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NSW Privatisation dispute -- unions threaten industrial action

by Dave Riley

The stakes in the NSW electricity privatisation dispute are high indeed. Regardless of which way you call it, the Labor Party as the registered home for organised labour in New South Wales seems to be at stake as the unions show no sign yet of backing down and caving into the state government.

The polarized debate and massive rejection of the scheme at the recent ALP state conference make it very clear who's on who's side. This thread here on the GLW list touches on a few pending issues that bear down on the trade unions and the ALP.

Speculative of course -- but this dispute is unusual in recent Australian labour history and at least does indicate how much pressure there is on the union's links with the ALP.

After several unions during last year's federal poll also moved their support away from the ALP -- to the Greens and the Socialist Alliance -- theres' an obvious shift in motion that has to be all for the best as the dead hand of Laborism loses some of its traction.

Strike threat puts pressure on sale
Brad Norington and Imre Salusinszky |
UNIONS have flagged a "new phase" in their campaign against the NSW Labor Government's plan to privatise the state electricity industry, warning of power strikes ahead unless Premier Morris Iemma retreats.

The union representing thousands of power workers yesterday voiced pessimism about the negotiations forced on Mr Iemma after he lost a sell-off resolution by a massive majority at last weekend's state party conference.

United Services Union secretary Ben Kruse told The Weekend Australian that Mr Iemma appeared determined to press ahead with the sell-off, despite the will of a seven-to-one party majority and a directive to negotiate further with stakeholders.

He said the debate had moved into a "new phase" in which union members would be asked over the next week to contemplate industrial action.

"We have to look beyond the political, because we are dealing with a state Government that has disengaged from the political process," Mr Kruse said. "We have to look at it as an industrial negotiating process, with the Government like any employer."

While pessimistic, Mr Kruse also admitted that the ALP was now stepping into unknown territory over who controlled the party. "It is such a new concept that everyone is overawed by the extent of the situation," he said.

Mr Iemma met with Unions NSW boss John Robertson and other union representatives yesterday in an attempt to break the deadlock between the political and industrial wings of the labour movement.

Labor's state conference, where half of all delegates come from affiliated unions, voted by 702 votes to 107 last weekend to block Mr Iemma's plan to sell three state-owned electricity retail companies and to lease out three generators. However, Mr Iemma, arguing such a backdown would threaten future electricity supplies, has vowed to proceed with the plan, plunging NSW Labor into one of the deepest crises in its 117-year history.

Party officials have established a process for resolving the impasse, but a nine-day trade visit by Mr Iemma to China, which begins on Friday, will impose a hiatus on negotiations, except in the unlikely event of a quick resolution. It is understood unions are pressing for at least one of the three generators to remain partly in public hands.

A senior Labor source said last night the union position had hardened in the face of a perceived "triumphalism" after Mr Iemma's plan won caucus support on Tuesday.

Mr Robertson said last night: "From the union movement's point of view any decision has got to be consistent with the resolution of last weekend".Strike threat puts pressure on sale

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