Anna Bligh’s Labor government is well and truly on the nose following its decision to privatise $15 billion worth of public assets.
According to a Galaxy poll, Labor’s primary vote has plummeted from 42.2 per cent to 36 per cent. Eighty four per cent oppose the privatisations and 72 per cent believe they were deliberately misled. Bligh was soundly booed when she appeared at a recent soccer match.
Big business, however, is happy. “The private sector has given it a unanimous thumbs up,” reported the Financial Review. Up for sale are the very “lucrative” Queensland Rail coal and freight arms; the Port of Brisbane—Australia’s fastest-growing container port; Queensland Motorways that collects tolls on the busy Gateway Bridge and Logan motorway; and forestry plantations across the state. The Financial Review gleefully expects this to be “the beginning of a string of privatisations by a cash-strapped Labor government…”
Bligh’s failure to mention the privatisation agenda during the election campaign has infuriated many unionists and ALP members. ETU members immediately walked off the job in sections of Queensland Rail, Ergon Energy and the Gladstone Port Authority. The QCU called a protest outside the June state Labor conference. The South Brisbane branch of the ALP voted unanimously to expel Bligh for breach of policy which clearly states: “Labor rejects a program of privatisation…”
An attempt to stop Bligh at the Labor conference, however, failed, when the left faction—which includes Bligh—allowed its delegates to abstain on the privatisation vote. Forty-four “left” delegates left the room giving the right faction the numbers. Peter Simpson, ETU state secretary, was livid and told the 1000 angry demonstrators outside that the campaign was not going to be won manoeuvring inside the Labor Party. “We need an industrial campaign,” he said.
The ETU’s “Light on the Hill” campaign held rallies, public forums and workplace meetings across regional Queensland. Brisbane’s lunchtime rally on July 2 saw over a 1000 angry workers march on Parliament House.
While it’s a step forward for the ETU and other unions to openly campaign against Bligh, they are stressing “community support” following the model of the Your Rights at Work campaign. “We want to make some backbenchers and Ministers to think again and get a bit nervous about whether they’ll have a future in three years time,” Peter Simpson told a recent public meeting.
Threatening Labor politicians with a voter backlash, however, is very limited when the only realistic electoral alternative is the conservative LNP. To stop Bligh, unions will need to use their industrial muscle.
Action in NSW has shown us how. Prison officers have organised rolling strikes, overtime bans, pickets and rallies to oppose prison privatisations with some success. When prisoners were secretly transferred they responded with a 24-hour strike and a rally supported by other unions.
Action by Queensland unions would have strong community backing and seriously hurt the government and their backers in big business.
By Mark Gillespie
Rally against Bligh’s sell-off
11am Saturday August 15
Cnr of Boundary and Russell St, West End
March to Bligh’s electoral office
Meetings and actions details at www.SaveOurPublicAssets.org