Despite massive public opposition, the Queensland Labor government under Premier Anna Bligh is continuing to push forward with $15 billion worth of public asset sales. The sell-off of Queensland Rail National, the freight arm of QR, valued at $6.5 billion, has begun with shareholder advertisements appearing across the country.
Other assets the government wants to sell include the Port of Brisbane, Queensland Motorways and Abbott Point Coal Terminal. It has already sold off its forestry plantation business.
Unions have led a campaign against the unpopular privatisations, which are supported by just 10 per cent of voters. But they have relied largely on an electoral strategy with only the occasional mass protest or one day stoppage. But this has not been enough to make Bligh change course.
Only a campaign of union strike action will force her hand. Experience from other states shows that Labor governments will stick with unpopular decisions and govern in the interests of big business, even to the point of losing power.
This unpopularity was reflected in the massive swing against Labor across Queensland in the federal election.
We have already seen the potential for strike action against the sell-off. Almost 1000 rank-and-file rail industry workers in Redbank and Townsville took strike action in June this year without the endorsement of the various rail unions’ leaderships.
But because the union officials failed to back them, Premier Bligh was able to use a court order to intimidate them into returning to work after 48 hours. Ongoing strike action, in defiance of the anti-union laws, could stop privatisation and win widespread support.
Privatisation will enrich a few shareholders, and see workers sacked and wages and conditions slashed to increase profits. A union fightback is desperately needed to stop the ongoing privatisation fire sale in Queensland.
by Josh Wood