The recent defeat of the East-West toll road in Melbourne has important lessons for those fighting against the disastrous WestConnex toll road project in Sydney.
Like the East-West Link, WestConnex is designed not for the benefit of ordinary people but to increase the profits of the big banks, transport and construction firms. The way to address Sydney’s transport problems is by investing in public transport infrastructure, not private toll roads.
WestConnex is a proposed $14.4 billion toll road project. The Liberal Government is pushing ahead with the project despite opinion polls that show more than 60% of people believe that money spent on roads would be better spent on public transport. While much of the business case is being kept secret, the figures that are known show that it would be a major burden on the taxpayer for decades to come.
With the Liberals hell bent on proceeding with the project, many see WestConnex as a fait accompli. A similar situation existed in Melbourne but a determined community campaign turned the situation around and saw the East-West Link scrapped.
Anti East-West Link activists focussed on winning the general public to the idea that public transport was the best way to address congestion and traffic woes. A key slogan was ‘for public transport in every suburb’. Public transport is not only better for the environment but it also creates more jobs.
People were also convinced that the project was being built in the interests of the big business road lobby, at the expense of the general public. The campaign against the East-West Link demanded that public money be spent on public services, not hand outs to private profiteers.
Crucially the campaign against the East-West Link engaged in consistent direct action, including community pickets against preliminary works like the test drilling. This threatened the government’s schedule and put the issue right at the top of the political agenda. The direct action combined with the campaigns propaganda helped to turn the public against the toll road project.
The offices of the companies bidding for the contracts were also targeted, as was the Labor opposition. Originally Labor supported the East-West project but a series of pickets at the offices of Labor MPs, combined with demanding that they commit to ripping up the contracts if they won office, were key to forcing them to change their position.
At the moment the Labor Party in NSW supports about two thirds of the WestConnex project, a sort of ‘WestConnex Lite’. This is totally inadequate and much more political pressure needs to be exerted directly upon them.
Appeals to the trade union movement should also be made pointing out that public transport creates many more long term skilled jobs. Many experts say that three times the amount of jobs are created in public transport (for the same financial investment) compared to roads.
If a similar strategy adopted by those fighting the East-West link was taken on by activists in NSW, WestConnex could still be defeated. There are no doubt differences in the details, but the basic plan of mobilising ordinary people to fight for an alternative to the profit driven agenda of big business is a winning formula.
By Gary Duffy