Jack Mundey pictured outside Sirius apartments at The Rocks which the Green Bans Leader also fought to save. Picture: Richard Dobson
Jack Mundey pictured outside Sirius apartments at The Rocks which the Green Bans Leader also fought to save. Picture: Richard Dobson

OUR SAY: Development history may never repeat

AN IDOL of mine died last week. A man who I was lucky enough to interview when I was a young radical.

It was a special moment I will always cherish, even if it was just for PR content for the CFMEU.

He was Jack Mundey.

The death last week of the unionist, communist, environmentalist and heritage warrior, Jack Mundey, is a big loss. But for me it's another chance to recount the actions of someone who the whole country is indebted to.

When I joined the union movement in my early days of university, I had never heard the story of this man Mundey and couldn't believe what I was hearing when someone first explained what he had been up to.

For those who don't know, Mundey was responsible for uniting a bunch of builders, communists and communist builders into striking - not for better rates of pay, or for safe working conditions, but to protect community heritage.

Ever heard of that place in Sydney called The Rocks?

It stands as a testament to actions of Jack Mundey and the union movement - the Builders Labourers Federation in particular - who walked off the job, outraged at the insanity of razing heritage and displacing working-class communities.

 

1973. NSW union official Jack Mundey. He resigned as NSW secretary of the Builders Labourers Federation on November 1, 1973. Neg: FL27115
1973. NSW union official Jack Mundey. He resigned as NSW secretary of the Builders Labourers Federation on November 1, 1973. Neg: FL27115

It was an action repeated across Sydney - workers refusing to buy into a development-for-development's-sake argument and downing tools to prevent destruction of areas deemed significant and/or protecting ordinary people from being turfed out.

For whatever reason, of all the inspiring stories of people working together for a common goal, that one stuck with me, and like someone who wants others to love their favourite record, I told anyone who would listen.

I thought everyone should know that it wasn't a premier's long-term vision or an unwritten rule that ensured we didn't lose The Rocks, part of the Botanic Gardens or Centennial Park. It was a dastardly communist.

So when I heard the man had died, it reminded me of what made me fall in love with the principles of unionism, the ideals of collectivism and the possibilities that arise from working together.

 

 

Jack Mundy and the State Secreatry of the CFMEU were at Cumberland Hospital to push for a Green Ban on the development of the site. Photo: David Swift
Jack Mundy and the State Secreatry of the CFMEU were at Cumberland Hospital to push for a Green Ban on the development of the site. Photo: David Swift

What Mundey and the green bans represented was a workforce engaged with the social and political machinations that were going on around them. They didn't look at the worksite they were on and think, "oh yeah, this sucks but I am just doing my job".

They recognised that even brickies had a social responsibility and an agency that afforded them an opportunity to push back - or remain complicit.

I have no doubt that this type of unionism scared a lot of people and it is no wonder the right to strike has been eroded to the point that you wouldn't just lose your pay if you decided to push back - you would go into debt.

Not only that - years of a shrinking membership base has left the movement with its own existential crisis, and it's hard to believe a Jack Mundey type could lead a movement from the doldrums without a media unit sucking the life out of any spontaneity - or action led from the ground up.

Nevertheless, the story of the green bans and Mr Mundey will live on, and when working people enjoy a unique moment where strong leadership meets with an engaged and willing workforce, we can look to that story and know what can be achieved.



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