The miseries of the Great Depression hit Māori workers particularly hard. Mass unemployment, poverty, slave-labour like conditions in relief works, poor housing and slumlords profiteering from renting out hovels – this was the fate of many hundreds of thousands of workers across the country. Māori workers, still concentrated in rural areas and in some of the most isolated and deprived parts of the country, suffered particularly intensely. And, in addition to their economic hardship, they had to face open discrimination and racism from the state and its agencies.
Unemployed workers fought back, and the early 1930s saw pitched riots in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin. Crowds smashed windows and fought with police in Queen Street and up Cuba Street. Labour’s first victory came in these years, followed by its second, more emphatic win on the back of social reforms. How the Communist Party of New Zealand responded in its paper, the Weekly Worker, to the racism Māori faced offers a fascinating insight into how organised militant workers can take up the question of oppression. A few articles from the paper in 1934 and 1935 give a snapshot of the Party’s organising.