Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 17. 19th July 1972
Politics of Protest
Politics of Protest
The last French nuclear tests were countered in New Zealand with purely liberal protests. Words were spoken about sending boats into the test area, but no boats went. There was talk of a trade embargo on France, but this was rejected because New Zealand had a favourable trade balance with France. A breach of diplomatic relations was canvassed but no major political grouping took the issue up. This time, all this has changed. Yachts rush into the mid-Pacific once a week, carrying M.P.s, The Federation of Labour has blocked exports to French Polynesia. The Labour Party has argued that diplomatic relations should be broken off. One element in the situation, however, remains constant, the French are going on with their tests in spite of all protests.
The reasons for protest are so well documented as to be admitted even by the Prime Minister. Atmospheric nuclear testing has been condemned by the Stockholm conference on the enviroment. The tests proceed also in complete disregard of the wishes of the elected representatives of French Polynesia, an area so thoroughly colonised that the need for its independence has been excluded from discussion at United Nations level. The distortion of the Tahitian economy by the development of the French military complex there, and the complete disregard by the Paris government of the will of the majority force even the Tahitian liberals toward demanding independence for their country. The New Zealand Government has no choice but to admit these facts. It claims that it is taking all practical and effective measures to stop the tests. But these "practical and effective" measures are not stopping the tests — and according to Mr Marshall, will have no effect until the next test series.
It is not often that protest on any international issue goes to the length of demanding a diplomatic break with any country. Not even the Vietnam war movement has yet made a major issue of demanding New Zealand sever diplomatic ties with the Saigon regime. It is not often, either, that so wide an array of opinion is ranged against the Government without the Government shifting an inch from its position. The reasons for Government obstinacy are transparent. Faced with a loss of European markets for his capitalist friends if it attacks France seriously, Marshall will allow France to do anything it likes so long as it can veto New Zealand's exports to Common Market countries. We are lucky that France just wants to contaminate the atmosphere and practice its new brand of radioactive colonialism. If France wanted to invade the South Island Marshall would issue diplomatic notes just as often, and nothing more.
In a democratic capitalist state, it is not the people but the financiers and exporters who make the decisions. The people and the financiers are now in direct and total conflict. The working class, as usual inadequately represented by the Federation of Labour, is still taking the major actions in leading protest, by depriving (along with Australian and Fijian unions) the French technicians at Muraroa of their tellies and tinned fruit. The Students are getting arrested in large numbers outside French ambass-adors houses from which Victoria's French Professor Norrish emerges happy, flushed and inebriated. But the protest is not succeeding. The French are still testing. If the Federation of Labour wants the Government to act, it should start directing its embargo against the Government. A week without telephone communication in the Foreign Affairs Department might make the bureaucrats in that department more responsible to workers. Even better would be the cutting off of Parliament's telephones. But these actions are not being taken because the Federation of Labour is soared. Its secretary has already had his first bomb threat from a Vietnam war veteran. And, in any case, the main reason for Federation action was to divert workers' attention from the fact that it wasn't organising the general strike against the Wage Remuneration Authority