The gap between unions and the NSW state Labor government continues to widen. At the end of June Unions NSW unveiled its new response to the privatisation offensive at a meeting of public sector delegates and organisers.
The government is proceeding with the effective privatisation of Parklea prison and selling NSW Lotteries and waste management. Finance and Infrastructure minister Joe Tripodi recently spent $290,000 on an overseas trip to spruik privatisation of public electricity assets. And last month the government tried to push a 12-month wage freeze on public sector workers.
Over 300 delegates from 17 unions gathered for the launch of the Unions NSW “Better services campaign”.
The campaign is a welcome development. However Unions NSW is hamstrung by its fear that campaigning too hard against Labor will bring the Liberals to power. And the legacy of neo-liberalism prevents it from opposing privatisation outright despite admitting how unpopular it is.
The campaign’s model seems to be Your Rights at Work community campaigning. Worryingly, some of the talk from Unions NSW suggests they are thinking of primarily an advertising campaign to head off any privatisation in the face of the threat that the Liberals will win the next state election.
But by then the privatisation of prisons and the electricity generators will already be completed. The spirited campaign being run by prison officers against the privatisation of Parklea prison, backed by the Power to the People committee, was not mentioned at the meeting.
The return of Unions NSW to a more concerted involvement in the campaign against privatisation is a real step forward. The planning workshops programmed will provide an opportunity to argue for a more active campaign amongst delegates.
But this campaign needs a strategy of union-wide protest and industrial action to stop the privatisations already on the table. That will put the union movement in the best possible position to resist any plans an incoming Liberal government might have.
By Anne Picot and James Supple

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