Eighty people attended a Unions NSW public forum, “NSW Not For Sale” on September 22. The forum examined the social impact of the sell-offs of NSW assets and services, the state of the campaign against privatisation, and the best way forward in the run-up to the March 2011 state election.
The June state council of the NSW Teachers Federation called for the forum, hoping it would lead to meetings of public sector union delegates to relaunch the fight against the bipartisan sell-off and downsizing of the NSW public sector.
The NSW Labor government is having trouble finding buyers for its “gentrader” model of electricity privatisation, which would privatise wholesale and retail electricity distribution but keep electricity infrastructure publicly owned.
This is because potential buyers know that NSW is likely to be ruled by a Coalition government in 2011, which would sell off the entire electricity sector.
At the forum, Martha Knox-Haly described the impact of privatisation in child protection under the Greiner government in the early 1990s. Knox-Haly said staff cuts in the NSW Department of Community Services led directly to increased neglect — and deaths — of homeless children.
The forum also heard from Dr Pat Ranald, Steve Keen and Dr John Buchanan.
Paul McAleer from the Maritime Union of Australia; Australian Manufacturing Workers Union delegate Chris Moutter; and Les McAllister from the Electrical Trades Union talked about victories in the campaign.
They described the Save Sydney Ferries campaign that included famous spokespeople such as John Pilger and Jack Mundey, a series of peak-hour protests at ferry terminals, a 400-strong meeting at Balmain Town Hall, and its own song. The campaign successfully beat privatisation plans.
The 2007-08 campaign against electricity privatisation politically destroyed NSW premier Morris Iemma and Treasurer Michael Costa. McAllister said this campaign had created such pressure that even some National and Liberal MPs opposed the power sell-off.
The victories show that the campaign to stop further sell-offs must be revived. At the forum, people supported public sector union delegates’ meetings to relaunch the campaign. This would improve Unions NSW “Better State” campaign, which has given voice to community calls for better services, but failed to stop any actual sell-offs.
In the run-up to the state election, Unions NSW is trying to get politicians to commit to its “Better Services for a Better State” charter. Unfortunately, this document allows privatisation and contracting out so long as it is “subject to a community interest test regarding jobs, costs and retention of services”.
A Socialist Alliance statement said: “The time to organise is now! Our community needs to send a loud, clear and united message: ‘NSW is not for sale and we will not tolerate any more sell-offs!’”
[Dick Nichols is the National Trade Union Coordinator of the Socialist Alliance.]