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Who represents Maori Workers Political interests?

Who truly represents Maori Workers Political interests?

Monday 6 October 2008

Amokura Panoho, List Candidate for the Maori Party

Employers have often been accused by Trade Unions of using ‘divide and rule’ tactics to pit workers against each other.

That’s why it is always bemusing to watch the Labour Party and the Trade Union movement utilise the same ‘divide and rule’ tactics when it comes to the Maori constituency.

They’ve had a lot of practice.

In the early days of Mana Motuhake as Matiu Rata rallied around Maori communities to support his fledgling party for his by-election bid in 1980, it was the Maori affiliates to blue collar unions who were trotted out to undermine his attempts. The struggle was about ‘classism’ not ‘racism’, they said, and Maori independence was only a subversive attempt by ‘academic’ Maori to become capitalists.

The faces may have changed but the message remains constant as was shown in Sunday’s Marae programme where Syd Keepa Convenor of the Kai Mahi Maori Council of Trade Unions Runanga challenged the Maori Party to step up to the plate for Maori workers and declare they will not enter into a coalition with National.

Keepa quoted quite rightly the destructive impact on Maori workers of the 1991 Employment Contracts Act introduced by a National Government as the basis for his discomfit with the Maori Party. However his selective memory was remiss in not pointing out to his audience that it was the 1984 Labour Government’s restructuring of the State Sector and establishment of Crown owned entities that created the platform for such a draconian piece of industrial law.

Keepa’s logic is also a bit skewed as the CTU is always in discussions with employers and regularly share working parties and common agreements on legislation like Free Trade Agreements, the most recent being the Free Trade Agreement with China, which the Maori Party opposed. We have also seen ‘workers representatives’ join the boards of corporates as they have continued to do since the eighties. Has Mr Keepa implored the bosses in the union movement not to fraternise with the employer bosses, the ‘enemy’, if not why not?

Maori workers have a history of being pawns in someone else’s political agenda, that’s why they are so important to the union movement. They along with Pasifika workers provide that critical mass that can be mobilised around bread and butter issues to become the activists on the picket line. In an economy where technology and skills are increasingly important this sector of the labour force will always feel under pressure to have their basic rights addressed.

But as Maori move closer to managing their own assets and being part of the global economy, to strengthening their service delivery to their own communities where do the unions fit into that picture? Recent moves by the Nurses Union along with a coalition of employers to get the government to improve funding to Maori service providers so that they don’t lose their workers back into mainstream services seems an important place to start. It’s a clear distinction of where being a Maori and a worker collides.

In the meantime Mr Keepa finds himself in an interesting dichotomy as he declares he is a supporter of the Maori Party in a press statement but presents an ultimatum to the party via the media. Maybe he should start answering his own question.

Amokura Panoho is a list candidate of the Maori Party who has an extensive background in industrial relations and Maori economic development as well as freelance writing on Maori issues.


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