New Zealand media and government demonize Russian migrant workers

The New Zealand Herald reported on October 8 that unnamed representatives of the country’s “Ukrainian community” held a “high-level meeting” with the Labor Party-led government where they “raised their concerns with government officials over recruitment in course of Russian fishing crews”.

Mainstream fishing trawler moored in the port of Lyttelton, New Zealand. One of the many ships used by Sealord. (Photo taken in October 2016; Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC0)

In response, Immigration Minister Michael Wood told the newspaper: “I have encouraged fishing companies to consider their reliance on Russian workers given the volatile situation created by the heinous invasion of Ukraine by Russia”. While a spokesman for Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the current travel bans and sanctions do not target “ordinary Russian citizens”, but only those with links to Putin’s regime, Wood’s statement suggests that preparations are underway to expand these measures.

The Herald This article is part of an escalating xenophobic campaign to demonize all Russians, including working people who bear no responsibility for the Putin government’s invasion of Ukraine. The aim is to justify the further integration of New Zealand into the imperialist US-NATO war against Russia, which is developing into a third world war. The United States and its allies seek to resolve its deepening economic crisis by establishing its hegemony over Russia and China.

The dangers facing the world population cannot be overstated, as Moscow and Washington recklessly threaten to use nuclear weapons to protect their geopolitical interests.

New Zealand, a close US ally, has already sent 230 troops to Europe to help train Ukraine’s armed forces and contributed military equipment, money and intelligence to the war effort. All of this was accompanied by a barrage of propaganda aimed at overcoming the broad anti-war sentiment of the New Zealand population.

Sealord, New Zealand’s largest fishing company, and others in the industry have been using foreign crews as cheap labor for decades. In 2011, journalists and researchers denounced the abusive and slave-like working conditions to which many of these crews were subjected, triggering a major scandal.

Fishing crews are recruited from Indonesia, the Philippines and other parts of Asia, as well as Russia and Ukraine. Radio NZ reported on May 17, 2021 that in 2019, before the pandemic, 31% of the industry’s workforce were temporary migrants, or around 4,000 workers.

Today, a significant number of these highly exploited workers are denounced in the most hysterical terms as agents of Moscow. According to Herald, “questions about the morality of hiring Crimeans”, in particular, have been raised with Sealord and Independent Fisheries Limited. Crimea is claimed by both Russia and Ukraine and was formally annexed by Russia in 2014, following the US-NATO sponsored coup led by fascists, which installed an aggressively anti-Russian regime in kyiv.

The Ukrainian government has announced its intention to retake Crimea by force and recently staged a terrorist attack on the Kerch Bridge aimed at escalating the war. The Ukrainians who spoke to the New Zealand Heraldhowever, equated Crimeans with Russians.

An anonymous “source” told the Herald that the employment of Crimeans was “indirect sponsorship of Russia’s war crimes”. Another accused these crews of being “aggressively pro-war and pro-Putin”. A Ukrainian described as ‘familiar with crews coming to New Zealand’ made the openly racist comment that employing Crimeans was ‘the same as [employing people from] Syria or Iran or North Korea. No one will think of hiring a Somali fishing crew.

The Herald also cited the Ukrainian Association of New Zealand (UANZ), a group that is regularly cited as the undisputed voice on all matters relating to the war in Ukraine. The organization questioned why Crimeans were allowed to work on New Zealand fishing vessels despite “widespread condemnation of Russian aggression, which now threatens to destroy the world in a nuclear apocalypse”.

The implication of all these repugnant statements, presented uncritically by the Herald, is that all Russians, including ordinary workers, should be considered enemy aliens. This goes hand in hand with the defamation of Russian musicians, athletes and performers across Europe and North America.

The article also recalls the hysteria sparked against Germans living in New Zealand during the First and Second World Wars. With the outbreak of war in 1914, people from German families, naturalized or not, found themselves harassed and spied on by the police and hunted down by nationalist thugs. Many were forced out of their jobs or had their businesses vandalized, and hundreds were imprisoned on Somes Island.

UANZ held a pro-war rally in June, where Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and Ethnic Communities Minister Priyanca Radhakrishnan pledged more weapons and support for Ukraine’s armed forces. The rally was backed by the Greens (part of the Labor-led government) and the pseudo-left group Auckland Peace Action.

In a September 26 Facebook post, UANZ chairman Yuriy Glade denounced calls for Russians fleeing Putin’s mobilization order to be allowed into New Zealand. The message, which was reported uncritically by the media Things on October 7, slandered the entire Russian population as complicit in the “destruction of Ukrainian towns and villages” and war crimes.

No political persuasion in New Zealand opposed the reactionary demands of UANZ and the media to ban Russian migrant workers. This includes the Greens, who sometimes pose as defenders of migrants and refugees, as well as the various pseudo-left groups who support the government’s alignment with the United States and NATO against Russia.

The pro-government Daily blog, for its part, focused on the rationale for including New Zealand in preparations for war against China. He said China’s “fisherman’s militia” were aiming to take over the Pacific and called for a stronger army “to protect our fisheries”.

The Maritime Union (MUNZ) took a nationalist stance when questioned by the World Socialist Website. Communications spokesman Victor Billow said: “We don’t see the [Russian or Ukrainian] the workers of these ships as necessarily responsible for what their governments do, in both cases. So we wouldn’t want to have some kind of prejudice against the workers. »

He added, however, that “much of the problem is that the industry has been dependent for many years on the use of foreign labor and that is how it has driven down the wages and conditions”. The union wanted ships in New Zealand waters to have more “New Zealand workers with good wages and conditions”, he said.

Last year, MUNZ backed a government decision to ban a cruise ship from entering New Zealand solely on the basis of the nationality of its workers.

This nationalism aims to divide workers and hide the responsibility of the unions themselves for the dire social and working conditions that exist. For decades, unions have overseen the destruction of full-time jobs and the reduction of wages, in the maritime industries as in all others.

Opposition to all forms of nationalism and xenophobia, including that promoted by the union bureaucracy, is a crucial part of the struggle to build a global anti-war movement. Only the independent political intervention of the working class, united across national borders, can disarm the ruling class, in every country, and stop its mad rush towards a catastrophic world war. This requires a socialist strategy and an internationalist strategy, aimed at ending capitalism and the division of the world into nation states, which is the source of war.

The International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) and the International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE) decided to build a movement of workers and youth against imperialist war. We invite those who share this perspective to contact us.

Amanda J. Marsh