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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 23. 21st September 1972

How the Housing Shortage Helps the Protest Movement

page 6

How the Housing Shortage Helps the Protest Movement


The encroachment of American monopoly capital (imperialism) has been observable in NZ for twenty years, and most markedly in the last five or so years. This encroachment has inevitably meant increasing economic and social difficulties for New Zealanders, and equally inevitably the development of anti-imperialism as a popular movement.

In view of the objective circumstances, it is surprising that anti-imperialism is not further developed and more wide-spread than it is. Over recent years, anti-imperialism has loomed behind the Vietnam protest movement and behind the conservationist movement and behind the anti-tour movement, but in those movements it has not yet come to the fore. The first open manifestation of anti-imperialism in NZ was the demonstrations against the Pacific Basin Economic Council conference at this university in May.

The PBEC events therefore marked a very significant advance. But this advance to open anti-imperialism, so far as it has occurred, remains confined almost completely to students. The vanguard role of students in the anti-imperialist movement is historically normal. It Occurred in China in 1919, when there was a great outburst against Japanese imperialism. But students are too small and ineffective a social force in themselves to take on American imperialism. They must find allies in this struggle. U.S. imperialism has the willing co-operation of powerful elements of the NZ bourgeoisie (big capitalist class) who constitute the NZ ruling class. These elements know their future is tied hand and foot to U.S. imperialism. Accordingly, they view with dismay the developing anti-imperialism of students here., and their political henchmen have gone into action to turn the tide. By open and underhand by gentle and violent means, the attempt will be made to defuse the recent student developments.

In China in 1919 the urban workers and others nationwide quickly joined the students in opposing imperialism. This was the start of the popular movement which after various turns and setbacks carried through the Chinese revolution. In NZ a similar advance by workers and others is necessary if the student initiative is not to peter out. Fortunately, this advance by workers is occurring, although so far, only on a small scale and in obscure quarters. The current wave of house occupation in Wellington is part of this advance. An analysis of the house occupations needs to be made to show this.

In May-June this year a Modern Study Group met on a number of occasions at the instigation of the CPNZ but with other groups attending. In the course of discussion, it was apparent that a widespread response to the deteriorating conditions brought about by imperialism was a concern with people's welfare, in particular with the unemployed and the houseless. It was therefore decided to try and promote some activity on these issues. Certain lines of activity were undertaken or explored, but without result, and later on these lines were criticised as too formal and dropped.

Certain elements who were at the Modern Study Group meetings took part in a number of militant activities on various topics, as a result of which a small, organised group of activists took shape, consisting of workers and students. This group continued its concern with the unemployed and the houseless, and this concern came to the surface in the occupation of 275 Taranaki St. as a protest over the housing situation.

The important thing about the 275 Taranaki St. occupation is that it occurred. It marked a new turn in the protest movement in this period. But in other respects it was not important. Its participants—students and workers—were the same as had been seen in earlier protests. It lasted only a couple of days, was effectively broken up by the police, and ended without any success gained. But the roles of two social groups were significant. The liberals in the form of the Tenants' Protection Association took an interest, but their tactics of negotiation got nowhere, and the activists came to see that such types and tactics were only sell-outs. The other group was the bikies. They took an interest in the occupation to the extent of arriving on the scene and clashing with the police. They had no contact with the activists who were barricaded in.

The activist group showed its mettle by not letting the matter drop at this point. Instead, they discussed their experience among themselves and with others, they investigated the whole situation regarding vacant houses in Wellington, and decided that they would occupy a second building which was the largest un-occupied in town, was state-owned, and was in a neighbourhood with many working class residents — Kent Flats.

The Kent Flats occupation started off with much the same ingredients as the 275 Taranaki St occupation. But as it continued new features emerged. New politically advanced youths appeared on the scene from outside the student milieu. Houseless, unemployed people joined the occupation. These new arrivals gave the occupation a material instead of an idealist, basis, since these new groups had the motivation of actual need. At this point in time, members of the V8 gang arrived on the scene, but unlike at 275 Taranaki St. they were invited to join the occupation, and did so. This development caused great distress to the liberals of the Tenants Protection Association and other petty-bourgeois elements, who walked in terror of the V8 boys, and very quickly decamped. The students decamped at the same time, possibly for the same reason, but possibly for the holidays. The result was that the Kent Flats people were now a solidly working class group of mostly unemployed houseless people. This was a very significant transformation, because it brought into existence for the first time in the present period a militant working class protest movement completely independent of the trade unions. The shift from Kent Flats to Kelvin Grove was made in stages by the groups at Kent Flats, but in the process the unity of the groups involved was cemented. This unity was demonstrated by the occupation of the inter-island ferry Maori, in which youth of all groups took part. The three-hour occupation of the Maori was the high-water mark of the housing protest. That ship is indefinitely laid up, has 600 unused beds, and would make a good hostel for students, a possibility already raised in the past. This occupation also demonstrated the concern of the working class elements for students' welfare. Whether as a result of this or not, students have since begun to take an interest in the Kelvin Grove community.

The occupation of the Maori had another still greater significance. By this occupation, the working class activists challenged the overseas monopoly interests, the imperialists, ultimately U.S. imperialists, who with the N.Z. government and others own the Maori. It was an attack on the property of imperialists, an attack our ruling class viewed with all seriousness, as they showed by sending twelve car-loads of police to defeat it. Although only a small incident in itself, the occupation of the Maori demonstrated that a mighty social force, the NZ working class capable of great daring, imagination and humour, had entered the direct struggle against imperialism.

Niel Wright.

Communist Party of N.Z.