NSW trade union work picking up speed

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Earlier this year the Sydney Trade Union Committee became the NSW Trade Union Committee, with a widening of membership outside the metropolitan Sydney area. While the committee still meets in Sydney, we have established a Yahoo group to facilitate input and contribution from comrades in other areas of the state. We have also used Paltalk to link up with rural comrades for committee meetings.

SA NSW unionists are currently involved in several campaigns. A high priority right now is the campaign against the privatisation of electricity in this state. While we had a win with the demise of former premier Iemma and treasurer Costa and the retention of electricity generation in public ownership, the threat to publicly owned power has of course recently resurfaced with new Premier Rees’ plan and its endorsement by the ALP administrative committee.

We lost some momentum in the campaign with the cancellation of the rally planned for September 20, and there is a real need to move forward. The first action in the renewed campaign was a teach-in at Tom Mann Theatre on 8 November, attended by around 70 people, which was organised by the Power to the People group, which includes activists from our NSW Trade Union Committee. Speakers at the teach-in included academics Bob Walker, Betty Con Walker, Frank Stilwell and Sharon Beder, the USU General Secretary, Ben Kruse, and the PSA Assistant General Secretary, Steve Turner.

A resolution was passed in support of front-line workers under attack in the privatisation dispute and restating the need for continued action. The Power to the People group has also called a demonstration for the mini-budget at Parliament House on Tuesday 11 November. Liam Mitchell, active in the Blue Mountains People Power group, also drafted a new Socialist Alliance statement on the campaign, which we distributed at the teach-in on November 8 (available here).

Another significant area of work for the NSW Trade Union Committee recently has been in the New South Wales Teachers Federation. Socialist Alliance currently have a number of activists in the NSWTF, including four comrades on the Federation Council. There have been moves to more effectively organise the left within the union, and we have been taking the initiative in this work. The Activist Teachers Network has been revitalised as a broad left coalition of activists (and particularly on Council) and we have been organising more regular caucuses of the left to organise our interventions in Council and other union forums. Solidarity and Socialist Alternative teachers participate in the Network, as do independent socialist and left teachers.

AS a result there has seen an improvement in the efficiency and visibility of the left within Council and the union. This was demonstrated when one of our comrades, John Gauci, ran to fill a vacancy on NSWTF executive that existed for the short time remaining until the end of the year. John came equal third in the election, receiving 33 votes (the winner received 42). This was a significant increase of our support base since we last ran a candidate, and represents an endorsement of our advocacy of serious campaigning politics in support of teschers’s concerns. So, we will definitely be running in the regular executive elections early next year!

We are also participating in plans to organise a conference of the left of the union in early 2009. NSW teachers are in dispute with the Department of Education and Training over the abolition of the centralised staffing system and salaries. Socialist Alliance NSW Trade Union Committee activists have been constant advocates of more militant industrial action in these campaigns, and we are currently working on drafting a new letter of solidarity for distribution at the next stop-work to be held on November 19.

A number of Socialist Alliance members are also active in the Rail, Tram and Bus Union in NSW. There has been a new EBA finalised but there seems to be much discontent over both the failure to achieve a 5% increase and to take industrial action in the campaign. We have been working periodically and effectively for some time now with the anarcho-syndicalists who publish Sparks, a popular agitational paper on the railways and buses. This began with the campaign for Socialist Alliance comrade CM after he was dismissed from the buses, and continues with planned contributions to Sparks on the current transformation from Railcorp into a statutory authority.

In short, while there is long way to go the NSW Trade Union Committee is active in the frontline of several campaigns, and is becoming an increasingly effective organ to organise Socialist Alliance’s work in the NSW union movement.