Who is Groundswell? (Watch)
Updated: Apr 14
A movement of the masses or a movement of wealthy land owners? What exactly are these farmers protesting about? Let's take a look at these 'unworkable regulations' and see if theres any merit to this 'groundswell' movement, here's everything you need to know.
So we saw another nationwide Groundswell protest last weekend, and another one planned for February. There’s a lot of noise being made from many different angles. What exactly are these protests about and do they have a just cause? Let’s look closer into Groundswell and their demands to see what they’re all about. They describes themselves as a “volunteer group of farmers and rural professionals advocating for our Grass Roots farmers and rural communities.” So they’re trying to create this image of a worker uprising, a movement of the masses - using words like “groundswell” and “grass roots”. ‘Grass roots’ means from the ground up, usually referring to movements that are driven by people as opposed to corporations or politicians. And it’s true that Groundswell has gathered the support of many working class people, but it’s a group which is largely driven by land and business owners who are seeking to protect their interests. This is a powerful lobbying class - around 35% of Aotearoa’s land is owned by animal farmers. Yep, that’s specifically for animal farms. Horticulture only takes up 5% of our land, and so the majority of power and politically represented interests come from animals farm owners. Some of these land owners are anxiously attached to this land, because they know land is power, and because they know their ancestors acquired that land in a pretty dodgy way. This is how you have that intersection between animal farm owners and racism; it comes from the understanding that a greater recognition for te tiriri and Maori land rights actually calls into question their own property rights. Because its them who stand to lose their wealth if whenua Maori is returned. Likewise, these land owners fear Maori being given greater rights to protect our water. The protesters carried signs saying “steal Our water at your peril”. But who do they mean by “our”? And how can you steal something that isn’t owned? Because water does not belong to anyone. All of us, humans, animals and plants, share the water for our survival. And under te triti, Maori maintain kaitiakitanga, or stewardship, over the water. These destructive industries fear the recognition of these rights because protecting waterways means an end to their business. They know, better than anyone else, that they rely on the free use and abuse of our waterways to make their wealth. This is where the fear of communism comes from: our collective rights to the land and water is in direct conflict to their private property rights. So you have the land and business owners who fear how government regulations and recognition of te tiriti might impact their use of the natural world. Your average farmhand or slaughterhouse worker isn’t going to be much affected by those regulations, they’re gonna be on low wages regardless. And of course, we remember that in some low socio economic towns, slaughterhouses and farms are the only form of employment. But should we campaign to keep cow numbers as they are so those folks can keep those jobs - or should we campaign for more enriching, less traumatising employment for our rural whanau? And because the government has allowed industries to exploit these workers and communities for so long, there are so many marginalised folks that these corporations can use as the face of their lobby group. They get a couple of likeable farmers, keep the message vague and generally anti-establishment, and pretend to give voice to some of the struggles that workers face - and then use them to further their commercial agenda. Groundswell is closely connected to the hard right-wing lobbyists that are working hard in the background trying to influence our politics in any way they can. Groundswell’s website was registered to the “NZ Taxpayers Union”, which is no trade union at all, in fact they hate unions - but again, they’re trying to create this image of a people movement. It’s actually a lobby group co-founded by right-wing lobbyist Jordan Williams, a prominent character in Nicky Hager’s book, Dirty Politics. The Taxpayers group lobbies for lower tax rates for wealthy individuals, even though Aotearoa has some of the worst levels of inequality. And this is the same group that took 60,000 from the government in wage-subsidies last year, after vowing to never take taxpayer money. Unsurprisingly, this group uses racist talking points to grow their support. You’ll see them complain about the government spending 11,000 on translating documents into te reo Maori. Not a peep about the 2 billion Aotearoa loses to tax evasion every year though. Soon after the Groundswell connection to the Taxpayer group was discovered, the website registration was changed to “the campaign company limited”, a business owned by Jordan Williams, the founder and director of the Taxpayer group. Yeah, they’re not so good at this sneaking around thing. Groundswell also have ACT and National backing them, two parties that work very hard to protect upper class and land owner interests. In the middle of all of this of course are middle class farmers who are deeply indebted to banks after a systematic push from government and industry to borrow millions of dollars and to intensify their animal farms. But Groundswell doesn’t have these folks’ interests at heart. These farmers need government to bail them out of their debt and support them to transition away from an inherently unsustainable business model. Groundswell is asking for the opposite: they want to continue with business as usual, upholding the very same industries that have used and abused these farmers and other workers. You can clearly see in their 8 demands that Groundswell is lobbying for the interests of industry and the wealthy class. Let’s go through each one.
The first one asks for the National Policy Statement of Freshwater to be revoked. This includes rules like putting controls on winter grazing, feedlots, and nitrogen pollution. It’s basically the least our government could do to protect our freshwater.
The second and third ones want SNAs and the National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity to be abandoned, both explicitly saying “Private property rights must be protected”. These two regulations aim to protect the last little bit of indigenous forest, and the tension comes from the fact that a lot of this forest is on the privately owned animal farms, in that 35% chunk of land we mentioned earlier. These land owners want to be able to do whatever they want to their “private property”. The problem is that what they do on their land actually affects all of us. To the point that it is endangering our future survival. So in effect, their private property rights are clashing with our communal rights to a clean air and water, healthy soils, future food security and so on. That’s the problem with colonial conceptions of property - and why we need to seriously think about looking to Maori traditions of land guardianship. These are communal governing models that allowed groups the rights to use the land in certain ways, but these weren’t eternal contracts. These rights can be renegotiated and changed. And I think based on the fact that such a small number of people, are destroying so much of our environment for their own personal profits, definitely calls for a renegotiation. And these regulations are hardly renegotiating land ownership, but they somewhat limit land uses and land owners don’t like that at all. The fourth one wants asks for seasonal agricultural workers from overseas to be prioritised through MIQ, something the government has already done. What this highlights is that even with so many people struggling in Aotearoa, there simply aren’t enough desperate folks here that are willing to take these underpaid and difficult jobs. And it’s another reminder this is a movement for employers, not workers. The fifth one asks for the “unworkable” elements of the emissions trading scheme to be scrapped. This is despite famers actually being EXEMPT from the ETS until 2025, and the farming sector given the right of co-drafting their own scheme wth the government to come into effect after 2025. The sixth one asks for the Crown Pastoral Land Reform Bill to be lifted, which places limits on leaseholders. You see, as well as using the land however they want, land owners also want to be able to lease their land to whomever, to do whatever. The 7th wants the infamous “Ute Tax” to be scrapped. This would add an extra few thousands to a $45,000 vehicle that farm owners use on their land. The seventh, and possibly the most important demand, asks to scrap the Three Waters Reform. This reform hopes to see an improvement in our drinking water, stormwater and wastewater, and gives greater governance powers to iwi Maori. Industrial animal farmers and slaughterhouse owners have complained of the burden this might place on these sectors. The reality is that these industries have had unregulated access to, and rights to pollute, our communal waterways. And now they’re seeing these privileges being questioned. Groundswell wants us to place industry profit before the right of communities to have access to swimmable and drinkable water. And the situation is so dire that our grandchildren may never experience connecting with our waterways. So looking at the associates and demands of this group, it’s clear it’s not a movement for worker rights. They’re not asking for better pay or better conditions. They’re asking to be allowed to continue with their extractive, colonial relationship with the land based on their colonial private property rules. They’re seeking to protect their individual rights above our communal rights to a healthy environment. And of course, all of this has implications on tangata whenua as they are further disenfranchised from their stolen whenua, as they continue to be oppressed by exploitative industries, and as they are pushed away from their right to protect our land and water. So we need to look past the human shield of workers to see what groundswell is really about, and acknowledge that it’s the same groups actually oppressing these workers that are leading this so called movement. Their requests will only increase the economic divide in Aotearoa, by prolonging worker exploitation, and by destroying our ability to provide space, water and food for our communities.