Qld unionists should prepare for Newman’s looming attacks, says forum

Green Left Weekly hosted a forum at the Brisbane Activist Centre on May 8 called “Challenges facing the Queensland labour movement: Where to now for the unions under a Liberal National Party government?”

The meeting heard from Mark Taylor, a workplace delegate for the Together union in the Brisbane City Council and a state council delegate for the Queensland Greens. It also heard from Marg Gleeson, an Australian Services Union (ASU) delegate in the community housing sector and Socialist Alliance activist.

“Unions as a whole underpin not just wages and working conditions, but also general social rights in society,” Taylor said. “Every worker should be in a union.

“We need active members and delegates in the workplace. An active union raises the confidence of workers and makes them more assertive in defending their rights.

“With the victory of the LNP government, we face a new political and industrial situation in Queensland. The Liberals are determined to undermine union strength, especially in the public sector.

“At this early stage, it is not clear what strategy Premier Campbell Newman and co will adopt. Will they go for a full-frontal assault on the public service unions, or more gradually?

“They are certainly pushing for job cuts and seeking to remove voluntary redundancies. Newman is sure to increase outsourcing and privatisation of the remaining public sector.

“We urgently need to begin organising opposition to these attacks. With the ALP reduced to a tiny rump in the Queensland parliament, the Queensland Council of Unions and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) will need to reach out to wider political forces such as the Greens.

“The Greens and Socialist Alliance need to be part of broader campaigns to defend jobs, conditions and services. We can still win victories if we are united and strong.”

Gleeson said the sizeable Labour Day march the previous day provided a background to the new situation facing the Queensland labour movement.

She pointed out that new ALP opposition leader Anna Palaszczuk had “apologised” for the sale of state assets, but was heckled by some workers at the march.

“We need a new approach to union campaigns,” Gleeson said. “For the past 30 years, since the South East Queensland Electricity Board dispute, there has been limited solidarity across the whole union movement.

“We need a militant and united labour movement. We are now facing an LNP state government ruling directly in the interests of big business, notably the extractive industries.

“This government is going to go hard on more privatisations, cuts to the public sector, open slather for coal and coal seam gas mining, and even uranium mining. Similar policies are being pursued by Liberal National governments in other states, and maybe federally after the next election.

“It is timely that we launch this Right to Strike campaign around the country right now, especially with the ACTU Congress coming up next week.

“We need political and community-based campaigns linked to industrial action. We need to be prepared for solidarity activity across unions and in the community.

“Now is the moment to raise the key issue of a political alternative to the ALP. The Greens are a partial alternative, but still geographically and socially limited.

“The possibility of an Independent Labour or Workers Party, as flagged by the Queensland Electrical Trades Union during the fight against the state assets sales, should continue to be considered.

“In any event, Socialist Alliance and the Greens will need to be part of any broader, radical alternative to the Labor Party in the coming period of intensified crisis and struggle.”