On Wednesday 1 August a meeting called by the QCU of hundreds of delegates from 34 unions - the first such meeting for decades - voted unanimously to endorse strikes as part of the September day of action.
Further strikes are likely in October.
A grassroots campaign, Queensland Uncut, driven especially by voluntary-sector groups whose funds are being cut, has held two large meetings on 19 July and 2 August, and will be meeting regularly. (See the group's Facebook page). It has called a protest rally and march for 23 August (5pm from King George Square).
On 16 July, about 5000 state government employees demonstrated in Brisbane against Newman's cuts.
Newman says that "Labor have employed ... 20,000 more public servants than the people of Queensland can currently afford", and offers only 2.2% annual pay rises and no extra cash for promotion for the next three years.
Like other right-wing governments trying to "not waste the crisis", Newman's government gives the excuse of excessive debt (although it's only 20% of gross state product).
The 16 July rally was organised by Together, a union formed by merger of the Queensland Public Services Union and Queensland branches of the ASU. The union is now planning ballots for industrial action in 1000 workplaces, but rank-and-file activists are sceptical about this strategy, as designed by the union leaders, producing more than token protests. They are concerned that the QCU is talking about "a thousand-day campaign", conveying lack of urgency and implicitly accepting that most of Newman's cuts will have been pushed through before the campaign gets fully underway.
About a thousand Queensland state school teachers rallied at Parliament House in Brisbane on 31 July to support the Queensland Teachers' Union's campaign to keep working conditions such as class sizes in the teachers' industrial agreement.
The state government proposes to shift all those conditions from the agreement to "policy". It says it doesn't want to change them. But a shift to "policy" means the conditions can be changed whenever the government wants.
The rally - also supported by the QCU, United Voice, QIEU, TWU and Together - was spirited, and ended with the large crowd singing "Solidarity Forever":
"They have taken untold millions
That they never toiled to earn;
But without our brain and muscle
Not a single wheel can turn.
We can break their haughty power,
Gain our freedom when we learn
That the union makes us strong".
The union is now campaigning to get thousands of signatures for a statement of protest to the state government, and preparing to ballot between 24 August and 14 September for strikes.
According to the Courier-Mail of 4 August, "in early October... more than 40,000 teachers are tipped to strike, leaving thousands of Queensland classrooms deserted.
"The week starting October 15 is earmarked to host the first of what could be rolling 24-hour stoppages, with more than 100 protected action ballots lodged by union members.
"The pivotal issue in the teachers' dispute is class sizes..."
Newman was elected state premier on 24 March, in an election which saw the Australian Labor Party - long powerful in Queensland - score its worst result ever.
The Newman government has introduced fixed-term (three-year only) tenancies for public housing tenants, and plans to force elderly "under-occupying" tenants to move or pay higher rent.
On 20 June, Newman declared: "We will also look at preventing unions from giving money collected from members to the Labor party... without the express consent of members... What's more, my government will not facilitate the collection of union fees, if a union uses membership fees to affiliate to a political party, or to fund political parties and election campaigns".
In May the Newman government legislated to:
- make it a more difficult and longer process for unions to get industrial action ballots
- give the Attorney-General (i.e. for state government workers, a direct representative of their employer, and not just the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission, which has some autonomy) the power to terminate "protected industrial action"
- require the QIRC to take into consideration state Treasury briefings on the state's finances (which it cannot cross-examine.
Queensland Labor's new leader Annastacia Palaszczuk responded by declaring that: “By passing this legislation the Government has wasted no time in returning to their favourite ideological pursuit, attacking the rights of workers".
Labor and union opposition was muted by the fact that Newman could claim that he was just adjusting Queensland legislation to align with federal Labor's 2009 Fair Work Act.
After 24 March, Palaszczuk said she would take Labor back to its working-class roots. "We need to get back to our basics. Workers' rights, protecting the environment, investment in education - these are core Labor principles and somewhere along the way we simply lost our way".
However, there is as yet little sign of action from the Labor leadership in that direction, or of effective pressure from the affiliated unions to make them move that way.
The official federal Labor report on Queensland Labor's electoral crash, written by George Wright, Michael Lee, and Carmel Tebbutt, and published in early August, notes that the Bligh Labor government's privatisation programme opened "a deep divide" between the Labor leadership and Labor's base, but says "it is not for the panel to judge the merits of the Government’s decision to sell State assets".
It notes the "progressive alienation of the Government’s policy development process from other Party structures such as the party platform [which] left many branch members and some affiliate unions feeling like they had little opportunity for meaningful involvement in policy development and debate", and Bligh's hectic privatisation programme "while the public ownership of assets remained part of the [Labor] platform". It suggests that a big expansion of democracy and rank and file control is needed in the Queensland Labor Party, but proposes nothing clear in that direction.
It sees Labor-union relationships as having "fallen into disrepair", but proposes only administrative improvement, with a requirement for quarterly meetings of an Advisory Council.
It calls for a doubling of Queensland Labor's shrivelled membership, but offers no suggestions about how other than bland talk about better communication.
For change both on the industrial and political fronts, the essential first step is the building of rank-and-file activist networks which can coordinate and amplify efforts, and challenge bureaucracies both Labor and union which have learned to float far above the rank and file. In Together and the QTU, at least, there must be enough individual left activists that, combined, we could make an effective start on that.