Goss faces union, rural revolt over cuts

Issue 

By Bill Mason

BRISBANE — The government of Premier Wayne Goss has provoked an explosion of popular anger over harsh cuts to rail, education and health services, announced over the past couple of weeks.

Rail workers have threatened widespread strikes affecting country and metropolitan train services to protest against planned line closures and job cuts.

A massive revolt of workers and rural townsfolk has erupted over the Labor government's plans to shut down nearly one-third of the state rail network and sack nearly 550 workers, with thousands more jobs to go through "natural attrition" over the next few years.

On July 20, angry residents of the central Queensland town of Monto seized a train and lynched an effigy of transport minister David Hamill in protest at the planned closure of their train line.

The Railway Services Union Queensland branch on July 22 announced it was withdrawing its affiliation to the ALP and ceasing all financial support because of the government's "unprecedented onslaught on the rail industry". Rail unions were discussing proposals for strikes of at least 24 hours "affecting every train".

Nurses, teachers and rail workers are forming a public alliance of at least 70,000 members to campaign against the cuts.

The Queensland Teachers Union is conducting a ballot of members for a 24-hour strike on August 5 to oppose attacks on education funding and changes to country teacher transfer arrangements.

Premier Goss has announced a rethink on some of the rail line closures. On July 24, Goss said some lines would remain, but that $40 million in savings would still have to be made. Communities would "have to use it or lose it" with their rail services.

Goss admitted he was surprised by the extent of the protest. "I didn't expect such a backlash because the cuts really are minor in comparison to what is happening in other states", he complained.

Despite the reported government rethink, defiant rail unions have refused to accept the rail closure back-

downs if they are only "cosmetic". They have vowed to "keep the government on the run."

The crisis has caused widespread dissent within the Labor caucus and the ALP membership generally.

It would seem that the "Goss gloss", which has seemingly protected the state government from open popular challenge till now, has finally worn off.

Susan Price, Democratic Socialist candidate in the state election last September, commented that "the Goss government's conservative and economic rationalist policies are now being publicly exposed for the first time.

"Now is the time for the unions and the community to demand a basic change of direction, toward expansion of the public sector, not further cuts.

"Only progressive policies like this will help solve the unemployment crisis and improve Queensland's notoriously poor social services."