Steve O'Brien

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”.

There is obviously volatility in the Australian electorate.

I gained an insight into that new mood last weekend when I went doorknocking in Raymond Terrace as part of the NSW Public Service Association’s (PSA) campaign against privatisation.

The PSA was not advocating a vote for any party except to ask people to put concerns about privatisation up front when they vote in the NSW elections of March 28.

The Progressive PSA (PPSA) team has won important victories in elections for the 43,000-member NSW Public Service Association (PSA). PPSA member Anne Gardiner won the top position of General Secretary, and PPSA candidates took all positions on the 45-member Central Council. A recount will be held for other executive positions following an extremely close vote.

A fierce controversy has broken out in the NSW Public Service Association (PSA) over the union’s recent pay award. The dispute occurs as the union’s 43,000 members receive voting papers for seven executive members and 45 central councillors.

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