The 1978 SUP/Nga Tamatoa trip to Cuba, was not the only event that year to have far reaching implications for NZ racial politics.
The old Communist Party dream of a “Government Commission… to investigate all land questions considered in dispute by the Maori people nationally” became a reality in 1975, when crypto-communist Minister of Maori Affairs, Mat Rata wrote the legislation which set up the Waitangi Tribunal.
Although initially limited to comparatively recent land claims, the Waitangi Tribunal created major opportunities for “National Question” activists.
Grievances, real and imaginary could now be resurrected, with the backing of not only the law, but large sums of taxpayers money.
One old grievance soon resuscitated was that surrounding Bastion Point, at Orakei, near Auckland, the same ground which Ron Smith and the Communist Party had fought for in the ’40s.
The occupation of Bastion Point began in 1977 and dragged on for many months. Several hundred people occupied the land, which the government wanted to clear for housing. An illegal tent village soon grew up on the site.
The protest was fronted led by a Maori, Joe Hawke, later a Labour MP. However Marxist-Leninists were much in evidence and provided a lot of the logistic support.
Several socialist groups were involved, including the Communist Party, the New Zealand Marxist-Leninist Workers Party, the Socialist Action League and the pro-Soviet, Socialist Unity Party. At one point activity at the Point virtually ceased for two weeks while the SUP and the SAL fought each other for control.
The SAL’s youth wing, the Young Socialists boasted of their work for the cause in their newsletter of March 1977
“Mike Peters, a member of the Auckland Young Socialists has been living in a tent at Bastion Point for over a month. .. “We asked Peters how people at Bastion Point reacted to him as a socialist: “They know I am a member of the Young Socialists. They like our paper, Socialist Action, the coverage being given [to] their struggle. They like the election campaign we’re running in the Mangere by-election – the fact that we have been campaigning for their right to their land.”
“The Young Socialists have also been involved in other support work for the protest. A forum held at Auckland University on March 7 attracted large numbers of students to hear speakers from Bastion Point present their case. The Young Socialists, along with Nga Tamatoa, Te Reo Maori, the SAL and other interested groups and individuals, have helped organise a tour of Palmerston North and Wellington by Jack Rameka of the Orakei Maori Committee in mid-March…”
Student support for Bastion Point has been strong, particularly from the Auckland University Students Association. We spoke to Mike Treen, (an SAL member) Resource Officer of the Association, who explained that as soon as they heard about the protest, the president and himself went to find out what assistance they could give.
“We were very warmly received and had lengthy discussions with Joe Hawke, and other leaders of the Action Group. The Association was able to perform a very useful role assisting the protesters, particularly in producing their information bulletin. We have donated almost $500 worth of services. This has mainly gone into printing, and the production of 1000 buttons which say ‘Bastion Point: Support Ngati Whatua’, and 10,000 copies of a four page supplement to the student newspaper Craccum.”
The Association sees this support as an extension of thr role played in the past in giving aid and support to the campaigns against the war in Vietnam, for Black majority rule in South Africa, and against cuts in educational services.
Treen went on to explain;
“we have devoted a considerable amount of time, energy and money to support Bastion Point because we see the struggle as being extremely important – that the land issue is central to the struggle of the Maori people.”
The SUP was involved from Day One, but while Joe Hawke enjoyed good relations with the SUP and the SAL, some of his elders weren’t so keen on the Marxist-Leninist presence. At the height of protests, Mr P Rewiti, spokesman for the chief Maori elder on the Orakei marae at Bastion Point, complained “Some of the faces that I have seen, who ride the bandwagon of the SUP, have been there since the inception of the dispute.”
In February 1978 the SUP National Committee published a resolution in their paper “Tribune”, on Maori Land;
“Maori land has been in dispute ever since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi but since the holding of the historic land march in 1975, campaigns of resistance to the continued takeovers have occurred at Bastion Point, at Raglan and in the Far North . These campaigns show that the Maori demand for an end to land-grabbing is fully justified and call for maximum support from the labour movement.”
The SUP of course controlled the “labour movement” and threw substantial amounts of trade union money and resources into the Bastion Point Campaign.
The site was eventually cleared by the police with over 200 arrests. The dispute however dragged on into the 1980s. When it was resolved the SUP felt it was safe to take credit.
In “Tribune” of October 29, 1984 the SUP boasted;
“Communists have a consistent record of support for Maori land struggles. In the late ’40s John Mitchell and Alex Drennan were prominent when the Auckland Trades Council erected a palisade across the Orakei Domain to assist the Ngati Whatua people’s land struggle. Many members of the Socialist Unity Party supported the Bastion Point struggle, now being crowned with success.”
When the Police cleared the land in May ’78, the arrest lists confirmed the socialist influence in the occupation. Among the dozens of radicals carted away were SUP members Tom Spiller and Mike Jackson, SAL members Brigid Mulrennan and Peter Rotheram and Bernie Hornfeck and Willie Wilson from the Communist Party.