At the end of this month New Zealand will hold a general election. While current polls might lead us to be cynical about voting, we need to remember that our right to vote was fought for by previous generations and shouldn’t be taken for granted. Woman gained the right to vote in this country though a massive popular movement in the latter part of the 19th century. We should be aware that Kate Sheppard believed “All that separates, whether of race, class, creed, or sex, is inhuman, and must be overcome” and saw the gaining women’s’ suffrage as part of that struggle.
We should also remember that in addition to women being denied the vote, there was a time when most men were too. Originally voting was a privilege reserved for land owning men, a democracy only for those who made up the capitalist class. In New Zealand in the 19th century, this excluded Maori who owned land in common, and most of the largely itinerant working class- miners, shearers, sailors- who often had no fixed abode, let alone their own land.
The right for working class men to vote in this part of the world was won by a rebellion of miners at the Eureka Stockade in Victoria, Australia in 1854. Fearing that a similar rebellion could take place on this side of the Tasman, the colonial government enacted Victoria’s suffrage laws, and working class men could now vote. Perhaps it’s fitting then that this issue of The Spark puts a focus on miners.
Marking the one year anniversary of the Pike River Mine disaster and the on-going official inquiry, we are publishing an abridged article from the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers Unions looking at the safety concerns at the mine. Labour historian Jared Davidson writes about the role miners have played in the New Zealand labour movement and we examine the position of the West Coast- a region largely dependent on mining- in the context of capitalism.
Also looked at this month is the Occupy Movement, which began in the US (though no doubt inspired by events that began in North Africa) and in October spread around the world. We print the press releases from the occupations taking place in New Zealand cities and an article from the Socialist Party of Australia, looking at the police repression of Occupy Melbourne. It seems a century and a half from Eureka those who right for democratic rights will still be met with state repression. Further coverage of the Occupy movement will appear in our next issue.
Elsewhere in these pages we cover the Rena Oil Spill, the New Zealand tour of S’bu Zikode, a leader of the shack dwellers movement in South Africa, the death of Steve Jobs, and the right to strike. The October issue, which features an article on each of the parliamentary parties as well as an article about the importance of retaining MMP in the referendum, will continue to be circulated between now and the election, and is available wherever you get The Spark.
- Byron Clark, November issue coordinating editor.