Never before had I seen this.
In the middle of the anti-TPPA march down Queen street was a stooped pakeha woman carrying the New Zealand flag. A few paces in front, groups of Maori marched under the Tino rangitiratanga ensign. These domestically opposed symbols of national identity were,for the moment, standing together against a common threat – the transnational corporation.
The shortlisted designs from the flag referendum were nowhere in sight. This was a time of visceral allegiance rather than brand loyalty. Amidst the jostling placards depicting the TPPA one in particular stood out; a Trojan horse without lettering, an apt metaphor for the subterfuge of corporate power.
As thousands filled Queen street between banks and office buildings, faces peered through windows. Clusters of suited men and professional women, clearly disapproving were unable to look away from the momentous events outside. On the footpath, near Fort street, I saw a conservative business journalist looking up the street as thousands kept coming. Displeased but definitely engaged seemed to be the prevailing mood among onlookers. They would have seen not just seasoned protestors but ordinary people, middle New Zealand, many from out of town. And, the Maori presence gave the event a huge , unanswerable bicultural heft.
Inside the throng we chanted, passionately but not obsessively. Our numerical presence and unity of purpose was powerful enough. I saw unsmiling motorists behind windscreens surrounded by marchers. `Cheer up` I thought `take your hands off the steering wheel and look at what surrounds you, a shift in political consciousness is ocurring`.
Such were my experiences and observations during Thursday`s anti-TPPA demonstration.
There has indeed been a mood shift against the TPPA. That the Prime Minister has not cited figures to support his case speaks volumes. National`s private polling may well be revealing unsatisfactory results. In my view a fissure has opened up between two groupings.
On one side we have transnational corporations and their ideological representatives among local corporate elites, the senior civil service and the executive arm of government, including the Prime Minister and Cabinet. They are supported by editorial writers, tame journalists and well known media figures with clear political alignments.
On the other side, viewpoints opposed to, or sceptical of the TPPA can be found throughout the Labour rank and file, the Greens, New Zealand First and an array of Maori organisations and leaders. Suspicion of the TPPA is clearly evident among doctors, lawyers independent economists and some business analysts. These latter groups are moving public opinion, especially around issues of legal and democratic process.
The key issue here was evident during the march, namely the Investor-State Dispute Settlement process (ISDS). This is not, despite government claims, a simple continuation of mechanisms available within the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and existing free trade agreements. The proposed tribunals are qualitatively new and allow no provisions for appeal rights. As Barry Coates, Rod Oram, Geoff Bertram and Tim Hazeldine point out in `The Economics of the TPPA` the investor-state process `is clearly designed to `chill` government policies that might threaten private corporate profits`.
The government`s pro-TPPA strategy now reveals a major contradiction. Their enthusiastic promotions of the agreement were compromised by the parallel insistence on secrecy. Consequently, Wikileaks revelations about the ISDS provisions along with the tireless efforts of Jane Kelsey alongside other anti-TPPA activists fuelled public concern. The government`s scornful reaction to this course of events reveals the inherent weakness of their position. John Key, Stephen Joyce, Todd McClay and fellow protagonists are,effectively, standing on behalf of transnational capitalism and its inter-state machinery against our legal and political sovereignty.
Where then does this leave the Labour party leadership?
This is the central question arising from last Thursday`s historic march.
Will they support the national ensigns of Maori and Pakeha nationhood against the TPPA? Or will they, ultimately, lend weight to the Trojan horse of transnational capitalism?