels as though all

of your hard work has been levelled.

FRIEND had gotten me to write a ‘manifesto for happiness’ that had numerical

steps to follow if I felt down. Simple things like ‘hydrate, eat chocolate, watch a

cat video on YouTube’. At FRIEND’s suggestion I had pepeppered the list with

breathing exercises and emergency numbers that I could contact too.

It took months of therapy and constant adjustments to my antidepressant

medication, but I was getting stronger.

I celebrated the small victories; one week free of self-harm, the first time I had

sex after being raped, eating high-calorie foods and wearing colour.

And through all of this, FRIEND was there for me; as weeks became months, after

I had sat on my bed ruddy faced and weeping, with stalactites of snot dripping

from my nostrils and as I learned to smile and laugh again, he was there.

I am lucky. I survived.

I have a good support network and a magnificent doctor.

Depression is and always will be, a part of the way in which I experience life but

it is not what defines me.

If I never heal from this completely, if I still have nightmares years from now

and see my body as somehow less, I am thankful for what I do have and how

strong I have become.

Mostly, always, I am grateful to the friend who saved my life.

Contents Page: Voices of Women and Gender Minorities

Crowdfunded special edition of Fightback magazine (subscribe here), dedicated to radical writing by women and gender minorities. All contributors were paid.

A Son Samoa (Voices of Women and Gender Minorities)

Article originally published in Fightback magazine’s special issue dedicated to paid radical writing by women and minorities.

By Falenaoti Mokalagi.

Content Warning: sexual assault.

Yesterday a son of Samoa was jailed

25 years after the fact

I sat next to your daughter Samoa

Birthed in Aotearoa

I READ OUT ALOUD  the impact of this son

UP ON  your daughter Samoa

UP ON her mother

UP ON her siblings

UP ON her lineage

UP ON her genealogy

I heard at the age of 5 Samoa she lay on top of her mother to protect her from the heavy steel coffee table being rained on her by your son.

The memory recounted vividly as if it were only yesterday

She was 5, her sibling 2 when they took responsibility for the safety of their mother from your son Samoa, their father.

They were  all 3 hospitalised

Their records read that there had been an accident in their home and the 2 year olds injuries were sustained as a consequence of the toddler falling head first into the fireplace.

It was read in Court Samoa that by the age of 11 she knew what oral sex felt like what digital penetration, and lubrication were.

I READ OUT ALOUD  she felt disgusting

I READ OUT ALOUD  she felt she was a whore

I READ OUT ALOUD  she wanted to kill herself every day

Her constant pre-occupation

I READ ALOUD she survived

BY taking drugs

BY drinking alcohol

BY seeing endless counsellors

SHE leaves town

SHE has un-lasting relationships

SHE does not trust any Samoan man Samoa

I READ ALOUD he gave her gifts, and money

Received in silence and guilt

An exchange for her silence

He told her Samoa that no one would believe her

I READ OUT ALOUD she just lay there.

Yesterday a son of Samoa was jailed

He walked into the Court room as if he had done no wrong

I heard he continued to deny what his hands had shaped

I heard he continued to deny even after being found guilty by a jury of his peers

The judge said out aloud there is no other suitable penalty but jail

He leaves the dock assisted

He is visibly stunned Samoa

I HEARD ALOUD that after 25 years he had changed his ways

I HEARD after 25 years he read his Bible every day

I HEARD after 25 years he should be allowed to stay at home

Under detention

THE JUDGE SAID ALOUD there is no other suitable penalty, but jail.

THE FOG LIFTS from the head of your daughter Samoa, who is born is Aotearoa.

SHE is heard,

SHE is seen,

SHE is believed and some responsibility for her is taken

SHE frees her mother, her siblings

And the process of restoration of the spaces that were trampled

The spaces defiled

Starts

I CELEBRATE her courage Samoa

HER generosity

And her wholeness Samoa

Your daughter Samoa

Born in Aotearoa

Ma lou faaaloalo lava

Enclosure and Resistance in the State Housing Struggle (Voices of Women and Gender Minorities)

Article originally published in Fightback magazine’s special issue dedicated to paid radical writing by women and gender minorities.

Save Our Homes is a research and praxis collective based in Tamaki Makaurau. We believe that liveable housing is a human right and should be accessible to all. We run a website saveourhomes.co.nz as a resource and information base to support communties that are resisting against the state housing reforms, 90 day eviction notices and the ultimate destruction of their communities. More importantly, each of us in the collective work and stand in solidarity with the Tāmaki Housing Group, who are made up of the most militant kuia we have ever had the privilege to fight alongside, learn from and love.

Karl Marx in Capital Vol. I (1990) argues that so-called primitive accumulation involved the violent expropriation of people from the land and their means of subsistence, and the enclosure of that land for the purpose of private property. This process, that displaced peasants in fifteenth century Europe, is the same process that underpins colonisation, and new forms of enclosure such as the privatisation of state assets (Hodkinson 2012). Capital accumulation manifests today in Aotearoa in the form of privatisation of state houses, enclosure of ‘state’ land, and the gentrification of communities such as Tāmaki. These processes involve the displacement of people for the purpose of accumulation by private developers, and the implementation of particular discourses that the National government and property developers use to provide a publicly palatable justification. The resistance of state housing tenants, in particular, the Tāmaki Housing Group, has emerged from this situation of displacement by development, to speak a narrative which ruptures the discourses of those in power, bringing about new possibilities for change.  

Social Housing Reforms and Social Mixing Policy

In order to have an understanding of what is happening in Glen Innes, it is important to outline the policy shifts that facilitate capital accumulation in the community. The National government have implemented policy and legislative changes that significantly alter the landscape of state housing in Aotearoa. The fifth National-led government’s solutions to the housing crisis are centred on selling state houses, restructuring the social housing sector and redeveloping state owned land. The social housing reforms that began in 2013 have created the conditions for privatisation of state housing, and rest on the liberal capitalist logic of government avoiding interference in the market in order to facilitate competition in the creation of affordable housing. This follows international public housing reforms which posit privatisation as a solution to a crisis in unaffordability, a ‘solution’ that actually drives up house prices and leads to the displacement of low income tenants to the fringes of the city.

The government argues that selling state housing to Community Housing Providers (CHPs) will improve the conditions of state housing, however in the UK these stock transfers have led to an increase in rents, a lack of maintenance, and eventually full privatisation. This is because many of these community groups do not have the financial resources necessary to sustain the housing stock, as seen with the Salvation Army rejecting the government’s offer to buy stock (Feek 2015). The extension of the Income Related Rent Subsidy (IRRS) to community housing groups involves the direct transfer of wealth from the government to the private market.

The privatisation of state housing has been coupled with Reviewable Tenancies (RT) which involves reviewing state tenants on their eligibility for social housing based on their income and other factors such as room to tenant ratio. If tenants are no longer eligible they will either be transferred or forced into the private market. In an economic landscape where rents are increasing and wages as well as benefits remain stagnant, state tenants will be placed in competition with private renters and are likely to be displaced from their communities in search of affordable accommodation.

The transfer of state housing to community and charity groups materialises in the built landscape through urban policy, which aims at radically transforming state housing communities into ‘mixed’ tenure communities that consist of private, affordable and social housing. Leading up to the sale of state housing was a significant disinvestment in the stock (Johnson 2013), this devaluation, coupled with an increase in land values, creates the ideal conditions for a privatisation of the stock into a new market and a gentrification process of state housing communities. Marxist geographer Neil Smith (2010) argues that when there is a gap between the ground-rent of a particular geographical space and the potential ground-rent, it creates the ideal conditions for capital to move in and redevelop, capitalising on the speculated land value increases. There are state housing communities around Aotearoa situated on valuable land which are becoming ideal for state-led gentrification in the name of urban renewal.
Housing New Zealand in their urban renewal framework argue that ‘No community will have more than 15 percent of state housing presence’ (Housing New Zealand 2013, p. 10). Urban Renewal is the language used as a disguise for state-led gentrification. The government’s urban renewal programme is premised on the idea of mixed communities, an international trend which aims to have a mix of tenure in the same community. The logic of social mix is premised on solving the problems associated with the concentration of poverty such as crime and anti-social behaviour, however international research (Bridge, Butler, Lees 2012) has suggested that it is a front for state-led gentrification of communities seen as having high land values. The classical liberal rhetoric behind social mix is that the middle-class that move into these communities will bring with them resources and teach the poor how to better live, but what occurs in social mix is the erasure of the poor all together. This state-led gentrification process is occurring in the East Auckland community of Glen Innes.

A Celebration of Whores at Work – On Being a “Good Ally” and Supporting Workplace Organising (Voices of Women and Gender Minorities)

Article originally published in Fightback magazine’s special issue dedicated to paid radical writing by women and gender minorities.

By Vita.

Aotearoa’s sexual services industry is yet again in the international media spotlight, this time because our country’s sex work lobby-group, the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective, described New Zealand as “the best country in the world” to work as a sex worker.  Given this quaint pride that Aotearoa is now world-famous happy hookers as well as hobbits, it’s not surprising that activists and progressive thinkers are examining our collective understanding of how a commercialised exchange of sexual services for money fits in with our beliefs surrounding class, power, labour relations and the commodification of sexuality and human bodies.  What’s disappointing is that this rhetoric seldom goes beyond arguments that classify prostitution as empowerment and that every sex worker lives the life of glamour portrayed in Secret Diary of a Call-Girl, pitched against tropes of trafficking, under-aged workers, poverty and drug and alcohol dependence.  

The quiet, but genuinely exciting truth, is that while (often male-presenting) activists argue on internet about whether there will still be demand for transactional sex in a post-revolution utopia, in private homes, street-front brothels, escort agencies and hotel rooms, sex workers are on the frontlines of negotiating complex power dynamics all across Aotearoa.   Every day, sex-workers use their bodies and minds to provide companionship and pleasure to another human-being, usually a total stranger, within a set time-frame.  Whether the individual workers who do this are empowered or victimised, working by ‘choice’ or coerced, or occupying the myriad of grey areas in between, sex workers do extraordinarily skilled work that demands a labour of both body and mind.

Despite this, many activists, while arguing that their problem with sex work, and by extension sex workers, lies not in moral prudishness but in an ‘objective’ assessment of power relations under capitalism between men and women.[1] Aside from such an ‘objective’ analysis overlooking the way that gender, race, class and other situated perspectives inform the power relations in every working environment (and seemingly overlooking the fact that many sex-work providers are men or trans* workers, and that many service consumers, particularly of pornography, are cis-women), it attributes a ‘false-consciousness’ to sex workers – that at a fundamental demographic level, sex workers lack the ability to understand the power dynamics they work under, and continue to perpetuate their own oppression.

Such a patronising attitude towards a group of people whose job literally relies on subverting the power dynamic of human’s entitlement to sex would be endearingly funny if it wasn’t coming from a group of people supposedly committed to supporting workplace organising.  If you, as a person who is committed to worker’s struggles, understands that the fast-food worker is the person who best understands the nuances and dynamics of his/her work-site, and that that person, in conjunction with other fast-food workers, is the best person to organise and agitate for change in that particular site and in the industry as a whole, then you can extrapolate that sex workers should not be dismissed as having ‘false consciousness’ or ‘lacking true understanding’ when they talk about their working lives.

As activists who want to support all workplace self-determination and organising, I believe there are two things very simple things we can do to support sex workers.  The first is to support a model of full-decriminalisation of prostitution – where the transaction of sex for money is legal, and not the so-called Swedish/Nordic model, which criminalises the client/purchaser and therefore drives the entire industry underground and submits the transaction to police regulation.  The second of these is to listen to sex workers – with studies estimating the number of prostitutes/escorts alone at between 40 and 42 million,[2] it is simply inexcusable for sex worker voices to be missing from activist debates about sex work.  If we cannot find allies to speak to and educate our movements, the onus is on us to examine ourselves for why this may be.

[1] See, for example Lisa Macdonald et al. “Is Sex Work Just a Job like Any Other? A Contribution to the Discussion” Socialist Alliance no. 1 April 2015 < http://www.socialist-alliance.org/&gt;

[2] Gus Lubin, “There Are 42 Million Prostitutes in the World, And Here’s Where They Live” Business Insider, 28 Jan 2012 <http://www.businessinsider.com.au

Your Problematic Fave: Confronting friends about abuse (Voices of Women and Gender Minorities)

Article originally published in Fightback magazine’s special issue dedicated to paid radical writing by women and gender minorities.

Anne Russell is a public health student with an ongoing interest in the politics of intimate relationships.

A welcome narrative has recently sprung up about how society needs to teach men (and others) not to rape or abuse people, rather than teaching women (and others) to avoid rape and abuse as though it’s an unchangeable fact of life. Many people are aware that this means men have to talk to other men about their abusive/predatory behaviours. However, they often baulk when it comes to actually doing this with their friends and peers, going into denial about their loved one’s behaviour and/or declaring the situation is too awkward or complicated. Dealing with cases of abuse is always a fraught and complicated process for everyone, including for those trying to be a middleman without veering into abuse apologia. The lack of coherent narratives around dealing with queer abuse or women’s abuse of men doesn’t help the overall situation. This is thus a brief, rough attempt at a guideline for how to start trying to hold one’s friends of all genders accountable for their abusive behaviour.

For the most part, abusive behaviour can only be revealed by someone talking about it, creating what many people refer to as a he-said-she-said situation. As such, many people refuse to believe those who talk about being abused, as they believe or want to believe that this information contradicts what they know of the accused person. He’s so kind to his mother, or she’s such a good feminist leader—how could they possibly have been abusive? The denial of this often extends to victim-blaming; surely the abuse must have been provoked by her short skirt or annoying behaviour. People will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid accepting the knowledge that someone they respect, care about or even love dearly has done something terrible, and needs to be told to stop doing it. In a culture that portrays Rapists and Abusers only as people who hide in bushes sporting I Hate Women T-shirts, it is hard to reach the more accurate standpoint of “people we love and admire can do really fucked up things”. Natalie Reed’s analysis of systemic misogyny makes this clearer:

There really isn’t any such thing as “sexists”, “transphobes”, “racists”, etc. There are only actions, statements and beliefs that are sexist, transphobic, racist, etc. And we’re all susceptible to them.

Likewise, sexism is not a social problem that can be located, isolated, quarantined and then eliminated. It is an emergent system of attitudes about sex and gender that derives its power from the bottom up, from all corners of our culture.

Given how common rape and domestic abuse are, the idea that only supervillains commit abuse is simply not true. But while the more accurate narrative of “people we love and admire can do really fucked up things” can be pretty depressing, it can also be a source of hope; intimately abusive people aren’t incurable psychopaths after all! The question does get more complex, though; in each case, you ask yourself, can I continue to love this person while still condemning these parts of their behaviour? What would that love look like? How do I balance it out with caring for the victims of their behaviour, and making sure those people’s needs are met?

Sometimes it’s too unsafe or emotionally hard to work on one’s abusive friends; when an acquaintance who had sexually assaulted my friend showed up at a protest I’d organised, all I could do was cry in a corner and tell a couple of other people about him. However, the Incurable-Psychopath narrative of abusive people would hold that cutting them off completely is the only ethical way to condemn their actions. If and when one is physically and emotionally safe to do so, attempting to hold abusive friends responsible is always, always a good idea. The accountability process will decide whether you want to cut them off anyway—if you want to stay friends with someone who can’t take criticism, who can’t accept responsibility, who lies to you, who promises to change and then doesn’t, and so forth. Some care may need to be taken if the person has been accused of violence or is generally prone to it—confronting them in a public place with support from other people can thus be a good safety measure.

Perhaps at this point it’d be good to list a few initial phrases you might use to confront someone about their abuse, since many people feel awkward or unsure about that step. It is important to note that every friendship is unique, and you may have varying approaches that work for different dynamics.This could include age gaps, power imbalances, cultural differences and closeness of friendships. These prompts are just to start you off, as it’s important to find your own way of communicating about abuse that will be effective within your particular friendships.

  • Hey, can we talk? I’ve been hearing some bad things about your behaviour [towards X] and I’m really not comfortable with it.
  • Hi, your creepy behaviour is making some people feel unsafe, and I think you should leave this event. It’d be good to talk more about this later; maybe we could meet up next week?
  • Hey, I’m pretty uncomfortable about you having a leadership position in this organisation; the way you’ve been treating and talking about women isn’t okay.
  • Mate, it’s really not cool for you to talk about trans women like that, knock it off
  • What is this, I thought I signed up for “lesbian coven”, not “lechbian coven”

At this point the person could apologise and agree to start changing their behaviour. However, they could also go into denial, or become defensive and angry. Either way, it is a very good idea to call in support from one’s friends. Doing this has at least three benefits: it shows a united front against the person’s abusive behaviour, it helps keep everyone’s emotional energy up, and it helps share details and tactics. When a friend of mine told me she hadn’t harassed her ex in a long time, other friends let me know she was lying, which made me better equipped to keep confronting her.

Prioritising the victims’ needs often determines the first step in adjusting to a new sort of relationship with the abusive/predatory person in question. If that person is still a risk to their surrounding population, and/or if their victims still feel unsafe around or triggered by them, keeping them away from group events is very important. It’s a step people are often unfortunately unwilling to take, as at best it’s an awkward process, and will often be met with a lot of resistance from the abusive person and their supporters. However, many people can maintain friendships through individual hangouts like meeting up for coffee or watching films together; if your friendship isn’t intimate enough for something like that, turning that person away from a party should hardly be a major issue. As for their presence in organisations, their value to any group is questionable if, for example, they continually prey on women.

With enough social pressure, an abusive person may feel motivated to apologise and start making amends. As a friend said, a good litmus test of whether a person’s remorse is genuine is whether or not they’ll let their behaviour be named to others; whether they accept that they’ve broken trust and need to repair it. Trust takes time and continuous work to rebuild; trust that the person is truly sorry for their actions, and that they are taking steps to make sure it won’t happen again. Even then, the abused party is under no obligation to forgive them or be around them; recovery also takes time, and victims need to be able to move at their own pace.

Since abuse is a practice, not a personal identity, anyone is capable of doing it. Seeing abuse for the terrifyingly routine event that it is may help demystify the issue, and thus make dealing with it a more routine practice. While doing this is difficult in isolation, it gets easier when there are support networks to maintain it. As a friend said, politics is what we do together; everything else is just survival strategies.

Marxism and the Māori Sovereignty Movement – A Māori communist perspective (Voices of Women and Gender Minorities)

Article originally published in Fightback magazine’s special issue dedicated to paid radical writing by women and gender minorities.

By Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho.

The influence of Marxist theory and particularly Marx’s theory of alienation and capitalist political economy on the Māori sovereignty movement during the 1970’s is important to examine and I would also like to consider the contemporary relevance of these ideas for Tino Rangatiratanga (Māori political autonomy). Marx clarifies the exploitative relationship underpinning the political and economic system of capitalism. The themes of subjugation, oppression and enslavement that are necessary within a capitalist political economy are common to the process of colonisation and the relationship between the coloniser and the colonised and indeed still feature in the contemporary neo-colonial struggle. The arms of colonisation reach backwards and forwards in time, creating a struggle that we as Māori are born into. Our destiny and our legacy is one of resistance rather than acceptance and passive submission.

Capitalism relies on the exploitation of labour, this then leads to alienation. Marx’s theory of alienation is anchored in the positioning of human beings as conscious creative beings. Marx called this uniquely human capacity for creation ‘species-being’. Marx distinguished us from other living beings by our ability to perform ‘conscious’ labour. Through the act of change and transformation of our environment we change ourselves in the process.  In Marx’s theory, capitalism creates and relies upon the construct of alienation. Furthermore, the invention of social class which flourishes under capitalism, relies on the creation of a working class and a ruling class or the bourgeoisie who own the means of production and the proletariat who create profit for the bourgeoisie through their labour. In this economic process, the worker is dehumanised, so much so that they become little more than a means of production, a unit of labour to be bought and sold as capital.

Marx further separated the construct of alienation into four key concepts that together, made a unified theory of labour exploitation. In the process of alienation the worker becomes firstly, alienated from his fellow workers/social relations being subverted into a singular unit of production. Secondly, the individual becomes alienated from the process of creative labour through the commodification of the outcomes of their labour and themselves in the process of creating for another.   Thirdly, the individual becomes alienated from the product of their labour as they no longer own their own creativity or the product of their work, and lastly, they become alienated from their own essential nature or “species essence” (Seeman, 1975).

However, it is important not to conceptualise exploitation as merely an unjust part of the capitalist system. In point of fact, Subjugation and the class struggle are an integral and vitally important component of the capitalist system.  The class struggle is an intrinsic and permanent feature of the political economy of capitalism, as is the use of the police and judiciary to enforce this system against resistance from the exploited and colonisation itself is built on a racist oppressive relationship that produces the alienation of indigenous peoples from themselves. The realities of colonisation and the colonial legacy which traverses generations producing contemporary impacts in the form of pervasive inequities and inequalities has fuelled and continues to fuel indigenous political activism (Fanon, 1965; Walker, 1989).  Memmi (1965) asserted that on realising their oppressed state, the colonised have two choices – rebellion or assimilation. Assimilation requires the absolute rejection and denial of themselves, their indigenous value systems, worldviews and lifeways. In order to assimilate, the colonised must enter in a willing state of self-loathing, despising everything about themselves that hinders their conversion into and emulation of, the model of the ‘coloniser’. Fanon (1965) maintains that after failed attempts to be like the coloniser, the only recourse for the colonised upon fully realising that they will never be acceptable to the coloniser is rebellion. In Fanon’s analysis, rebellion is inevitable as it is in a Marxist analysis. Marx’s theory of historical materialism further informs the indigenous struggles against the artefacts of colonisation. In a contemporary analysis the litany of theft and dispossession of land and resources throughout the indigenous world, ignites the fire of resistance and struggle with the goal being the reclaiming of the power and authority to be self-determining (Alfred, 2005; Churchill, 2002).

An extension on the scholarship of Alfred and Churchill is offered by Rata (2006) who conducts an analysis of the construction of indigenous tribal elites which can be likened to a brown bourgeoisie.  In Rata’s analysis, the resistance to tribal domination, constructs a new struggle which can be understood through Marx’s theory of alienation only this time, the struggle is to be freed from alienation from within the tribal culture and collective (Rata, 2009). This is the internalisation and application of the role of the coloniser to further disempower the colonised. More recent applications of the struggle for self-determination, places this struggle at once as a reassertion of indigenous rights as well as a shifting of the fight towards increasingly powerful Māori tribal leadership. The enemy is identified as one that which resides ‘within’. It is however important to recall the process of colonisation and the development of historical intergenerational trauma which still winds its way through the lives of indigenous peoples today creating a vulnerability that causes blindness to the real source of the struggle. In this new struggle, the capacity to hold on to the underpinning role of colonisation in the dispossession of Māori should never be lost sight of or the potency of the struggle underestimated (Churchill, 2003).

In his book Kā Whāwhai Tonu Mātou, Walker examines the ongoing resistance of Māori to colonisation. The resistance movement took as a component of its early inspiration, Marxist theories including alienation and the exploitation of the ‘worker’ for the benefit of the ‘owner’ under capitalism. Marx provided our predecessors in the resistance movement with a way of understanding the impacts of capitalist expansionism which was a characteristic of colonisation, on the contemporary position of Māori.  The resistance to colonisation is an ongoing struggle as potent for many today as it was when the first colonisers set foot on Aotearoa in 1769.

However, much has changed in the way in which our struggle takes place today. Iwi have become the new elites (Rata 1997) and what was once a clear struggle between coloniser and colonised, has become further complicated with  the coloniser having a brown face as the economics of Treaty settlements are giving them license to look and act like capitalists and crown agents.  The illusion that we are subscribing to is that by adopting capitalism as our modus operandi in the long march towards self-determination, we can secure freedom for generations to come, changing the system from within.  Have we forgotten that capitalism with the attendant greed for land and resources, fuelled colonisation? And now that many iwi have signed ‘full and final’ treaty settlements, the danger is that hard-won resources will not last and future generations will be left with nothing. Capitalism is one of the tools of colonisation and while our ancestors were highly successful entrepreneurs, we were a collective society, whose actions were based on what was best for the collective iwi, hapu and whanau.  It was always with the collective good at the center of the uptake of new technology and ways of trading.

The contribution Marxist theory makes to indigenous struggles for freedom is rooted in Marxist discourse on historical materialism (Hokowhitu, 2010) and the ongoing contemporary effects of historically established economic and political systems which continue to feed inequities in all aspects of Māori lives today (Reid & Robson, 2007). It is the inevitability of the struggle for freedom from the shackles of the powerful that render Marx’s theory so powerful in indigenous human rights movements around the world.

Finding a Future for Women in Green Technology (Voices of Women and Gender Minorities)

Originally published in Fightback magazine’s special issue dedicated to paid writing by women and gender minorities.

Maria is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication. She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy active lifestyles.

Today, as throughout all of history, women are paid less than men for performing identical tasks in the workplace. In some instances, they are almost completely barred from entering into their chosen profession. The tech industry is one such example of a space in which where both jobs and prestige are disproportionately held by men. In this field, women continue to face hurdles both securing entry-level positions and gaining the recognition they deserve once they secure a more advanced role.

A number of high-profile cases have drawn attention to tech industry gender discrimination. The best known case may be that of Ellen Pao, who worked for venture capitalist firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in Silicon Valley. She filed a lawsuit against her former employer, stating that she was unjustly passed over for promotions, seually harassed, and ultimately fired. Although that lawsuit was eventually dismissed, it continues to draw attention to the more important issue at hand. In another case, former Facebook employee Chia Hong filed a lawsuit against the social media giant for race and gender-based harassment. Female tech workers have repeatedly noted that they are judged for their personality rather than their work performance, which should be a red flag in ANY industry.  

Though small in number, there are several companies echoing these women’s voices for greater equality in tech specifically. An American company, PowerToFly, was launched by a pair of mothers who recognized the need for home-based opportunities for women. The company provides women with networking opportunities and online support, challenging the cultural norms that dictate a working woman’s family life. A non-profit company known as the Ada Initiative also offers support for women around the world interested in open source coding and technology. Beyond it’s efforts at home in Canada, the Ada Initiative has run six AdaCamps in four countries. This feminist tech camp opens doors for hundreds of women each year that may have otherwise stayed permanently shut.

Supporting women’s involvement, investment, and leadership in tech careers is crucial, and this is particularly evident in the “green” tech sector. While there are several big names making corrective action – Lisa P. Jackson, for example, who works for Apple as vice president of Environmental Initiatives, is a former American EPA administrator with a strong track record in sustainability efforts – we are still sorely lacking a diverse representation of sex and race in cleantech decision making. Many people are unaware of the renewable energy options available to them; and while resources like this and this aim to inform, it’s in no one’s best interest to have only a fraction of the world’s voices represented in finding cleaner, “greener” solutions. Other inspirational women of note, such as Nawal Al-Hosany, the director of both the Zayed Future energy prize and sustainability at Masdar, and Sandrine Dixson Decleve, who directs the Prince of Wales’s EU Corporate Leaders Group to promote eco-friendly policies in Brussels, cannot stand alone in making a change.

The problem is not a new one. Historically, the entire tech field has been dominated by men, and it will take more than a several years and a few fresh faces to make up for decades of inaction and missed opportunities. At major research universities, men hold a staggering 86 percent of all computer science undergraduate degrees. And to add insult to injury, the percent of women holding degrees in computer science actually dropped from 37 percent to 18 percent between 1985 and 2010.

As the success of green technology is vital to the preservation of our resources and our planet, the current state of ongoing gender bias has to go. When half of the population is denied access to one of the most powerful industries, responsible for shaping the lives of all the world’s inhabitants, there is more than enough justification for alarm. Technology, when used at its best, can span boundaries of race, class, and gender. Bright minds, male and female, are needed to both recognize and harness its potential to push for better “green” ideas. Climate change does not discriminate – a diversification of both educational programs and the green tech workforce is what the Earth and all future generations deserve.