Protest can deal blow to NSW privatisation

WITH MORRIS Iemma’s position as NSW premier looking ever more fragile, a further demonstration against his proposed power sell-off will be held on September 20. There needs to be an effort to mobilise for this in every union, and across Labor, Greens and community networks to ensure it is large enough to make an impact.

Unfortunately Unions NSW, which has called the two major demonstrations in the campaign so far, continues to vacillate about backing further protests. Instead they are putting all their faith in a strategy of lobbying MPs to vote against the sale.

They and rank-and-file Labor party members who have campaigned inside the party against the sale deserve credit for delaying the sell-off. The pressure on Labor MPs has been such that Iemma has delayed legislation until late September, because he could not convince his own MPs to vote for the sale.

But Iemma is now counting on the support of Liberal MPs to get the legislation through. Although they have tried to appear opposed to the sell-off, the Liberals are pro-privatisation on principle. There can be no relying on them to block it.

Localised lobbying and petitioning on its own will not generate enough pressure on Labor MPs to force a back down. This cannot generate the sense that there is escalating public anger about the sell-off in the way that large demonstrations can. Nor do it escalate pressure on the government by costing business money as strike action would.

Unions NSW has argued that small demonstrations, and strike action in particular, will allow the campaign to be attacked by the right-wing media. But if power workers were to threaten power cuts if privatisation proceeded, the government would face enormous pressure from businesses and the public to end the strikes by scrapping privatisation.

Such action would require strong public support. But with at least 80 per cent opposition to privatisation, a strong community campaign could win such support.

The conservatism of Unions NSW has meant the initiative for a further demonstration has had to be taken by the Sydney Power to the People committee, which unites rank-and-file Labor party members, Rights at Work groups, the Greens, socialists and others.

The backing of individual unions for the demonstration will be critical to getting a large number of people on the streets. In the face of Unions NSW’s hesitation about backing the demonstration, Power to the People will need to visit union officials and branches to build support for the rally. Everyone can help with this by moving motions to back the rally and distributing material around their own union or community networks.

If a number of key unions can be won to supporting it, this will put pressure on Unions NSW to actively support it as well.

By James Supple


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