Solidarity Issue #2 out now! Free newssheet by AWSM

April 12, 2009

Issue 2 - April 2009Download issue in .pdf format (2.87MB)

The second issue of Solidarity, free monthly newssheet of the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement. Download the .pdf above, or click below to read the contents online.

Contents:

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An equal society? Race and class divisions in modern New Zealand society

April 11, 2009

Another day, another university essay…

This one was in response to the following essay question:

Leslie Lipson wrote in 1948 that “if any sculptured allegory was to be placed at the approaches of Auckland or Wellington harbour, it would assuredly be a statute of Equality.” Do you think this remains the case in 2009? Discuss.

My original plan had been to also include immigration related things in the Race section, and to have a 3rd Partiarchy section, but unfortunately I ran out of both time and space to do them.

An equal society? Race and class divisions in modern New Zealand society

If we visualise Wellington harbour, the sea glistening on a beautiful summer’s day. A great sculpture, standing at its entrance, proclaiming to all a particular value, feature or characteristic that holds true across New Zealand society, what would that sculpture be? At least two possibilities hold true: a rifle wielding colonist, poised to steal land from a Maori community or perhaps a boss hoarding profit while using a mound of workers as a footstool. These social divisions of race and class , seen time and time again across New Zealand history, present the true face of New Zealand as a modern, capitalist, representative democracy.

Race – colonisation and resistance

Since the beginning of European colonisation of New Zealand, Maori have struggled to maintain their land and culture. Sometimes this took the form of open warfare, for example resistance led by Te Kooti in and around the Waikato.1 In other parts of the country self-imposed isolation was attempted, such as in Tuhoe, especially during the time of Rua Kenana and his settlement Hiruharama Hou, or New Jerusalem.2 Yet other Maori chose non-violent resistance to maintain their mana, as occurred in Parihaka under Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi.3 Regardless of the methods chosen, resistance was the general theme amongst Maori as British colonisers began to exert their power and control over these islands.

Today, we still see resistance from Maori, both to continuing colonisation and to the efforts at redress of historical grievances made by the New Zealand Government, primarily through the Waitangi Tribunal. For some Maori activists for tino rangatiratanga, colonisation ‘can be seen as a part of the global process of capitalist expansionism based on the destruction of the territorial and cultural integrity of the indigenous populations by the expropriation and commodification of their lands and human resources’.4 Likewise, the group Aotearoa Educators sees international capitalist institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation and the World Bank as representing a further wave of colonisation.5

Just as resistance took on a multiplicity of forms in the past, so too does Maori resistance to ongoing colonisation in 2009. Cultural resistance, in the form of the revitalisation of te reo Maori and tikanga Maori, begun in the 1970s, continues today. Symbolic resistance, in the form of protests, takes place around a variety of issues, most prominently in recent years the hikoi against the Foreshore and Seabed Act in 2004, which saw tens of thousands of Maori converge on parliament, many having marched the length of the North Island.6 Direct action to reclaim land also occurs with some regularity, with land occupations the most common form. In recent years, the 1995 occupation of Pakaitore in Wanganui, which lasted for 79 days, is perhaps the most prominent example, but smaller scale and less well known land occupations have occurred. April 2009 has seen an occupation in Taranaki in opposition to drilling by Greymouth Petroleum under land which includes urupa (burial grounds) and spring water still used today.7

The ongoing process of colonisation and resistance to it present a clear divide between Maori and Pakeha, a defining feature in modern New Zealand society.

Capitalism and class struggle

For many, the myth of New Zealand as a classless society held true up until the reforms of the fourth Labour government. Historian James Belich explained some of the reasoning behind this myth by noting that the living standards of working class New Zealanders were generally higher than those of working class British people in the late 19th and early 20th century. Despite this, there was little movement between the working and ruling classes in New Zealand at the time.8

In the mid 1970s and 80s, class struggle in New Zealand reached a peak not seen since the 1951 waterfront lockout. In 1977, over 200,000 workers went out on strike at some point during the year, while in 1985 over 1.2 million working days were reclaimed by striking workers.9 While the introduction of the Employment Contracts Act in 1991, legislation that severely restricted worker’s ability to strike legally, saw a significant reduction in strikes, class struggle continued in other forms.

Marx and Engels argued that the one constant throughout all societies in history was class struggle, which shaped those societies.10 For New Zealand in 2009, this still holds true. New Zealand ranks in the bottom half of OECD countries for income disparity, a worse rating than Sweden, Australia, Canada and Ireland amongst others.11 In the midst of a recession, workers are being expected to take further financial strains, both in the form of Government endorsed 9 day working fortnights (with almost a full day’s cut in pay) and in reductions in wages and conditions, simply to ensure that profit stays at a level able to keep the ruling class in the lifestyle it is accustomed to.

The 90 Day Act, which allows owners of businesses employing under 20 workers (which amounts to over 90% of work sites) to fire any worker without reason in the first 90 days of employment, is another recent example of an attack on workers rights.12 These state and corporate responses to the recession show the global resonance of predictions made by British writer Joseph Kay, who discussed a range of inevitable attacks on the working class due to the recession, both at work (in the forms of redundancies and cuts in wages and conditions) and in the community (such as evictions, foreclosures and public service cuts).13

All of the above add to pervasive class divisions in New Zealand society – divisions which are inevitable under capitalism. Constant throughout New Zealand’s history and still present in 2009, class divisions are clearly a defining characteristic in New Zealand society.

Conclusion – New Zealand, unequal and divided

As a capitalist society, based upon the colonisation of an indigenous people and the land they lived upon, New Zealand cannot be classed as anything but an unequal society. The myths of New Zealand society as a classless society with good race relations have been repeatedly proved untrue throughout history, and present day political and economic struggles against the dominant class continue this process of exploitation and resistance.

Footnotes

1: Judith Binney, ‘Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki   ? – 1893′, 2007, http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/dnzb/default.asp?Find_Quick.asp?PersonEssay=1T45 (accessed 3 April 2009).

2: Rangi McGarvey, ‘Ngai Tuhoe – Self-imposed isolation – Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand’, 2008, http://www.teara.govt.nz/NewZealanders/MaoriNewZealanders/NgaiTuhoe/6/en (accessed 3 April 2009).

3: Te Miringa Hohaia, ‘Taranaki – Resistance – Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand’, 2008, http://www.teara.govt.nz/NewZealanders/MaoriNewZealanders/Taranaki/4/en (accessed 3 April 2009)

4: Teanau Tuiono, ‘Tino Rangatiratanga and capitalism’, Thrall, Issue 24, p. 3.

5: Aotearoa Educators, ‘neo-liberal globalisation and the tino rangatiratanga movement’, Thrall, Issue 18, p.3.

6: Alastair Thompson, ‘Scoop: Seabed Hikoi Reaches Parliament’, 2004, http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0405/S00046.htm (accessed 3 April 2009).

7: Tuhi-Ao, ‘Otaraua Hapu occupation of mine reaches 17 days’, 2009, http://indymedia.org.nz/newswire/display/77066/index.php, (accessed 7 April 2009).

8: James Belich, Making Peoples: A History of the New Zealanders from Polynesian Settlement until the End of the Nineteenth Century (Honolulu : University of Hawai’i Press, 2001), p. 328-32.

9: Toby Boraman, The myth of passivity: class struggles against neoliberalism in Aotearoa in the 1990s (Dunedin: Irrecuperable Distribution, 2004), pp. 16-17.

10: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist manifesto (New York: Signic Classic, 1998), p 1.

11: Ministry of Social Development, ‘Income inequality – Social report 2008′, 2008, http://www.socialreport.msd.govt.nz/economic-standard-living/income-inequality.html (accessed 3 April 2009).

12: Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement, ‘Say NO to the 90 Day Hire & Fire Act!’, Solidarity, Issue 1, February 2009, p. 3.

13: Joseph Kay, ‘What recession means for us’, 2008, http://libcom.org/library/what-recession-means-us (accessed 3 April 2009).

Bibliography

Aotearoa Educators, ‘neo-liberal globalisation and the tino rangatiratanga movement’, Thrall, Issue 18, p.3.

Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement, ‘Say NO to the 90 Day Hire & Fire Act!’, Solidarity, Issue 1, February 2009, p. 3.

Belich, James, Making Peoples: A History of the New Zealanders from Polynesian Settlement until the End of the Nineteenth Century (Honolulu : University of Hawai’i Press, 2001), p. 328-32.

Binney, Judith, ‘Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki   ? – 1893′, 2007, http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/dnzb/default.asp?Find_Quick.asp?PersonEssay=1T45 (3 April 2009).

Boraman. Toby, The myth of passivity: class struggles against neoliberalism in Aotearoa in the 1990s (Dunedin: Irrecuperable Distribution, 2004), pp. 16-17.

Heywood, Andrew, Politics, 2nd edition (Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002).

Heywood, Andrew, Political Ideologies: An Introduction, 3rd edition (Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005).

Hohaia, Te Miringa, ‘Taranaki – Resistance – Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand’, 2008, http://www.teara.govt.nz/NewZealanders/MaoriNewZealanders/Taranaki/4/en (3 April 2009)

Kay, Joseph, ‘What recession means for us’, 2008, http://libcom.org/library/what-recession-means-us (3 April 2009).

Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich, The Communist manifesto (New York: Signic Classic, 1998), p 1.

McGarvey, Rangi, ‘Ngai Tuhoe – Self-imposed isolation – Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand’, 2008, http://www.teara.govt.nz/NewZealanders/MaoriNewZealanders/NgaiTuhoe/6/en (3 April 2009).

Ministry of Social Development, ‘Income inequality – Social report 2008′, 2008, http://www.socialreport.msd.govt.nz/economic-standard-living/income-inequality.html (3 April 2009).

Morse, Valerie, Against Freedom: The war on terrorism in everyday New Zealand life (Wellington: Rebel Press, 2007).

Mulgan, Richard, Politics In New Zealand, 3rd Edition (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2004)

Thompson, Alastair, ‘Scoop: Seabed Hikoi Reaches Parliament’, 2004, http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0405/S00046.htm (3 April 2009).

Tuhi-Ao, ‘Otaraua Hapu occupation of mine reaches 17 days’, 2009, http://indymedia.org.nz/newswire/display/77066/index.php, (7 April 2009).

Tuiono, Teanau, ‘Tino Rangatiratanga and capitalism’, Thrall, Issue 24, p. 3.


Inner city pressure – Race and representation in The Wire

April 11, 2009

Sorry for the massive slacking off on this blog. I won’t promise to do better in the future – I’d like to, but I can’t guarantee that it’ll happen. I can promise I’ll try though!

In the meantime, the below article was something I had to write for University (which I’ve recently started, eek!) It’s nothing hugely special, but at least I’m posting again!

Inner city pressure – Race and representation in The Wire

Television series The Wire is set in the predominantly African-American city of Baltimore, Maryland in the United States. The majority of characters in it are African-American, and encompass a variety of personae, including drug dealers, Police officers, drug addicts and politicians. While the show has been praised by critics for offering a more realistic view of crime and policing than most other police shows (Metacritic), the African-American characters in the series cannot be classed as showing anything approaching the full range of experiences of African-Americans in the United States, especially for African-American women.

Unlike many other TV series based on crime and policing, The Wire blurs the lines between good and bad characters. Characters normally shown as good, such as Police officers, are frequently shown to be corrupt and/or brutal, while normally bad characters such as drug dealers have their background stories and social circumstances fleshed out, allowing you to see the reasons they engage in anti-social activities and the lack of choice in their upbringings. Despite this fact, African-American characters in The Wire fall into two broad categories: those engaging in illegal activity and those whose job it is to prevent it. In doing so, the writers have neglected to show what life is like for the vast majority of African-Americans in Baltimore – people whose lives are not bound up in one way or another with the trade in illegal narcotics.

In attempting to show reality for urban, African-American poor in a modern American city, The Wire falls short, largely because there is no one reality that applies to the everyday lives of such a large, heterogeneous population (Branston and Stafford, 156). African-American women are shown even more poorly than men in The Wire. Very few are shown in any of the seasons, leading to a burden of representation for those that are, especially Detective Kima Greggs, the sole female African-American character in the principal cast. To compound the difficulty of representing such a large population on screen (Branston and Stafford, 153), Greggs is also the sole lesbian character. The character of Greggs is shown to be a strong-willed, confident and intelligent tomboy, who, other than her long-term partner, predominantly has friendships with male characters. Due to this, she is seen by the male characters as “one of the boys”.

African-Americans, especially those in urban centres similar to the Baltimore portrayed in The Wire, are likely to find some resonance in at least some of the characters in the series. Anecdotal evidence exists of drug dealers watching The Wire to learn more about Police monitoring of their activities, allowing them to improve their level of security. Similarly, it seems likely that those same drug dealers have criticisms of the realism of the portrayal of their fictional counterparts in The Wire’s Baltimore. This process of implication and extrication (O’Sullivan et al, 125) shows a pattern that would be familiar to other groups who see themselves portrayed on the screen, such as Police officers.

For African-American women, a marginalised subset of a marginalised community in the United States, there is little of themselves for them to see in the series. This lack of representation could result in a reinforcement of a lack of self-worth, which may only be able to be rectified with increasing variety of female African-American characters on television, similar to the process African-Americans as a whole have gone through since the 1980s (O’Sullivan et al, 129-130).

While The Wire succeeds in creating a more realistic picture of both sides of the illegal drug trade, it fails to escape the stereotyping of African-Americans as either belonging to an underclass involved in illegality (the “bad ones”) or a ruling class involved in policing it (the “good ones”). There are still large sectors of the urban African-American population who will fail to see anything of themselves or their lives in the series, a problem that further contributes to the reinforcement of the aforementioned stereotypes.

List Of Cited Works

Branston, Gill and Roy Stafford. The Media Student’s Book. Fourth Edition, London: Routledge, 2006. Print.
CBS Interactive Inc. “Wire, The (HBO) – Reviews from Metacritic.” 1 October 2006. Web. 3 April 2009.
O’Sullivan, Tim, Brian Dutton and Philip Rayner. Studying the Media: An Introduction. Third Edition, London: Arnold. 2003. Print.


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