Economic apartheid: The ongoing ethnic cleansing of central Auckland

Daphne Lawless is a writer, musician, political activist, football player, e-cyclist and mother living in Tāmaki Makarau / Auckland. She is the content editor for this issue of Fightback.

This article will be published in Fightback’s magazine on Urban Revolution and the Right to the City. To subscribe, click here.

In any country with a past as part of one of the Western empires, you can’t sensibly talk about any part of society without discussing the ongoing legacy of white supremacy and racism. Urban geography and the right to the city is no exception. The most famous examples of racism in urban geography are of course the legalised segregation carried out under the names of apartheid in South Africa or Jim Crow in the United States, where white and non-white peoples were separated by law and by force. But the destruction of the Pasefika communities of historic central Auckland by a combination of motorway madness, economic segregation and gentrification is also an example of how capitalist racism feeds into how our cities are built – and how the Pākehā middle-class have benefited at the expense of other sectors of society.

Pasefika migration

Aotearoa of course began its colonial era with the forcible removal of tangata whenua from most of their land by the armed forces of the British Empire. For a long time, the cities were more or less restricted to Pākehā of various social classes, due to an informal “white New Zealand” immigration policy which was almost as effective as Australia’s more formal version.[i] This changed after the Second World War, when the economic boom meant suddenly New Zealand’s industries were short of labour. This not only led to the migration of younger generations of Māori to the cities looking for work, but government and business also targeted the peoples of the Pacific Islands – Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, and elsewhere. Generally speaking, the jobs these new migrants were those that “a self-respecting British immigrant or Kiwi wasn’t prepared to do” – unskilled and low skilled jobs in expanding manufacturing industries and on the wharves.[ii] The Pasefika population of New Zealand climbed from 3600 in 1951, to nearly 94,000 in 1981, and was 266,000 at the 2006 Census[iii].

At that stage in history Auckland’s industry was clustered around the central city, and cars were a luxury which only the upper classes had access to. At the time, the well-to-do population of Auckland were using this new mobility to head towards the new-built “outer” suburbs of the slowly spreading urban sprawl. So, the suburbs that the new Pasefika migrants settled in were the working-class suburbs of those days – Grey Lynn, Ponsonby, Newton, Herne Bay, Freemans Bay, Parnell – which were within easy tram or bus distance of inner-city factories. These suburbs offered “cheap rental housing, much of it consisting of run-down old villas and workers’ cottages with no hot water or inside toilet.”[iv]

Someone who’s not familiar with Auckland’s history might be amazed at that list of suburbs, most of which are now on Auckland’s “most overpriced” list. Just recently, Herne Bay’s average house price reached a staggering $2 million. And it’s no coincidence that its Pasefika inhabitants are mainly long gone.

Motorway madness

The Pasefika community of the inner suburbs quickly put down cultural roots which still make their presence felt today. Today’s huge Pasefika presence in New Zealand rugby, for example, began with the first all-Samoan rugby team playing for the Parnell and Ponsonby clubs.[v] Many of the churches which were the centrepieces of Pasefika communities, and offered valuable social support to those “fresh off the boat”, are still visible in the area.

All this began to change in the mid-1950s, when the first parts of Auckland’s motorway network – including the Harbour Bridge – were built. By the mid-1970s, the suburb of Newton – between the Karangahape Road ridge and Mt Eden – had been almost totally destroyed for the creation of the Central Motorway Junction, aka “Spaghetti Junction”, the heart of the new motorway network. Meanwhile, half of Freemans Bay was replaced by a motorway connecting the CMJ to the Harbour Bridge – perhaps a lucky escape for Ponsonby Road, which was an option initially considered for this route.

As Chris Harris says, there was no need for a Central Motorway Junction at all – Adelaide, a city about the same size as Auckland, gets on fine without one.[vi] It would have been more efficient from a traffic point of view to build a motorway route from Manukau north around the western end of the Waitemata Harbour, avoiding the urban area altogether – something which will only happen this year with the opening of the “Waterview Connection”. Instead, all northbound traffic was sent over the inadequate Harbour Bridge – and right through what used to be Auckland’s working-class and Pasefika suburbs. Quite aside from the impacts on these communities, Auckland has paid the price for these short-sighted decisions with decades of traffic congestion and sub-standard public transport.

In 1951, the Government of the time declared that 96 hectares of Freemans Bay was to be “totally cleared and redeveloped”.[vii] Originally the plan was to replace the old slum housing with modern high-density developments. But as the 1960s and 1970s wore on, it became clear that the ideology of Auckland’s local and national planners was to clear the existing working-class communities from the central city altogether, towards peripheral suburbs along the motorway network. From 1976 to 2008, the Pasefika proportion of Auckland’s inner suburb dwellers fell from 23% to 10%.[viii]

Gentrification

The expansion of the motorway system meant that factories no longer had to be near the CBD to transport goods to and from the wharves. The manufacturing jobs which used to sustain the inner-city Pasefika community began moving to the city fringe as well, to places such as Penrose or East Tamaki. Understandably, many of those Pasefika communities displaced by motorway madness followed their work southward – where, it must be said, the new houses being built were usually of higher quality than the old Newton slums.

This new housing was built on what was then the southern fringes of the urban area: Mangere, Ōtara, Papatoetoe, and other areas which were part of what was known (before the “Super-City” amalgamation of Auckland) as Manukau City. Meanwhile, with Newton gutted by the CMJ, Karangahape Road – which used to be its prosperous shopping strip – began to decline. The big department stores and the Pasefika churches began to disappear, their place being taken by strip joints and sex work establishments – the origins of “K’ Road” ‘s reputation as a “red light” district.

But the decay of Newton and Ponsonby was also the beginning of the process of “gentrification” of the city fringe which gave us the million-dollar suburbs of today. Gentrification is “a socio-historic process where rising housing costs, public policy, persistent segregation, and racial animus facilitates the influx of wealthier, mostly white, residents into a particular neighborhood.”[ix] Ponsonby and nearby suburbs thus had their Pasefika population replaced by young Pākehā “who began to buy and renovate the relatively cheap houses available … to the west of Auckland’s CBD. They have been described as ‘young, socially liberal, tertiary-educated Pakeha’ whose motives went beyond the relatively cheap housing to include a desire for ‘new ways of living’ in an area which had an ethnically diverse population, and a reputation as a centre of counter-cultural lifestyle.”[x]

The “counter-cultural lifestyle” meant, in part, access to inner city nightlife and drugs brought in from the wharves. Notoriously wild-living rock bands such as Dragon or Hello Sailor got their starts on the streets of (what Dragon called in one of their songs) “Rock’n’Roll Ponsonby”. The gay community – social outcasts at the time – were also a vital part of Ponsonby and K’ Road’s new community.

What happened as the hippie era ended and the Rogernomics era began, though, was very different for the Pasefika and Pākehā populations of inner Auckland. As the long post-war boom ended and unemployment began to rise, suddenly Pasefika labour became surplus to requirements. “Overstayers” on temporary visas who were tolerated while jobs were plenty suddenly became the targets of “dawn raids”. The Polynesian Panthers – inspired by the Black Panther Party in the United States – were founded in Ponsonby and became the spearhead of resistance to this increasing tide of racism.

Meanwhile, as the level of owner-occupiers in inner Auckland increased, renters were squeezed out – there was an increasing level of “discrimination against Pacific people attempting to rent a house and many were forced to relocate to state housing in peripheral suburbs”[xi]. Conversely, owner-occupiers who held on until the revival of Auckland’s CBD from the 1990s onwards made massive capital gains as the housing market exploded. A villa in Grey Lynn which might have been available for sale in the mid-80s for something like $50,000 would fetch something in the range of $1 million these days. Thus – without even having to move house – the drop-outs and hipsters of the 1970s became the extremely asset-rich upper-middle class dominating Auckland politics today.

Apartheid

The upshot of all these social changes – caused both by world-wide economic trends and the specific housing and transport decisions of New Zealand’s and Auckland’s rulers – has been economic and ethnic apartheid. The old inner-city suburbs that survived motorway madness have become extremely valuable and sought-after residences for professionals. While 40 years ago Ponsonby Road was a grimy suburban shopping strip catering to the counter-culture and the remnants of the Pasefika communities, today it is upmarket, glitzy and dominated by privileged Pākehā. (Even the gay community, with the exception of what’s known as the “pink bourgeoisie”, have been largely priced out.) A house that a Samoan wharfie might have lived in in 1975 is now likely to be a million-dollar investment property owned by an older Pākehā person – who might never consider that their unearned wealth is the product of a whole ethnic community being displaced.

Meanwhile, the newer Pasefika suburbs south of the Manukau harbour have become a byword for poverty and social decay – 1970s Ponsonby without the rock’n’roll chic. Auckland’s manufacturing base remains in south-eastern Auckland; but in the modern, de-unionised and deregulated economy, manufacturing jobs are no longer associated with security, income and pride. The area of big employment growth is in technical and communications work – which, inevitably, is increasingly based in the central city and the old inner suburbs.

Chris Harris argues that Auckland’s geography combined with its perpetual transport bottlenecks (signs of the failure of the motorway project) have surrounded the central Auckland isthmus between Avondale and Ōtahuhu with “a kind of moat”, which the inhabitants of South and West Auckland find it very difficult to cross. In the current economy, this means that these communities are “isolated from the opportunities offered by good jobs, which are mostly in areas they cannot reach because the transport to get there is non-existent, too crowded or too expensive”[xii].

Karlo Mila has the grim figures on what this has meant for the Pasefika communities of Auckland:

72% of Pacific people live in the most deprived neighbourhoods (deciles 8-10) and only 7% in deciles 1-3. 40% of Pacific children live in poverty… A high concentration of the Pacific population is clustered in overcrowded, substandard housing in low-income neighbourhoods…

The creation of concentrated low income neighbourhoods has had social consequences for the people who live in these locales, and particularly for the young people who form their expectations from the world they see around them… One-third of the Pacific population lives in the area that was Manukau City. There, every ward has the lowest level of community resilience possible and the highest community need. Local council surveys show that fewer than half of Manukau City residents feel a sense of pride in the way their city looks and feels…

More than a quarter of Pacific female high school students feel unsafe in their neighbourhoods. A quarter of all students in Manukau City leave school without achieving credits for basic numeracy and literacy… The Pacific population has the highest growth rate of any ethnic group, with 38% of the population under 15 [while] no groups are as unwanted as Pacific and Māori young people.[xiii]

Although Pasefika people moved from the slums of 1960s Newton in search of a better life, clearly not much has changed – except that privileged white folks no longer have to pass through their deprived suburbs on the way to the CBD. The workings of the market and government policies have therefore shifted Auckland’s working-class Pasefika community “out of sight and out of mind” of the central-city chattering classes, almost as efficiently as South African or American legal segregation did. Moving social problems away makes it much easier to pretend that poverty, drugs and urban decay are someone else’s problem – a particular pathology of a racialised “South Auckland”, rather than the outcome of the same social changes which have massively enriched other sections of the population.

Ironically, since many Leftists opposed it, the Auckland “Super City” may help Pasefika communities to regain some ground. Representatives of South Auckland now once more get a say in the affairs of the parts of town from which their previous generations were excluded.

Our lessons

The lessons for leftists in this are:

1) Housing and transport are exactly the same issue. Choices about what kind of houses we build intimately reflect the kind of transport we build. Quarter-acre single-dwelling houses sprawling across former farmland go along with motorway madness, and vice-versa. On the other hand, dense housing built around urban centres and places of employment encourages public transport, cycling and walking, and vice-versa.

2) It must be our priority to fight social apartheid. It would certainly be easier to build high-density, eco-friendly housing in the working-class suburbs where land is cheaper. But this will do nothing to help working-class communities break out of their geographical isolation from the central areas of town which are richer in cultural, educational, and employment opportunities, and will in fact reinforce economic apartheid. Affordable high density housing must be built in the pleasant, liveable, central suburbs, while rapid public transport links must be built to connect these places to outer working-class suburbs, so that all can benefit from the increased wealth and opportunities that the rebirth of central Auckland brings. The City Rail Link taking 10 minutes off the train journey to West Auckland – and also enabling another light or heavy rail link to the airport, connecting Mangere and Onehunga to the CBD – would, as Chris Harris says, “repair part of the broken social contract with south and west Auckland”.

3) Likewise, we must fight the stranglehold that the beneficiaries of central Auckland’s gentrification have on the politics and development of our city. Daniel Older argues that gentrification is in fact “violence couched in white supremacy… the central act of violence is one of erasure” of working-class communities and their history. In this way, it replicates the colonial expropriation of Aotearoa which set up New Zealand’s unequal and racist society in the first place. The asset-rich beneficiaries of this deeply unfair and exploitative process now self-righteously stand against any developments which might re-open the central city to young people and workers. They must be politically defeated.

4) We must also support the actually-existing organisations in the new working-class suburbs – the spiritual descendants in many ways of Ponsonby’s Polynesian Panthers. Community groups in Glen Innes have been at the forefront of resisting the dispossession of State house tenants and the forcible gentrification of their suburb; while the “Respect Our Community” coalition, based in Mangere, have not only blocked a new motorway extension which would have demolished many houses, but are leading the fight against turning ancestral Māori lands at Ihumatao into more housing sprawl. Older argues that a central narrative of gentrification is a “discourse that imagines neighborhoods of color as pathological and criminal, necessitating outside intervention for the good of all.” But initiatives like the above prove that working-class communities in notorious “South Auckland” can fight back.

[i]               Misa, Tapu. “Auckland: The Pacific comes to Auckland”. New Zealand Herald, 2010 August 27. Available at: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1andobjectid=10667079

[ii]              Mila, Karlo. “Only one deck”, in Rashbrooke, Max (ed.) Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2013. pp. 91-101

[iii]             Misa, op. cit.

[iv]             Misa, op. cit.

[v]              Misa, op. cit.

[vi]             Harris, Chris. “A divided Auckland?” in Rashbrooke, Max (ed.) Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2013. pp. 102-4.

[vii]            Friesen, Wardlow. “The demographic transformation of inner-city Auckland.” New Zealand Population Review, 2009, 35:55-74.

[viii]           Friesen, op. cit.

[ix]             Older, Daniel José. “Gentrification’s insidious violence: The truth about American cities”. Salon, 2014 April 9. Available at: http://www.salon.com/2014/04/08/gentrifications_insidious_violence_the_truth_about_american_cities/

[x]              Friesen, op. cit.

[xi]             Friesen, op. cit.

[xii]            Harris, op. cit.

[xiii]           Mila, op. cit.

We need to stand for Niki, because she is standing up for you

niki

Source: Stuff.

Vanessa Cole is a member of the Tāmaki Housing Action Group.

This article will be published in Fightback’s magazine on Urban Revolution and the Right to City. To subscribe, click here.

Elderly tenant Ioela ‘Niki’ Rauti has made headlines for refusing to be moved from her house on Taniwha Street, Glen Innes. While she has received support from many people, the backlash from some commentators have tried to derail her struggle by framing her as selfish for holding on to a three-bedroom home during a housing crisis. Niki’s struggle is not an individual struggle, but a struggle of people against the processes of capital accumulation and its manifestation in the state-led gentrification of Tāmaki.

In The New Zealand Experiment, Jane Kelsey shows New Zealand’s historical habit of blindly following economic ideas that had never been trialled elsewhere in the world. The Tāmaki experiment is much the same – adopting urban planning and privatisation which have failed internationally. The transfer of 2,800 state houses in Tāmaki (Panmure, Point England and Glen Innes) to the Tāmaki Redevelopment Company (TRC) is privatisation by stealth. The insidious language used by the TRC frames this transfer as urban ‘regeneration’ – a grand project which will see the building of more homes and the revitalising of a community which embodies the problems associated with the geographical concentration of poverty.

The experiment in Tāmaki is a well-orchestrated campaign. The reality of these policies, without the spin, is mass privatisation of state housing, the displacement of the poor through state-led gentrification processes, and destruction of working class communities by private developers into a desirable and attractive landscape for an incoming middle-class. If Tāmaki was the experiment for the rest of Auckland, and for the rest of New Zealand, then it is a failed experiment. While the redevelopment has received public attention and criticism, the discourses and myths produced by the Government are powerful in justifying and dampen the violence of dispossession.

Paula Bennett promised that freeing up public land by removing state homes in Tāmaki and building more houses will help alleviate the exorbitant increases in house prices and build more houses for those in need. Yes, more houses have been built, but providing public land to private developers has led to exploding unaffordability. The median land values in Glen Innes, one of the first areas to be redeveloped, have increased from $400,000 to nearly 1 million since the redevelopment begun in 2012. The housing market in Tāmaki demonstrates that increasing supply and density of housing does not necessitate affordability. One reasons is that our existing affordable housing (state housing) is being replaced by a large amount of private housing, and property developers are not interested in the reduced profits of “affordability.” State housing once functioned to stabilise the housing market in particular areas, meaning that surrounding rental properties were cheaper. Very few people will be able to rent an affordable house in Tāmaki once this project is completed, particularly if landlords continue to capitalise on the increasing land values in the area.

As for the argument that “mixed-tenure communities” will provide better access to resources for the poor and solve the social problems facing unevenly developed communities. Most of the international research suggests that this new urban planning logic does the complete opposite. The logic of social mixing is built on classist ideas of middle-class neighbours teaching the poor how to behave and providing aspiration for mobility. This is a logic which ignores the economic processes which occur when capital moves into low-income communities, processes which lead to displacement and social cleansing.

Developers in Tāmaki have to build a certain proportion of social and affordable houses as part of the deal of buying and accessing cheap public land. Their main goal, however, is to profit from speculating on land value increases. While the TRC have promised tenants that they can remain in the area, this was a reluctant concession following years of community resistance, and does not account for other forms of eviction through the Social Housing Reform Programme (SHRP) which begun in 2013.

The establishment of a social housing market by means of transferring state housing to Community Housing Providers (CHPs) is occurring under the rhetoric of efficiency. Tāmaki Regeneration, a company set up to regenerate and redevelop Tāmaki, is now one of these new ‘social’ landlords, given 2,800 households to manage. As part of the company Tāmaki Housing Limited Partnership manage the tenancies, and Tāmaki Regeneration Limited are in charge of redevelopment. The Government will argue that this is not privatisation as the TRC is currently owned by the New Zealand Government (29.5% Bill English, 29.5% Nick Smith) and Auckland Council (41%). The TRC, however, was set up in the interim period to manage the properties and the tenancies. Soon, however, the tenancies will be transferred to various different social housing providers and the land will eventually be sold to developers and investors to build the mixed tenure housing.

If we look to the UK, this process of transferring management of public housing stock to private organisations lead in many cases to privatisation. Without sufficient subsidies to support management of properties, private developers are the only organisations that can withstand the costs. The Salvation Army have already backed down from taking on state housing stock for this very reason. The most concerning issue here is the foreshadowing of large scale privatisation in which the private market is held as the sole supplier of the basic human right to housing.

While we are promised to reap the benefits and efficiencies of privatisation, history has shown that the private market does not provide affordable and secure housing for the working class and unemployed. Housing is a right, and an essential material need. To sell it off to private developers or transfer it to private housing providers is to commodify something that should be for living. When Niki is standing up against the redevelopment of her home, she is standing up against the economic processes by which capital dispossesses the poor for the profit of the rich. We need to resist the narratives of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor, and fight for the right of all to affordable, secure and public housing. We need to unite to dispel the myths of regeneration and to fight the historical and continual dispossession of people by capital. We need to stand with Niki, because she is standing for you.

Migrants are welcome – Leftist xenophobia is not

refugees-migrants-welcome-here

By Daphne Lawless

When I was a young Alliance activist in Wellington in the 1990s, I knew Frank Macskasy well as a staunch colleague in the fight against the neoliberal assault on workers. It’s very sad to see him now promoting the xenophobic agenda of Martyn Bradbury’s The Daily Blog, known as the “Breitbart of the NZ Left”.

TDB is part of the current which I’ve called the “conservative left” – those activists who have taken a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude to the rise of Right-wing populism worldwide, including the Brexit movement in Britain and the Trump movement in the US. I’ve argued that many activists, having spent so long fighting neoliberal globalization, have ended up in a position where they think that anything neoliberals want must be bad. Most unfortunately – in the NZ context – this has turned into a belief that since neoliberals want more immigration, the Left should want less.

Frank’s TDB post harps on the idea that the National government is encouraging immigration as an easy way to “artificially stimulate the economy” (an argument heard recently out of the mouth of New Zealand’s master of xenophobic politics, Winston Peters). The first obvious question should be: if it were that simple to grow the economy, what would be wrong with it? What is wrong in principle to allow anyone willing to come here, work hard and be part of our community to do so? In particular, no Pākehā New Zealander should have the bald-faced cheek to suggest that migration to this country should be treated with suspicion.

Frank skates over the contradiction between the idea that immigration “stimulates the economy” and the idea that it’s problematic “at a time when unemployment was still high.” A stimulated economy means more work available… right? Leaving aside this little problem, Frank goes on:

“The downside to high immigration has been to put strain on critical services such as roading and housing, and reduce demand for locally trained workers to fill vacancies. There is a downward pressure on wages, as cheaper immigrant-labour is brought into the workforce.”

Both Frank’s links go to NZ Herald articles. The first is a column concerning the last Budget, which contains the comment:

“The rise in net migration, on top of natural increases, is putting pressure on the health system, schools, housing and transport.”

I’ve underlined the bit that Frank seems to have missed out. The issue is that population growth is putting pressure on our infrastructure. In Auckland in particular – despite the scare stories from the xenophobic Left and Right – “natural increase” (that is, people having babies and not dying) is a significantly greater contribution to population growth than migration. So where is Frank’s worry about that section of population growth? Why is he not calling for a Chinese-style one-child policy, if the issue is really just about “more people” – rather than the murkier issue of “more people not born here”?

Frank’s second link goes to a report on advice given by Treasury – not generally considered a reliable source of good economic advice by Leftists (except when it confirms their prejudices?) There is of course a real problem with cheap migrant labour. But it’s nothing to do with “New Zealanders being priced out of low-waged jobs”. Firstly, just like it’s always been in this country, migrants tend to do the low-status jobs that New Zealanders don’t want to do – fast food workers or security guards, who might be qualified professionals in their own country, can tell you about that. Secondly, the reason migrant labour is cheap is because of employers cheating the system. We’re talking about migrants having their passports confiscated, and forced either into virtual slave labour, or work of a kind they never wanted to do (such as sex work).

These are real problems. But they are not problems caused by migration. It is caused by migrant workers not getting a fair shake on the basis as all other workers in this country. Get rid of the incentive for human trafficking provided by the current immigration scheme – by giving all those who want to work here the legal right to do so, cracking down on unfair labour practices, and encouraging migrant workers to join unions and fight alongside all other workers for their rights.

Frank and his colleagues at TDB are irresponsibly stoking the forces of racism and xenophobia in this country. Some may be doing so out of nostalgia for a simpler, less culturally diverse New Zealand of the pre-neoliberal era. Some may be doing so out of cynical calculation that migrant-bashing is a way to defeat the hated National government. But it’s a slowly growing sickness on the Left in New Zealand. The Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign has been set up by socialists, unionists and migrant communities who want to stand up and say unashamedly that we are pro-immigration, and pro-worker, and we can’t allow the conservative left to speak for the rest of us.

An uncomfortable conversation: Greens still wrong about immigration

justice-for-migrant-workers

‘Justice for Migrant Workers’ protest.

Article by Ben Peterson, originally published on leftwin.org.

The Greens new interpretation of their immigration policy has generated a lot of discussion on the left, both on this blog and elsewhere. James Shaw’s comments committing the Greens to halve immigration numbers have been controversial. In response, immigration spokesperson Denise Roche has offered a defense of Shaw’s comments saying that “The Green kaupapa on immigration is focused on people.”

I respect the work that the Greens have done to support international students and exploited foreign workers. And I respect the Greens when they say “we need to be able to talk about political issues that people care about, even when they make us uncomfortable.” Bring on the uncomfortable conversations!

Unfortunately, the discomfort isn’t leftists sticking to abstract principles. The reaction is caused by Greens new policy discussion being based on untruths.

“Issues people care about”

Roche’s article says that “We need to talk about immigration because failing to do so means that we let that conversation be dominated by fear, intolerance and misinformation.”

True. Progressives should be entering this debate, but lets not overstate its importance. Immigration is not the chief concern of Kiwis. Many times more people are primarily concerned by housing, wages and inequality than immigration. By dipping into immigration debates so publicly the greens have already failed to keep focused on the primary concerns of ordinary people and are turning to a small minority.

This is problematic in itself, but the issues go deeper. Rather than challenging the fear, intolerance and misinformation the Greens are reinforcing it. Instead of challenging xenophobic myths, Roche’s article accepts them.

“It is obvious that there are not enough houses in Auckland.”

Actually that’s not true. There are tens of thousands of empty homes in Auckland. The problem isn’t necessarily that there’s no options, its’ that investors are pricing many out of the homes that do exist.

“We need to build up houses, public transport, schools and hospitals to a level where they are a good fit for the population. After eight years of National’s dismal under-investment, there is a lot of catching up to do.”

I agree. Why are we talking about these problems and immigration in the same sentence? The selloff of public housing, and the degradation of public infrastructure go back to the neoliberal reforms of the 80’s. The trend of falling homeownership and rising housing costs likewise go back decades. When you know these are decades long trends, and only 5 years ago there was a net migration loss, why on earth would migration and infrastructure be part of the same conversation.

Put simply- It is an untruth to put the blame for these long term trends onto migrants.

The Greens are should know better than this- and trying to say they’ll cut immigration because of housing, but also saying housing is the governments fault, confuses the conversation.

Greens message makes no sense.

So Roche rightfully says “Immigration is – categorically – not to blame for these issues…
Bad Government planning is to blame.”

If immigration isn’t a social problem, why the new announcements saying the Greens are for a dramatic reduction? If immigration is going to be dramatically reduced, how do the Greens honour their commitment to raise the refugee quota, raise the family reunion quota and open up pathways for work visa holders to gain residency?

If immigrants don’t drive the housing crisis, why are the Greens bringing it up as a justification for dramatic immigration cuts?

Instead of providing a clear progressive alternative, the Greens position seems confused. A series of contradictory angles doesn’t challenge xenophobia, it fails to provide a coherent alternative..

A progressive alternative

Building a progressive political alternative is critically important and there has never been a better time to do so. The issues of most concerns to Kiwi’s is inequality, and the political mainstream has no answers on how to address this issue.

A progressive alternative has to provide clear answers on housing, infrastructure and inequality. A progressive alternative on immigration has to be clear and unequivocal- immigrants are not the drivers of the housing crisis or the reduction in work conditions.

This conversation on immigration should be uncomfortable. But this ‘uncomfortable’ conversation is not that we need to confront the gap between realpolitik and progressive principles. The uncomfortable fact is that some of our friends are suggesting that we accept and accommodate popular myths that are untrue.

That’s unacceptable, and we should expect more from the Greens.

Comments welcome below.

Leftwin seeks to host a discussion on building a new left politics in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
Be part of that disscussion here 

Green Vomit and statistical nonsense: the lies you hear about immigration and the Auckland housing crisis

hanson-farage-trump

Uncomfortable bedfellows: NZ Greens’ James Shaw joins Pauline Hanson (Australia), Michael Gove (UK) and Donald Trump (US) in an international trend of xenophobic scapegoating.

 

Article by Tim Leadbeater. Reprinted from the International Socialist Organisation (Aotearoa/NZ).

A few days ago the Labour party announced a new policy of increasing police numbers by 1000. I groaned at this news but it didn’t really surprise me. Then yesterday I heard of the new Greens policy on immigration, with James Shaw calling for a drastic reduction in numbers. Is New Zealand First calling the shots here, aided and encouraged by a compliant and uncritical media happy to jump on the anti-immigrant bandwagon? The Greens and Labour will almost certainly need the support of NZF to form a government next year, and Winston really just hates those hippy-dippy lentil munching do gooders. James Shaw knows this, yet needs to send a very clear signal to Peters that the Greens are willing to compromise. Immigration is a hot topic, and Shaw can easily frame the issue in terms of “sustainablitity” and “infrastructure”. No need for racist dog-whistles or Chinese sounding surnames, this is Sensible and Practical Greens policy, easily digested by sensitive liberals turned off by the crude nationalistic appeals of NZF.

“We think that the country needs a more sustainable immigration policy, so what we’d do is set a variable approvals target based on a percentage of the overall population. That would be at about 1 percent of the population, which is historically how fast New Zealand’s population has grown.”

Mr Shaw says the policy would even out peaks and troughs in annual migration numbers.

“You’ve also got to cater for changes in infrastructure, and because our population has historically grown at about 1 percent the country is set up to absorb that,” he says.

“Suddenly double that number, and you’ve got a problem like we’ve got at the moment, where you actually can’t meet the demand.”

Hmmmm. Sounds sensible enough. It’s not that we are racist or anything mean and horrible like that, it is just that we have looked at it very carefully and the numbers just don’t add up. One percent is all that the infrastructure can handle – just look at the housing crisis for proof, even if we wanted to we just couldn’t build enough new houses that fast. The government isn’t switched on like we are, they are letting in huge numbers and now people are sleeping in their cars! Etc, etc.

Curious about this one percent growth claim, I searched for the population data on Statistics New Zealand and came up with this graph:

population-graph

It is sort of true that the New Zealand population has grown at around 1% per year, as you can see for the period from the 1990s up to 2015, the line fluctuates above and below 1%. If you were a statistician paid by Winston Peters you could cut the time period to 1980 and onwards, and very easily draw a steadily increasing trendline through the periodic peaks and troughs. Look! The line is going up, we don’t have enough houses! The line must be flat, we must flatten the line! One percent is an absolute maximum!

The really strange and scary thing is to consider just how New Zealand survived throughout those extreme and rabbit-warren like years after the second world war. Those baby boomers were just popping them out without any consideration for New Zealand’s fragile infrastructure, pushing 3% for a couple of years and then a period of about 20 years with that line well in the red zone (and it was so sudden! How did they cope?). Then there was that period in the late 60s and early 70s when the line went into the 2% Danger Zone for about 3 years. Those damn hippies, what were they thinking?

Cheering for the Greens new anti-immigrant stance, Martyn Bradbury from the Daily Blog conjures conjures up some even more gratuitously false statistics to make the case:

Here is the grim truth about our current immigration settings. It’s not the 70,000-90,000 who become permanent residents that we need to be concerned about and it’s not their families joining them that we need to be worried with either, the real problem is our scam work/study visa scheme that sees 250 000 desperate students coming to NZ for bullshit ‘education’ programs that end up as bonded servitude with exploitative employers who hold onto their passports.

These 250 000 work hard jobs, many on less than minimum wage and pay tens of thousands for education schemes that are glorified english courses all for the promise of becoming permanent  residents.

A quarter of a million students paying tens of thousands of dollars to learn English, and getting exploited at the same time by ruthless bosses! And all of them putting massive stress on our infrastructure! They’ll never ever go back to where they came from because their bosses have stolen their passports!! We’ll be doing the country a favour as well as fighting for worker’s rights if we just stop them staying here! A double whammy:

We need to stop exploiting these people and stop promising them permanent residence via education. If they wish to come here for education, fine, that’;s their decision, but putting in place the pathway from education or employment to residency is exploitative and creating huge pressures on an infrastructure that can’t take anymore.

When I first read this blog I was struck by the twisted moral “logic” of Bradbury’s anti-immigrant stance. Like James Shaw, he wants to save the ‘infrastructure’ from the hordes of foreigners swamping our fair land. But he wants to present this as simultaneously saving the immigrants from exploitative bosses. If only they knew how exploitative and nasty kiwi bosses were, they would never have come in the first place. (Working conditions in places like India, of course, being obviously superior). I started pondering the strange and only barely coherent motivations for this ‘argument’, then my head started to hurt so I gave up. What then struck me was Bradbury’s figures. Where on earth did he get that figure of 250,000 ‘desperate students’?

He links to another blog by Mike Treen, which states that “250,000 people are granted student or temporary work visas each year.”. There are no sources given for any of these numbers, so I dug around the Statistics New Zealand and MBIE sites for up to date data. Treen’s figure of 250,000 is most likely based on data for the 2014/2015 year, in which 84,856 international students were approved for New Zealand courses, and 170,814 people were granted a work visa.

Let’s start with the temporary work visas. It is difficult to know exactly how many of these people are or were international students. There are several categories of temporary visa, and a set of complex rules and regulations surrounding each category. I didn’t spend enough time on this problem to come up with an exact number, but I did take note of the clearly spelt out fact that the biggest single source country of those gaining temporary work visas was the UK. And the fact that the biggest visa category (61,404 people) was ‘Working Holiday Schemes’ (think backpackers). How many people were granted visas in the ‘Work to Study’ category? Exactly 13,688. There are other categories international students might have applied under, but this is the most obvious candidate.

How about those 84,856 international students? Again I didn’t dig long enough in the data to work out how many of these students worked, or intended to work after studying. Fairly obviously the 18% of them who were under 16 will not be working, which leaves us with 69,582 who might get part time work alongside their studies. There is no denying that for a significant chunk of these international students (and ex-students), exploitative and often illegal work practices are a major problem. But the numbers involved are nowhere near the idiotically false figure of 250,000 which Bradbury confidently puts forward without any reservations.

Are these just careless mistakes made a by blogger who thrives on the hot air of passing controversies, or is there something else going on here? I’m aware that Bradbury operates a blog rather than an academic journal, but the brazen sloppiness regarding statistics is surely a big issue. The internet allows you to check numbers very quickly and easily, so why not back up your statistics with actual sources?

There are definitely some impressive numbers out there which at first glance appear to back up the argument for cutting immigration. According to Statistics New Zealand, surely a source far more credible than Bradbury’s blog or Green Party press releases, Auckland’s population grew by a massive 2.9% in the 2014 – 2015 year. This growth accounted for over half of the population growth for the entire country. Alongside these facts it would not be a difficult task to present a series of familiar and undeniable truths about the problems with Auckland’s infrastructure: the housing crisis, inadequate public transport, congested roads and so on. Shortly after the release of this data in July 2015, there was a Stuff article with the headline “NZ migration boom nears 60,000 a year, as Indians and returning Kiwis flood in”. Like many other similarly hysterical media reports, immigration is presented as a major causal factor of the housing crisis. With almost no attention given in the mainstream media to alternative points of view which question this received wisdom, the truth of the claim ‘immigrants cause housing crisis’ has apparently become established through constant repetition. In this environment, it is possible to make outlandishly false statistical claims about immigration without stirring any controversy.

The most insightful piece I have read about this issue is Peter Nunns’ transport blog article ‘Why is Auckland Growing?’. Nunns points out that net migration is extremely volatile, being dependent on both the numbers of Aucklanders leaving for places such as Australia and the numbers of people coming in from overseas. Much more constant and statistically significant is the natural population increase due to Aucklanders having babies. If we can get past the hysteria of the 2015 figures and look at the past 24 years for a broader and more robust view of the situation, the statistics tell a different story: in 18 of those 24 years, natural increase was a bigger contributor to growth than net migration. The significance of this is that even if regulations on immigration were tightened considerably, overall long term population growth would be roughly the same as if the status quo rules remained. Nunns demonstrates this with a simulation comparing a projected Auckland population growth with a 50% reduction of net migration to one without such a reduction. His prediction is that by the year 2043, the 50% reduction version of Auckland would have a population of about 2.1 million, whereas the status quo Auckland would have a population of about 2.2 million. The conclusion he draws is that Auckland faces some major tasks around preparing its infrastructure for population growth, so it needs to do things like build more houses. Cutting immigration is simply not a solution.

I can’t resist another conclusion: none of this pedantic analysing of facts and figures really matters all that much. What does matter is all those times you get on board an Auckland train in the morning and there are no seats left, and you are surrounded by lots of Indian and Asian young people. When you get on the bus and have to listen to all those conversations in Chinese. Then you get off on Dominion Road and basically every sign is written in Chinese, and they don’t even bother translating them into English. All those bright and hard working Asian students who get most of the academic prizes in the secondary schools. These very pertinent experiences and anecdotes build on each other, so when you read the outlandish and ridiculous sentence “the real problem is our scam work/study visa scheme that sees 250 000 desperate students coming to NZ for bullshit ‘education’ programs that end up as bonded servitude with exploitative employers who hold onto their passportsyou don’t even blink, it just sounds about right.

As a socialist I am for internationalism, solidarity and a world without borders. In this article however I have restrained myself from using any of the perspectives, values or arguments which inform these positions. The mainstream left in New Zealand appears to be lacking in both statistical literacy and the spirit of the famous phrase ‘Workers of the World, Unite!’. If we can’t communicate to them the spirit of solidarity, the least we can do is point out their mathematical failure.

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.

 

Anti-racists outnumber white supremacists in CHCH

racism rally

Over a hundred anti-racism protestors clashed with white supremacists led by Kyle Chapman in Christchurch today.

Despite an attempt at tricking the count-protesters by changing at two hours’ notice the advertised location of the white-pride rally from New Brighton to Cathedral Square, over a hundred counter-protestors surrounded and outnumbered the 50 or so white supremacists, who were quickly drowned out by the chants of the anti-racism protestors, a number of whom had come from Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland to show solidarity with Christchurch anti-racist activists.

Counter-demonstrators chanted “immigrants are welcome here, racists are not.”

“The fact the racists need to hide their rally is a victory for us, and that they were stopped from preaching their hate” says Fightback member Ben Peterson.

Eventually the police had to escort the outnumbered white supremacists out of the square for their own safety.

“Obviously racism still exists, so it’s good that we stood up and shut them down today, however by chasing the white supremacists out of town doesn’t end racism, it’s much deeper than that in our society, we need to keep fighting to root it out,” says Fightback member Wei Sun.

Over the course of the rally, organisers held a collection to raise money for the Refugee Council of Canterbury.

See also

CHCH: Rally against racism + Fighting Racism meeting

rally against racism chch 2014

Rally Against Racism

The “White Pride World Wide” rally is happening again with Right Wing Resistance (http://rwrnz.blogspot.co.nz/) having it’s flag day celebrating bigotry and intimidation. They appear to be working with National Front (https://www.facebook.com/wpwwnznf) who are a well known Neo-Nazi/White Nationalist group.

Last year was excellent, and hopefully with more time we can make this counter demonstration larger and better.

12:30 Saturday 22nd March
Cnr New Brighton Mall & Marine Parade, Christchurch
[Facebook event]

___

ChCh Fighting Racism in Aotearoa Meeting

‘Fighting Racism in Aotearoa’ meeting

Fightback presents a facilitated discussion on fighting racism throughout Aotearoa.
Regan Stokes (guest speaker) – E korara ana ngā kapua [The clouds are dispersing]
Wei Sun (Fightback) on migrant struggles & open borders.
Ben Peterson (Australian guest) on solidarity with refugees.

7pm, Sunday 23rd March
WEA, 59 Gloucester Street, Christchurch
[Facebook event]

Mainstream racism and white power groups

protest free news nz herald waitangi day

By Ian Anderson, with contributions by Joel Cosgrove (Fightback Wellington).

“When fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown and black shirts. It will not be with jackboots. It will be Nike sneakers and smiley shirts.”

-George Carlin, comedian

 On Waitangi Day 2014, the NZ Herald ran a “protest-free” edition, proudly announcing this editorial decision with an image of a raised fist.

The Facebook page Wake Up NZ (with around 10,000 likes) reported the fist as a “white power” symbol, associated with far-right groups including Right Wing Resistance and the National Front. UK leftist tabloid the Morning Star echoed this assertion, in an article reprinted by popular Australian paper Green Left Weekly.

Some responded that the raised fist is a broader symbol, also used by black power and leftist groups. Socialist Aotearoa is probably the most known group in Aotearoa/NZ to use the fist as their main logo, albeit in yellow. It’s entirely possible that the editors of the Herald intended the fist to symbolise dreaded ‘protest,’ by indigenous and radical forces.

Whatever their intention, the message was racist. By filtering out militant anti-colonisation politics, the Herald editorial team endorsed a colonial vision of Waitangi Day.

In fact, editorial choices made by the Herald in part reflect the difference between liberal racism and the straight-up fascism of white power groups.

The National Front deny that Māori are the tangata whenua, the indigenous people of Aotearoa/NZ, instead relying on pseudo-history to argue that Celts came first. By contrast, the Herald coverage accepted a kind of tokenised, ceremonial Māori indigeneity.

Instead of protest action, the Herald’s Waitangi Day photo gallery depicted the militarist dawn service on Waitangi grounds, a celebration of the Pākehā treaty – the treaty that guarantees Crown ownership, not the legitimate (dishonoured) treaty which guarantees absolute chieftanship to tangata whenua. Ultimately, the NZ Herald does more to advance white power than some bonehead1 with a swastika.

While groups like Right Wing Resistance insist on ‘white pride’ and ‘white power,’ using separatist language, politicians and opinion-makers largely insist on ‘one law for all’ and ‘one nation,’ hiding the domination of one nation by another (see Grant Brookes, Waitangi Day, Te Ra o Waitangi – What does it mean today?). This capitalist domination is legitimised by a layer of corporate iwi leaders (see Annette Sykes, The Politics of the Brown Table).

In light of this liberal racism, fascist and white power groups can appear as a relic, a reminder of politics that were supposedly defeated last century. In Spain and Germany, the 20th century growth of fascism was initially supported or tolerated by much of the international ruling class, particularly because fascists were willing to get their hands dirty killing communists. Nowadays in Aotearoa/NZ, white power groups are considered unfashionable in polite company.

In some ways this historical irrelevance is an illusion; fascism may be unfashionable when liberal democracy is serving capitalism just fine, but when the ruling class are threatened by the spectre of communism, the liberal mask comes off.

In Europe in the 21st century, since the global financial crisis, fascist groups have grown. In the UK, the British National Party (BNP) made a bid for respectability, winning seats in elections, while the English Defence League (EDL) remain street-thugs. Greece’s Golden Dawn openly assaults migrants, leftists and queers, with backing from much of the police. In a situation of economic and ideological crisis, the battle between the far-right and the left can play a major determining role.

However, the situation is different in Aotearoa/NZ. Although we have experienced a decades-long growth in inequality, this country was relatively sheltered from the shock of the global financial crisis. There is also no substantial left or radical workers’ movement to defeat (something Fightback, and other groups, aim to change). There is no sign that white power groups are growing substantially here, in part because the ruling class currently has no need to support their growth.

This is not to say we should tolerate white power groups. In Ōtautahi/Christchurch, Right Wing Resistance (headed by Kyle Chapman, former head of the National Front) have a tangible presence in the community, leafleting houses and intimidating people of colour. In 2012, their annual White Pride Worldwide rally attracted a reported 90 people, marching unchallenged. In this context, it is absolutely necessary to confront fascists in the streets and stop them marching; in 2013, counter-protestors easily outnumbered the White Pride Worldwide rally. Anti-fascist rallies resonate widely in Christchurch precisely because Right Wing Resistance has a tangible presence.

It’s also necessary to clarify that fascism is unwelcome in progressive spaces. In 2013, media revealed that a youth who vandalised Jewish gravestones had previously marched with Occupy Auckland, bearing a skateboard marked with swastikas. In Occupy Wellington, the (successful) struggle to get consensus on banning the National Front initiated a more general debate over ensuring that Occupy was an anti-oppressive space. For any kind of progressive politics to flourish, intolerance of white power groups must be an agreed bottom line.

However, confronting white power groups can become a ritual for the left, disconnected from wider reality.

From 2003-2008, the National Front attempted to march on the cenotaph in Poneke/Wellington, annually on Labour weekend. Each year progressives resisted this march.

The largest mobilisation was in 2004, after attacks on Jewish gravestones (and NF support for a church led anti-gay march). Hundreds of counter-protesters mobilised and chased the NF out of parliament grounds, led by a large contingent of ‘anarcho-fairies’, dressed in pink tutus, chasing the scattered NF remnants back to the railway station. From then on the annual mobilisations became much more formulaic and predictable, with a slowly dwindling number of counter-protesters, and an organised police presence keeping the NF apart from the counter-protestors.

In 2009, the following comment was posted by ‘annoymous’ on indymedia.org.nz:

[Counter-demonstrations against the National Front have] become nothing more than a annual ritual… I would very much doubt if many of the Anti-Fa crew would travel to say the Hutt Valley and protest outside the Hutt Park Motor Camp and do something useful and put pressure on the owners of the Motor Camp not to take bookings from these guys.

The time has come to re-evaluate the way we react to the Nationalist Flag Day protest and come up with fresh ideas rather than another pointless protest with more embarrassing arrests.”

In the end, the Hutt Valley Motor Camp cancelled the NF booking, forcing them to find other accommodation. However, with the annual confrontations fizzling out, there was no reassessment of anti-fascist strategy and tactics. As futurist Alvin Toffler is often quoted as saying, “if you don’t have a strategy, you become part of someone else’s.”

For Pākehā, anti-fascism can work to alleviate guilt. On the Facebook event for the Christchurch Rally Against Racism 2014, suggested chants include “Adolf Hitler was a d**k, fascist bigots make me sick.” The cathartic ritual of confronting an unpopular group of boneheads can underline how deviant, how marginal white power groups currently are. However, racism is embedded throughout our society.

Our ‘justice’ system is a case in point. Māori make up about 14% of the general population, and 50% of the prison population. Tagata Pasifika are also overrepresented in prisons. Criminalisation is not simply a matter of oppressed groups perpetrating more offences; Māori and Pasifika are more likely to be targeted for drug offences than Pākehā. Although Europeans make up the majority of overstayers, Tagata Pasifika are also more likely to be targeted for overstaying.

This is not a country run by Kyle Chapman’s mob. Aotearoa/NZ is a country run by (mainly) Pākehā who overwhelmingly support marriage equality, who work with the Māori Party and selected iwi leaders, who say they value the content of a man’s character (read; bank account) over the colour of his skin. The racism that keeps capitalism running here is a liberal racism, repulsed both by swastikas and Black Power patches.

In The People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn notes that early in the colonisation of North America, the capitalist state deliberately drew the ‘colour line’ to undermine working-class solidarity. In Aotearoa/NZ, Māori workers were the first to take strike action, in the Bay of Islands 1821, demanding to be paid ‘for their labour in Money, as was the case in England, or else in Gun Powder.’ In keeping with the racist pseudo-science of the day, Māori were portrayed as genetically inferior to Europeans.

By demonising tangata whenua – the most dispossessed, militant workers – capitalists undermine working-class unity. Bigoted Pākehā, most obviously those in Right Wing Resistance, play into this divide-and-conquer strategy. By clinging to meagre privileges, racist Pākehā workers prolong the system that exploits them. Racism is ultimately a structural matter, not just a matter of prejudice.

White power groups cannot be tolerated. However, confronting mainstream racism is also a necessary project. This project demands that we amplify voices ignored by the NZ Herald (one reason liberation movements need our own media). This project demands that we actively support and participate in struggles for self-determination, including the MANA Movement. This project demands that we weave our struggles together, recognise that all forms of liberation rely on eachother. Liberation demands that we recognise, in the words of Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, that “nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

***

1‘Bonehead’ refers to white power skinheads; not all skinheads are fascists.

See also