New Zealand: class-based Maori party formed

Submitted by Matthew on 16 November, 2011 - 1:55

A new political movement allying social justice and indigenous rights is gathering strength in New Zealand in the run up to the general election.

Maori-led and class-based, the Mana movement began a few months ago as a localised group contesting a by-election, which they won, and has become a national structure fighting on a number of policies which are for the most part socialist. Though Maori-based, it is not exclusively Maori; some of its leading representatives are European-origin NZers, and it tries to reach out to Islander-origin people.

In the upcoming election they are contesting not just Maori-specific seats but also general list and general seats.

It is worth exploring what it means to be Maori and working class. The vast majority of Maoris are marginalised and working class, but the development of class consciousness within them as a distinct racial grouping has developed relatively recently — pre-Western Maori society had no concept of private property and a lack of surplus meant capitalism did not exist.

Now 80% of Maoris are urbanised and de-tribalised. That has done more to create a distinct Maori identity than any former tribal structure. Maoris, unlike Native Americans, were not forced onto reserves but integrated and allowed to claim protection for tribal sites.

Mike Kyriazopoulos, a member of the New Zealand Workers’ Party, thinks there is a “healthy democratic space” inside Mana, which will allow socialists to organise. It is thought on the New Zealand left that more upper- and middle-class elements of Maori society will be drawn to the Maori Party and the Alliance, rather than to the class-conscious politics of Mana.

Many Mana members are happy to discuss socialist ideas, says Mike, even without yet identifying themselves as being in a socialist tradition, while some activists do talk about revolution.

Around 60% of activists within Mana are women, and members include trade unionists and the unemployed.

Policies put forward by Mana include:

• Troops out of Afghanistan

• A Tobin tax and abolition of VAT

• Free school meals

• Social housing building programme.

• Increasing the minimum wage to two-thirds of the average wage

They also have a robust environmental policy which includes the idea of a just transition for workers in the fossil fuel industry.

There are some worrying policies, such as calls for New Zealand residents to be given priority in jobs which sound similar to the “British jobs for British workers” slogan in the UK.

However the potential of the Mana movement is that it can pull Maori issues which are class-based away from a nationalist ideology. Separate Maori parliamentary seats have existed for 100 years. Mana wants to keep them for as long as Maoris want them. But Mana activists seem open to politics based on equality rather than separateness.

A movement which offers a left-wing alternative and provides a space within which socialists can organise should be welcomed by the New Zealand far left.

New Zealand goes to the polls on 26 November. More: mana.net.nz

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