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Magazine of the Socialist Party in Australia

NSW: Stop O’Farrell’s attacks

For a 24 hour state-wide strike

Barry O’Farrell’s New South Wales Coalition government is pressing ahead with unprecedented attacks on public sector workers. Under the guise of ‘voluntary redundancy’ he plans to shed up to 5000 jobs from the public service.

State treasurer Mike Baird has announced plans to implement the job cuts in conjunction with demands for ‘increased productivity’ in an attempt to return the state budget to surplus.

Baird was careful to point out that these efforts would not be achieved in just one budget but would stretch out over the course of this government’s term in office. This is an ominous sign of what we can expect in the next few years.

By Ger Hughes, Socialist Party Sydney

A major element of this plan is the implementation of a 2.5% public sector wage cap. This is a wage cut in real terms when inflation is taken into account. In an attempt to mask these attacks the government announced that they would be increasing numbers of workers in other areas, specifically nurses, teachers and police. Cynically though, no details have been released of how and when these jobs will become available.

It seems that the government is just playing with the numbers in the sense that the New South Wales Nurses Association (NSWNA) for example had already secured a deal to employ more nurses with the previous government.

The Coalition has more than just job losses in the pipeline. They are also moving to try and privatise even more elements of the public sector. These plans include the privatisation of Sydney’s ferry service.

O’Farrell has also appointed an independent consultant to investigate the feasibility of the wholesale privatisation of the electricity industry. Farcically, when the previous Labor government attempted this in their last term they were blocked by O’Farrell in opposition.

As if to add insult to injury O’Farrell has recently legislated to remove access to the state based Industrial Relations Commission for the more than 400,000 workers employed in the state’s public service. This removes any recourse to arbitration for these workers.

These attacks have enraged tens of thousands of workers. On June 15 more than 12,000 people took to the streets to protest against the government. More recently on September 8 more than 40,000 public sector workers stopped work and took part in a mass demonstration.

These demonstrations show the potential to build a mass movement to stop O’Farrell dead in his tracks. Worker’s anger in the workplaces is palpable and waiting to be harnessed. Unfortunately though, it appears that the trade union leaders are refusing to step up the struggle.

At the demonstration on September 8 the union leaders suggested that workers merely return to their work places and “continue to organise and recruit”. This vague call is in sharp contrast to what is actually required to win.

While we should all be recruiting to the unions, the question is “organise to do what?” We need to be organising around a concrete action. The Socialist Party calls on Unions NSW to set a date for a 24 hour state-wide stoppage with mass demonstrations organised in all the major towns and cities.

Such an action needs to be built for via mass meetings where explanations are given to workers about the importance of stopping these attacks and defending our living standards. Private sector workers should also be drawn into the action and it should be pointed out to them that if O’Farrell is successful in attacking the public sector it is only a matter of time before bosses try to follow suit in the private sector.

As the economic situation gets worse we need to ensure that we, the workers, are not forced to pay for a crisis they we did not create.