Class and Race: we are still getting things the wrong way round


It’s impossible to read any media outlet today without an academic report being discussed which points out the disparities in social and economic indicators between Māori and Pasifika on the one hand and Pākehā New Zealanders on the other. These reports don’t usually propose solutions but are appeals to the wider community to pay attention and develop plans to address what are seen as racial injustices.

(Older readers will recall that under Helen Clarke’s Labour government the slogan “closing the gaps”* was used, initially at least, to emphasise the importance of addressing these issues)

The latest such report is from the Auckland University of Technology and says the Covid pandemic has worsened labour market disparities between New Zealand European and Pasifika people.

The research also found that pre-pandemic, Pasifika men earned on average 22.5 percent less than NZ European men when entering employment.

The disparity increased by a further 2.4 percentage points during the pandemic.

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It also found that pre-Covid-19, when compared NZ European women, Pasifika women were on average 0.4 percentage points less likely to exit unemployment.

But during Covid-19, the probability gap widened to 1 percentage point, meaning the pandemic deteriorated Pasifika women’s chances of entering employment by 0.6 percentage points.

Lead author of the report, Dr Alexander Plum from the NZWRI, said it was important to tackle the gaps.

“There must be as a first step awareness of what is going on. Being aware [that] there is this large gap between both populations and [have] the willingness to try to somehow address this gap.

“The other [reason] why it’s so crucial is because it’s affecting young people, it can leave a long term scar on their career and make progression in the future harder.”

It was important to improve access to education, training, building pathways to higher occupations or have active labour market programmes for displaced workers, Plum said.

AUT professor and NZWRI director Gail Pacheco said while the labour market was generally robust during the pandemic, not everyone managed to benefit from it.

“Covid-19 has amplified the prevalence of ethnic disparities in the workforce, but it did not create those disparities in the first place. Therefore, policy needs to not only tackle recent Covid-related disruptions to the workforce but be long-term focused on addressing the entrenched disparities evident before the pandemic hit.”

The research was commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment

This report didn’t cover Māori but we can be certain similar negative disparities from Covid will be present in the indigenous community.

So why are all these negative disparities for Māori and Pasifika so prevalent across pretty much all social and economic indicators?

The answer is straightforward. For the most part it is because Māori and Pasifika are disproportionately represented in the working class and these negative statistics affect all working class New Zealanders.

There are two important questions which follow and these are the ones we should  grapple with.

Firstly why are Māori and Pasifika disproportionately represented in the working class and secondly why is the focus on “closing the gaps” rather than confronting the problems faced by everyone in the working class?

The first question as it relates to Māori is directly a result of colonisation – pushing Māori off their land and using racism (ideas of European racial superiority) to justify doing so. There are many layers to this but understanding colonisation is the key. Pasifika were a cheap labour force (as they are today in the RSE worker scheme) brought in from the 1960s to make up labour shortages in our factories and then faced state oppression to drive them out through the “dawn raids” etc when the economy declined. It was the demands of capitalist businesses that made these decisions undertaken by successive Labour and National governments (the dawn raids started under Labour in the mid 1970s) rather than any concern for the welfare of Pasifika people. Racism was rife then as it is today.

The second question should lead to us asking why is it that as a country we are happy to have the working class suffer to maintain the deep streams of unearned income for the 1%?

Working class New Zealanders pay the highest proportion of their income in taxes and local body rates and they are consigned to be capitialism’s shock absorbers – the first to lose their jobs when times are tough and the last to be rehired when things improve. As a class, they and their children suffer the worst health, education and employment outcomes compared to the middle class and the ruling elite.

The only changes we are likely to see as a result of this latest academic report, commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, will be plans to grow the Pasifika middle class so the social and economic disparities related to race disappear while the whole rotten capitalist system gets off the hook.

Uniting to fight all forms of oppression and discrimination – including capitalism – is the only way to a decent world.


*We don’t say “close the gaps” any more after Labour abandoned that phrase under Helen Clark in the face of Pākehā backlash roused by Don Brash’s Orewa speech. Labour minister Trevor Mallard – yes the same one – went on a mini crusade to root out any government plans to close the gaps.


  1. Very true John. These are intergenerational problems. I’m in a good economic position today, but I can name several threshold events where someone of my very moderate intelligence and low conscientiousness but born to a family outside the middle class would have been more likely to fall into serious civil debt or even catch a pretty serious criminal charge, and indeed I almost talked myself into that, but due to both socialization and better family resources to support did not.

    We need to change society to do better by the working class, to advance their current position at the expense of corrupt foreigners like Peter Thiel and John Key and give them more opportunities for the future.

      • Agree. Racism hasnt helped and still persists today (but big progress has been made in people’s attitudes over the last 50 years) but it is a lesser issue than capitalism and its effect on the lowest 50% of the population.

        Did anyone catch Luke Orbell at the Youth parliament shenanigans?

        He is angry about race and colonisation but fails to see that 1. Personal responsibility and making your own way is key to success in any society 2. What he sees as colonisation and race is foremost a class issue and all about rogernomics and capitalism.

        Great that the guy is putting himself out there unlike many kids today but sad that he has been encouraged to see NZs ills as all about race rather than class.

        • 100% agree Fantail.

          My fear and belief is there will be nothing done to rectify inequality. I naively believed Labour would.

          I think focusing on race is having a problematic effect on NZ. I think a back lash is coming.

  2. Thanks John. The fact that this is a class issue cannot be overstated. There is racism aplenty but that is not directly a reason for economic
    outcomes. The working poor are being shafted and ignored in NZ.
    The economy is bigger than racism and I think it would be impossible to have racist economic policy per se unless there was actual apartheid policy to facilitate it. We are a very inter-racial population.
    A low income is directly related to lack of childhood opportunity and education outcomes, mixed with meeting some good people and a sprinkle of luck. Even luck goes both ways.
    However, good government policy to provide opportunities for housing and good employment conditions goes a long way to help people rise up from hardship.
    I know for myself that my family were scratching the bottom of the barrel even though my parents had a state house. I hate to think what the alternative would have been so can empathise with how bad it can be for families today.
    Why don’t we see JA on TV visiting families living in poverty and explaining to them how she will improve their lives? She has an absolute majority parliament and all Labour have done is throw money around indiscriminately when it should have been targeted more usefully instead of fuelling the inflation we now have.

  3. The groups you are talking about have 30-40% truancy rates and a high percentage are functionally illiterate .
    You’re right that it’s not racial , it’s poverty but the answer is education. They have to go to school!
    Anything else is a band aid

    • Yes, exactly. There will always be jobs that are low waged because of the job compared to other jobs. To have an opportunity to lift yourseld into the other jobs, you need education. The government should be prioritising assisting Maori and Pasifika families to get their children learning. They should be instilled with pride that their children are learning. It will take some generations for a turnaround….

    • Well said Tribal Scot.
      I guess the big question is how do we get them to school.
      Under Labour truancy has ballooned which is probably not their fault as much as an increase in the trend.

    • I disagree about the school thing.
      School never worked for me and doesn’t work for lots of kids.

      There should be far more formal diverse ways for kids to learn.

      Lots of these kids need one on one attention and that is the way they would learn to read which is a vital link for life.

      • If only there was someone that could provide one on one attention….. Someone like a mother or father springs to mind. I wasn’t great at school either, I left with no formal qualifications but my parents read a lot just like I do and my own children so i ended up doing ok, started work at 16. But I still went to school most if the time, like 90%. Some kids not doing well at school doesn’t explain the huge number not going regularly these days. It’s a major problem.

      • sorry micheal over the last 50yrs we’ve tried any number of educational experiments…but the middle class still send their kids to grammar schools (call em academies if you like but they’re grammar schools) ever wonder why?

        and yes a minority of kids don’t do well in schools but the MAJORITY do any mention of separate institutions is spat upon (largely by those who’s kids are in ‘good’ schools) but maybe the europian intellectual/vocational educational paths are not a bad thing.

        • time they think outside the square and maybe give the kids more hands on approach. stop pushing sexuality and trans etc etc into everyones faces. and relax a bit more. shrink the classes. get the leaders of the country to do things the old ways. get rid of nation and labour and bring something new in. its a shame that cant work.lot of stuff have been brought to light.. remind people what labour had promised on live tv and now rules.;things have changed and and they trying to pretending things werent said.. when they have it in plain site. . others are trying to pretending everything’s ok when its not. this country is a complete mess. time for them to work for the people again.

    • like other neo-lib societies we have systematically destroyed our education system…mass education was never truly altruistic, industrial workers had to be able to read and understand a manual….data entry requires no such skills hence education is devalued.

      • Agree. And what we are seeing currently is the government going through the motions in education as it has been for ten or more years.

    • Well said and today’s figures on the numbers that are leaving school with no qualifications is frightening.. I would say a large percentage were Maori and Pacifica. We need to somehow break the cycle and if it takes a bribe to do it then let’s do it .
      $3000 thousand for your child’s full attendance at school for the year and a payment to the child for every NCEA qualification.
      This would work out cheaper than the $100000 a year to keep them in prison

    • You might want to check out the phonomen of “kiwi suspensions”, a process where troublesome (and often traumatised) children are quietly banished from education. Though illegal, they’re relatively common, and the Ministry of Education are well aware of it. Indeed, if their behaviors anything to go by, they agree. The vast majority of the victims are working class, of all races and both genders.

      • ernie yes it’s a problem but why should the kids who want to learn have their education spoilt by the few….maybe special units for the ‘problem kids’ what am I saying that will require govt investment silly me.

  4. Tapu subjects John but necessary to keep challenging TDB readers to find a different narrative then the constant barrage of anti-Maori sentiments that are prevalent even on this left-wing media site. The 3 Waters & Co-governance are the hot topic today for anti-Maori sentiment IMO the Labour govt haven’t helped these issues either but overall this isn’t new to Maori as some TDB readers would have you believe. Maori assumed special privilege’s according to greedy pakeha (Land League) date back even before the TOW was signed. I also want to specifically highlight my experience with the PI community in SA in late 70s early 80s, right through and more so through the 1990s witnessed a wider harboring of Anti-Maori sentiments even though some Maori quarters like the Māori student activist group, Nga Tamatoa (the young warriors), worked alongside the Polynesian Panthers in Auckland to highlight the plight of the racist policies of the New Zealand Govts. Do I understand or know where this anti-Maori in the PI community comes from? I’m no sociologist but maybe the PI community adopted mainstream pakeha values and beliefs to fit in to New Zealand society? Maybe there were a lot of Maori outwardly resentful of PI coming to compete for low wage work but there was a lot of work around then so I don’t believe that’s was the case nor did I witness such behavior towards our Pasifika whanau. Just my thoughts

    • I’m going to say something controversial so I hope I dont offend too much as that’s not my intent. But my observation on your final comments are as follows:

      Maori and Pasifica acceptance issues. I have long held the view that probably because of colonisation or pakeha land issues, Maori has traditionally been anti immigration and have been for want of a better word, somewhat discriminating towards immigrants.

      Over the last thirty five years, there was a growing chasm between Pacifica and Maori which I found difficult to understand because as a child growing up in Maori predominant communities, prior to that time, there were numerous Cook Island Maori kids in the community who I never even knew were not NZ Maori until decades later. So the gap between Maori and Pacifica (or at least Cook Island Maori) wasnt traditionally there in my experience

      Whether the numbers increased particularly in Auckland and Wellington in the 70’s and 80’s caused competition for jobs or perhaps a cultural divide, I dont know but the communities definitely appeared to grow apart, maybe just because of growing Maori resentment to all immigration.

      For some years now I have been beating the drum for Pacifica as the whole bicultural thing has left them out in the cold when many of the issues, particularly those relating to health and poverty are identical. I may be cynical and maybe it is merely a greater identification with Pacifica by Maori but I think the recent coming together of Maori and Pacifica ‘in the same breath’ is politically driven.

      Ardern brought gang member votes or so its insinuated and when you think about it, its pretty smart. There’s a large group of disenfranchised never voters who can be mobilised to come out for your side.

      Where else can you find more votes in a community that maybe doesnt vote as much but is facing similar issues? Well, 10% of the population is Pasifica so maybe its in your interests (Labour, the Maori Caucus?) to stop treating them as a hidden and separate problem and start drawing them in as a subset of our own cause. By simultaneously ‘othering’ the PI community and being inclusive towards it, this can be achieved. Divide and rule.

      Again, I dont mean to offend and maybe the changes are simply down to new ideas around ‘tibes’ in an identarian sense but I certainly can see an agenda in a political sense.

  5. You are correct the issue is class not race.

    Essential workers often on minimum wage kept the elite class fed and alive- while risking their own health- through covid while their betters worked from home and came up increasing complex ways of making business and workers lives more difficult.
    When they protested, they were “rivers of filth” or “dumb lives matter”.

    It’s not “we” who are getting it the wrong way around, it’s the insane identity politics cadre in charge who are fracturing our country by race while causing massive inequality with their house price inflation policies over covid.

    • Yes agree the current Labour Government fracturing our country by race while causing massive inequality.
      Labour Government?
      New Zealand is in reverse gear under this hopeless don’t know what to do Labour Government shambles the evidence there for all to see.
      Gosh I despair.

  6. Pakeha make up the majority of the wealthy.( Why do media not mention this, as it skews the stats)
    So to improve the stats they can make more Maori and Pacifica wealthy. Or disadvantage poor pakeha more. Both would make the equity stats look better. Glaringly state media last few years never mention poor pakeha.

    • @Rik spot on, the only way identitarianism works is to ignore class politics and therefore ignore the white working class. As has been pointed out in the UK where white working class boys have the worst educational and social outcomes. Inconveniences like this shatter the intersectional model and therefore threatens the power and influence of far too many politicians, academics, activists and other middle class virtue signallers.

      A backlash against grievance based equity politics is coming. My fear is that it will not be a return to the ideals of egalitarianism and genuine progressivism but an over swing of the pendulum to some mirror image of wokism on the right. The baby will be thrown out with the bathwater and the bath will be sold for scrap making genuinely progressive politics unpalatable for a generation.

      • So in ‘Tui’ myopic world the White working class in New Zealand is going to turn on Maori working & non working class and aren’t going back to this assume egalitarian life style that they apparently once enjoyed??????

        One word “White Supremacy”

        What about the non-white working class do they get a say in your assumed democracy?

        You make claims of inclusiveness but forget to mention non-white working people. Something fishy going on here Tui sounds a bit one-sided and prejudice towards POC.

        • @Stephen despite your bad faith interpretations and repeated attempts to assign me positions I do not hold (convenient strawman),
          you know exactly what I believe as I stated in reply to you above.

          “I don’t think Maori get special treatment. I think cultural and political elites (Pakeha and Maori) leverage of the plight of working class Maori to advance their own power and influence while doing nothing for the majority of Maori.”

          Explain how that equates to “white supremacy”. It seems you have a DiAngelo shaped hammer and everything looks like a nail.

          Try again Stephen luv.

        • @Stephen
          To be clear I think cultural and political elites (Pakeha and Maori) leverage of the plight of working class Maori to advance their own power and influence while doing nothing for the majority of Maori.
          Emphasizing a race-based worldview (as opposed to emphasizing a class based one) can only be maintained if white working class are also largely invisible.

          This is the gift of intersectionality to neoliberalism. A narrow identity based equity politics which makes it incredibly easy to game the system. This results in a kind of anti-politics where advancing anyone who is not white, cis, straight, or male feels progressive but does not challenge underlying neoliberal power.

          The political and business class are increasingly diverse (a good thing) yet representation and conditions for the working class in society has declined markedly. As one example UK working class wages are lower in real terms than 30-40 years ago and there is about 1/10 the proportion of working class MPs in Labour compared to 100 years ago. Party MPs has never been so diverse and diversity is a good thing but it’s almost as if it matters less what one’s identity is and more what one believes!

          The backlash I mentioned will likely be a multiracial class based one. Most working class (and middle class) don’t buy into identitarian dogma. The concern is how political actors will harness and direct that energy.

          To be blunt I think Woke aka Critical Theory aka Identitarian ideology is destroying progressive politics and alienating the majority of people when we need it the most. The Bretton Woods system that gave rise to globalisation is collapsing and this is the perfect time to shape the economic systems we will transition to for the benefit of the many rather than the few. Instead we have useful idiots like you sucking the oxygen out of the room, conjuring or widening social divides and chasing identitarian spectres, restricting progressives politics to the cultural sandpit and too far from economic, environment and class politics to be useful.

  7. There are many educated and wealthy Maori people in NZ. Why do some Maori succeed and others fail? Colonisation is a weak argument. We have all been colonized at some time in our family history, otherwise we’d all be living in Africa where man first emerged.

    • many of them like their privileged white counterparts get a leg up, in maori terms class also counts if you’re iwiocracy you get chances/help other maori don’t….so yup class again riff raf

  8. The header image is an accurate representation of our financialised rentier economy which screws the workers but rewards the speculators. Plus is incapable of social investment like building homes for the homeless. NZ’s future is hopeless just look at the current parasites sitting in Parliament making things worse with their dead weight useless.

  9. Emphasizing race over class disparity does little to help those most effect by these damning statistics. Race based help/awareness raises poor brown people to the same level as poor white people. Class based help raises ALL poor people to a higher level. It also has the add bonus of not alienating people who are allies.

  10. I think it would be very beneficial to establish a central employment agency for all the members of all the Maori tribes who are unemployed to link them up with employers. I know the Ministry of Social Development does work with all unemployed with the aim to attain employment for them but this additional initiative may be prudent going forward.

  11. Its like employers pay their workers less which improves their profit margins and with all that cash they get into the housing investments game for some tax free money. Its screwing their employees from both ends.

  12. Unless they had Maori relatives the working class I’ve met are virilently agin ‘Maori privilege’, as they see it.

    • Yes a failure for all to see Gaby.
      I spent a considerable amount of time in Eastern Europe in the seventies and know how desperate life was.
      It sickens me to read on this site the rubbish spouted from people who have obviously been nowhere.

  13. Class rather than race is a better way to view things. Not a jot of difference between my Maori and Pakeha customers. You have to have privilege in Gisborne to employ a gardener.

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