Queensland unions fight asset sales

February 13, 2015
Electrical Trade Union organiser Stuart Traill from the ETU and fellow members rally against privatisation in Brisbane in June l

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) has campaigned against the privatisation and sale of public assets by both the Anna Bligh and Campbell Newman governments.

Not4Sale was launched three years ago with financial and organisational support from the ETU and has involved union members and their local communities in the campaign to stop assets sales. This strong, popular and localised resistance was a significant factor in the recent defeat of the Liberal National Party (LNP) government.

Green Left Weekly’s Margaret Gleeson caught up with ETU Queensland secretary Peter Simpson days before the Labor Party was poised to assume government with the support of independent MP Peter Wellington.

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The defeat of the LNP heralds the success of the three-year Not4Sale campaign. What were the key elements contributing to this that the NSW campaign could emulate?

The campaign was very much a community campaign, although it was resourced by the ETU. The community links built up over the three years that the LNP was in government. The longer it built up the better it got.

This was particularly the case in regional Queensland, where communities were decimated by the LNP’s privatisation and public service cuts. There were whole communities that voted against the conservatives for the first time, as a result of the Not 4 Sale campaign. The involvement with local communities was a key factor.

There was also active involvement of other unions whose members’ jobs were at risk, such as the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Transport Workers Union and Maritime Union of Australia.

At the local level, links were made with other sectors; for example in Toowoomba during the last five weeks of the election campaign Not 4 Sale was part of a community alliance that included anti-coal seam gas and other environmental groups.

Social movements mobilised during the election campaign, such as Get Up! And Save the Reef, called for all squares to be numbered and to put the LNP last. On election day they issued directions to voters to vote 1 for either Greens or ALP, whereas Not4Sale called only for a primary vote for the ALP. Do you think that the incoming ALP government will recognise the critical role played by Not4Sale and the union movement and deliver on its promises?

Certainly in [Anna] Bligh’s day the ALP government did not listen to us and proceeded with privatisation despite the opposition of the union movement. I think they have learnt their lesson for the moment. Certainly their policy platform shows this.

I am also optimistic that Peter Wellington, who they will rely on to form government, has very strong positions on the restoration of an independent Crime and Misconduct Commission, the repeal of the VLAD laws and for governance that is transparent, accountable and not corrupt.

During the LNP period we also campaigned against the changes to industrial relations, anti-association laws and public sector jobs and services cuts. These would be our priorities for the incoming government now that asset sales are off the table.

In the week before the Queensland election, SYRIZA in Greece was elected as a minority government on an anti-austerity platform. Immediately it set about halting privatisation and asset sales, raised wages and re-instated public sector workers. What do you think Australia can learn from this?

Well it’s not only Greece. Other countries in Europe are also challenging the austerity and privatising agenda. People are sick of being lied to by politicians. It would be a brave government anywhere that tries to put privatisation back on the table.

What now for Not4Sale?

Well I suppose it’s game over. Immediately, we are helping out where we can with the NSW campaign. However I don’t think re-nationalisation is on the cards any time soon.
We are getting behind the ACTU/QCU actions for March 4 and hope to build a big May Day contingent to celebrate 100 years of the ACTU. I expect we can lead the May Day March and that the ALP will move early to give workers back the public holiday [on May 1] that the LNP axed.

My goal has been to restore the vital role of unions in the community and to reclaim the good image of unions among local communities, in particular with Indigenous communities.

We are so proud of ETU member Billie Gordon, who, along with Leanne Enouch, are the two indigenous MPs elected. Recovery of stolen wages is back on the agenda. In all, three ETU members have been elected and we are proud of the role the ETU and Not4Sale played in this.

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