Queensland has been thrown into a battle with Premier Anna Bligh, who is pushing through a plan to sell off Queensland's ports, motorways, forests and non-passenger rail network. The first stage of the battle occurred at the ALP State Conference in June, shortly after Bligh announced her plan.
Outside the conference, 2000 people protested against privatisation. Andrew Dettmer, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union state secretary and ALP state president, spoke against the privatisation plan but was booed when he tried to defend the ALP.
Inside the conference it was a different, sorry story. Most of the so-called left unions organised some of their delegations to be absent during the vote on Bligh's sell-off plan. The plan got up with 207 votes for, 156 against and 44 abstentions. The vote stank of dirty deals being done with these so-called left union leaders. Were they were offered a safe ALP seat in the future if they made sure some of their delegates were absent for the vote?
The Electrical Trades Union (ETU), led by new secretary Peter Simpson, was extremely angry at these antics. It denounced them in the media, and quit the ALP's "left" faction.
The ETU went into action, organising a tour throughout regional Queensland — where many of the jobs will be lost if the sell-off goes ahead. The tour ended in a July 3 Brisbane rally that drew 1500 people.
A week before the rally, the Queensland Council of Unions finally came on board after initially failing to support the campaign. This showed the pressure applied by the ETU, also coming from the ranks of other unions. Socialist Alliance members contacted their unions demanding support for the rally.
Of course, there is a long struggle ahead to see the sort of broad, state-wide and union-wide campaign — including serious industrial action — that is needed to win the battle.
Three days before the rally, a Socialist Alliance-initiated public forum on how to defeat Bligh's sell-off plan took place. Speakers included the ETU's Simpson, Paul Benedek from Socialist Alliance, Drew Hutton from the Greens, and bus division secretary of the Rail Tram and Bus Union Dave Matters.
The meeting voted unanimously to form a "Save Our Public Assets" campaign group. The group involves some key union militants, some of who have been doing daily anti-privatisation street stalls.
The campaign is raising some interesting political questions. The ETU publicly stated at the July 3 rally that it will "not give one red cent" to the ALP's next state election campaign if it retains the pro-privatisation policy.
The question is also posed to other unions — how can they justify continuing to support a pro-privatisation ALP?
Even Dettmer told the July 3 rally that his union will not be supporting any politician at the next state election unless they make a "no privatisation pledge."
Socialist Alliance members are involved in the campaign in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Maryborough and Cairns. Unlike the ALP, the Socialist Alliance agrees with the 90% of the Queensland population who oppose the sell-off.
Ideas for the future include getting a NSW anti-privatisation campaigner up to speak about lessons from the campaign there; developing "Your Rights At Work"-style community campaigning groups; organising anti-privatisation work through unions; and targeting pro-privatisation state ALP MPs.
For updates, video and campaign resources check out the No Sell Off pages on the Queensland Socialist Alliance blog.
[Paul Benedek and Dave Riley are members of the Queensland Socialist Alliance.]