Union militant to contest local elections

September 6, 2008

For construction union delegate Howard Byrnes, who is standing for the Socialist Alliance in the Marrickville council elections, the struggle over the privatisation of electricity, the alarming scientific news about climate change, and Labor's cuts to services and wages have provided opportunities to talk up the need for a democratic, working-class party.

"Workers, including Labor Party members, are really angry at NSW Labor's mad push to try to sell off the electricity service, and go for the ferries, lotteries, rail maintenance and prisons as well", Byrne told Green Left Weekly. "All this has an impact on local councils because most ALP councillors will give in to their mates in state parliament, we can be sure of that."

Until 2004, Marrickville council was dominated by the ALP under the leadership of the developers' friend, Barry Cotter, who is now retiring. But when the Greens and independents won four seats each, Labor, with four councillors, wasn't in the same strong position.

Byrnes said the ALP council candidates' attempts to portray themselves as "local" and somehow different to the state ALP politicians will fall flat. "Their slogans — 'fresh team', 'new approach' — are hardly convincing when the ALP councillors have displayed the same arrogance as state Labor MPs. They are removed from the problems faced by ordinary workers, for whom local public services such as child-care, housing and transport all need a massive funding boost."

Byrnes, a father of four, knows the difficulties of surviving on a modest wage. "Our assets have to remain in public hands", he said. "Workers built this country and our taxes should pay for services to families and communities. Local governments should do a lot more to make the state government listen."

The Greens, who may get another councillor elected, have been promoting their record in Marrickville, including cleaning up the Cooks River, more native bush projects, and introducing car-share parking spaces and traffic calming measures. They are also campaigning against developer donations.

A slander sheet titled "Report Card", which was authorised by retiring councillor and ALP MLC Penny Sharpe and distributed to Marrickville households, accused the Greens of being financially irresponsible and blocking funds to roads, parks and streetscapes.

Also on the Socialist Alliance ticket for North Ward are long-term activists Jill Hickson and Pip Hinman, both of whom stood for council in 2004. The Socialist Alliance will preference the Greens, then Labor.

"We are campaigning for people's power: for participatory democracy, not just representative democracy", Hinman told GLW. "For instance, councillors should be subject to recall, the community should have a real say in how the budget is spent and there should be scope for a local referendum on any issue if 10% of residents want it."

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