Another “word on foreigners, xenophobia, and racism”

BmbIWxEIIAAItbb-640x350by Don Franks

A rich businessman is in the gun for domestic violence. A member of parliament calls the cops to put in a word for the guy. Another day in the capitalist office.

But this time word gets out and now the honourable member’s in the gun too. The accused rich businessman is a Chinese bloke, so the MP claims the xenophobia as being at least partly to blame for his downfall.

In an article “A word on foreigners, xenophobia, and racism”, left activist and MANA leader John Mino comments:

“I think Williamson is right that xenophobia may have amplified media and public concern at his intervening with police for a wealthy Chinese donor to the National Party but it doesn’t begin to explain the huge concern at the close and growing symbiotic relationship between the National Party leadership and wealthy foreign investors. These are National’s kith and kin.”

John also says:

“On the wider issue of foreign investment New Zealand does need to get real. When a busload of wealthy Australian mums tours our real estate and flies back having bought one or two homes apiece then we should be up in arms. When advertisements appear in the Singapore Straits Times advertising great investment opportunities in Auckland and Christchurch real estate because there is ‘no capital gains tax’ then we should be outraged. When investors from anywhere in the world come here to sponge off us then we should say BUGGAR OFF!”

“This type of foreign investment is deeply damaging to our economy and the life opportunities of New Zealand families. It has to be stopped.

“Likewise employers who refuse to train New Zealand workers for jobs in the construction industry in Christchurch in particular and instead recruit cheaper, more compliant workers from overseas, both in Europe and Asia, should be told a loud NO.”

John concludes:

“It’s not xenophobic or racist to stop foreigners coming to New Zealand to bid up house prices out of the reach of New Zealand families and neither is it xenophobic or racist to demand New Zealand employers take on New Zealand workers for training and up-skilling before going overseas to recruit.”

“It’s simply about self-respect.”  (Complete John Minto article at:

I agree with John that workers suffer unemployment and over-priced houses. I  appreciate the hard work he does to fight injustice, but disagree with the remedies he puts up here. John’s remedies in this article are based on widely-held assumptions of the New Zealand left. These assumptions have been around for many years and it’s time they were discarded, because they are wrong.

John’s article rests on four assumptions.

One, that the capital of people who are citizens of other countries will be worse for workers than the capital of New Zealand citizens.

Two, that workers with New Zealand citizenship merit favourable treatment over workers without New Zealand citizenship.

Three, that workers from overseas are “more compliant”.

Four, that there is such a thing as “our economy”.

Capital is a colour-blind social relationship with no respect for climate or culture.

I once worked in a medium-sized factory which was 100% owned by a New Zealand family several generations citizens of this land. The factory was efficient and profitable, at one stage working round the clock shifts and exporting to several countries. It was a relentlessly anti-union factory, defeating all attempts at shop-floor organisation. It paid low wages and imposed draconian individual contracts which allowed for severance without notice or compensation regardless of service. When demand for the product went down, the workforce was decimated and the firm eventually closed. The capitalist departed the scene with a handsome fortune, the unemployed workers got absolutely nothing.

At another time I worked for a US-owned multinational, complete with foreign-born and foreign-accented local CEO. At this workplace workers had achieved a high level of shop-floor organisation. This was reflected in relatively high wages, safety standards, working conditions and special holiday entitlements. After I left, the place eventually closed, providing some redundancy extracted by the unions.

Neither of those employment experiences of mine are out of the ordinary. Many workers will have had similar experience, especially of the first type of workplace I mentioned.

My contention is that it matters not whether your capitalist boss is a New Zealand citizen or not. Both will exploit you and the extent to which you can improve your situation is down to mass on-site organisation and nothing else.

During my time as a worker in New Zealand I have heard a lot of union office talk about the evils of offshore bosses.

“They make their decisions about our jobs in Washington or Tokyo, they don’t give a stuff about us. With a local boss we can bowl down to his office and talk to him face to face.”


Capitalists are immovable people. Their hearts will not melt if they meet union deputations face to face. I have never experienced that happening or known of it to happen. Capitalism is driven by the pursuit of maximum profit, beside which a shared interest in the Allblacks or pineapple lumps or the Milford track has no relevance.

But surely kiwi workers born and bred should have the first chance for a job?

This is a tough one. I have lost many a smoko room argument about this. On some occasions I confess that I capitulated or fudged the issue. That’s one of the things I kick myself for, because ‘New Zealand workers first’ is, ultimately, anti-working class. No different to New Zealand First.

Who is a “New Zealand worker”?

I suggest that the most widely-accepted definition would be ” Anyone, of any race or ethnicity, who has become a New Zealand citizen”.

And who decides that status?

The New Zealand capitalist state. The state makes that legal decision of citizenship on the basis of money and privilege.

We could, on that basis, just as accurately reword our “New Zealand worker” definition to read: “Anyone, of any race or ethnicity acceptable to the capitalist class”.

A worker is a worker is a worker. We need to recover our internationalist traditions and forge them into a strong militant culture.

On that note, the notion that workers recently arrived from other countries are more compliant has no basis in fact. Just the opposite. Most of my own radical unionism was learned from comrades with foreign accents. Pat Kelly, Con Devitt, Black Jock, Danny Nichols, George Thompson and the list goes on. The young National MP John Banks first made a name for himself demanding that “foreigners” be debarred from holding union office, as they were too militant.

Finally, I suggest that there is no such thing as “our economy”. “Our” implies a degree of ownership. In a system of private property, the economy is in the hands of a few individuals. If you tamper with that actual ownership, even to the extent of mounting a five-minute stopwork at McDonalds, you will understand that the economy isn’t “ours”.

If we buy into capitalist concepts like “our economy” we necessarily buy into playing the capitalists’ game, by their rules. Our long-term loss is then guaranteed.

Since the fall of the old Stalinist socialist countries, traditional communist rhetoric has understandably fallen out of favour.

Beneath the wreckage are buried perfectly valid principles of working class internationalism. We need to recover these principles, dust them off and put them back into operation.

Further reading: New Zealand’s immigration controls – not in workers’ interests




  1. John Minto made the same comment about docile foreign workers on The Nation on TV3 on May 10, during a debate of representatives of the ‘minor’ parties. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. You could scarcely find more docile workers anywhere in the world than NZ right now. Moreover, I have the feeling John wasn’t talking about docile workers from Britain and other predominantly ‘white’ countries. I suspect he was talking about the Pacific and Asia. Yet most Asian countries have traditions of class struggle far more advanced than NZ. And the Pacific has a long history of struggle around colonialism and class. Workers from Third World countries, in general, tend to be more politically advanced than New Zealand workers, especially white NZ workers.

    Minto seemed quite outraged that ‘foreign’ workers were being brought in to work on the Christchurch rebuild when, according to him, the government should be spending money on apprenticeships for young NZ workers.

    It didn’t seem to occur to him that a *working class* approach, as opposed to a nationalist approach, is to support both. Yes to apprenticeships and yes to migrant workers.

    In the same programme he argued the same nationalist position as Winston Peters over housing in Auckland. But the problem is not ‘wealthy foreigners’ (which is usually a euphemism for Chinese and other East Asians) coming in and buying up houses, pushing prices up. The problem is that capitalism can’t provide sufficient cheap, good quality housing for everyone. Instead of advocating *working class* solutions, Mana leaders advocate nationalist non-solutions, solutions which divide workers rather than unite them.

    It’s also rather ironic, to put it kindly, that Mana leaders are disturbed about wealthy foreigners coming in and buying stuff here when they are contemplating hooking up with Kim Dotcom. A very rich German is somehow OK, but Asians aren’t?!!

    John has got himself into a bind. He is anti-racist and anti-xenophobic, yet being in Mana has (I would suggest inevitably) drawn him to the right, and led to him pushing nationalist views which actually *are* xenophobic. You simply can’t be a kiwi nationalist, even a left-nationalist, and still promote a political approach which advances the class interests of workers. The two things are mutually exclusive.

    The Maori nationalism of the main component part of Mana also increases the pressure against class politics within Mana. The Maori nationalists tend to be hostile to the notion of open borders too and many of them combine Maori nationalism and NZ nationalism.

    Unfortunately, we don’t have an independent left, based on class politics in NZ. The vast bulk of the left is attached to some other form of politics, whether soft on Labour or soft on Maori nationalism or soft on identity politics of some other sort. The left has no independent political project of its own.

    Outside Redline, a few class-struggle anarchists and maybe a few independent Marxists, the left is always looking for the line of least resistance, someone else’s project to hitch its wagon to.

    Most of the left perpetually involves itself in nationalist politics too. The campaign against partial asset sales and the TPPA are good examples. Some of the small left groups make ritual anti-nationalist noises in opposition to the nationalist politics of these campaigns. But then they go ahead and get involved in them anyway, not understanding that these campaigns are, by their very nature, nationalist.

    We need an entirely new left.


  2. The 2009 Telecom strike is a recent example of how migrant workers have strengthened the union movement in NZ. When 9000 Telecom line engineers went on strike Filipino workers were the backbone of the struggle and a big presence on picket lines. Their experience of militant struggles in the Philippines, plus the local organisation of a migrant workers’ network, helped to draw them into action.

  3. “Buy NZ Made” and anti-foreign ownership campaigns included – jingoistic nationalism – and all the nonsense about clean green nz as well – encouraging people to embrace irrational arbitrary items as if they’re personal achievements.

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