Ikaroa-Rawhiti by election a step forward for Mana movement

The Labour Party leader, David Shearer, said Labour would terrorise their competition in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by election. This comment isn’t suprising coming from Labour’s leadership, as they conducted the terror raids against Tuhoe and other activists in 2007 but, if anything, the opposite was true. Labour’s campaign was lacklustre and failed to connect with the real anger amongst Maori workers over unemployment and poverty.

The Mana movement ran a determined campaign with very few financial resources but massive grassroots support. Mana activists came to support from all over – I came from Tamaki – and our campaign was by far the most visible. Te Hamua’s reo outshone Labour throughout the Maori media.

Te Hamua Nikora, the Mana movement candidate, came in second behind Labour’s Meka Whaitiri. Mana got around 25% of the vote compared to Labour’s 42%. The Maori Party were relegated to third place with 20% and the Greens came in fourth with 11%.

The final results will become available on July 10. Whatever the final vote, it is clear Mana will be a force in the Maori electorates come 2014. Mana is gaining momentum and will challenge the Labour Party from the left. In the 2011 General Election, Mana came third in both party and candidate votes in Ikaroa-Rawhiti.

Elections are difficult terrain for left-wing activists. There are a host of rules constraining what activists can do and elections cost a huge amount of money. They are stacked in favour of the parties of big business. Despite this Mana campaigned hard, with mostly volunteers.

Maori electorates are far to the left of the other electorates. The traditions of struggle for tino rangatiratanga and the concentration of Maori in the working class means National is seen by pretty much everyone as the enemy. Indeed, in Ikaroa-Rawhiti in 2011, National only got about 5% of the party vote and they do not run candidates.

This does not mean that Maori were united in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election. There was a big turnout for Labour, Mana, and the Maori Party and a small but significant vote for the Greens.

What was really interesting is that the Labour candidate and victor, Meka Whaitiri, was the CEO of Ngati Kahungunu. Before this campaign I thought the home of Maori business leaders would be the Maori Party as they are in coalition with National – the home of Pakeha business leaders. The situation is more complex.

Mana campaigners aimed at Labour as the key enemy in the elections. The confiscation of the foreshore and seabed in 2004 and the terror raids against Tuhoe in 2007 were remembered, alongside Labour’s wholesale attacks on worker’s living standards and the privatisations of the 1980s.

Unlike National, Labour is the enemy within the movement, whether it be for workers rights or Maori rights. They talk big at times but really, when push comes to shove, they are the agents of the capitalists and always try to maintain the status quo.

The Maori Party’s ongoing coalition with National is taking its toll – Na Raihana droped down to third place. Mana is now the main contender against Labour in Ikaroa-Rawhiti.

There is talk now of a Mana Maori merger but Hone Harawira has said this would be possible only after the Maori Party severs its ties with National. This is hard to see in the immediate future as the Maori Party, and their backers, have already participated in five years of corrupt anti-worker policies.

The next challenge for the Mana movement will be John Minto’s campaign for Mayor in Tamaki-Makaurau. Here again Mana will be challenging Labour on their own turf. If some of the activists from the different campaigns John Minto is involved in – the housing struggle, the workers’ movement, the Palestine solidarity movement, and public education campaigners –  come together with the already existing Mana branches, then by the end of the mayoralty campaign, Mana could have a series of fighting branches throughout Tamaki-Makaurau. It is not likely that Mana will win but building the movement is the key to real victory.