More than 10,000 public servants and union members joined an angry mass rally against Queensland’s Liberal National Party (LNP) government in September. The turn out demonstrates the will to fight Newman’s 14,000 job cuts and attacks on job security.
But serious questions remain over the willingness of trade union leaders to lead the fight. At the rally, they led the crowd singing, “We’ll be sacking Campbell Newman in three years.”
Yet Labor’s re-election in three years is nowhere near guaranteed, and Newman can do plenty of damage by then. Besides, there is no guarantee Labor would reverse Newman’s cuts.
One public servant told media at the rally, “I have three friends who work in the state public service. Two have lost their jobs in the last two days. Newman is just plain lying. Bald-face, blatant lying…There are a lot of traumatised people in Queensland reeling in shock from these outrageous sackings.”
What is clear is that it will take industrial action to stop Newman. Every unionist needs to begin a discussion in their workplace and their union about the possibility and importance of strike action. Two-hour rolling strikes by the firefighters against Newman’s cuts show that it can be done. The fantastic victory at Abigroup shows that the courts and the government can be defied.
The nastiness of the government’s agenda means Newman’s popularity is ending fast. Recently he cut $350,000 from agencies, such as the Salvation Army, that was used to give emergency payments to people in desperate need of financial help.
There was hope that the teachers, covered by the Queensland Teachers Union (QTU), would be a focus for the fight against Newman. A strike had been scheduled for October 16, and the QTU state council carried a resolution declaring the union’s willingness to take illegal strike action if necessary, something no other union has been prepared to do. But the teachers’ officials are proposing to accept a deal and have called off the strike.
Newman has thrown the teachers some carrots. He withdrew the most drastic attacks like freezing the pay of first-year teachers for three years and is offering a 2.7 per cent pay rise, slightly above the 2.2 per cent he is offering public servants.
However the union did not stop the creation of “independent public schools” which give principals power to hire and fire and will erode conditions over time.
Teachers are also just as affected by Newman’s legislation which has removed job security provisions from union agreements and into government legislation. The basis for a united fight by all Queensland workers remains, but so far the union strategy is limited to a legal challenge in the Supreme Court.
Public servants ballot
Newman is now directly balloting public sector employees with an agreement which offers a 2.35 per cent pay rise (up from 2.2), but which is designed to entrench the loss of job security. Together, the union covering public servants, is campaigning for a “No” vote.
A solid “No” vote would be a setback for Newman. But the Together governing bodies have not taken a position for or against illegal strike action and their next council meeting is not until November.
The comparison between the white collar public sector unions’ response to Newman’s cuts and the blue collar unions’ response to the anti-union tactics of employers like Abigroup could not be more stark. The white-collar unions have consciously decided not to pursue an industrial campaign.
Instead, they hope to try and weather the storm. But the major component of this strategy is an electoral campaign focussed on trying to hasten the downfall of the LNP government through “community campaigning”: running television ads, conducting stalls at suburban markets and doorknocking in marginal seats.
But the more unions refuse to fight, the more confident Newman will get that he can away with more.
The community protests, organised by Queensland Uncut and campaigns to save community services, have shown that the anger can be organised and mobilised. Now activists need to be discussing how to link up with the unions and how push the union campaign forward to land a real blow against Newman.
By Amy Thomas