Campaign against energy sell-off gains momentum

Issue 

The battle over the privatisation of NSW electricity continues. A power industry delegates' meeting on May 15 condemned the state ALP government's push to privatise the retail electricity providers and generators and reaffirmed its "total rejection" of the government's plans.

It also set in place a campaign, involving unions and the community, to fight for the public ownership of the state's energy sector.

Later the same day, Premier Morris Iemma convened a hastily organised Labor caucus meeting and rammed through support for privatisation legislation, against the attempts of opponents to delay the discussion.

Currently there are two pieces of legislation enabling the privatisation of NSW electricity: the Electricity Industry Restructuring Bill 2008 and the Community Infrastructure (Intergenerational) Fund Bill 2008 which will allocate the loot (it can be seen at <http://www.nsw.gov.au/energy>). Both will go to parliament in its budget session, beginning June 3.

Iemma's action follows the NSW Greens' tabling of the Energy Services Corporations Ownership (Parliamentary Powers) Bill 2008 in the Legislative Council on May 14. It was aimed at forcing the government to take electricity privatisation to a parliamentary vote. It went down by just one vote (21 to 20), and was supported in the upper house by ALP MLCs Lynda Voltz and Ian West. Other ALP MLCs voted with the Shooters Party to oppose the Greens' bill.

"The campaign's not over", Greens MLC John Kaye told Green Left Weekly on May 16. He said that Labor's draft bills give NSW Treasurer Michael Costa powers "akin to a pre-Magna Carta king of England".

As of May 16, apart from Voltz and West, at least one more MLC, Mick Veitch, has suggested he may cross the floor to vote against the government's bills. But according to the May 16 Sydney Morning Herald Veitch has also been threatened with being hauled in front of the party's national executive should he cross the floor. These MPs actions follow a vote of 702 to 107 against the sell off at the May 3-4 ALP state conference.

The power industry delegates' resolution (which includes the Electrical Trades Union, the United Services Union, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union) and commits Unions NSW to "a continued campaign of opposition to the Iemma government's proposal, targeting local ALP members of the NSW parliament urging them to vote against any moves to privatise/lease existing assets and retail providers".

The resolution commits the power industry to establish a campaign committee with a representative from each workplace to coordinate the campaign. It endorsed the stopwork meetings to discuss the campaign and called on UnionsNSW to "organise a meeting of all public sector unions to consider a state-wide day of protest against the Iemma government".

The resolution also called for "a referendum of the people of NSW to decide if the government should be given a mandate to privatise".

Meanwhile, on May 14, a central city ALP-organised anti-privatisation meeting resolved to organise, in consultation with the unions and community groups, a rally outside the state parliament to coincide with the budget in early June and new privatisation bills. A motion, moved by a National Tertiary Education Union delegate to Unions NSW, pledging community support to the power industry delegates was unanimously supported.

Plans to coordinate railway station leafleting, community stalls and petitions were also discussed. The "power to the people" campaigning meetings will continue; the next meeting is scheduled for 7pm at May 21 on the Tom Mann Theatre, 136 Chalmers Street, Sydney.

[Sibylle Kaczorek is a delegate in the Australian Services Union and a member of Socialist Alliance. She holds regular Saturday stalls against the privatisation of electricity in Marrickville. Get in touch on 0418 643 723 or skaczorek@yahoo.com.]