In early May the New South Wales Labor Party State Conference voted by 702 votes to 107 against the plan to privatise the publicly owned electricity industry. The decision was not to NSW Premier’s liking so Morris Iemma promptly decided to ignore this decision and press ahead with the privatisation anyway.
Unions and community groups had done a good job building a campaign against the sell off. Several rallies have been held including one outside the Labor Conference. The public are now well and truly against the plan, so much so that some polls have shown that almost 90 per cent of residents are opposed to the idea.
But it seems Iemma and his Treasurer Michael Costa would rather line the pockets of their big business mates rather than listen to the majority of NSW people or indeed their own party.
Only a few Labor MPs have come out against the privatisation. Most have sided with the government fearful they will loose their privileged positions. Those that have dared to speak out have been threatened with charges from the party’s national executive and even expulsion. Expelled for adhering to the party line! This is what the modern day Labor Party has become.
In response to the arrogance of the Labor leaders, power industry delegates held a mass meeting in mid May to discuss the way forward. They condemned the government’s plans and agreed to a plan to continue the fight against the privatisation.
The delegates meeting also called on Unions NSW to organise a meeting of all public sector unions. This meeting will consider a state-wide day of protest against the government. The Socialist Party supports this move, but adding an industrial element to the campaign will be key to defeating Iemma’s plan. The unions should be building towards a 24 hour state-wide general strike if the Government does not back down. .
The question that arises from this battle is if the Labor Party is not delivering for ordinary people, or for union members, then why are the unions still pumping millions of dollars into their bank account by way of affiliation fees?
Some people say that the solution is to keep supporting the party and to join Labor and change it from within. But if the party leaders only adhere to conference decisions when it suits them, and ignore them when they don’t, what hope is there for building a socialist current in the party, let alone taking it over? We would suggest next to none.
The reality is that Labor is beyond the point of return. Just like when you crash a car, sometimes if something is damaged so badly, you have to write it off! While Labor has always had pro-capitalist leaders at the top, it used to have a mass working class base. This is no longer the case.
While a few good people remain in the rank and file, for the most part the party has been emptied out of the best rank and file militants. One of the national leaders of the ‘Socialist Left’ faction for example is Lindsay Tanner – king of the cuts!
This battle is somewhat of an exception. In general neo-liberal policies, including privatisation, are embraced by the party at all levels. And as Iemma has proved, there is no democracy and no scope for the branches- or the State Conference – to have any impact on policy.
It defies logic that the unions would hand over any money at all to this party. What would make much more sense would be for the left unions to break with Labor and join together with progressive community, environment and left groups to for a new workers party. A party that unashamedly represents working people over the interests of big business is what is urgently required if we are build a progressive alternative to the ideas of cuts privatisation, free trade and IR laws.
By Dean Roberts