BY JAMES ROBB
HUNTLY, New Zealand - Laid-off coal miners are among 150 Maoris and supporters who began a land occupation April 26 in this coal mining town south of Auckland. The block of land sits atop a hill overlooking the town, in full view of the mine entrance with its coal conveyor leading to a power station.
Protesters told Militant reporters who visited the occupation April 29 that the land is part of 1.2 million acres confiscated by the government 132 years ago from the Tainui tribe. It is now owned by Coalcorp, a private coal company that was previously state-owned. Most coal miners in New Zealand lost their jobs when the government-run coal industry was transformed into a state-owned corporation in 1987, prior to its privatization.
Those occupying the land are demanding its return to Ngati Whawhakia, the local Maori sub-tribe. The claim includes coal and mineral rights.
Robert Tukiri, chairman of Ngati Whawhakia Trust and spokesperson for the occupation said, "We have got our backs to the wall. There is a housing shortage. We need to have houses."
Tukiri opposes a NZ$170 million (NZ$1=US$0.67) deal between the government and the Tainui Maori Trust Board due to be signed May 22 as final settlement for the government's land seizures last century. The agreement will turn over 86,000 acres of state-owned land to the trust board and NZ$65 million for further purchases of private land.
"The Tainui Maori Trust Board stands to become the biggest landlord around, while 80 percent of our tribe rents their homes," Tukiri commented.
Participants in the occupation gave examples of recent rent increases faced by tenants in houses owned by Housing New Zealand, a state-owned corporation. Previously, state houses were available at low-cost rentals. Over recent years, rents have been progressively jacked up to "market rates," preparing the way for Housing New Zealand to be privatized.
The Maori land occupation in Huntly is one of more than half a dozen in the North Island of New Zealand since Maoris and their supporters occupied Moutoa Gardens in Wanganui February 28.
In Wanganui, 500 people took part in a march organized by supporters of the right-wing One New Zealand Foundation April 25 to oppose the Maori land occupation. It was held to coincide with Anzac Day ceremonies, a national holiday in New Zealand and Australia to commemorate war dead.
The marchers, overwhelmingly white, carried New Zealand flags and sang the national anthem, "God Defend New Zealand."
In Auckland May 1, a delegation of Maori land protesters from Wanganui led a trade union-sponsored march of several hundred through the city to mark May Day, international workers' day.
James Robb is a member of the Meat Workers Union in
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