Search through the Socialist Worker archives by entering key words in the search form to the right.
Open Subdash
Issue 576, 7 December 2007 - Union Campaign Smashed Howard

NSW government pushes privatisation frenzy

Unions, as well as Labor party members and the Greens, are resisting a privatisation push by the Iemma government

A BATTLE against a string of proposed privatisations by the NSW state Labor government was looming as Socialist Worker went to press.

The state government has held off making announcements about the future of both the electricity sector and Sydney ferries until the federal election was decided.

Warren Smith, secretary of the Sydney branch of the maritime union told Socialist Worker:

�There�s a huge range of things on the chopping block. I think their first attempt will be electricity�that�s the big one. If they have success there I think [privatisations will] continue.

�All forms of public transport are on the chop�we�ve heard rumours of water, sections of the waste management service, even lottery. There�s a privatisation fire sale going on.�

The government argues that it needs to sell off assets to fund the upgrade of roads and hospitals.

It also hopes to get the private sector to help pay for the cost of replacing out of date public transport and building new power stations.

Behind all this is the Labor government�s addiction to neo-liberal economic policies. It is desperate to keep down government debt and improve its budget figures for fear of losing the state�s AAA credit rating.

As a consequence we will all lose out. Turning public services over to the market means prices rise and service quality declines as corporations cut costs in search of higher profits.Electricity prices in Victoria and South Australia, the only states to have fully privatised power, have risen over the past ten years while prices in NSW have actually fallen.

In South Australia the number of blackouts has soared, due to the sacking of almost 800 maintenance workers.

The state government has suggested it would sell off the retail arm of the electricity industry in order to help finance the construction of new power stations. The United Services Union in NSW, which represents call centre workers in the electricity retail sector estimates that 4000 jobs are potentially at risk if privatisation goes ahead. The sale of existing power stations has also been floated.

Key flashpoint

But the government faces a serious fight. Unions NSW has made it clear that it opposes privatisation of any part of the electricity industry.

Unions are demanding that Labor convenes a special party conference in the hope of winning a vote against privatisation.

This raises then the possibility of a repeat of 1997, when then NSW premier Bob Carr attempted to privatise the electricity industry but was defeated on the floor of the NSW state conference. Unions, left-wing Labor MPs and rank-and-file members combined to oppose the sale.

However the campaign will also need to be fought more broadly if the government is to be prevented from going ahead. Labor governments routinely defy party policy if they think they can get away with it.

As Warren Smith said: �So far there�s been positive signs from the trade union movement generally.

�But I think we really need to utilise those community networks that were set up through the Rights at Work campaign, and start to get the community involved, because ultimately privatisation of any form of government service ends in people paying more and those services being made harder to access.�

At Sydney Ferries, contracting out to a private operator has been proposed as the solution to a series of accidents, which caused the deaths of five people.

The privatisation plans also involve cuts to services, such as the axing of less profitable ferry routes from Parramatta. Local Labor MP Tanya Gadiel has spoken out against these plans.

The Maritime Union of Australia has promised to oppose any form of privatisation. According to Warren Smith:

�We�re going to fight it to the end. We�ve said privatisation is an absolutely and totally unacceptable option.We�ve put the state government on notice�we�re going to do everything in our power to make sure that privatisation of the ferries is beaten.�

The NSW Greens are also planning a campaign against the proposed privatisations. A united campaign between Greens, the unions and Labor members is needed. This can give unionists in the power and maritime industries the confidence to take strike action�which would stop the government in its tracks.

What is happening in NSW is a product of the same neo-liberal economic policy to which Kevin Rudd subscribes.

A victory against privatisation in NSW would send an important message that the new federal Labor government needs to break with neo-liberal policy prescriptions as well.