Jack Mundey – the inspiration behind this film festival
Jack Mundey’s legacy is immense. The face of Sydney today is a monument to his achievements. Urban bushland, public housing and heritage sites were all saved thanks to Jack and the Green Ban Movement. Jack’s commitment to democratic unionism and strong community engagement were central to these wins. This broad political approach to campaigning and union activities was influenced by the politics of the Communist Party of Australia. Jack had joined the party in the 1950s and in the 1970s was elected President. He became a strong advocate for socialism with a human face.
Jack promoted the concept of the social responsibility of labour, where workers had the right to insist that any work they undertook was not harmful to the environment or other people. This was possibly the most outstanding and enduring of Jack’s legacy. Jack developed profound concepts and articulated them in ways that helped mobilise many of the great social movements in the latter half of the twentieth century.
It is no point winning great wages and conditions if the world we build chokes us to death.
– Jack Mundey
On the job and political struggles
The Builders Labourers Federation was the union that launched the Green Bans Movement. Jack became the NSW secretary in 1968. The question is often asked how did a group of working class, poorly educated labourers, many of whom were migrants and English was not their first language, come to support union campaigns that included environmental, feminist, LGBTI and international solidarity causes? Dedication to the members’ needs through the “Civilise the industry” campaign dominated the work of Jack and other union officials in the early 1970s. Members were encouraged to play an active role in their union, and not just on campaigns around workplace wages and conditions. Between 1971 and 1974 more than 50 Green Bans were backed by the union.
The requests were many, and it was a requirement that all requests had to come directly from the community and have ongoing community involvement. On the union side, every ban request had to be voted on at a general meeting. The rebuilding of the BLF as a democratic, members run union is one of as Jack’s first major achievements. It laid the basis for the Green Bans movement and social movement unionism that became the hallmark of Jack’s political life.
Green Bans and a lot more
While the Green Ban movement was one of Jack’s great achievements, his political contribution went much wider. In May 1965 Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced that Australian conscripts would be sent to fight in the war against the Vietnamese. Jack and others decided to move to arrestable actions in response to the government’s decision to escalate Australia’s war involvement. Jack and two other protesters were arrested in this country’s first political sit-in – these days called an occupation. Jack and other activists built Australia’s opposition to the Vietnam War into a huge nationwide mass movement.
Jack never ceased his life of political and social engagement and he continued campaigning well into his late 80s. In 2016 Jack spoke at a press conference at Bondi Beach when officials of the CFMEU NSW Construction Division, surrounded by hundreds of members of the local community, announced a Green Ban on Bondi Pavilion. The ban had been requested by the local community to stop a State Liberal plan to privatise the Pavilion. The principles of strong community engagement, rank and file union support, and direct and democratic action that Jack had modelled decades earlier were successfully utilised and lead to a win in the campaign. Bondi Pavilion was retained as a public asset for community purposes.