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Queensland Rail workers strike against theft of public assets

More than 1,300 Queensland Rail workship employees walked off the job in Ipswich, Rockhampton and Townsville in protest against plans to include the workshops in the Queensland Government's $15 billion public assets fire sale. The workshop employees had been led to believe that they at least would be spared from privatisation. However, on 8 December, Queensland Government announced that workshops were to be included after all. Instead of selling Queensland Rail to a private bidder the Queensland Govenment intends to offer shares to the Queensland public in a manner similar to the way in which Telstra was floated. Workers, who would only be guaranteed employment for a further two years after change of ownership were to given $1,000 sharess and offered $4,000 more at a discount.

But the broader Queenland public, many of whom had been burnt in buying Telstra shares aren't interested. An comment in response to a Courier-Mail online article "Rail workers walk off job" was typical of the public's response on both talkback radio and online forums:

Why should the people of Queensland by shares in QR or any other government owned assets. They own it already!!!!!!

Nor were workers interested in the miserable pittance of bribe that they were expected to accept in return for the destruction of their own and their children's job security. ABC online news reported Owen Doogan Secretary of Railway, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) stated that there was "Absolute anger at the idea that $1,000 worth of shares is going to be okay for them to sacrifice the job security of what they have at the present time - absolute joke."

Another ABC online story "Rail workers strike over Government asset sales" reported RTBU Vice-President Ian Moffit had promised more industrial action leading into the new year. He said:

"The union movement have now declared war on the Queensland Government,"

"We are not going to sit back idly and allow all this to go ahead.

It is certainly not a moment too soon. The Queensland Government has been at war with trade unionists together with the rest of the Queensland public for years. The $15billion fire sale is but the latest salvo in that war.

Finally they are getting back a small taste of their own medicine.

Update, 11 Dec 09: A Brisbane Times poll question "Do you support rail workers decision to strike against the Queensland Government asset sell-off?" had 67% of respondents voting 'yes'. Whilst it is possible for the poll to be biased in either direction, this result is encouraging. It would seem consistent with the current 79% of opposition to the sale, but allowing for the fact that many Queenslanders have still swallowed the virulent anti-union propaganda, exemplified by the Courier-Mail editorial "Under the influence: Anna Bligh dances to union tune" of 20 Aug 09. Also, Trade Union equivocation over the sale and their past failure to take decisive action would have compounded the problem. This is discussed in the article "Courier Mail spins news of 79% opposition to fire sale to reveal its privatisation colours" of 8 Dec 09. If this industrial action were to grow into a strong and decisive industrial campaign against privatisation and the union movement were to carefully explain the necessity of industrial action to the public, there is no reason why support for the Trade Union could not at least match the current 79 public opposition to the sale.

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