Gods and Monsters: Reflections on Saturday’s “Auckland Pride Parade”


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IMAGINE A MAY-DAY PARADE headed up by representatives of the Army, Navy and Air Force. With Police and Corrections officers following close behind! A little further back, Members of Parliament from the governing party wave gamely at the crowds lining the parade route. Only after all these groups have marched past, proudly declaring their solidarity with the working-class, do the country’s trade unions finally make their appearance. (May Day is, after all, a workers’ festival!) Even so, interspersed among the union bands and banners, are expensive floats, sponsored by some of the country’s largest and most successful banks and businesses.

What would such a parade say about the status and purpose of the country’s trade union movement? Surely a May Day parade in which the country’s soldiers, policemen and jailers were given pride of place could only have been organised in the old Soviet Union or one of its East European satellites?

The prominent presence of the state’s key institutions of coercion and control would be proof positive that the trade union movement had long since ceased to be in any way subversive, transgressive, or emancipatory. It would signal that trade unionists had become “okay” people to know, and that their representatives could safely be invited to gatherings frequented by the good and the great.

It would also proclaim that the state was no longer frightened of trade unions or trade unionists. And why would it be? When nothing trade unions did in any way interfered with or disrupted the smooth operation of the system. What was not to like, when trade unionists now counted themselves among the strongest supporters of the political, economic and social status quo.

The final proof that the trade union movement had been completely swallowed up by the Establishment would a media release from the Council of Trade Unions celebrating the parade as “bigger, better and more mainstream” than ever before, and praising the “massive symbolism” of the armed forces’ and the Police’s participation.

Presumably, the CTU media release would end by pointing out that: “The contrast between the bad old days, when the Police were better known for batoning strikers on the picket-line, and when the army’s trucks were used for the transportation of scabs; and the progressive present, when nearly all large institutions can boast at least one Trade Union Liaison Officer; could hardly be more striking.”

Watching a May Day Parade in which everyone from the Army and the Police, to MPs and City Councillors were proudly waving red flags and punching the air with clenched-fist salutes would be deeply, deeply depressing. It would mean that the movement I had devoted much of my adult life to promoting and defending had been drained of all its radicalism and danger.

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I would feel as shocked and alienated as I imagine many LGBTIQA Aucklanders felt when they saw what used to be called “The Hero Parade” turned into a showcase for the “openness and diversity” of the New Zealand Defence Force, the Police, the Department of Corrections, Air New Zealand, assorted commercial radio stations and the ANZ Bank. As if all the vicious prejudices and hidden brutalities of “mainstream” New Zealand society have floated away like so many helium-filled balloons over Western Park.

New Zealand led the world in passing legislation that not only made collective bargaining legal but also supported it with taxpayer-funded institutions. Did that legislation succeed in overcoming the stigma attached to all those who demanded a greater share of the wealth their labour had created? No, it did not. There remained, deeply entrenched in New Zealand’s capitalist society, the most powerful antipathy towards trade unions. So much so that, in 1991, the National Party passed the Employment Contracts Act – in which even the term “trade union” did not appear.

Has the passage of legislation decriminalising homosexuality, recognising civil unions and legalising gay marriage truly eliminated the deeply entrenched negativity towards all things LGBTIQA in “mainstream” New Zealand society? Are we really as welcoming of “diversity”, so forgiving of difference, as Saturday’s “Auckland Pride Parade” organisers insisted? The tragically large number of young people committing suicide in response to their families’ and their peers’ reception of their sexual natures suggests that we are still very far from that goal.

More than forty years ago, the radical sociologist Herbert Marcuse coined the phrase “repressive tolerance” to describe the way capitalist society was subverting the traditional concept of liberal tolerance and transforming it into its opposite – subtle domination. All those institutions and social tendencies considered hostile to capitalism’s interests were gradually being absorbed into its processes and neutralised. As I watched the Auckland Pride Parade make its way along Ponsonby Road on Saturday night, and contrasted its corporate slickness with the wild and gloriously transgressive Hero Parades of the 1990s, I silently congratulated old Marcuse for his insight.

And later, when I read about the young person whose arm was broken by a security guard for daring to protest against the oxymoronic travesty of soldiers, police officers and jailers celebrating unconventional sexualities, I offered up a silent prayer to the gods and monsters of perversity and resistance: the ones who embolden rebels and keep the authorities off-balance. Among that gawking and guffawing crowd, they’d reassured me, there was at least one human-being who still knew how to say: “No!”


  1. Is it not the same with the declaration of human rights, and how the UN “upholds” human rights, same as other “rights” of people in various charters?

    We live in an age of lies and hypocrisy, of “regulation” and institutionalisation of every human activity, of endless bureaucracy, where politicians constantly use “double speak”, and where things are written on paper, but in reality mean nothing much at all. There is political correctness, once kind of brought in to bring about fair and objective treatment of each other, but it has become farcical.

    We have newsreaders greet us with “kiaora”, and with other Maori words, and some of them do not even know their meaning. We get Waitangi Day but most frown on Maori raising real issues they feel that still need adressing. There is more talk of the Treaty, but in reality, it has led to endless toke gestures, but little true application of it.

    The UN has close to 200 member nations, and only a fraction do uphold some degree of “human rights”, or have these written into law. We have “friends” and “allies” we as a country plan to join fighting the evil of ISIS, who use beheadings, dismembering of limbs, public whippings and other medieval practices to “punish” people for “crimes” like “blasphemy”, “homosexuality” and adultery, even common theft.

    We trade and praise the booming exports and imports between China and New Zealand, while closing both eyes to organ harvesting, locking up of political dissidents and torture, also capital punishment en masse, happening within a “trading partner’s” boarders.

    Yes, now we have police, government, armed services and endless others join a festivity, that once was frowned upon, but now it has also been turned into a commercial enterprise event, so that many jump onto the band wagon, to “celebrate” it, as it earns many retailers and hospitality operators great revenue and profits, which again bring in taxes for government.

    Compromises can be made, it seems, and “reforms” accepted and supported, when there is money to be made.

    As long as “liberalism” comes with such attachments, many of the most “conservative” or noeliberal politicians are happy to sign same sex equal marriage into law.

    What binds us together now is the “common values” of “trade”, “earning a living”, “working hard”, “paying taxes” and enabling the successful businesses to make more profits, to share these out to their shareholders, the shrinking percentage of society, that amasses more and more wealth, while the rest work longer and harder year by year, and mostly get nowhere.

    But “getting ahead” is the talk of the day, same as “giving a fair chance”, all just slogans, like the “American Way” is for the poor and hopeful in the US, most of whom can dream until the day they die, many in poverty, their dreams never coming true.

    Lies, lies, lies, that is the truth, and long ago I called this country the land of the long white lie, as that is what it means for a growing number of inhabitants, continually disowned, dis-empowered, brainwashed into consumerism, while many have forgotten to relate, to share and to hold simple, normal, natural conversations with each other.

    A sad state of affairs, here and worldwide, I’d say.

  2. Fabulous Post @ Chris Trotter .
    It’s a wretched thing , to see the scum corporates leap, like fleas to a dog, on anything that might turn a dollar . The old whores aye ? Linear thinkers at best .
    I’ve broken my humerus . There’s fuck all funny about it .

    @ Dan . Back to the side walk @ dan . You’re not destined for greatness . Best keep aiming for mediocrity like you do . Those who might remember your snivelling will never remember your name . Doomed for eternity to be an average minion . A troll . Nothing more . Nice try though x .

  3. Don’t you hate it when all those straights show up at your party and pretend that deep down they’re as out there, radical and edgy as you are.

    Those corporate drones and mindless military, uniformed in their uniformity, the very definition of conformity.

    They’ll never understand what it means to be a rebel, a radical, beyond the law, beyond the pale, rejected by the mainstream, condemned and cast out to live life at the margins, scraping around for subsistence among the rubbish and leftovers.

    Who wants the messy and dull compromises of tolerance and acceptance, and having to behave, its much more fun to be an extremist, and avoid the ultimate insult of being accused of becoming middle class.

  4. Gay (poofter/queer) bashing used to be literal and regular in NZ. So it was worth wearing the now quaint “HUG–Heterosexuals Unafraid of Gays” badges and marching in the 80s for “Homosexual Law Reform” to assist because every oppressed sectors rights denied are ultimately a class issue.

    “identity politics” and capitalist co-opting of certain sectors are a problem for leftists. It can feed the neo lib psychology of “I’m doing ok now–who needs unity and solidarity with other exploited”. Of course there are honourable exceptions.

    Disparate categories; gay, or one of the many gradations of gender or sexuality, female, Pasifika, migrant, Māori, underemployed, unemployed etc actually all have one uniting element–your relationship to those that hold class power.

    For every friendly Plod in Ponsonby there are scores still living the “Schollum/Rickards culture” that will assault you in the back of the car or station. “Pride” distorts a social achievement and has become a vanity show for the aspirational middle classes.

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