When local body politics first began on the Coast, the working miners were reluctant to seek office. They were too busy seeking their fortune, or surviving and complaining. Instead, the shopkeepers stepped up. Similar in most areas I would say. The situation has continued. Generally, it is the local capitalist who is on council. Perhaps a lawyer. The occasional farmer. Seldom a teacher or a nurse. Never a blue collar worker.
A capitalist class interest therefore runs things. They form something like a local ruling class in collaboration with an imperialist capitalist class as represented by the multinationals. It’s a continuation of the indirect rule methodology of the British in nineteenth century Africa and India.
A local ruler should be generous, and the local capitalist will have some reserves behind them, with which they can assist struggling elements of the community: a marquee for a gala day, gifts for a raffle, a truck for transportation… and there will be extended family connections, membership of the Lions or Rotary…
The multinationals, via the state, have restricted and put strong legislative boundaries around the activities of their local collaborators, who are often torn in their representation. They might wish to procure goods and services from local suppliers (who will also be their mates) in order to provide local employment. rather than source these things from China; or not want the degradation of a local landscape by some outside corporation – especially if locals are up in arms. Once again, this was true of the nineteenth century – local chiefs could be disobedient and cause trouble. They had to be kept on a tight rein and replaced if troublesome.
For the libertarian socialists of the 19th century, the state was, by its very nature, colonising, and they wanted to get rid of it. In their view the region was the natural boundary within which decisions should be made. This would allow a true democracy based on the face to face dialogue. The Swiss canton structure was derived from this viewpoint. Education, justice, health, energy, environment, transport… are controlled regionally. There are ‘national standards’, human rights both nationally and internationally, and national defence and border controls. As a framework it would reflect the iwi structure so treaty issues would be played out locally in a logical manner. And there would need to be regional adjustments in terms of wealth and resource transfers.
It would certainly make local body elections a more vital affair. If you added a strong participatory democracy element to the structure, with local debate on budgetary formation, you could well have something resembling democracy.
But that’s all wishful thinking. The shopkeepers, business owners and farmers will front up, middle-aged men, well-meaning on the whole. There will be the odd squabble between them as they struggle within the tight boundaries set by trade agreements, the threat of corporate prosecution, a national governance focused on key urban areas, and their own class interest.
Of course, none of the above will ever be discussed or made articulate. But at least the sun has been shining for several frosty days. The snow-clad alps beam in the early morning, the chooks peck more happily, and the birds are getting ready for spring. There’s firewood on the beach and on the floor of the forest. One can’t complain.
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