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

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.

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

  1. [...] oppression he is doing at university.  There’s been some thought-provoking stuff there about race and class in Aotearoa, and his most recent looks at the impact of rugby culture on how men here “do” [...]

  2. Lucy cooper says:

    Hey thanks for daz your essay helped me in my research for Maori Education Post 1988 as apart of my BA in Primary teaching. After being away for the Last 30years its quite a catch up. so kia kaha for we still fight on.

  3. al Macdonald says:

    Colonisation , is a slur. it was immigration. Maori chiefs welcomed some missionaries with open arms. On chief said “If it wasn’t for the white man and his gospel and the 110 commandments, I would have feared for near extinction for our peole due to war-mongering and cannibalism ( eating of maori prisoners by the victorious tribe captured during battle)

    The massaged myths, of poor race relations in “Aoteotoa” are manufactured by commnunists and athiests that proliferate victoria and Auckland universities. Their ends can only be atained through ethnic tensions which they work at to cultivate amongst gulliuble maori, and then sustain for self-centered reasons

    Belich, Keenen and co need to invent and then to inflame contempt for the white man so as to obtain illicit and massive “treaty claims’ its a case of ‘covetousness” ( commandment No 5) and a life without work ( see commandment No1)

  4. jay says:

    hey thank you so much your essay helped so much with my sociology assignment. you gave me a very broad view on the idea of how new zealand is a classless society and also a good list of references to read about. thanks man

  5. Paul Hilton says:

    I am totally frustrated by feeling NZ is not moving forward. We as a people should be united without any divisions in society. We should embrace the fact that NZ is not a bi-cultural society but indeed now an established multi cultural society. We as a people are accepting racism if we accept bi-culturalism and ignore our multi-culture. It is a well known fact that other non-indigenous races of people more than number the ruling minority people of this country. Please see sense, unite, don’t divide we are New Zealanders, not Maori and Pakia. Be proud of what we should become as a nation and embrace all differences of our cultures.

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