On February 17, several thousand people from more than 30 community groups and unions marched through Sydney to demand the NSW state government fix the public transport system.
Andew Chuter, one of the organisers, told Green Left Weekly it was a “big achievement” to unite so many groups across NSW around this important issue.
“These sorts of campaigns tend to be quite localised, so getting people to see them as connected is quite significant. Some of those who took an active role in this rally had never been to a protest before.”
Chuter, a long-term campaigner against WestConnex, said the TV coverage of the event was a big plus and “set us up well for growing bigger and gaining recognition of the issues”. He thinks the most important aspect is that “we managed to make progress in the battle of ideas”.
“For example, the anti-toll road campaigns of WestCONnex, Western Harbour Tunnel/Beaches Link and the F6 extension have focused too much on exhaust filtration and not pushed the bigger argument that more roads don’t solve congestion and what is needed is more public and active transport.
“Once people understand that, they begin to ask questions and wonder why the government is deliberately ignoring more effective and environmentally sound solutions.”
Organising a rally like this brought a broad coalition of groups together and Chuter believes it shows clearly that the campaign to fix NSW transport is not a NIMBY — not-in-my-backyard — phenomenon.
“People realise they are in the same basket regardless of which part of Sydney they live in. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’, and the community cannot be divided like [former NSW roads minister] Duncan Gay used to try to do.
“There is a cross-fertilisation that goes on and a sharing of skills too. Our campaign is reaching into Liberal marginal seats, which is hurting the government. We will continue to unite groups and extend further.”
Chuter noted that the involvement of trade unionists in the march gave the campaign “a bigger profile and larger crowds”.
“We know that unions are stronger when they engage communities on wider social issues. The high water mark of union strength in recent memory was the Green Bans movement [a combination of community groups and militant building workers that saved much of Sydney’s heritage in the 1970s]. I hope that we can build community support for the train drivers’ strike and their claims, and that the Rail, Tram and Bus Union can place pressure on Labor to take stronger action on public transport and to stop the toll road scams.”
The Fix NSW Transport coalition plans to continue campaigning in the lead-up to the NSW election in March next year.
“Each affiliate group has been energised to go back to their communities, and hold public meetings and build in readiness for another big mobilisation. We are learning on the job and ironing out the logistical problems of holding big events like the February 17 rally.
“We plan to keep using the #fixnswtransport hashtag and the yellow and black designs to keep the conversation going. We would like to hold another event within six months with 3000 plus people and look to double again before the state election.
“The message to the [Gladys] Berejiklian government was clear, but it also had a message to the Labor opposition: it must offer a genuine alternative and articulate a clear policy to scrap the toll roads, to stop and reverse privatisation. It must also give ironclad commitments to new public and active transport projects,” Chuter concluded.
[To stay in touch with the campaign visit NoWestConnex on Facebook.]