In 1985 during the SEQEB dispute, 1005 workers were sacked by the Bjelke-Petersen government and replaced by fewer people on contracted labour. Over the intervening years successive governments have been forced to employ more workers because of the possibility of failure of the electricity grid as happened in Auckland in New Zealand under the manager who recommended that government sack the workers.
On 24 March 2022, Gary MacLennan (one of the academics arrested) had this to say about the image above:
“This picture is from 1985 and it took place during the South East Queensland Electricity works lock out when 1002 workers were sacked. It was the beginning of a neoliberal offensive on govt workforces and it was a major step towards outsourcing.
A group of us got together a serious of rolling pickets to support the workers. The govt made picketing outside power stations illegal. So there we were Queensland Academics for Human Rights and we sat down in protest. On my right is the great Dan O’Neill then lecturing at the University of Qld. Dan is one of the truly admirable figures in the Brisbane Left and I was proud to sit down beside him. The police arrived and I was hauled off in a paddy wagon. More arrests were to follow that year.
The workers were betrayed and defeated. What’s new?”
Anyone confused about the role of the University of Queensland Senate in broader society needs to have a listen to this short interview with Carole Ferrier discussing the honorary doctorate bestowed on Bjelke Petersen in 1985.
Carole Ferrier discusses the honorary doctorate bestowed on the premier of Queensland, Bjelke Petersen in 1985.
Well, this week, the premier is going to add yet another title to his string. He’ll end up premier Dr. Sir Johannes Bjelke-Peterson, he has his way. Can you tell us how it came about that the premier was awarded a Doctorate of Laws?
Well, I mean to most people, that sounds pretty extraordinary, particularly in the current situation with the kind of amazing things that have been done with the law in Queensland lately. But basically, that decision was made by the Senate. Most of us know who’s on the Senate. It’s basically out of Queensland at the center of Queensland University. Yeah, representatives of business representatives of the church hierarchy, National Party appointees, and people like that. So it’s perfectly predictable that that particular group would want to give that kind of endorsement to the premier. What happened at Oxford when they wanted to give Margaret Thatcher a similar degree, was that they had a meeting of the academic community and they threw the whole idea out. If they’d done the same thing here and consulted the academic community at Queensland University to find the same thing would have happened. We had a staff association meeting this week, where it was virtually unanimous to protest about the decision to award this degree.
So what form will the protest take? Is their agreement?
Well, there’s a whole lot of there’s a whole lot of different views. There’s quite a large number of staff and students and other people who would like to make a concerted attempt to stop Bianca Peterson entering the hall. And now there’s been quite a bit of debate on campus over the last couple of weeks about that. We’ve heard all the liberal arguments about this would be a violation of Bjelke-Peterson’s civil liberties, that somehow we denying him his democratic right to speak or do whatever. But this is the sort of thing that comes up whenever you’ve got a conflict between, essentially the power of the state or people that speak for the system, and people that are trying to oppose the system.
We had the same arguments about trying to show hostility to people like Blainey, racist Hans Eysenck and Jensen, the sort of people they bring onto campuses who have no trouble ever, in getting their views heard normally. And if you think of that, in terms of who controls what gets to be said, publicly, in universities or on the media, or whatever, except on stations like this, you know, think how many SEQEB strikers we’ve heard over the last few weeks on television or on the radio explaining what the strikes are about or why they’re organizing pickets, you know, what sort of situation they’re in now. They just don’t get the right to speak at all. And that’s where those liberal arguments start getting really shonky. They basically, the people with power in the system, make the decisions like the Senate have disregarded, in this case, probably the the views of the majority of the workers, staff and students on campus.
And then they go on to start bleating about the possibility of violence, as if somehow the university was some sort of ivory tower, you know, separated from what’s going on outside. I mean, presumably, it wasn’t violence to sack those 1000 striking secret workers and throw them their families onto the dole. It wasn’t violence for Vince Lester to talk about trying to cut off their dole, it’s not violence when if they’re in Housing Commission houses, as soon as they’re one day behind with their payments, they’re threatened with being thrown out of their homes.
I mean, there’s this kind of separation for that kind of liberal of a notion of violence, involved in a symbolic attempt to stop Bjelke-Peterson entering the hall for this honor that amounts to the university endorsing the Queensland state government’s actions. And then the kind of violence that goes on daily, outside, often produced by the Queensland Government, like in the case of the secret workers, or the situation of Aborigines, of course, is another very obvious example, where you’ve got people living in a society whose violence they feel every single day.
Basically, you’re asking people to come along to the protests this Friday.
Yeah, we’re hope we’re hoping to get a really big turn up. I think there’s going to be a range of different actions. People have talked about a range of different protest activities. Some people want to make a determined protest, other people want to stage or a range of other activities that will show opposition, but everyone is basically united in hostility to the awarding of this degree, which amounts to basically an endorsement of the Queensland State Government.
Certainly it’s clear on campus here at Queensland University, that even the more conservative members of the Student Union are supporting some form of direct action to oppose the awarding of the doctorate to Bjelke-Peterson
Yeah, that’s right. I mean, obviously, there are political differences between different groups. We had the student president, the last forum we had last week saying that students weren’t really interested in Nicaragua or South Africa or whatever. They just thought if they were liberal students like the President that basically it rather devalued degrees to give one to someone like Joh when he hadn’t earned it. So you’ve got a spectrum right through from that kind of liberal position to people who can make all the connections between what’s going on in Queensland, the kind of attacks that there’ve been on education. The kind of attacks have been on Aborigines, the kind of attacks there are non workers right to organize, you know, people, socialists who can make those kinds of connections. So there’s a whole range of groups organizing to make this protest on Friday, which starts at half past four, outside the Mayne hall as big as possible. There is also going to be rally on Thursday, lunchtime out here, when there’ll be a whole lot of speakers are also talking about why people should get along to that protest and make it as large as possible.
(updated 30 March 2022)