Deep opposition within the Queensland labour movement to the government’s privatisation program continues to dog the Bligh government. As Solidarity goes to press unions are launching another round of TV and radio commercials opposing the privatisation of the rail freight networks, ports, roads and motorways and forestry reserves. On March 9 up to 5000 workers rallied and marched through central Brisbane to Parliament House chanting, “Queensland—Not for sale!”
In February a petition signed by union state secretaries representing 45 per cent of Labor party affiliates was lodged at ALP headquarters demanding a special state Labor conference to revisit the question. Also in February the ETU expelled two MPs for supporting the assets sale while another two MPs resigned.
Polls consistently show 80 per cent or more of the electorate are opposed to the privatisations. The issue too is influencing people’s voting intensions. Union commissioned research found an average 7 per cent swing against the government in five selected seats, with 43 per cent of participants identifying privatisation as the issue most influencing their intensions.
Unions are counting on the fear of an electoral wipeout to persuade the government to change coarse. But Bligh remains unmoved. Experience from other states shows that Labor governments will stick with unpopular decisions and govern in the interests of the big business, even to the point of losing power.
As the next election approaches and the fear of the return of the conservatives rises, Bligh will be banking on the unions’ campaign fading. Already some unions are toning down their criticisms. She will be hoping that the muffling of the unions’ campaign, combined with some luck and lots of spin, will be enough to get the government over the line. Stopping this privatisation program will require much more than electoral pressure.
At the rally in March, Peter Simpson from the ETU talked about industrial action being the last resort. It is yet to be seen if unions will turn to this weapon, but as the privatisation program is implemented, there will be plenty of flash points.
By Mark Gillespie