Union fightback can stop the Liberals in NSW

Labor’s thumping in the NSW election was hardly a surprise. Disgust with its corruption, privatisation and the run down of schools, hospitals and public transport had been building for years. But the election result is not a mandate for Liberal policies.

Labor’s primary vote collapsed to 25.5 per cent, the lowest since 1904, when it emerged as the official opposition party in the NSW parliament.

The swing went overwhelmingly to the Liberals. People were desperate for a change of government after 16 years of a hated Labor administration—and sadly the Liberals are the only alternative government.

Leader Barry O’Farrell pursued a small target strategy during the campaign, even suggesting the Liberals might break contracts to reverse Labor’s disastrous power privatisation. As if! Privatisation, attacking the unions and cuts in government spending are part of the Liberals’ DNA.

O’Farrell hid the policies he endorsed last year in the Financial Review, where he talked of making NSW every more friendly to big business through cutting taxes and regulations, and plans “to open the delivery of billions of dollars of services to the private sector, starting with Sydney Ferries”.

O’Farrell’s discovery of a supposed $4.3 billion black hole in the NSW budget will be the excuse he will use to dump promises of more nurses and teachers’ jobs. The Liberals will pursue privatisation even more ruthlessly than Labor.

A particular concern for every worker is that O’Farrell has already committed to supporting Julia Gillard’s workplace safety reforms, which will reduce workers’ compensation rights in NSW.

The Greens

The Greens vote increased by almost 2 per cent to just under 11 per cent statewide in the upper house. But this was lower than expected and there was disappointment, too, at their failure to win one of the two lower house seats they had pinned their hopes on, Marrickville. After a very close count Greens candidate Jamie Parker got across the line in Balmain, to win their first lower house seat.

The Greens’ decision not to preference Labor was a mistake that has clearly hurt. The Greens cannot afford to be indifferent about whether Labor or the Liberals win an election. The Greens concern to try to maximise votes by not alienating potential votes from Liberals only leads to putting electoral pragmatism before principles.

Labor has been a shocking right wing pro-privatisation government, but, as the Greens publications did say, a Liberal government will be worse.

The Greens are struggling to make inroads into the working class areas of electorates like Marrickville where the Labor vote remains strong. Refusing to preference Labor is an obstacle to connecting with disaffected Labor voters.

The fact is that not preferencing Labor did help the Liberals. If Pauline Hanson wins the last seat in the upper house at the expense of the Labor left’s Andrew Ferguson, the failure of the Greens to distribute preferences will have played a role.

To go forward, The Greens need to make it clear that they are a left party and are not neutral in the fight against the Liberals.

Unfortunately, the Greens’ opportunism was also on display when they were attacked over Marrickville candidate Fiona Byrne’s support for the campaign to boycott Israeli goods. The Greens first defended Byrne’s support for the boycott on Marrickville council; then backtracked, denying she had pushed for it on council and saying she wouldn’t raise it in state parliament if elected. It looked like they were not willing to stand up for their principles.

Their vacillations also suggested there was a problem with the policy. This gave Labor a free kick. Labor itself should be backing the boycott, but despite Marrickville Labor MP Carmel Tebbutt’s claims to be progressive, she attacked Byrne and the policy.

We need to defend the divestment campaign and Greens senator-elect Lee Rhiannon from the disgraceful campaign being waged by The Australian with the support of conservative MP’s in both the Labor and Liberal parties.

Fighting O’Farrell, Fighting Abbott
With the Liberals in office for four years, and able to control the upper house with the support of the right-wing Christian Democrat and Shooters parties, grassroots campaigns will be the only way to resist their agenda.

Campaigns against privatisation and the run-down of public services will be crucial. The union “stop the sell off” campaign in NSW showed how state governments can be beaten—defeating the Labor government’s efforts to privatise Sydney Ferries and Cessnock prison.

The power sell-off could have been stopped too, but senior union leaders wound the campaign down, scared of damaging Labor’s election chances. But this simply allowed the party’s right-wing leadership to go ahead with a ridiculous policy and put one more nail into Labor’s coffin.

The Liberals’ win in NSW follows their in Victoria last November. Federally, Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s popularity has slumped further since the federal election last year. On climate change, WorkChoices, the mining tax and refugees, Labor has either capitulated to big business or continued John Howard’s agenda. This has given space to federal Liberal leader Tony Abbott to take the offensive—seen in his call for a “people’s revolt” against a carbon tax.

O’Farrell also tried to win votes by opposing the carbon tax. But the Liberals’ concern about working class people’s living standards is rank hypocrisy from the party that gave us WorkChoices.

They want to derail any serious action on climate change—Abbott is a climate denier himself and is mobilising climate deniers in his so-called “people’s revolt” against a carbon tax.

To help put a stop to O’Farrell and Abbott, we need to mobilise in Sydney on April 2 at 11am at Belmore Park, in support of action on climate change.

The real struggle for the next four years will be on the streets—mobilising Greens and Labor party members alongside union members to campaign for an alternative to the Liberals’ agenda of pollution, privatisation and cuts.


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