By Paul Oboohov
CANBERRA — In an upset, Cath Garvan — formerly of the PSU Challenge group but running as part of the "Team ACT" — has lost the Community and Public Sector Union ACT branch secretary position to an ALP identity, Simon Jarman, running as part of the "Better Union Team" (BUT).
Jarman is a CPSU delegate in the Department of Administrative Services, and formerly an employee of the Finance Sector Union. The vote was Jarman 3238 and Garvan 3200, with 117 informal.
However, Team ACT won the presidency (Bronwyn Asquith) and the two assistant secretary positions (Bronwyn Taylor and Mark Lott). In addition to secretary, the BUT team won the two vice-president positions. This gives an ACT branch executive split down the middle.
In 1993, Garvan led the PSU Challenge team to a victory interpreted as a major rebuff to the ALP. Since then, Garvan has conducted a policy of defence of CPSU ACT branch members' interests independent of the Caird national leadership and the ALP, and included some of the best left activists in Canberra as both team members and organisers.
However, in the middle of this year, Garvan resorted to ALP-style stacking to close down the Challenge group and to construct her own, much weaker, team. The left in the ACT CPSU then had no alternative but to set up Public Sector Fightback (CPSU).
Garvan's parochially named Team ACT did not put a lot of effort into policies, choosing to run mainly on Garvan and team-mate Bronwyn Taylor's record. A Team ACT statement was mailed out, visits to some sub-branch delegates' committees were conducted, and some election material was handed out outside buildings, but the energy and dynamism of the PSU Challenge in 1993 were missing.
In the latter part of the year, as the spectre of the government's cuts started to loom, Garvan unfortunately appeared to many union members as agreeing with much of what emanated from the Caird national leadership. Token actions, agencies left to fight on their own and weak national motions led many to take their anger out on the nearest official to hand.
Notwithstanding these weaknesses, Garvan's loss to Jarman leaves the ACT CPSU in a worse position. CPSU members in Canberra now go into the new year with a divided branch executive, with a new secretary sympathetic to the Caird leadership and its policy of not seriously fighting the Howard cuts. Jarman has already declared that he is not sympathetic to mass meetings, preferring workplace meetings.
The stage looks set for national leadership tokenistic motions to be rammed through workplace meetings without a full debate or widely canvassed opinions. Agency bargaining, a lack of a fight on individual contracts, management undermining of the union and members leaving in disgust loom as the scenario for 1997 unless a fight back develops among the CPSU ranks.