Stand Fast

On behalf of Stand Fast I’d like to thank Direct Action for James Donaldson’s article [“Anti-war veterans group formed” DA #1] on our group. Already we have received positive feedback about Stand Fast via our website, www.stand-fast.webs.com, from readers of DA. Someone in the US read the article and distributed it to members of both Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). This has forged stronger links between Stand Fast and these US-based organisations, with US veterans from IVAW and VVAW becoming involved in Stand Fast. It has also put Stand Fast in touch with Australia-based members of IVAW who will hopefully be able to take an active role in the anti-war movement in this country.

These developments come at a time when the mostly silent majority in the US and Australia who oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan need to take a visible stand against these wars. Here in Australia, both Labor and the Coalition still firmly support the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and there is every indication that they would support any US-led attack on Iran. We cannot sit back, wait and hope that Barack Obama will win the US presidency and withdraw the US troops from Iraq. Obama’s rhetoric about withdrawing US troops from Iraq will prove just as hollow as that of his political fellow traveller, Kevin Rudd, who had only withdrawn one-third of Australia’s troops. Both Rudd and Obama are to escalate the size of the US-led occupation forces in Afghanistan.

It is politicians who risk the lives and the physical and mental health of ordinary working people to fight these wars for big-business interests, and it is only ordinary working people, organised here and internationally who can end these wars.

Hamish Chitts
Stand Fast, Brisbane

‘Official optimism’

Owen Richards’s article “NSW Labor’s electricity privatisation plans” in DA #2 criticises the approach of most of the far left with regard to the anti-privatisation campaign, claiming that many socialist groups other than the Revolutionary Socialist Party have suffered from undue “official optimism” in the strategy and approach of Unions NSW. He criticises an article written by myself in Solidarity magazine which incorrectly claimed that a vote against privatisation at the NSW ALP conference would “effectively sink privatisation”.

Richards is justified in pointing out the fact that the overwhelming vote against privatisation has not yet killed off the privatisation proposal. However, this fact, alongside other points, is then used by Richards to effectively construct a rigid counter-position between the forms of struggle that have featured in the campaign so far and those that are needed to ensure the defeat of privatisation.

His article raises a broader question of how socialists relate to individuals, movements and society in general. The surest way to defeat the privatisation bill would be through a concerted campaign of industrial action. Richards gives some reasons why this is unlikely to happen — the political weaknesses of the official labour movement’s leadership and its links to the ALP hierarchy tends to moderate its actions. To this fact can be added the way in which decades of anti-union legislation and a passive “servicing” model of unionisation have weakened the ability of unions to engage in mass industrial action, even if and when their leaders accept the need for it. Richards outlines the cause of this weakness, arguing that “there cannot be a serious union campaign against the neoliberal policies of the Labor governments while the unions remain tied to the pro-capitalist and pro-neoliberal ALP”.

While I disagree in part with this particular reading of the reasons for the weakness of the union movement (there have been real fights led by ALP members, and many sell-outs led by those outside their ranks, most notably by those in the Communist Party), I agree that the right-wing leaderships in many unions need to be challenged as an integral part of rebuilding industrial strength.

The main problem with Richards’ article is that, in arguing that only radical action can stop privatisation, and then arguing why this cannot happen in the short term his argument leads into the passive conclusion that nothing can be done to defeat privatisation and the most useful role we can play is to propagandise about the weaknesses of the union and ALP leadership. Perhaps the logic of this argument is one reason why RSP comrades are not very present within the anti-privatisation campaign groups.

The problem here is that although we cannot will into being the sort of struggle which we would like to see and which would most effectively crush privatisation, victories are still possible and struggle can still be effective. Privatisation was previously defeated in NSW after union block-votes at ALP conference helped vote it down.

More recently, the threat of industrial action has helped NSW railway staff secure a better pay deal than was offered. Although the Your Rights at Work campaign suffered from many weaknesses and has not led to the abolition of all of Work Choices the movement played a real part in the demise of Howard and the resultant mild reversal of some of his policies.

The second problem is one of methodology. The best way to change people’s ideas, to build their confidence and convince them to struggle in an effective way is to work alongside them in whatever forms of struggle are currently possible. Petitions, meetings and rallies by themselves will rarely achieve much, but they provide an opportunity to organise, build confidence and engage in discussion, which together can lead towards more decisive action. It is for similar reasons that we place demands on officials — even if there is little chance of convincing them of a radical approach by raising the demand you find others who agree and hopefully will be open to working with you to ensure such action is possible in the future.

Kieran Latty

Queensland Rail

Negotiations for the next union collective agreement with Queensland Rail are at a stand-still, with management attempting to divert talks with the railway unions into dealing with “business specific components” before the core conditions of the agreement have been finalised. QR wants productivity components written into the agreement Meanwhile the corporate restructure as originally proposed by QR has been modified; however their “commercially competitive” focus remains.

Instead of being split into six companies, as I reported in DA #2, QR now plans to divide the business into three. QR Ltd will be the parent company with QR Passenger Services and QR Access operating as subsidiaries on a competition basis. As proposed QR Access will be the “logistics” arm of the business offering private enterprise access to the rolling-stock and rail lines of the government-owned enterprise.

Maintenance workers employed by the Rolling-stock and Component Services group will remain directly employed by QR rather than as a separate subsidiary as originally proposed. While this ensures that RACS employees will have their entitlements secured it does not ensure any degree of job security or certainty. As Passenger Services will be operating on a competition basis there will be nothing to prevent routine maintenance work and overhauls being outsourced. This includes services such as brake-system overhauls, air-conditioning maintenance, machine shop and foundry services as well as the stripping and carriage-building services of the electric passenger train sections.

No mass meetings have been held to discuss the restructure or the core conditions of the new agreement. State officials of the railway unions have insisted that they have “nothing” to talk to the membership about as QR are stalling on negotiations. A workshop notice was issued on July 18 informing members that collective agreement meetings would be held over the coming weeks. These meetings will be to discuss the log of claims that union members have submitted. Included in the log of claims were these five demands: 1. No trade offs; 2. Freedom of assembly, the right for union delegates to hold a stop-work meeting with the membership anytime they deem is necessary; 3. No outsourcing without consultation; 4. A 36-hour work week coupled with a pay rise to meet the increase in the cost of living; and 5. Flexi-time; the right to have the ability to take time off in lieu (i.e., accruing leave).

The Labor federal and state governments are committed to preventing any increases in disposable income by awarding a more-than-inflation 4.15% pay rise to those on a minimum wage. Public sector employees around the country are only being offered on average 4%, with trade-offs in their new union collective agreements. This is despite the Rudd government awarding senior public servants an 18.9% ($1400 per week) pay rise.

Andrew Martin