Interview: Trade Secrets
Industrial: It’s About Overtime, Stupid
Unions: Full Steam Ahead
Bad Boss: The BBQ Battle Axe
Economics: Different Dimensions of Debt
History: Raking the Coals
History Special: Wherever the Necessity Exists
History Special: Learning from the Past
History Special: A 'Cosy Relationship'
Politics: Regime Change for Saddam
International: World War
Corporate: Industrious Thinking
Review: Jack High
Culture: Duffy’s Song
Satire: A Nation of Sooks
Poetry: Mr Flexibility
The Locker Room
Month In Review
Lessons from History
State Based Organising
Gino on the Gong
Full Steam Ahead
Next stop Goulburn - Conductors Mark Morey and Michael Gadiel are halfway through their Rail Towns tour of NSW and learning that life is different when you pull into a station outside the urban network.
Out here the local TLC chairman, Stuart Woodward, is an undertaker and activist in the Funeral Workers Union.
He's joined on stage by community representatives who understand only two well the implications of research that shows $3 million is stripped out of the economy for every downsized fulltime worker.
It's not every day that you get business representatives and conservative politicians behind a Labor Council campaign. But they're all there - Chamber of Commerce president Angela Starrier, Mayor Max Hadlow, Bob Munce from the Greens, and even a representative standing in for state National Party MP Katrina Hodgkinson.
They've commandeered Belmore Park to tell Bob Carr that turning over state rail infrastructure to the Federal ARTC is bad for Goulburn.
Two hundred and fifty locals, from all walks of life, add their voices to the protest. Their central concern is the ARTC plan to axe 1500 jobs in rural and regional NSW by contracting out track maintainance to the lowest bidder.
In established rail towns like Goulburn the locals know that means less business, smaller class sizes, fewer teachers and the disappearance of services across the spectrum.
It's even worse for smaller centres in the state's northwest, already ravaged by drought and its effect on the pastoral infrastructure. Residents of cotton-dependent, Narrabri, and nearby Binnaway, with its 25 rail jobs, know their towns would be brought to their knees by the flagged job losses.
The caravan rolls on, taking the message to Newcastle, Grafton, Lismore, Maitland, Bathurst, Orange, Dubbo and Moss Vale. Everywhere the response is the same. The joint unions campaign might be run under the Labor Council banner but it elicits broad support from business and community organisations.
Everywhere, a hard-core group of locals stays behind to watch a screening of the gritty British docu-drama, The Navigators. Directed by Ken Loach, its parallels with the NSW situation are striking, telling not just of family and community breakdowns but the safety problems inevitable when infrastructural and communcations systems are contracted out and duplicated.
Safety is a key button being pushed on the Rail Towns caravan. NSW's Rail Infrastructure Corporation (RIC), set up as a response to the Glenbrook disaster which claimed nine lives, is less than two years old.
"The state Government went to contestability and ended up with Glenbrook. RIC was established to bring the system back together and now it looks like we have to go through the process all over again," Gadiel explained. "It doesn't make sense."
Not only did the Glenbrook Inquiry call for a single rail infrastructure system but the message has been reinforced by inquiries into British disasters.
A spate of accidents after privatisation in the 1990s led to Lord Cullen finding that divided ownership and outsourcing of maintenance had a "negative effect on the safety of the system" in his report on the Ladbroke Grove disaster.
The Howard Government is asking NSW to hand rural and Hunter Valley mainline tracks to ARTC so it can make the lines more attractive to big business.
The Australian Rail Track Corporation would run the lines for maximum profit, dividing network ownership and contracting out maintenance. In order to achieve this it will only guaranted 800 of the 2300 existing maintenance jobs beyond three years.
Concentration on the profit motive is likely to threaten the very existence of services to places like Lismore, which despite being a sizeably population centre, is located on a branch line not central to the efficient movement of freight between capital cities.
Combined Unions, including the RTBU, ASU, ETU, APESMA, AMWU and AWU took community concerns to a meeting with state treasurer Michael Egan during the week. Spokespeople described his response as "inconclusive".
Unions will meet again on Monday to consider the next step in their campaign and it seems likely they will rely on delegates in Rail Towns to muster enough community support to turn the future of rail into an election issue.
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