How You Can Tell That The Struggle Has Been Lost: When a parade intended as a celebration of people's rights is taken over by the State's primary instruments of coercion and control.
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.
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.
Protest: Thankfully, there was at least one human-being at Saturday's parade who still knew how to say "No!"
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!”
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 23 February 2015.
So, what once was radical is now accepted and (of course!) commercialised.
And now you can't feel all hip and edgy about supporting it- they've stolen your fun!
Don't worry, you can still be publically anti gay if you are brown and religious. Go and rail against them.
Also, please don't use the word transgressive.
Involving a violation of moral or social boundaries.
"her experiences of transgressive love with both sexes"
Seems like a perfectly good - and appropriate - word to me.
Your objection is noted, Anonymous, but I'm going to keep using it anyway.
Thanks for the definition.
It is one of those words that signals the writer is all too pleased with their own alleged naughtiness.
"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."
re enforces this notion.
Of course it is your right to keep using it.
But when people who don't already agree with your views read words like "Transgressive" they think "Leftie Jargon!" and ignore the rest.
How much of your (or anyones) involvement in politics is about help others and achieving fairness, and how much is about maintaining a self image of cleverness and rebellion or control?
Who keeps adding letters to what is now apparently LGBTIQA ?
What does the A stand for?
(or the T, I and Q, for that matter ?)
I'm guessing the A stands for asexual.
Are all these 'letters' really all a community?
Do asexuals really associate themselves with the drag queens you witnessed?
Incidentally, if I were a shy and gay or sexually confused teenager craving acceptance, the last thing I'd want to associate myself with would be the hulking and in your face drag queens . Perhaps they are contributing to the difficulties of such people.
I think you have a false equivalence here Chris. I have been on Mayday Parades as well as Pride Parades and the Hero Parade.
The Rainbow communities are far more diverse than the Trade Union movement ever was. Each of the communities repreented in Saturdays's Parade has GLBT members who are proud to represent their workforce/company/club etc as a GLBT person. I marched with the Auckland Council float and as a Lesbian Council officer I am pleased that the new Auckland Council supports me in my workplace as a whole person. I remember the bad old days of Banks and Hay where Auckland City Council obstructed the Hero Parade and the Council LGBT group had to fly very much under the radar. It is not perfect now just as the Police Force and Corrections are not perfect (and may never be so) but it is better. It is the "better" we celebrate, because like the Trade Union movement, if we wait for perfect, we will wait a long, long time. Ther have always been the absolutists who hold out for perfect and I have seen them destroy good progresive groups.
I find the conflation of Trade Unionists and Queers to be rather .... ahistorical. My memory is that many of the worst bigots and supporters of anti-gay legislation and policies were the right wing Trade Unionists.
New Zealand is, by world standards, an extremely tolerant and welcoming nation. The country is not perfect in this regard; it never will be, because after all, it's not a thing, it's just a bunch of people. However, Kiwi society has moved a long way towards accepting Queers in the years since homosexuality was illegal. To associate your outmoded class warfare rhetoric (PS it's the 21st century) with a celebration of this is a rather shameful kind of opportunism.
I think this is unfair. I have been in the police for almost 19 years and the organisations approach to lgbt community has made huge steps forward. If the organisers were happy for police etc to be part of it they must be happy with the progress in their area.
To: Martin English.
You have failed utterly to understand the purpose of this article - which is NOT to somehow "conflate" trade unionism and LGBTIQA issues, but to allow those members of the progressive community with a background in class-based politics to view what happened on Saturday through a more familiar frame of reference.
It's called intersectionality.
Not that I suspect you're much interested in such matters. Your sentence: "To associate your outmoded class warfare rhetoric (PS it's the 21st century) with a celebration of this is a rather shameful kind of opportunism.", betrays a right-wing mindset utterly incapable of even registering the class oppression going on all around you.
That the "Auckland Pride Parade" ended up being such a morally compromised, thoroughly co-opted travesty is attributable entirely to people who think the same way you do.
Very good post. This event has caused an enormous amount of dialogue (and consternation) amongst queer people in NZ. It has revealed a real schism between the haves and the have nots (in terms of rights/power/money etc.) within the LGBT community.
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