Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon has announced plans to campaign against privatisation in the lead up to next year’s NSW state election in March. Lennon was hosting a “Better Services, Better State” meeting, a product of pressure to revive the campaign against privatisation by the NSW Teachers’ Union.
But Unions NSW wants to limit the campaign to a Your Rights at Work-style electoral campaign. Meetings of local union delegates are being planned to start organising this.
Yet the current NSW Labor government’s efforts to privatise and cut services are already being expanded. Other speakers at the meeting highlighted the breadth of the threat. Pat Ranald spoke on the Australian Services Union’s behalf about water privatisation, while academic John Buchanan outlined the challenges to TAFE including a federal government decision that stripped $50 million of funding from NSW TAFEs through outsourcing tenders, and 400,000 apprentices registered at non-TAFE providers as “trainees” who do not receive the same level of training.
A Public Services Association (PSA) official detailed cuts to the Department of Community Services (DoCS). Particularly disturbing was the expose of how cuts to DoCS, since the neo-liberal assaults of the early 1990s, have directly led to child deaths as understaffed case workers fail to cope with unrealistic case numbers.
Despite its broad privatisation plans, the NSW Labor government has so far only managed to sell or contract out NSW Lotteries, Parklea prison, state owned nursing homes and ancillary health services. Unions have defeated efforts to privatise Sydney Ferries, and prevented privatisation of Cessnock prison.
Power privatisation has been a debacle. The effort to sell power retail companies along with power supply contracts (that mean partial privatisation of the generators) looks unlikely to be finalised before the state election. But with NSW opposition Liberal leader Barry O’Farrell a near certainty to become premier, the full privatisation agenda will likely be revived.
NSW Labor has only itself to blame for the poor polls. Instead of the promised North West public train line, it built an unnecessary $2 billion water desalination plant.
The record of Unions NSW is part of the problem. It wound down the campaign against power privatisation after striking a messy compromise.
Unions NSW never united the combined public sector union movement in mass rallies and strike action like that during the Your Rights at Work campaign.
The union movement needs to do more than just campaign electorally—serious delegates meetings are needed to mobilise public sector and services workers to stop the ongoing privatisation drive and prepare to fight the Liberals’ plans if they come to power in March.
By John Morris
To receive updates about Unions NSW “Better Services” campaign, visit www.betterstate.org.au