By Maureen Baker
PERTH — Up to 5000 people attended an anti-privatisation rally at lunchtime on April 12. The rally was initiated by the Trades and Labour Council in association with WA Council of Social Services (WACOSS) and the Evatt Research Foundation following the loss of 7000 public sector jobs since the Court government was elected.
Tony Cooke from the TLC addressed the crowd first. He welcomed the presence of the Labor Party and Greens representatives and suggested people in the crowd speak to the Labor Party, in particular, about their concerns. A message of solidarity from the Greens was mentioned but not read.
Jenny Testar, former State Print worker of 15 years, lost her job because of privatisation. She was overcome with emotion as she spoke of her feelings of helplessness. State Print, estimated to be worth $15 million, was sold for $3 million. Sixty jobs have been lost there so far.
Dr Peter Botsman of the Evatt Research Foundation called for better quality public and private services "for our kids, for people".
Shawn Boyle from WACOSS spoke about the risk to welfare agencies, women's refuges and the system for dealing with child abuse.
Dave Robinson, secretary of the State Public Service Federation, quoted the broken promises of Premier Richard Court: "No government worker will be sacked" and "More jobs and better management".
Earlier in the day, thousands of workers held stop-work meetings. At a meeting in Leederville, resolutions were passed to escalate industrial action. Vince George, organiser of the Australian Electrical, Electronics, Foundry and Engineering Union (AEEFEU) read out a message of solidarity from the Greens and called on workers to look at alternatives to the major parties, which refuse to commit themselves to opposing privatisation.
Three hundred Department of Community Development workers passed a vote of no confidence in the government for not overcoming serious staff shortages, heavy workloads and shortages of hostel beds.
A joint union committee, including members of the State School Teachers Union, the Public Transport Union and the Australian Services Union, agreed on an education and industrial campaign to fight the government's ideological commitment to privatisation.
The day after the rally, water resources minister Peter Foss announced that 1500 jobs at the Water Authority would be shed over the next six months. Some workers are to be offered selective redundancies, some jobs would go to the private sector which picked up Water Authority operational contracts and others would be redeployed within government.
The Water Authority has turned around a projected deficit of $11.5 million to a surplus of $13 million — the highest return on assets of any water authority in Australia and an indicator of its productivity increase in the past year.
Tony Cooke said that this rally marks a union war against privatisation. The crowd, mostly workers, seemed angry, inspired, enthusiastic and ready for action, so the end of the rally was somewhat an anti-climax.
Were the dark clouds rolling in toward the end of the rally symbolic of the dark times ahead? Let's hope the lack of a march on the day is not an indication of a union war without any real action.