Jack Mundey and the Green Bans

Jack Mundey was a builders labourer at a time when conditions in the building industry were appalling.

Buildings were becoming taller and more dangerous work practices were increasing.

Of the riggers who used to ride the crane loads of steel up to the multi-storey buildings, 14 were killed in a single year.

Jack and a group of the rank and file formed a committee to civilise the industry and improve worker's rights.

To ensure success they needed to win control of the union.

Once they took over, they used industrial action to significantly improve wages and conditions.

Jack believed in the right of the workers to decide to support a cause.

They did support:

  • The protest movement against the Vietnam War

  • The land rights of the Gurindji people in the Northern Territory and brought leaders of the striking stockmen to Sydney to talk to the building workers about conditions.

  • Demonstrations against apartheid when the rugby union team came in 1971

Nelson Mandela acknowledged the demonstrators who took part

  • Jack Mundey's Builders Labourers Federation (BLF} allowed women onto the job

  • They supported gays.

Much of this was done to reduce the hostility from the extreme element of the union and let the progressive members carry resolutions that advanced the union.

Jack was concerned about finding work for the members but also about the type of buildings they worked on.

But it was the internationally recognised Green Ban movement that lifted the profile of Jack Mundey and the BLF.

It came about through an unlikely relationship with some upper middle class people from the fashionable suburb of Hunters Hill in Sydney, who were fighting the developers over destroying the last remaining bushland on Parramatta River.

The women called themselves the Battlers from Kelly's Bush and they came to the BLF asking for help.

Some of the workers said, "Well Jesus Christ, what do we do? We have no members in Hunters Hill".

Others argued that if urban bushland should be preserved and if the Battlers from Kelly's Bush could demonstrate that it's the feeling of the people in the area and not just the few beside the bushland, then a Green Ban would be imposed.

So the members, low wage earners, were prepared to forgo wages to protect their city.

The workers got a lot of pride out of that.

The workers were equally proud of the role they played in saving The Rocks, the fig trees at the Opera House and Centennial Park.

The union also wanted to construct buildings with a socially valuable purpose.

Jack Mundey gave leadership to the BLF members.

Deciding on the name Green Bans instead of Black Bans was a master stroke that attracted widespread interest.

They were exciting times for Jack to be able to stop the destruction of Rainforests in North Queensland.

Not only was he fighting for wages and conditions, but also for worthwhile issues.

Jack Mundey and the BLF faced a conservative and corrupt government under Askin, along with developers and they all wanted to destroy him.

The developers and Master Builders combined, but failed to bribe the Union, so they manipulated the divisions within the union to weaken and break the leadership in NSW and had the union deregistered.

Jack Mundey along with Pringle and Owens applied when the union was re-registered and were granted membership.

Norm Gallagher refused to employ them and so they were locked out.

Jack believes that with ever increasing pressures of work and stress levels, there are greater obstacles faced by the person who wants a fair and equitable world in which to live.

Although conditions have worsened in the years since Jack Mundey was running the union, he believes there must be a return to the balance they achieved at the three quarter mark of the twentieth century.

Honours bestowed on Jack Mundey:

  • Chair of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW

  • Honorary Doctor of Letters, University of Western Sydney

  • Honorary Doctor of Science for services to the environment, University of Western Sydney

  • Life Member, Australian Conservation Foundation

  • A portion of Argyle St, The Rocks renamed as Jack Mundey Place

  • Patron of the Friends of Millers Point.

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