Steve O'Brien

Last September, while campaigning for the position of Lord Mayor of Newcastle and a ward councillor, I bumped into an NSW Labor Party officer at a coffee shop.

“Comrade”, he said, “You’ve got some great policies”. “Feel free to borrow any of them,” I relied cheekily. “Our housing policy, for example, is based on Socialist Alliance councillor Sue Bolton's work in Moreland, Victoria.”

The next day the local papers reported that ALP candidates were talking up “affordable housing”.

Sometimes I wonder if New South Wales transport minister Andrew Constance thinks he is a comedian.

 

I happily admit that I will take any opportunity to parade down the street waving a red flag, and the May Day march in Hamilton on Sunday will be one of those opportunities.

Since the 1850s, when the first workers’ associations were formed in the Hunter, trade unionists and their families have put their demands forward on occasions such as May Day.

RAD Exhibition
Until August 27
Newcastle Museum
Radical Newcastle
Edited by James Bennett, Nancy Cushing & Erik Eklund
New South Publishers, 2015
$39.99

Exhibitions like RAD, now showing at the Newcastle Museum, and Radical Newcastle, the book that inspired it, help each generation of activists remember and learn the lessons of previous struggles.

Speakers at Newcastle’s refugee week rally on June 24, including Rafi, a detainee on Manus Island who spoke via telephone, called for activists to keep up the pressure on the government’s inhumane refuge policies.

Gleny Rae, Go back to where you came from; Fr Rod Bower, Gosford Anglicans; Dr Kate Murton, Doctors for Refugees; Keira Dott, Students Against Detention; Ian Rintoul, Refugee Action Coalition; Rafi, from Manus Island via telephone; Councillor Therese Dole, Newcastle City Council and others spoke about maintaining the rage. 

Fifty years ago building worker activists took back control of their union, the NSW Builders Labourers Federation (BLF), from a leadership clique that ignored the members.

Under the new leadership of , the re-energised BLF created high standards for workplace safety, decent pay, union democracy, accountable leadership, community engagement and, most famously, Green Bans.

At a talk given at the Newcastle Resistance Centre in the mid-1980s, visiting US activist Peter Camejo mentioned that a socialist, Bernie Sanders, had just been re-elected Mayor of the largest city in the state of Vermont.

Camejo described his meeting with Sanders in the Burlington City Hall. Banners were stacked in the corner and posters in solidarity with the Third World and women's, black and labour struggles decorated the walls.

“It was just like being in an activist centre like this,” he quipped.

The silence around jobs in the NSW election is deafening.

Newcastle has been losing 200 jobs a year from the sale of state assets and the casualisation and retrenchment of state employees.

Up to 8000 workers in jobs such as fitters, boilermakers, welders, riggers and trades assistants in ship building and rail manufacture are also under threat.

Both major parties are focusing on other issues instead of the Hunter region’s jobs.

The other night the phone rang.

I picked it up and a recorded voice said something like “The NSW Premier Mike Baird isn’t going to lease the state’s electricity assets. He’s not going to sell them. He is going to create jobs. Don’t be fooled.”

Indeed, I thought.

This happened on the same day that the Hunter Valley’s unemployment rate topped 10% and set a 10-year record.

The link between unemployment and privatisation is so obvious that Baird can’t say the “P” word.
Gladys Berejiklian, Baird’s Minister for the Hunter, is also coy about the “P” word.

NSW premier Bruce Baird was confronted by 200 TAFE students, teachers and supporters when he visited Newcastle’s Hamilton TAFE campus on February 16.

His visit was to inaugurate the offices of the Hunter Business Chamber, which have been relocated to Hamilton TAFE.

Significantly, the old TAFE signage out the front of the campus has been replaced with a sign that reads “Australian Business Apprenticeship Centre”.

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