Thursday, September 13, 2012

MANA setting the agenda


This week confirms that the MANA Movement continues to set the agenda on the left in politics. It is the intellectual and activist powerhouse that is driving forward pro-worker, pro-poor and pro-Maori politics in Aotearoa.

Firstly, Labour's leader David Shearer this week adopted the 'feed the kids' policy of MANA in the 2011 election to bring healthy meals into working class schools in communities that have been savaged as a result of decades of low wages, high unemployment and five years of economic recession. Labour's move comes the week after Hone Harawira lodged a private members bill to provide free lunches and breakfasts in decile 1 and 2 schools. Hone has neatly replied to the critics, "And as for people who believe that feeding children is a responsibility of the parents, why should our children suffer because some parents either don’t receive enough money to feed their kids or because a small minority make bad parenting choices?" Even the Herald is swinging somewhat in behind the principle with their editorial, Breakfast is not too much to ask. As a side note: those involved in early MANA policy discussions, will remember that some of the inspiration for this policy came from the Oakland ghetto. Shearer may be an unlikely candidate for membership of the Black Panther Party but his adoption this week of 'feed the kids' is confirmation of the revolutionary potential of the thought and deeds of Huey P Newton and the Black Panthers. Radical movements, revolutionary upsurges come and go - the best ideas survive.

He came, he swore, he conquered. Hone Harawira's comments about John Key treating his Maori MPs like 'house niggers' may have won him no friends in the the National Party but it certainly worked - coaxing Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples into attending and thus acknowledging the absolute need for a united Maori approach to water rights. Over and over again we have heard the refrain that the Maori Party get more from being in the Government than being opposed to it. But Key a month ago was ready to ignore the Waitangi Tribunal and push ahead with asset sales over iwi rights. Now he is being forced to delay asset sales, recognise water rights and negotiate with Maoridom.  This came because of a fightback in the courts, in the streets and in the media led by MANA Movement leaders like Hone and Annette Sykes. Hone's letter to Key in the Herald yesterday was an erudite rebuttal of the Government's current position and his and Annette Sykes' proposals to the Turangawaewae Hui have set the agenda within Maoridom.

Annette's speech at the 1000 strong-hui was an eloquent call for the need for unity. As ex-Green MP Nandor Tanczos described the speech, "Just spent the day at Turangawaewae listening to the korero about water and catching up with friends. Annette Sykes, as usual, rocked the mike. She can always be counted on to say the things that need to be said, regardless of who it might make uncomfortable. For well-informed, intelligent, and courageous comment, you can't beat her." If one person can be counted upon to help deliver a crippling blow to the Government in the High Court if Key and co press ahead with asset sales without consulting iwi and hapu it is Annette. Her critique of the Maori elite and steadfast advocacy for women and the poor makes her the key link in the chain between Maori fighting for guardianship over water and all of us fighting against asset sales. The right's racist agenda hopes to stem the alliance of non-elite Maori and Pakeha  in movements like Aotearoa is Not for Sale by stirring up resentment over the cost of Treaty settlements. But thus far the championing of the interests of Maori and workers by MANA and its total opposition to any iwi co-operation with  asset sales make it a harder proposition for the right.

Some in the struggle and the movements favour an abstenionist position towards Parliamentary parties- from some Maori activists who believe all politicians are corruped by the colonial Parliament to anarchists who think 'if voting changed anything it would be made illegal'. The wins of Mana this week in helping bring Maori  to a united position against the commercialisation of water and in raising the need for meals in lowdecile schools confirm the importance of building the Mana Movement for all those who want to stop asset sales and child poverty.

In Quebec, Canada provincial elections have seen centre-right Liberal Party ejected from office and the centre-left Parti Quebecois take power promising to repeal the hated fee rise for university students and the emergency laws that criminalised dissent. The anti-capitalist, anti-colonial Quebec Solidaire (QS) won 6% of the popular vote and went from one to two Members of Quebec's National Assembly. The success of QS was as a result of their integration with the Quebec student strike. As the Canadian International Socialists described it, 'QS officially supported the student strikes from the very beginning, taking up student demands for free, accessible post-secondary education, joining citizen pot-clanging marches (les cassaroles) and still proudly wearing the red square.'

Building parties like MANA or Quebec Solidaire are important to the social movements and street protests against neo-liberalism - as one Canadian activist blogged, 'QS helped build the Quebec spring and was in turn shaped by it, with many students joining its ranks, and is in a stronger position to continue giving voice to the movements in the future.' MANA too is shaping and in turn being shaped by the struggles against neo-liberalism in Aotearoa. As it too grows from the water rights movement it will become a stronger voice in the struggles against austerity and neo-colonialism to come.

-Socialist Aotearoa

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