CPSU members face crucial choice

Wednesday, July 24, 1996


By Paul Oboohov

At its July 23 round of mass meetings, called to consider a motion for a 24-hour strike on July 25, CPSU members will face a crucial choice: are they to develop a genuine campaign against the Howard government's cuts, or are they to be dragged through a demoralising farce of uncoordinated agency-by-agency actions and token stoppages which end up causing harm to no-one except themselves?

To date the CPSU campaign against the Howard cuts has been anything but that: not because individual agencies haven't put on bans or voted for all-union strike action (they have), but because the Wendy Caird leadership of the union has simply dodged the question of whether or not it is defending existing services and the public sector generally.

As a result, most CPSU members are confused about what their sacrifices are meant to achieve. The most charitable interpretation is that this is simple lack of leadership: at worst it's Caird and Co setting matters up as "proof" that "We proposed a campaign, but the members didn't want to struggle".

At the July 23 mass meetings, CPSU members will be offered a clear choice of approach. Besides the national executive motions, the CPSU members will be asked to vote on a clear platform of resistance proposed by the CPSU rank-and-file opposition group, CPSU National Challenge.

Clear platform

The National Challenge motion would commit the union to the following specific position:

  • No cuts to functions;

  • No cuts to government services;

  • No closure of offices;

  • No outsourcing;

  • No contractors to be employed except with the agreement of the union; and

  • An ongoing industrial campaign which reports regularly to mass meetings of members.

While the national executive motions go some way to addressing these issues (they at least seek to minimise the job cuts flowing out of the budget and the Commission of Audit), they still fall well short of an unequivocal commitment to defend the public sector.

This is a dereliction of duty, not just to CPSU members, but to all Australian working people and the community at large, for whom public services a vital part of their quality of life.

Indeed, the CPSU should already have been at the centre of an alliance to defend the public sector against the attacks of a Howard government dedicated to implementing an unadulterated new right agenda. Together with other public sector unions and the vast range of community groups that depend on (and want to fight for) public services, the CPSU could already have put Howard on the defensive with some determined and intelligent leadership.

However, for four whole months the national executive hid behind the rationale that it couldn't stop the 15,000 job cuts because, it said, it couldn't stop voluntary redundancies. By quarantining bans in the ACT and in some agencies nationally, by not having an industrial campaign to stop job cuts, the national executive is partly responsible for the current cuts to jobs and services.

However, it is far from too late to mount a real resistance. Besides the July 23 mass meetings, the CPSU should be mobilising for the August 19 actions being planned for Canberra and other centres. They present a valuable opportunity to show Howard that the union (and its allies) are deadly serious about opposing cuts to public services and that it expects full support for this position from the Greens, Democrats and Labor.

Indeed, the union should be demanding that Howard's job slashing budget be thrown out of the Senate and, indeed, that the Howard government itself be forced to the polls. Howard has no mandate whatsoever for his cuts, justified by a totally artificial "black hole", and he gave a "rock-solid guarantee" before the March election that "no-one will be worse off".

The mass meetings provide a valuable opportunity to get back on track: if seized, July 23 will mark the day when the fight back against Howard first began to get serious.
[Paul Oboohov is a CPSU delegate in DEETYA.]