The Aotearoa is Not For Sale hikoi departed from Cape Reinga on April the 23rd and reached parliament on May the 4th. This march demonstrated that tangata whenua are at the forefront of struggle against privatisation, expressed widespread opposition to asset sales, and raised questions of how to move forward.
The kaupapa was broad, and contested. Thousands were united by opposition to National’s plans of selling 49% of state-owned assets to private companies. Other issues of corporate and ‘foreign’ ownership included the AFFCO meat-works lockout, offshore drilling and the Crafar Farms sale.
In an article for Scoop, Anti-capitalism must feature at hikoi against asset sales, Valerie Morse argued the focus should be on capitalist ownership rather than foreign ownership: “A number of very well known ‘kiwi’ brands equally well meet the definition of a multinational corporation… The fight shouldn’t be about domestic or foreign ownership; the fight should be about ownership full stop.”
The International Socialist Organisation (ISO) published an article by Dougal McNeill, underlining the importance of anti-capitalism in the Crafar Farms controversy. McNeill noted that “Plenty of major New Zealand capitalists, from Fonterra to Cater Holt Harvey, invest profits abroad already… Profit goes towards the pursuit of more profit, to the expansion of business production.”
ISO’s article underlined how Michael Fay, potential Kiwi owner of Crafar Farms, had profited from deregulation and privatisation – and how ‘Kiwi’ capitalists play just as much of a role in dispossessing tangata whenua. Finally, the article pointed out how rhetoric opposing Chinese ownership taps into the ugly history of anti-Chinese racism in this country.
Tino rangatiratanga was a key concept driving the hikoi. Popular Ngai Tahu blogger Kim Mcbreen posted an article on why she was participating: “To me, colonialism is the fundamental issue, and capitalism is just a part of that.”
Cape Reinga to parliament: thousands of supporters
The hikoi drew in important layers of nationwide support, while media coverage focused mainly on Auckland and Wellington. The march from Auckland’s Britomart attracted estimates of 8,000 supporters, while Wellington’s march on parliament attracted around 5,000.
Iwi gave the hikoi its back-bone, from Cape Reinga Southwards. Unions were also visible, with locked out AFFCO workers forming a significant contingent. The hikoi was endorsed by all the parliamentary opposition parties, and MANA formed a substantial bulk of the organisation and participation. Far-left groups also supported the hikoi, including Socialist Aotearoa, the Workers Party and the International Socialist Organisation.
In Wellington, student group We Are The University organised a feed-in march from Victoria University. Promoted through lecture-speaking, posters and Facebook, the march attracted around 150 students under the slogan “VUW is Not For Sale.” Speakers from the student body opposed the corporatisation of education, and attacks on student access to financial support.
After marching down from Victoria University, students joined the main hikoi on Willis Street. Emboldened by the sight of the hikoi, chants rose in volume including “Who are we? The university!”, “You do a degree, what do you get? Debt! Debt! Debt! Debt!” and “Hey John Key, you’ve got mail, Aotearoa is not for sale.”
Rally on parliament steps
When the hikoi converged on parliament grounds, Maori wardens were out in force. One activist climbed onto the statue of Richard Seddon to erect two flags: the Confederation of United Tribes independence flag, and a tino rangatiratanga flag. The march surged past the regulation crowd-barriers and up parliament steps, before stopping for speakers.
Hikoi organiser Mike Smith spoke first. Opposition MPs aroused cheers from the crowd, and MANA leader Hone Harawira led a chant. Maori Party speaker Te Uroroa Flavell received boos and heckling for supporting the coalition government.
Te Whanau a Apinara anti-fracking activist Dayle Takitimu incited cheers by declaring, “Now is the time to rise up, because we are the people who are fighting for the people.” An AFFCO worker delivered a speech largely in te reo, stating that Talley’s AFFCO are trying to drive down wages; it’s worth noting here that the company is NZ-owned. Workers Party member Joel Cosgrove provided the megaphone and spoke near the end, on the need to oppose capitalist ownership.
Workers Party members also brought a banner and leaflets stating, “Aotearoa is Not For Sale – to local or foreign capitalists.”
Clear widespread opposition to asset sales appears to have no impact on the government’s plans. Confronted by media John Key laughed the hikoi off, saying that in light of the governments’ perceived mandate, a few thousand people marching would not change his mind. However, given that 75% of the general population (and 88% of Maori) oppose asset sales, Key’s statements come off as arrogant.
With all of the opposition parties involved, a parliamentary strategy is playing out. Some activists are aiming to undermine the government’s parliamentary majority, with long time Ohariu-Belmont MP Peter Dunne seen as a weak link. A range of groups including the Council of Trade Unions, Labour and the Greens have also co-sponsored a petition for a Citizens Initiated Referendum.
However, many remain alienated from the parliamentary system. Last year, 1 in 4 youth were not enrolled to vote. The general election saw the lowest turnout since women won the right to vote, with around one million staying home. We must ask why, given the widespread opposition to asset sales, it is so hard to mobilise voters.
A Labour-led government remains the most immediate alternative to a National-led government. However it’s important to remember that the Fourth Labour government introduced the current “State Owned Enterprises” model, which began to run state owned enterprises (SOEs) on the model of private corporations rather than public services. Many of these SOEs were privatised by the National government in the 1990s. While Helen Clark’s Labour government brought back shares in some assets including Air New Zealand (essentially a state bail out of a private corporation) there was no change away from the SOE model toward a public service model. It is understandable that so many are not inspired to vote.
While the campaign against asset sales needs a parliamentary component to stop the proposed reforms, in the long term we will need to build an alternative to the Labour Party, based on mass self-organisation. Workers in those industries that are up for privatisation, such as electricity, could make a significant impact through direct action. We must support, build on and unite ongoing struggles against corporate dominance.