Aotearoa/New Zealand: Mana, a movement of the people

Grant Brookes.

By Grant Brookes

November 7, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal – The following talk was presented to a Socialist Alliance public meeting in Melbourne.

Tihei mauriora!
Ko Ranginui kei runga
Ko Papatūanuku kei raro
Ko nga tangata kei waenganui

Ko Grant Brookes ahau
Ko Helen toku mama
Ko Don toku papa
Na Ōtepoti ahau
Na Koterana oku tipuna
Ko nga kaimahi o te ao taku iwi.

When a Maori person rises to talk in formal occasions, they often announce their speech, with tihei mauriora! – translated literally, “sneeze of the life spirit”. It is then customary to recount one's ancestry and tribal connections. So I said, Ranginui the sky father above, Papatūanuku the earth mother below, the people in between. I am Grant Brookes. My mother is Helen, my father is Don. I am originally from Ōtepoti/Dunedin. My ancestors are from Scotland. Being Pakeha, or a New Zealand European, I have no Maori tribal connections, so I say, the workers of the world are my tribe.

I speak also as a socialist, and a member of the Workers Party of New Zealand. And I am a member of Mana. I have consulted with my Rōpū (or branch) and my Rohe (electorate) about today's talk, though I must stress that I am not mandated in any way to speak on behalf of the party, and the views expressed are my own.

According to stories told by Maori, the land of my birth was discovered by Kupe. In one version of the story, Kupe was a fisher in the ancestral homeland called Hawaiki, who was annoyed by a great octopus which kept stealing his fish. He tried to kill the octopus, but it swam away, and he chased it in his canoe all the way across the ocean. Either Kupe or one of his crew caught sight of a cloud, indicating land over the horizon. Arriving at this land, they named it Aotearoa (land of the long white cloud). This is an explanation of the meaning of the word in the title of my talk.

Many more canoes journeyed from Hawaiki, bringing the people who settled the land and who lived there for many hundreds of years before the arrival of the Pakeha. The story of Aotearoa since then is the story of colonisation, and resistance to colonisation by the people of the land.

In the Maori world, people are caretakers of the land on behalf of future generations of living things. Tribes had their own territories that they looked after, but the idea that an individual could own land, dispose of it according to their will and deprive others of its fruits, was inconceivable. To the agents of colonisation, land was a resource for the production of private wealth. The stage was set for conflict.

There was conflict over land. But to create pastoral capitalism in New Zealand, the colonial authorities also had to break the cultural and social structures which stood in opposition to their system. So the conflict was also over many other things as well – such as customs, beliefs and the language which expresses these. The struggle for Te Reo Maori, the Maori language, goes on. It is a hard won taonga, or treasure, which I was honoured to bring to you today in the opening words of my talk.

At bottom, the conflict was over who had the ultimate legitimate source of power and authority – expressed in the Maori concept of tino rangatiratanga, or absolute chieftainship.

Maori resistance to colonisation, and assertion of tino rangatiratanga, has taken many, many forms over the generations. In 1835, a group of northern Maori chiefs signed a Declaration of Independence, establishing self-government.

On February 6, 1840, a gathering of chiefs and representatives of the British Crown signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Treaty of Waitangi. Although Maori outnumbered Europeans a hundred to one at this time, more settlers were arriving all the time, and in many cases their unruly conduct was becoming a problem. The treaty set down a framework for lawmaking. Over the following months, the treaty was taken around Aotearoa and more than 500 chiefs signed it.

There are two versions of this treaty, the one the chiefs signed written in Maori and an English translation. The Maori text upholds the claim of the chiefs to tino rangatiranga and asserts their ongoing right to their treasures. The English version differed significantly. It said political authority was transferred to the Crown and facilitated sale of land.

Land acquisition then proceeded apace. However, while Crown agents believed they were buying land, in many cases Maori believed that gifts were being given in return for the right for settlers to reside and use land for a time.

But the pressure to acquire land was greater than the desire to "sell" among the chiefs, who had legitimate authority over it. Land occupation by settlers was backed up by military force, with 3500 imperial troops brought in from Australia, and for nearly three decades Maori resistance took the form of armed struggle.

Towards the end of hostilities, new forms of resistance to colonisation emerged – including the examples of mass civil disobedience at Parihaka, remembered to this day. Colonial surveyors marked the land with pegs, to delineate boundaries of land blocks for sale. For months, Maori pulled up the pegs and ploughed the land for their own crops. One after another, ploughmen were arrested, and someone else would appear the next day. Road builders cut paths for colonial soldiers and commerce – Maori built fences and planted fields on top of them.

From 1868, Maori also expressed resistance through elected representatives in parliament. The early Maori MPs operated as independents, or joined other political parties. It was not until the emergence of the Ratana political movement in the 1920s that Maori began to form a truly united bloc in the House. Over four elections, Ratana managed to capture all the Maori seats in parliament. They used their weight in parliament to forge an alliance with the New Zealand Labour Party. In a meeting between the movement's founder, Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana, and Labour prime minister Michael Savage on April 22, 1936, Savage was given four symbolic gifts: a potato, a broken gold watch, a greenstone pendant and a feather from the nearly extinct huia bird. The potato represented loss of Māori land and means of sustenance, the broken watch represented the broken promises of the Treaty of Waitangi and the pendant represented the prestige of the Māori people. If Savage could restore these three, he would earn the right to wear the huia feather to signify his chiefly status. This cemented a parliamentary link between Maori and Labour which would survive until 2004.

The parliamentary alliance signified a material reality. Despite the resistance, colonisation had dispossessed Māori, decimated the population and mortally wounded the spirit of the people. But the benefits of colonisation had not flowed equally to all Pakeha. As early as 1890, over 80 per cent of the land in New Zealand was in European hands. But of that, more than 60% of the freehold acres was held by just 600 individuals or companies.

Maori had lost land, in other words, but a majority of European settlers saw little benefit from that. They had no land or wealth either. They made up a growing urban working class who were organising in trade unions and taking up their battles with the Crown. In the 1930s, in the depth of the Great Depression, Labour was swept to office by Pakeha workers who were also dispossessed. The political alliance between Maori and the labour movement represented converging material interests.

In addition to the forms of Maori resistance already mentioned, since the early 20th century, resistance has also included a push to establish new marae – communal centres for living, meeting and learning – to replace those destroyed. It has included the creation of Maori-controlled educational institutions, and – most recently – the development of Maori business to counter the power of rich Pakeha capitalists who reaped the benefits from colonisation.

And finally, for now, there is the protest movement which erupted in the 1970s. The historic Maori Land March (or hīkoi) of 1975 reiterated the message of the 1930s. "We see no difference between the aspirations of Maori people and the desire of workers in their struggles", said newspaper advertisements taken out by the march organisers. "We seek the support of workers and organisations, as the only viable bodies which have sympathy and understanding of the Maori people and their desires. The people who are oppressing the workers are the same who are exploiting the Maori today." And working-class Pakeha responded to the call. The movement inspired a series of epic occupations demanding the return of land.

It was this protest movement that forced the government to set up the Waitangi Tribunal in 1975 and begin the task – ongoing to this day – of paying compensation to settle historic grievances arising from the unjust acquisition of land and other treasures. In the process, large sums paid out have provided a material base for the emergence of Maori capitalism.

In 2004, the resurgent protest movement also finally broke the link between Maori and the Labour Party. A group of Maori tribes had won a court case saying they were entitled to file a claim to the foreshore and seabed inside their historic tribal area. A hīkoi in support of this entitlement arrived in Wellington, to be joined by tens of thousands of supporters – including many Pakeha. But unbeknownst to most, exploration had revealed potentially huge offshore oil and coastal mineral reserves. The Labour government legislated to extinguish any claim to customary title and assert Crown ownership. The Labour Maori MP Tariana Turia resigned from the party to form the Maori Party, which quickly established itself as the new, leading voice for Maori in parliament, independent of Labour. The Rātana link was broken. At the next election, Hone Harawira entered parliament as a Maori Party MP.

The Mana Party emerged from, and relates to, all of these historic forms of resistance to colonisation. In European terms, the foregoing could be described as an overview of the historic context. But in the Maori world, the ancestors are always with us, and are acknowledged.

The Maori protest movement ebbs and flows like any other. After 2004, the rise of the Maori Party as a parliamentary force contributed to the quietening of protest. As this happened, the party came increasingly under the influence of the Maori capitalists – the so-called "corporate warriors" – who had grown powerful on the back of Treaty of Waitangi settlements. The Maori Party joined a coalition government with the right-wing National Party and tensions grew between Maori Party leaders and their predominantly poor members and support base.

Matters came to a head in 2011. As part of the coalition deal with the National Party, the Maori Party had secured agreement to repeal Labour's legislation extinguishing any Maori claim to the foreshore and seabed. But in its place, the Nationals proposed new legislation which in practice would have amounted to the same thing. Hone Harawira broke ranks with the Maori Party, voted against the bill and set in motion the chain of events leading to the creation of the Mana Party.

In some respects, Mana can be seen as restoring the historic link between Maori and working-class Pakeha expressed by Rātana and the 1975 Land March, in an age when Labour can no longer be seen as a working-class party. This has led to a difficult political struggle to redefine the relationship between Maori resistance to colonisation and the less clearly articulated resistance of workers to capitalism in New Zealand.

Some Pakeha joined the Maori Party at the beginning. But the party's Maori-nationalist politics left no real room for concerns that were not explicitly Maori focused. The split which formed Mana was a split along class lines. Mana was critical of the corporate warriors of the Maori elite and sided with te pani me te rawakore (the poor and the dispossessed). And it opened the door to Pakeha to join in a common struggle.

Hone Harawira's speech to the closing of parliament in 2011 declared that "Mana is here because the Maori Party betrayed the people who put them into power, and because Labour long ago abandoned their role as defender of the working class and champion of the poor".

The party's kaupapa, or vision statement, says:

Mana is a concept that all New Zealanders are familiar with. Mana is the principle of independence recognised in [the 1835 Declaration of Independence]. Mana embodies the principle of authority confirmed in Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Mana includes the principle of autonomy…

Mana also speaks to the pride and dignity of workers who built this country into the special place that we all call home.

Mana is born from a need/ or desire to be a truly independent Maori voice in parliament.

Mana is also seen as the natural home to a growing number of ordinary Kiwis cast adrift by this National government, and despairing of Labour’s inability to provide a viable alternative.

The faces who led Mana publicity at the last election comprised two Maori and two Pakeha – Hone, Treaty lawyer and activist Annette Sykes, veteran social movement activist John Minto and the former left Green MP Sue Bradford. Unite union secretary Matt McCarten was the inaugural party president.

The three main socialist groups in Aotearoa have also backed Mana and are active within it – Socialist Aotearoa, the International Socialist Organisation and my group, the Workers Party.

Mana contested its first general election last year. Held under a form of proportional representation called MMP, the party attracted just over 1 per cent of the vote nationwide. But crucially, Hone easily won his seat in the far north Maori electorate of Te Tai Tokerau. The Greens, coincidentally, scored their best ever result by far, winning 14 seats. The Greens vote the same way as Mana more often than any other party, and some in Mana see them as our closest political allies.

But Hone is now often a lone voice in parliament and in the media for us. His call for schools to "feed the kids" and provide hungry children in low-income areas with breakfast resonated so loudly that the Greens, Labour then the government adopted a version of it. Polls this year show Mana support firming in its core constituency. Hone is now the most popular Maori politician in the country by far, although the disparity between this and the inability of the party to break through into wider public support is an issue.

But more than this, Mana upholds the primacy of extraparliamentary action by the people. As Hone told a protest in the capital this year, "When we finally realise the power that we have outside of this House, this House will fall down stone by stone."

Notwithstanding the difficult position of political groups within the Occupy movement last year, the nascent Mana Party had the most visible presence in Occupy Auckland, Occupy Wellington and Occupy Dunedin.

But the real solidarity action of Mana members was seen during a wave of employer militancy from late 2011. There was so much activity that I can only give an overview here. Workers at a meat-processing plant in small-town Marton were locked out by CMP ANZCO last October, after refusing to accept pay cuts of up to 20 per cent and flexible rosters. Mana members collected money, successfully advocated within our unions for solidarity with the meatworkers and organised rallies and protests during the 65-day long dispute.

It was followed by a lockout at five plants owned by AFFCO in February. Meat plants in New Zealand are usually located in rural areas, and a high proportion of the workforce is Maori. Mana members again helped the official union solidarity campaign. Mana independently organised food collections and delivered them to union offices.

But crucially, it was Mana's links into the Maori world that ultimately defeated the lockout. In some areas, farms supplying the meat plants are Maori owned. Meetings with the farm owners on behalf of the locked-out workers produced public statements that they would stop supplying AFFCO unless they lifted the lockout.

The third and – hopefully – final lockout was on the waterfront at Ports of Auckland. While the Labour Party mayor overseeing the port sat on his hands, Mana members were among the staunchest picketers and strongest organisers of solidarity. The lockout was beaten, though the dispute remains unresolved.

The capacity of Mana networks to mobilise masses of people was shown in April. Mana members were crucial in organising a two-week long hīkoi down the length of the North Island in opposition to the privatisation of state-owned infrastructure companies. The government wanted to eliminate Maori rights over these assets before selling them. The Maori Party focused on negotiating a share of the assets to be transferred to iwi corporations (under the control of Maori capitalists).

We provided a core of activists, organised accommodation and food at stop-offs along the way and were instrumental in mobilising more than 5000 people in the final march through Wellington to parliament. Official union support was probably only delivered thanks to the efforts of Mana members in the union movement.

This Aotearoa Not For Sale hīkoi stopped the momentum behind the government’s privatisation plan, and gave space for other opposition to emerge. A petition is now under way against the asset sales. It needs time to collect the 300,000 signatures needed to force a referendum on the plan. The much larger Green Party has gathered half the necessary signatures itself, and a referendum looks likely. The Maori Council had time to launch a legal challenge to the asset sales, and to win a ruling throwing another spanner in the works. The sales have been delayed and the future of the government's program is now up in the air.

Finally, November 7, saw the latest stage of another protest campaign with Mana at its core – the defence of public housing. A rally outside parliament protested against "urban renewal" plans aimed at transferring public houses to private landlords, evicting tenants in the process. Mana leaders have put their bodies on the line in this campaign as well, in forms of civil disobedience reminiscent of Parihaka. Co-president John Minto was arrested last week, along with a dozen others trying to stop the removal of state houses in the Auckland suburb of Glen Innes. Hone Harawira MP was arrested last month at a similar protest. Mana has been involved in this battle since it began last year, including helping to organise occupations of state houses scheduled for demolition.

Despite this capacity for bursts of activity, maintaining party structures and sustaining membership activity day in, day out, is hard. A party of the poor and the dispossessed is not flush with resources – human or financial. Most members and supporters are people who were alienated from politics before Mana came along. Perhaps because of this, Pakeha socialists like me are over-represented on the local committees at Rōpū and Rohe level in some parts of the country. But we know what it means to be nga mōrehu, survivors.

Are there any New Zealanders in the audience? You can support Mana. The next election is still two years away, though when it comes I hope you will give Mana your votes. You will need to register though, or update your details using these enrollment forms. While acknowledging the right of people to choose, Mana encourages voters of Maori descent to register on the Maori roll, rather than the general roll.

And for now, you can also join Mana, or donate to Mana. Australia is now home to a record half a million people from Aotearoa, including 128,000 Maori. Brisbane has become the fourth largest urban concentration of Maori in the world.

Mana is organising here. Here are some membership forms. You will see us again soon.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.