Residents of Sydney’s historic Millers Point has vowed to fight eviction plans, following the NSW Liberals’ decision to sell off their homes.
The public housing, sitting on prime real estate on Sydney Harbour worth up to $300 million, lies next to former port area where long-term residents worked as wharfies, ship crew, mechanics and ship’s painters. Many residents are former maritime workers or their families, who were offered housing while working on the docks.
A meeting of 300 residents was organised by independent MP Alex Greenwich on 22 March, and also heard from Mayor of Sydney Clover Moore, who said, “Housing should not be only for the rich.”
Residents at the meeting groaned and jeered when the nearby Barangaroo redevelopment was mentioned. It includes a casino for “high rollers” being built by billionaire James Packer.
Community Services Minister Pru Goward has justified the sale as a cost-cutting exercise, claiming that sale funds would be used to provide public housing elsewhere. The government claims the homes cost too much in upkeep. But it’s clear the government wants to drive the poor out of the area in order to sell off its harbour views to the rich.
Long term resident Dawn told the meeting, “This week has given me a lot of grief, I agree with everyone one [at this meeting] and what they are going through.” She was followed by other residents who have lived in the former Maritime Board Tenant Service, now run by the Housing Commission, many all their life. Some have lived there for 80 years.
Drawing on their maritime union roots, committee member Barney Gardner, a 65 year resident, announced that the MUA will join the residents’ struggle.
Paul McAleer from the MUA said, “This is public housing not government housing, built for the wharfies, firehands and painters and dockers doing jobs no one else wanted. Be strong, be confident—we can win it!”
A few days after the meeting residents were joined by a strong MUA contingent, with support from other unions, in a protest march through the suburb.
There is a strong history of joint action between residents and unions, including the successful “Green Bans” of the 1970/80s that saved the area from redevelopment.
Already support has come in from the “Hands of Glebe” campaign, the MUA, and FBEU Secretary Jim Casey who promised that, “The fire-fighters union will support the residents in their struggle, as far as needed, including defying unfair laws if required.”
Public housing supporters, unionists and all others opposed to the austerity agenda of the NSW Liberal government should back the Millers Point residents. The history of this community shows that building solidarity is the way to win.
By John Morris