Tuesday, 19 September 2017

When The Country Goes To Town.

Pretty Ugly, Pretty Quickly: That the demographic and cultural divide between rural and urban New Zealand remains a source of deep unease to farmers cannot be doubted. Equally indisputable, historically-speaking, has been the militant, even violent, character of rural New Zealand’s response. In New Zealand history, when the country comes to town, things tend to get pretty ugly, pretty quickly. Morrinsville, New Zealand, 18 September 2017.

YESTERDAY IN MORRINSVILLE farmers rallied against Labour’s proposed “Water Tax”. Why Morrinsville? Because that was the little country town in which Jacinda Ardern grew up. Just think about that for a moment. Think about what it says about the mindset of a distressingly large percentage of New Zealand’s farming community.

The president of the Waikato branch of Federated Farmers, Andrew McGiven, told the NZ Farmer newspaper that farmers were tired of being scapegoated by politicians. Another protest organiser, local farmer Lloyd Downing, complained to the same publication in similar fashion:

“The lack of fairness and consistency in some of the proposed policies, and the laying of blame solely at the feet of rural New Zealand for all of our environmental challenges is what is frustrating farmers – particularly when it is well known that the most polluted waterways are in urban catchments. The water quality issues are a challenge for all New Zealanders. Farmers recognise that, and are spending tens of thousands of dollars each on reducing their environmental impact.”

It was in response to these “continued attacks” on “rural New Zealand” that farmers rallied in their hundreds under Morrinsville’s giant cow statue.

New Zealanders like to think of themselves as people with strong ties to the land. It’s a fallacy which perhaps explains the enduring popularity of the television programme, Country Calendar. Except that, for most of its history, New Zealand has been an urban nation. Certainly, by the early years of the twentieth century most Kiwis resided and worked in towns and cities. In terms of their jobs, lifestyle and political outlook, these “townies” were a very different breed.

That this demographic and cultural divide between rural and urban New Zealand was a source of deep unease to farmers cannot be doubted. Equally indisputable, historically-speaking, has been the militant, even violent, character of rural New Zealand’s response. In New Zealand history, when the country comes to town, things tend to get pretty ugly, pretty quickly.

In 1913, for example, hundreds of armed farmers on horseback (known forever after as “Massey’s Cossacks” after the farmer-friendly Reform Party prime minister, William Massey) were brought into New Zealand’s major cities to crush what would come to be known as “The Great Strike”. According to New Zealand historian, James Belich, exchanges of gunfire between Massey’s Cossacks and the “Red Fed” strikers were common. Many of the trade unionists involved in the Great Strike later became MPs and Ministers in the First Labour Government.

One of those unionists was Peter Fraser. In 1945, as Prime Minister and Labour Party Leader, Fraser presided over the abolition of the infamous “Country Quota”. This was the section of New Zealand’s Electoral Act which, ever since 1881, had added a 25 percent weighting to votes cast in rural electorates.

The reaction of the farming community to Fraser’s long-overdue rectification of what can only be described as a democratic outrage is instructive. In his book, The Quest For Security In New Zealand 1840-1966, W B Sutch describes how Labour’s plans to abolish the Country Quota were met with “country-wide protests from farmers’ organisations, an appeal to the Governor-General asking him to intervene, and threats of direct action.” Quite what the cockies meant by “direct action” remains unclear, but the Dominion Executive of the Farmers’ Union (forerunner of Federated Farmers) was prepared to raise the then quite considerable sum of £250,000 to fund it!

The sort of thing the cockies had in mind only became clear in 1951, when the first farmers’ government since 1935 was willing to shut down New Zealand’s democracy for the 151 days it took Sid Holland’s National Party to replicate its Reform Party predecessor’s success in ruthlessly suppressing militant trade-unionism in the nation’s ports, coal mines, railways and freezing works.

Thirty years later, the reactionary cultural instincts of rural New Zealand were, once again, pitched into a prolonged and violent confrontation with the progressive values of metropolitan New Zealanders. The 1981 Springbok Tour not only bore testimony to the tenacity of rural conservatism, but also to its steady migration into the upper-middle-class suburbs of the largest cities.

When Mike Hosking challenged National’s current leader to name something he would march for, Dipton’s favourite son was at a loss. This was curious, since the photographs of a placard-carrying Bill English, seated jauntily on ‘Myrtle the Tractor’, at the 2003 Federated Farmers’ protest against the so-called “Fart Tax”, in Parliament Grounds, were still in the archives – and easily retrieved.

When Andrew McGiven and Lloyd Downing encouraged their rural brethren to gather under Morrinsville’s giant cow yesterday, they were simply adding another chapter to an already lengthy story of rural antagonism towards the needs and aspirations of New Zealand’s urban majority. The latter looked on, appalled, at the selfishness and ignorance which unfailingly follow the country into town.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 19 September 2017.


jh said...

New Zealanders like to think of themselves as people with strong ties to the land. It’s a fallacy which perhaps explains the enduring popularity of the television programme, Country Calendar.
I don't think it is a fallacy, I think it is instinctive. I recall my Grandfather saying that in the depression people on farms did better than people in towns (and in those times the house in the city grew it's own vegetables and may have even had a hen house).
Also part of who we are was based on the struggle between the Liberals and vested interests and the breaking up of the large estates "so the small man could get upon the land".
To be fair it wasn't just rural folk who sided against the Red Feds.
I heard a farmer question Merivale women in big four wheel drives when asked about "fart taxes" - he had a point.

Reading a conversation yesterday about why people vote National it is because I'm o.k Jack. They will go with National through thick and thin including National's Real estate affiliate branch. What are they going to do when the big soggy unproductive metropolis (based on immigrants with money) that is Auckland, grinds to a halt? All those people will have expectations as to a standard of living and (if not) government support. Rural people had better keep an eye on National?

Brick said...

When faced with this sort of socialist stupidity, it would seem the only answer is to respond in a similarly stupid manner in the vain hope that Labour will be able to understand the problem they are proposing.

Anonymous said...

Chris, you have hit the nail upon the head again. Like quite a few in New Zealand (including yourself) I have a rural background and was brought up in the environment you describe. If there is any doubt, listen to this discussion on today's morning report between protest organiser Lloyd Downing and rural economist Peter Fraser.


Philippa Stevenson said...

I'm the Green Party candidate for Waikato. I'm a former agricultural journalist (ex-Waikato Times & NZ Herald farming editor) and I spent over 30 years listening to and writing about farmers' issues. I've also recently spent hours listening to farmers, especially Andrew McGiven and Lloyd Downing who organised the Morrinsville rally and who I've talked with in person, at meetings and for an extended interview aired on RNZ's Country Life programme. I've listened to them. I understand where they are coming from. I'm not sure the reverse is true. In the RNZ interview we agreed that the farming industry needed more and better leadership. I'm pretty sure that we weren't talking about the sort of "leadership" they showed yesterday. Here's what we talked about: http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/countrylife/audio/201854420/farming-talk-fest-part-one

greywarbler said...

" socialist stupidity, it would seem the only answer is to respond in a similarly stupid manner in the vain hope" that will solve the problem without having to actually think about it.

And understand the problem, why the situation is seen as a problem, the short and long-term effects, and to set standards to ensure that farming doesn't degrade the environment where it is carried out. This rises above the stupid argument that cities with lots of people cause pollution too.

People in the country have a relationship with the cities and the right to become dwellers and have family work and live there, and the reverse for the cities. We are indeed one people with diverse interests,but all have responsibility for our effect on our environment. That needs to be reminded to rural types looking for a way out of working and earning intelligently, not like simple rugby types putting their heads down and barging for the line. Real life isn't that simple.

So Brick can you accept that as a way of thinking beyond simple name calling 'socialist' when it's actually 'responsible business practices by farmers who respect the land'? That is a favourite line used by spokesmen/women for Fed Farmers, without any sign of being the truth.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I get a bit annoyed when farmers pull the "Youse city people don't understand us!" shtick. When they haven't a clue what sort of problems people face in South Auckland or Porirua. I worked on farms a bit in my youth. Never saw a farmer without a big flash car, certainly bigger and flasher than I can afford at any rate. And the organiser of that Morrinsville thing pretty much got owned by the rural economist on radio New Zealand this morning. Fuck 'em, the using public water to make a profit just like the bottling factories. And I wouldn't trust their "most polluted waterways" stuff as far as I could throw it. One thing farmers do better than anyone else just about though is put out a good story, and organise to get lots of publicity. Farmers, landlords and the police. The three most effective unions in the country. :)

Anonymous said...

Nothing new about it. 50 odd years ago my grandfather told me that farmers moaning was their natural state, when they were quiet they were doing very well indeed. Didn't go down too well with our farming relatives then & nothings changed

Len said...

There are not so many cockies now. I can't see the corporate farmers mobilising their Philipino wage slaves to wage urban warfare. More likely the wage slaves will revolt against their masters.

greywarbler said...

Farmers in flash cars. Small farmers have had to labour and slave in the past and their kids were part of that. Hand milking early in the morning sledding the cans down to the gate etc. The early ones had it hard.
Then the boom with wool and the story went the rounds about the farmer who preferred Rolls Royces because you could fit more sheep in the back.

But the research done on social movement and changes in behaviour, methods and techniques between humans showed towns and cities bring people together and they spark ideas off each other. Country people are slower to change, and of course are tied to the vagaries of the weather and the seasons, more uncertain than townies would be (if we had a stable and well-run economy).

I'm sure that townies who know where milk comes from will have much sympathy for farmers, but down on the farm I think that civilisation hasn't always reached the hard-working honest joe and josephine. The habit of fiddling the books, miscounting the stock, and getting away with it breeds entitlement. And getting away with it too often, leads to individual action even murder as in the North Island years ago. The young famrer after being able to shoot someone else's deer, setting something on fire, and still not able to contain his bad impulses, the guy shot a relative in boiling jealousy. There is always some bad behaviour in the back blocks which comes to a head and public notice from time to time.

The same lack of ability to think of a way around stress and failure I think shows today as it did in 1941 when Stanley Graham, took everybody on, and killed a number of police before being shot and dying a short time later. He left a wife and two children under 10 years old who had been socially isolated all their lives, and had their house burned down, after which they left the district. I wonder what happened to them.

The strength that comes from blaming and hating everybody is a behaviour that has bad results. Farmers need special sort of educational processes as children to learn how to work co-operatively instead of all this tough Man Alone stuff. And not settle into the world is agin me bullshit.

John Stowell said...

These issues are exactly the kind that should be examined by long-form deliberation using a citizens' assembly selected by lot. An assembly of 20 to 30 randomly selected citizens can hear all the arguments from stakeholders, from experts, from whoever has an axe to grind, and then deliberate, not simply expressing their own prejudices but attempting to act as representatives of the community at large. Many issues are simply not suited to the adversarial approach, which is why so many things simply don't get sorted with our present system.

Jens Meder said...

Guerilla Surgeon - do not farmers, landlords and the police represent the fundamentally
most important segments of organized society for the hungry have-nots to be fed and housed ?

Andrew Nichols said...

Man - Talk about an own goal' Just days out from, the polling day, set the narrative to where Labour are strong. If I was Bill English and the Crosby Textor mob, I'd be furious.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jens Meder....No.

greywarbler said...

John Stowell
Life is so complex now that we are beyond the ability of 'randomly selected citizens selected by lot' to come together and make good and balanced decisions. Yes if they have studied and read widely and have experience of managing themselves and life's diversity, and checking their credentials. But when considering problems there needs to be a system for noting important points and discussing them, for remembering the broad details and then calling up the particulars.

'Attempting to act as representatives of the community at large'? Which one is that - there are many facets and many know only their own facet, and don't even understand that well.

One thing that is really true and important is that often the adversarial approach is entirely unsuitable. We need new approaches to managing our lives, our communities, our country, and our environment. Listening to question time in Parliament reminds it comes from parler, French to speak. Unfortunately there is the barest standard on how or about what value is spoken. It is a sad example of how ineffective our government conventions now are.

We should first rationally recognise, and humbly acknowledge to ourselves that the common man and woman's commonsense and education hasn't prepared us for the unique problems of the modern world combined with the continuing problems of human society. We then would put great importance on learning the skills and practice of critical thinking and problem solving. We would learn how to encourage incremental building of practical ideas and theories at meetings to achieve and resolve good workable outcomes. There would be a round-robin for those present, each looking at the pros and cons noted on a whiteboard with identifying initials for a round-up of final thoughts.

It would be a sort of informal debate. Debate is something they were doing in the 14th century. How come we haven't refined its use.
debate (n.) early 14c., "a quarrel, dispute, disagreement," from Old French debat; see debate (v.). Sense of "a formal dispute, a debating contest, interchange of arguments in a somewhat formal manner" is perhaps from early 15c. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=debate

There's the useful method of noting pros and cons. The pros and cons of something are its advantages and disadvantages, which you consider...
The phrase 'pros and cons' is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase pro et contra, 'for and against', and has been in use in the abbreviated form since the 16th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Then there is the method Socratic dialogue. What do we know of this, when is it practised? We are clever, but don't think widely, and are well along the way to replacing ourselves with clever machines. This is our cunning plan for our world!! One of his most famous statements [Socrates] in that regard is "The unexamined life is not worth living."Wikipedia

This philosophical questioning is known as the Socratic method Socrates' thoughts come from 400 Yrs BC (Before Christ), and in our learning and decision making we still think like simple toilers of the soil and animal growers.


The Socratic dialogue leads apparently to a consensus. But desiring this end as is so common, also has fishhooks as modern studies have shown. It seems to me that it would be better to allow for a small proportion of disagreement, those to be noted as dissenters and their reasons.
There are interesting points about consensus and the growth of informal power over opinion, in the study of flat management referred to in wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_organization

Anonymous said...

Im interested in peoples response to this..we are Organic farmers, milking 240 cows which is a low stocking rate for our soil type. We employ 2 local people part-time time and a full-time person of city background.Even though we do not use synthetic fertilisers or herbicides/insecticides/fungicides,we support many local businesses including the local pilot for application of seaweed, etc, the vets, mainly in a diagnostic capacity, local haymaking contractors etc etc. We have carbon rich,biologically active soils that do not leak nutrients. We grow a mixed sward to meet the nutritional needs of our animals and to provide food for the birds and bees and rarely have animal health issues. .
Our waterways were fenced and planted well before it was compulsory, because we wanted to. We have also planted thousands of trees for shade, shelter, fodder and habitat.I could go on. We do not think we are perfect by any means but we do everything in our power to mitigate damage to the environment and to produce a high quality product (which by the way, we are poorly rewarded for).We support all our adult children and their partners and children with meat, milk, eggs and vegetables from the farm.
We will end up being penalised because the polluters who rely on urea and palm kernel to farm unsustainable numbers of cows.
I think part of the answer lies in limiting farm size and not allowing farming in sensitive areas, ie those needing irrigation.
I myself am horrified at some current farming practices and Im a farmer.We need to stop factory farming of all types. It is up to the consumer to shun products produced this way. Also, Id like to hear a bit more noise about the mass production of fruit and vegetables, a glance at the Bombay fields tells us that method of production is killing the land/water too.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Anonymous. Given that Labour has said that the water used for stock drinking won't be taxed, would you like to explain how you would be penalised? And if you want consumers to shun factory farmed produce, perhaps "you" should pay them a bit more. Because organic stuff is often twice the price of normal stuff. As I mentioned, farmers crap on about not being understood, but they often don't understood anything much about poor people in cities.

greywarbler said...

It's painful to hear people saying they are farmers who don't seem to understand the slightest bit about the market and sector their business is in. Anonymous at 15.51 20/9 you talk about fruit and veg production in the Bombay fields. There used to be a lot of individual growers and their NZ workers growing stuff there. There was Turners and Growers auction house that used to sell their vegs for them for prices adaptable to seasons supply and demand and overall gave them a good living.

Then I don't know which happened first, T&G shutting down or the supermarkets offering contracts. Those contracts are fixed and the growers have to be price-takers and can be forced very low indeed. So bigger lots with more machinery and more spraying to control stuff to the exacting demands of the supermarkets is the norm, and there may be five growers in an area where 10 times as many used to grow.

Did you read in Australia how supermarkets started paying their milk suppliers about cost price, even less, because the big guys had decided to use milk to have a price war. The drop came out of the suppliers pockets, probably having been written into their contracts that they were expected to put in for price-conscious promotions from time to time.

Big business doesn't care about little guys, but little guys are nearer to being real people living amongst similar others who expect to be treated as humans. Big business doesn't care about humanity, only profit squeezed as much as possible. If you don't care about humanity either, don't expect real people to care about you.

Mark Simpson said...

Mark Simpson
Firstly, I would like to commend nearly everyone who contributes to Chris's blogs as they are typically devoid of ad hominem insults prevalent in most blogs, youtube, etc. I can put this down to Chris setting high standards for debatable opinion, and, dare I say it, the fair minded intelligence of respondents, and that he also has a modicum of censorship that no doubt culls the trolls! Using insults (such as "socialist stupidity") ruins one’s ability and opportunity to present a good argument worthy of consideration and immediately dissuades many not engaging in any way.

Having said that, it concerns me that Chris, and others here, and in the media are promulgating an "urban/rural divide" in this election. In my youth, I had the privilege to meet a union veteran of the 1951 waterside strike who explained in detail his side of the story. He struck me as a decent, honourable man. That a number of farmers were deputised as stooges to physically deal to the watersiders is a blot on our industrial relations history. Yet, Prime Minister Holland called an election immediately after the strike and was returned with an increased majority. The more moderate Federation of Labour actually backed Holland, seeing the watersiders as being too militant. But let's also remember, the media (limited to papers and radio) painted the union as the 'baddies" and the government as the "goodies." The point is, we must be conscious to neither simplify nor “modify” history to suit our particular viewpoint: there are too many variables and permutations.

Similarly, I dispute that the 1981 Springbok tour was regional or class based. All divisions of society including within the workplace, socio-economic and political were significantly polarised; even family units were vehemently split. And let’s not forget that the All Black captain of the time, Graham Mourie, on moral grounds, withdrew from the All Blacks. He was a Taranaki dairy farmer.

I interacted a lot with farmers in my young days. I respected and admired many things about them: their huge work ethic is foremost in my mind. There are those who choose to not admit that our country’s prosperity came, and largely still does, primarily from the land. On the other hand, they have been the primary contributors of the degradation of our water ways and aquifers and it is disheartening to witness their leadership not taking responsibility for this by being defensive and playing the victim card. By taking this position they have encouraged scorn and derision that has, for me, been sad to behold. The world is riven with distrust and division and I had hoped our country was united, decent and mature enough to be beyond this negativity.