Privatisation battles ‘point the way’

Unions must learn how to win campaigns that encourage more young people to join their ranks.

Successful campaigns to stop privatisation of regional hospitals in NSW have shown workers they can win industrial battles when the union movement is strong, ACTU Secretary Sally McManus told annual Conference.

Sally said unions must “give people hope that things can be better, that jobs can be more secure, that we can win fair pay rises, or, like you did, that privatisation is not inevitable and can be stopped.”

“Unless people believe things can be better, it’s hard to get them on board to push for positive change.”

In recent years, NSWNMA members have led community campaigns that stopped the NSW government from selling five public hospitals: Wyong, Goulburn, Shellharbour, Bowral and Maitland.

The state government abandoned the privatisations due to fierce public opposition.

Local communities backed their nurses and made it clear they did not want their public hospitals turned into profit-making operations.

Sally said the union movement had to learn lessons from the failure of its “Change the Rules” campaign at the May federal election.

“We have to learn from our setbacks and keep going,” she said.

“One of the lessons I take from the last election campaign and Change the Rules is that it is going to take much longer to win over enough of the general public to our cause.

“We need to take stock of our messages to the public. Do we need to make things simpler?

“Every day, workers are having their wages stolen or are struggling in insecure work. Or they can’t pay the bills because they haven’t had a pay rise for years.

“Most of these people are non-union members. How do we 
speak to them and bring them to 
our movement?

“If we do nothing, union membership will continue to decline and workers’ rights will continue to go backwards.”

Unions need to inspire

Sally said young people were repeatedly told that casual work “is just the way things are, or it is just the way the world is going”.

“They are even told it’s their choice or their fault that they don’t have jobs with rights.

“We need to inspire them and show them that change is possible and change comes through the 
union movement.

“I have seen young people all of a sudden join campaigns and unions and take part in protests outside cafes that aren’t paying people their legal entitlements.

“They are sending a message to other young people that ‘We don’t have to put up with this anymore.’ ”