Gallery

We Built This Country – Builders’ Labourers and their Unions

Humphrey McQueen read this inspiring poem below at the launch of the book:

“Our liberties had not been won by mining magnates or stock-exchange jobbers, but by genuine men of the working-class movement who had died on the gallows and rotted in dungeons and were buried in nameless graves. These were the men to whom we owed the liberties we enjoyed today” — BLF organiser Samuel Champ, Hobart, 1916 – (thanks to Jim S for this).

David Hanna, State Secretary of the Builders Labourers Federation (Qld) launched ‘We Built This Country – Builders’ Labourers and their Unions‘, by Humphrey McQueen this Friday in Brisbane@ Black Cat Books
179 Latrobe Terrace, Paddington, Brisbaneon Fri 7th October

Humphrey McQueen, historian and author of A New Britannia and Social Sketches of Australia 1888–1975 spoke on this, his latest book.

We Built This Country is a broad-brush look at builders’ labourers and their
unions since the convict era.

‘It’ll have to be an unofficial history because no two officials would agree about anything.’

The late John Cummins, Victorian BLF secretary Builders’ labourers build this country socially and culturally as well as with concrete.
McQueen pictures them as ‘improvising nomads’ who contributed to the Australian legend. We follow the membership as it shift~ between ‘Weird
Mobs’ of Irish and Italians.

Led by Norm Gallagher and Jack Mundey, the BLF became the most controversial union to erupt out of the rebellious Sixties. Builders’ labourers
rocked Australian cities with green bans and worker control.

Their struggles are retold by digging into campaigns from each State.
The stories are pitched against the demands of Messrs Construction Capital.
The experiences of the builders’ labourers thus open a window into the making of the Australian working class.
We Built This Country is a companion to Framework of Flesh, Builders’ Labourers Battle for Health & Safety (Ginninderra Press, 2009).
Humphrey McQueen is a Canberra-based activist and freelance historian.

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The book was also be available at Brisbane Labour History Association symposium Saturday 8 October 2011 @ QCA Lecture Theatre, Qld College of Art, Griffith University,
226 Grey St, South Bank. 
The symposium details at @  Red Scare – Cold War Politics & the 1951 Referendum

Communist party members spoke of their experiences prior to and during the Cold War. Humphrey Mc Queen  spoke on the role of he labor party in the defeat of the Red bill introduced by Menzies in 1952.

Thanks to the BLHA for their support for these important Labour history books.

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 Timeline from We Built This Country

Australia’s Union and Political Timeline 1788 – 2010

1780s to 1850

Unions

1788 The first Builders’ Labourers (BLs) are convicts. Some run away from floggings to range the bush.

1829 ‘Free’ workers are controlled by Masters and Servants’ Acts; labourers are sent to prison if they do not work hard enough.

1830s Sydney workers form unions.

1843 Mutual Protection Society in Sydney defends wages and demands work.

1845 Friendly Society of Carpenters and Joiners in Sydney.

Britain

183235 Operative Builders’ Union combines the crafts but does not admit labourers.

1834 Half a million workers join the Grand Consolidated Trades Union.

1834 Six farm labourers – the ‘Tolpuddle Martyrs’ – are transported for resisting a wage cut.

Irish navvies build roads and 2,000km of railways.

Economy

1788 European invasion
begins with prisons around Sydney, and at Hobart from 1803.

1829 Free settlers at Perth, Melbourne and Adelaide.

1830s Wool overtakes whaling products as largest export earner.

1841 End of transportation of convicts to the east coast, and to Hobart in 1854.

Building of towns as ports provide work for labourers.

Politics

1804 Irish convicts rebel at Castle Hill; eight hanged.

1808 Military coup against Governor Bligh; wealthy rebels give each other more land.

1820s A prison moves towards self-government.

Freedom of the press is won by editors going to prison.

1842 elections for local councils in Sydney and Melbourne.

Protests against squatters who are grabbing more land.

1851 to 1880

Unions

Building unions

1850 Operative Masons’
Society in Melbourne.

1854 UK-based Progressive Society of Carpenters and Joiners forms a branch in Sydney.

1860s First unions for labourers, for example, United Hodcarriers Society and the United Labourers Protection Society in NSW, and a United Labourers’ Friendly Society in Melbourne.

1872 Builders’ Labourers’ Society in Adelaide.

1870s UK-based Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners has branches here.

EIGHT-HOUR DAY 8-8-8

18 February 1856 Sydney stonemasons strike for eight-hour day, called ‘the boon’.

21 April 1856 Melbourne stonemasons march through city to demand shorter hours. They will win by ‘physical force if necessary’, says their leader James Stephens.

Employers hit back with piece rates to get as much value as possible in the eight hours. They also import German masons, but the newcomers strike to get the same conditions as the locals.

1859 Eight-Hour Day Committee in Melbourne.

1860 UK building workers are locked out for demanding a nine-hour day.

1860s Labourers in Brisbane are among the first unskilled to win the eight-hour day because of the heat and glare.

1871– 2 Eight-hour parades begin in Melbourne and Sydney.

Labourers are still on a six-day week, if they are lucky enough to find a week’s work. Most lose about a fifth of their time ‘following the job’, or being stood down in bad weather or waiting for materials.

Other
unions

Early 1850s Seamstresses conduct first recorded union meeting held in Australia. Union minutes held in papers of Edgar Ross, former editor of Common Cause.

1852 British Amalgamated Engineering Union begins here.

1860 Melbourne Trades Council in its own Hall.

1871 Sydney Trades and Labor Council.

1874 Amalgamated Miners’ Association in Victoria.

1879 first Inter-colonial Trades and Labor Congress, Sydney.

Economy

1851 Gold discoveries.

Sydney population goes from 54,000 to 225,000. Melbourne from 29,000 to 270,000.

Building industry

Construction of houses, banks, churches and government offices for newcomers.

Australia adds 400,000 dwellings. Almost half are weatherboard.

Demand for skilled labour is higher than the supply of men who have served apprenticeships; labourers therefore ‘jump up’ to work in the craft areas.

Railway building in rural districts means work for navvies.

Politics

1854 Eureka rebellion.

1856– Adult male suffrage for Legislative Assemblies, and secret ballot.

Anti-democratic Legislative Councils protect capitalists.

1859 Stonemason Charles Don elected to Victorian parliament.

1878-80 Failure to divide the land feeds into the Kelly rebellion in central Victoria.

1880 to 1900

Unions

Building unions

Unions of builders’ labourers in Tasmania (1883), South Australia (1884), Queensland (1885) and Western Australia (1893).

1886 Sydney Building Trades’ Federation excludes labourers.

1888 Builders’ Labourers’ Union in Melbourne.

1897 Builders’ Labourers’ Society loses strike in Perth for ten shillings a day.

1900 Builders’ Labourers’ Union in Sydney breaks from ULPS after it takes in navvies.

Builders’ and Contractors Associations and Master Builders’ Associations form.

Other unions

New Unions for so-called semi-skilled and for those who have not served apprenticeships.

Weak moves towards making employers liable for workplace injuries.

1882-3 Strike by
4,000
tailoresses in Melbourne prevents cut in piece-rates.

1884 Intercolonial Trades and Labor Congress in Melbourne.

1884-5 Melbourne boot-makers act against outwork and sweating.

1886 Amalgamated Shearers’ Union.

1889 Australian unions send £30,000 to striking London dockers.

1890 70,000 union members in six colonies.

1890 Capitalists organise Employers’ Unions and Pastoralists’ Union.

August 1890 Maritime strike defeated.

1891 shearers’ strike in Queensland. Troops sent against shearers; union leaders to prison.

1892 Broken Hill strike.

1894 Shearers’ strike in NSW.

The union movement is crippled.

Economy

1881-1901 Sydney population goes from 225,000 to 500,000. Melbourne rises from 270,000 in 1881 to 473,000 by 1891, but is then flat until after 1901, falling behind Sydney. Brisbane is up threefold to 94,000.

1880s Railway boom across Melbourne suburbs.

Tariffs support manufacturing in Victoria.

Pacific Islanders work sugarcane fields.

1888 Broken Hill Pty established.

1880-90 Government debts double.

1890s Bust is worst in Melbourne where banks and land sharks control parliament.

Collapse leads to one in three being jobless in Victoria. Wages are cut from six shillings a day down to one or two shillings for labourers.

1890s Gold rushes in West Australia.

Politics

Support for a single-tax on land to break up big estates and end tariffs.

1883 Queensland makes a grab for Papua.

‘White Australia’ as national ideal.

1891 Labor parties form.

1893 Queensland National Bank saved from collapse by use of public funds. Entire Qld cabinet on the board of the bank. Queensland Premier, Sir Thomas McIlwraith, took £251,000 from the bank to use in land speculation. Biggest government scandal in Qld History (before the Fitzgerald Inquiry)

1899 World’s first Labor government in Queensland.

1901 The six colonies federate to strengthen British empire. Radicals oppose undemocratic Constitution; they want an independent republic.

1901 to 1910

Unions

Building unions

1906-07 Melbourne building trades win a 20 percent loading for lost time.

1908 Perth labourers start a new union, with 29 members.

1910 Melbourne drive for 44-hour week.

9 September 1910 Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia Labourers’ Unions sign on to Australian Builders’ Labourers’ Federation (ABLF); 25 November, Tasmania joins.

22 January 1911 ABLF registers with Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration.

Henry Hannah, Victorian and Federal secretary, brings navvies and labourers’ assistants into the one union.

Building industry

Whelan the Wrecker begins in Melbourne.

A slow revival of building and construction.

Price-fixing by brick-makers and contractors.

Other unions

All unions rebuild.

State governments limit their success through Wages Boards and Industrial Courts.

1904 Australian Workers Union is formed.

1906 Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration set up.

1907 Its second President, Justice Higgins, awards basic wage for a family of five.

Arbitration draws more workers into unions; numbers increase fivefold until a third of workers are members.

Economy

Monopolising through trusts and price-fixing.

1902 Seven-year drought at its worst. Sheep numbers fall by a third and the wheat crop is only one-tenth of usual.

Therefore, government income is cut and fewer public works, despite higher jobless rates.

1906– Commonwealth tariffs for manufacturers.

Politics

Commonwealth administration slow to get underway because of shortage of funds.

1904 Minority Commonwealth Labor government.

1902-8 ‘White Australia’ enforced by mass deportations.

1902– Votes for European women.

1906– Victorian Socialist Party spreads Marxist ideas of class struggle and international solidarity.

1907– Industrial Workers of the World agitates among navvies.

1911 to 1919

Unions

ABLF

1910– Jack Millard as Federal President and NSW secretary.

1912– Ben Mulvogue as Victorian Secretary.

1912-32 Percy J Smith as Federal and Victorian secretary.

1912 Building Trades’ Federations in Victoria and Queensland.

October 1913 Perth labourers register with the State Court of Arbitration as the Metropolitan Builders’ Labourers’ Union of Workers; February 1914, its 81 members get an award.

December 1913 ABLF federal award with a common rate for all grades of labourers and a 20 percent loading for lost time. 1914 High Court strikes down the compensation clauses. 1917 Privy Council in London throws out appeal from the Masters against any award.

1912 to 1916 membership up from 3,000 to 8,000.

Conflicts with United Labourers’ Union of navvies influenced by the IWW.

1915 Fails to merge with the AWU.

1916 Beats back lock-out in Hobart.

1916 Licensing of scaffolders in Queensland.

1916
BLNews in Victoria banned for its Anti-Slavery issue against conscription.

16 November 1917 Queensland branch registers with State Court, John William Abbiss as secretary.

Building industry

Taxes on unimproved land values drive demolition and more city building.

1914-15 Work for labourers in building camps for troops.

Other unions

No ‘settlement’ between capital and labour.

Disputes in mines and on wharves.

1912 Brisbane general strike and repressive Industrial Peace Act.

1917 Opposition to time-and-motion studies in NSW railways leads to a general strike.

1919 Maritime and meat-workers stop.

1919-20 Broken Hill miners locked out for 18 months.

Economy

Revival of assisted immigration.

1914- War disrupts shipping.

1915 BHP steel works opens at Newcastle.

1915 Inflation reaches 17 percent, and again in 1919; wages fall behind.

1916– Unemployed up to 11 percent.

Politics

Labor governments in all States.

1910-13 a Labor majority in both houses of Federal Parliament, but unable to alter the Constitution through referenda.

1911– Workers resist compulsory military training for all young males.

1914 Labor Party leaders support the war to the ‘last man and the last shilling’.

400,000 volunteers for Australian Imperial Force, with 60,000 dead and as many seriously wounded.

1915– Progressive legislation in Queensland.

1916 Labor Party splits over conscription for overseas service.

1916 and 1917 plebiscites reject conscription but voters back win-the-war parties.

Political repression under War Precautions Act puts 100 militants in prison.

1920 to 1929

Unions

ABLF

1919 Queensland branch is party to a Building Trades’ Award and thus outside the Commonwealth award.

1919 Strikes in Adelaide and Melbourne.

BLs very keen on a single industry union.

1925 Queensland gets permission to leave the Federation to join an industrial union, but never happens.

1926 Barwon bridge case (Vic.) gives coverage of some bridges against AWU.

1927 Queensland joins three other building unions to stop for a 40-hour week; after defeat, branch is de-registered and punished by losing coverage north of Mackay to the AWU.

SA very militant while Tasmania stagnates.

Victoria and New South decline, as does the Federal body.

1928 WA BL union has 750 members but still limited to Perth and Fremantle.

Other unions

1919- support for One Big Union makes little progress.

1921 Half of the workforce is in a union.

Rolling disputes in mining, maritime and railways.

1926 Crimes Act attacks union rights.

Stacking of Commonwealth Arbitration Court with bosses’ men.

1927 Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) formed.

1928 ‘Dog Collar’ on the wharves to protect scabs.

1928-29 Police kill workers on Melbourne wharf and at Rothbury in Hunter Valley.

Economy

Post-war boom followed by slump in 1921-22.

Chronic balance-of-payments problems and war debts.

Governments borrow under slogan of ‘Men, Money and Markets’.

1928 Depression begins.

Building Industry

Jobless rates for BLs in Melbourne swing between 5 and 22 percent.

1926-32 Sydney Harbour bridge.

1927– ‘Picture Palaces’ for talkies provide work, as do insurance offices and hospitals;

inner-city department stores are rebuilt.

Concrete becomes a structural material.

Politics

Reactionary Federal government throughout the decade.

Country Parties form.

1920 Communist Party established but divided, and even weaker during the late 1920s.

1925– State Labor government in Queensland turns reactionary.

1926 NSW Compensation Act brings benefits through Government Insurance Offices in Labor States.

1929 to 1940

Unions

ABLF

1929 Timber workers strike bankrupts the ABLF in Victoria and NSW.

1930-32 Huge drop in membership; Queensland falls from 2,375 to 859;

WA is down from 752 to 64, but back up to 570 in 1939.

1932– Victoria under petty corruption of secretary Dick Loughnan.

1934-35 Queensland taken over by AWU low lifes.

‘The Plan’ from the Communists for a single industrial union, which only Queensland supports.

1937 New Federal Award brings very little change from 1913; it moves from a common rate to two classifications, and provides a 15 percent loading for casuals.

1938 WA building trade award after a strike.

1938-9 Federal Council fails to meet.

Other unions

1934 Victory of the mining community at Wonthaggi (V) is the turning point in fight back.

By 1937, Communist leadership in mining, maritime and manufacturing unions.

1938 ‘Dole-queue patriots’ at Port Kembla (NSW) block export of pig iron to Japanese militarists.

Economy

1930- Wages cut under Premiers’ Plan to pay interest to British bondholders.

‘Equality of sacrifice’ means that a judge on the Arbitration Court loses only as much as a labourer earns.

Wage cuts and lower government spending make the depression worse.

1932 A third of workforce is out of a job.

Jobless figures never below 10 percent.

Building industry

1931 Housing starts down to 6,000, from 50,000 in 1925, but up to 40,000 by 1939.

Late 1930s Public works such as hospitals provide work.

Banks will not lend to manufacturers, hence, little factory construction.

Politics

1929-32 Labor governments hopeless; most enforce wage cuts.

1930– Local fascists in secret armies such as the New and Old Guards in NSW.

1932 Governor Game sacks NSW Labor premier Jack Lang.

Strengthening of Communist Party.

Movements against fascism, whether here or abroad.

1941 to 1949

Unions

ABLF

1940– Federation revives.

1941 SA membership up to 1,000.

1941 Communist Paddy Malone secretary in Victoria.

1941 NSW under control of the gangster Fred Thomas, who is also federal secretary from 1942.

1942 Bill Tryrell as right-wing Queensland secretary.

Western Australia still going it alone with 1,450 members.

1948 Right-wing takeover in SA with Fred Shaw as secretary.

Building industry

1942– Civil Construction Corps recruits 40,000 to build for war effort.

1945 Shortage of 300,000 houses. Rationing of building materials.

1949 Snowy Mountains hydro-electricity and irrigation schemes.

Other unions

By 1943, Communists influential at the ACTU and in several State and regional Trades and Labor Councils.

To break Red control, Industrial Groups are directed by the pro-fascist B A Santamaria, and supported by Roman Catholic church, the security police and the US embassy.

1942 Building Workers Industrial Union (BWIU) formed from carpenters and bricklayers.

1945 Australian unionists help Indonesians to drive out Dutch.

1948-64 Federal deregistration of BWIU.

1948 Forty-hour week.

1949 Troops break coal strike.

Economy

War pulls capitalism out of the 1930s depression.

Post-war fears of return to depression.

Dollar shortages restrict revival after 1945.

Policy of ‘full employment’, usually under two percent.

1947 Immigration scheme contracts newcomers to work for two years as directed.

Manufacturing expands, for example, the first Holden in 1948.

Politics

Anti-fascist struggle turns to Cold War.

1941-49 Federal Labor government.

Labor governments in several States.

December 1949 Reactionary coalition under R G Menzies.

1950 to 1960

Unions

ABLF

1951 Federal award almost the same as 1937.

1951 Right sends ‘Speed’ Morgan to Tasmania as secretary.

1956 Victoria wins a Building Industry Agreement, setting pattern for deals outside the Arbitration system.

1957 Left wins NSW leadership, but loses in 1958 to no-hopers.

Building industry

1952 Federation joins ‘Save the building industry’ campaign.

1947 to 1954 Building and construction workforce grows by 40 percent, but by only 12 percent between 1954 and 1961.

Vast increase in labour productivity.

US contractors here (Utah, Braun and Kaiser).

Southern Europeans labour in construction and on building sites.

1956 Melbourne ICI building above 40m.

1957 First shopping centre, Chermside (Brisbane).

1957 Work starts on Sydney Opera House.

High-rises begin, for example, Torbreck apartments in Brisbane.

1959 Altona petro-chemical plants under construction.

Housing

1954 to 1961 Four out of every ten new homes are fibro.

Many built by owners and their friends.

By 1954, 115,000 war-service homes have been constructed since 1920.

1958 Housing shortage down to 80,000.

1960-61 Construction peaks at 94,500.

By 1961, 2.5m. dwellings, nine out of twenty are weatherboard.

Flats and apartments more popular, from a mere 46 new ones in 1946 to 15,600 in 1963-4, and then to 28,200 in 1964-5.

Other unions

All-time peak union membership with two-thirds of workforce, but many join because of compulsory or preference clauses.

1950 Commonwealth government prepares to intern Red union leaders under ‘Operation Alien’.

Right-wing controls ACTU.

1952 Return of the ASC&J as right-wing opponent of de-registered BWIU.

1958 New Act divides Arbitration Commission from Industrial Court to enforce penal clauses.

Economy

1950 Revived by Korean war. Ups and downs throughout 1950s with a stop-go economy; credit squeezes in 1951, 1955 and 1960.

1952-55 Freeze on the Federal basic wage hurts labourers most.

Assisted immigration brings half a million, one-third British.

US investments increase in every corner of the economy.

Politics

Cold War McCarthyism.

Fears of national independence in Asia, of communism, and of Japan.

Unions involved in peace movements and in opposition to the bomb: ‘Peace is union business’.

1951 Formal alliance with the US of A.

1951 Peace treaty with Japan.

1951 Defeat of ban on Communist Party in a September referendum.

1954-55 Petrov Royal Commission looks for a Red spy ring.

1954 and 1957 Labor Party splits, and the Catholic Right forms DLP.

1961 to 1970

Unions

ABLF

November 1961 Victorian organiser Norm Gallagher elected Federal secretary. The Federation is broke.

The Federation comes back to life after forty years of being little more than a name.

1961 Splits in world Communism affect the building unions and conflicts inside the ABLF.

1961 Left wins most positions in NSW; Mick McNamara as secretary with 720 votes out of 1,326.

1962 A new style of federal Award built on classifications.

1962 Queensland secretary Farrell forced to resign. New generation of officials with Jim Delaney as secretary.

Queensland branch transformed by resource projects in the central coal basin and by high-rises in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast.

By 1964, NSW still unable to pay its own way; its officials want to merge with the BWIU.

1965-66 West Australia joins the Federation; of 922 ballot papers, 288 are returned with 216 of in favour; the branch is still pretty helpless.

New methods and materials, mostly around concrete, challenge carpenters over form- work and plasterers about finishing-off.

1966– Unable to register new name to match these changes.

1967 Les Robinson replaces no-hoper secretary in South Australia; by 1971, membership up to 3,000.

1968 Jack Mundey as NSW secretary.

1968– Breaking concrete pours as a tactic.

1970 Labourers’ margins up to 90% of carpenters.

Improvements in Victorian Building Industry Agreement.

Building industry

1961 AMP building in Sydney is first to go above 117m.

1961 Two percent of building and construction workforce are women.

1967 Australia Square tower in Sydney completed.

1968 Building Owners’ and Managers’ Association established.

Other unions

1947-71 Union density for mining down from 76 to 50% and transport from 65 to 35%. Building and construction steady at 35%.

1954-71 Only one new worker in three joins a union.

Loss of jobs in mines and on wharves.

1964 Southern Europeans as factory fodder sparks mass action at General-Motors.

1966– Rising tide of militancy among manufacturing unions against merging of margins into basic wage.

By 1968 Penal powers see twenty-nine unions fined 800 times.

May 1969 Secretary of Victorian Tramways, Clarrie O’Shea, gaoled for not paying fines; one million stop in support.

1969 US embassy backs R J Hawke for ACTU presidency.

1969– Slow moves towards equal pay for women.

Economy

1960-62 Slump after third credit squeeze.

1963– Growth fairly steady until 1974.

The affluent society arrives, at last, thanks to hire purchase and mining exports.

Urban sprawl and high-rises in CBDs.

US investments boom.

Japan as major trading partner for raw materials.

Mineral exports drive up the Australian dollar to leave manufacturing and agriculture less competitive.

Politics

1964 Menzies lies to parliament to commit troops to Vietnam.

1965 A lottery of death to conscript twenty-year olds.

1966 Labor wiped out at the federal elections for opposing Vietnam war.

1967 Gough Whitlam takes over federal labor leader with policies for urban life.

1966– Surge of radical actions, sparked by student protests.

Aboriginal black power as Gurindji walk off and demand land rights.

1967 Ninety percent vote for Commonwealth powers over Aborigines.

‘White Australia’ fades.

1970 to 1982

Unions

ABCE&BLF

A medium-sized union punches well above its weight with guerrilla tactics keeping employers and governments off balance.

1970 Struggle for higher margins leads to conflict with tradesmen.

1970 Gallagher takes over as Victorian secretary on death of Paddy Malone.

1970 ‘Green bans’ begin in Melbourne with gaoling of Gallagher.

1970– Employers use civil law to replace penal powers; December 1972, SA branch secretary Robinson and organiser Ron Owens gaoled for contempt.

Battles with Plasterers’ who are backed by the BWIU.

New methods and materials re-define skills.

1971 Federation Reports 16,609 members to ACTU.

‘No-ticket, No start’ lifts membership while most unions shrink.

1971 NSW strike by building trades boosts injury pay.

Campaign for permanent employment for all building workers fails, yet secures many of the conditions attached to it, such as long-service leave.

Worker control strongest around inner Sydney.

1973 Change of name to Australian Building and Construction Employees and Builders’ Labourers’ Federation.

1973 Gallagher elected to ACTU executive as the building industry representative; a sign that the labourers are challenging tradesmen on the jobs.

1974 Western Australia re-organised with Kevin Reynolds as secretary.

21
June
1974 Federation de-registered.

October
1974 Federal intervention in NSW; branch under secretary Les Robinson, and Steve Black from 1977.

16
June
1976 BLF re-registered.

Direct action speeds up compensation pay-outs.

1980 Tasmanian secretary ‘Speed’ Morgan dies and replaced by Jim Bacon from Victoria.

1980 Loy Yang power house and Omega disputes.

22
June
1981 High Court Omega decision favours Federation.

Gallagher and Black push for coverage of all metal towers.

1982 Scissors-lift dispute sees branch expelled from Melbourne Trades Hall Council.

Building industry

October 1970 Westgate bridge collapse kills 35 workers.

October 1973 Opera House opens.

1974 Mainline goes bust, followed by other builders, e.g., K D Morris in Queensland.

1976 Fifty-two (177m) floors of Nauru House, tallest building in Melbourne

1980 Centrepoint Tower in Sydney.

1979 The second oil-price increase leads to infrastructure projects with power stations and aluminum smelters.

1982 Construction slumps.

Other unions

1970 Membership down to one worker out of two; women workers now at that level of unionisation.

Rise of white-collar militants as teachers and nurses strike.

1973 Immigrant workers take mass action at Ford plant, Broadmeadows (Vic.)

1974 Four times as many days lost from disputes as in 1967.

1976– Secondary boycott legislation and Trade Practices Act used against workers.

Fight against uranium mining and for Aboriginal land rights.

Economy

1971 Gold standard abandoned.

Two oil price shocks in 1973 and 1979.

Rise in the exchange rate removes much of the effect of tariff protection. Huge job losses.

Wages share up in the first half of the 1970s.

Four weeks annual leave and holiday loading.

1975 Unemployment at 5 percent.

Era of stagflation – combining unemployment with inflation.

Politics

Fresh outlook on women’s rights, land rights for Aborigines and the environment.

1972– Whitlam government is progressive on health, education and urban development.

1974-75 Government plans to control of minerals and energy with petro-dollar loans.

1975 Independence for Papua New Guinea.

11
November
1975 CIA agent and governor-general John Kerr sacks Whitlam.

1975– Fraser government.

1976 Fraser destroys Medibank.

1983 to 1993

Unions

ABCE&BLF

1983 Gallagher in prison for contempt.

1985– Federation leads opposition to the later Accords.

1991-92 Gallagher removed as Victorian and Federal secretary.

1991-92 John Cummins as Victorian secretary.

1992 Victorian branch down to 120 members.

De-reg.

20
August
1981 Commonwealth and Victoria start Royal Commission and de-registration.

1 July
1982 RC report tabled.

21
October
1982 Criminal proceedings begin.

February
1983 Developers plead guilty and get fined.

May
1983 Federation promises to behave and de-reg. is shelved.

June
1985 Gallagher found guilty and sentenced to thirteen years.

1985 NSW branch de-registered.

14
April
1986 Federation, Victorian and ACT branches deregistered and derecognised.

Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia retain State registrations.

1990 De-registrations extended for five years.

Building industry

1984 Building Industry Superannuation C-BUS

Marked improvement in health and safety laws.

Tourist boom adds building jobs.

1990 Property boom collapses.

Vast expansion of subbies – so-called independent contractors and labour-hire firms.

1991-2 NSW Royal Commission exposes more corruption among Master Builders.

Other unions

1982 Unionisation slips from one worker in two in 1982 to one in three by 1994.

1984 New Right with H R Nicholls Society to destroy collective bargaining.

1983 Business Council of Australia.

1984– Attacks on electricity linesmen, meat workers and plumbers.

1987 ACTU Congress swallows Australia Reconstructed and ‘Strategic Unionism’.

Loss of fight among most unions under the Accords.

Economy

1983 Drought ends.

1983– Accord process. Middle 80 percent of workers lose real wages.

1983 ALP floats dollar and de-regulates the financial sector to encourage schemes to make money out of money.

Financial scandals from ALP administrations in WA, SA and Victoria.

1986 Fears of a banana republic.

Collapse of manufacturing.

Spread of casualisation for women and loss of full-time jobs for males. Endless re-training schemes. Long-term unemployed put on disability pensions.

October 1987 stock-market collapse.

1990 Recession.

Politics

Thirteen years of ALP Federal government give free rein to global corporates.

1985 Medicare begins.

ALP sells Commonwealth Bank and QANTAS.

Communist Parties implode; decline of class politics generally.

1994 to future

Unions

CFMEU Construction Division

1991 Four branches cornered into amalgamating with tradesmen.

March 1994 BLF joins Construction Division.

‘BLF’ continues in Queensland within the Construction Division.

BL officials take leadership in WA, SA and Victoria.

NSW dominated by the tradesmen from the BWIU.

2001 Cole Royal Commission into Building and Construction Industry reports in 2003.

2005 Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act turns union action into a criminal offence.

Australian Building and Construction Commission get police-state powers, maintained under the ALP’s Gillard.

Asbestos scandal around Hardie Bros in mass murder for profit.

2009-10 Ark Tribe’s acquittal in SA is a fitting close to a century of struggle for health and safety.

Other Unions

Keating’s ALP weakens collective bargaining.

1996 IR Act under Howard leaves only twenty allowable matters and limits organising on sites.

1998 Construction workers play leading role in defeating waterfront conspiracy,.

2000 Percentage of workforce in unions down to one in four, mostly in government sector; half are women.

2005 Frontal attack to abolish unionism by WorkChoices.

2008 Gillard’s FairWork Australia Act retains much of WorkChoices, almost no right to strike and violates other ILO standards.

2009– Gillard’s ALP undermines OH&S and Workers’ Compensation with threats of ‘harmonisation’ between State laws.

Economy

1993– More or less continuous boom fueled by demand for raw materials and infrastructure.

Housing demand outruns supply.

Wind-back of public housing for all except some welfare tenants.

2007- Job losses in building and construction from economic crisis warded off by government spending on energy-saving, schools and first-home loans.

Politics

Property developers bankroll ALP.

Loss of socialist ideals and Marxian analysis.

1996 Howard becomes prime minister.

2007 ‘Your Rights at Work’ campaign defeats Coalition.

2010 ALP scrapes back.

2 responses to “We Built This Country – Builders’ Labourers and their Unions

  1. Building workers march on May Day 2011

    Like

  2. ian
    i forgot to say this poem by the BLF worker poet & organiser Samuel Champ, Hobart, 1916 was written decades before
    the german poet & playright bertolt brecht was even known or perhaps even born. this poem below by bertolt brechts became universally famous

    Questions From a Worker Who Reads

    Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
    In the books you will find the names of kings.
    Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?
    And Babylon, many times demolished
    Who raised it up so many times? In what houses
    of gold-glittering Lima did the builders live?
    Where, the evening that the Wall of China was finished
    Did the masons go? Great Rome
    Is full of triumphal arches. Who erected them? Over whom
    Did the Caesars triumph? Had Byzantium, much praised in song
    Only palaces for its inhabitants? Even in fabled Atlantis
    The night the ocean engulfed it
    The drowning still bawled for their slaves.

    Like

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