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  Issue No 50 Official Organ of LaborNet 14 April 2000  




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Rocking the Foundations

By Peter Lewis

Pat Fiske's wonderful documentary on the BLF should be compulsory viewing for anyone in the union movement talking about shifting to an Organising Model.


Because as this compelling story unfolds, what emerges is that the BLF experiment of the 1960s and early 1970s was a successful attempt to shift the power in a union from the top down to the bottom up.

As unions struggle to let go of the levers of power and genuinely empower the grassroots; the simple convictions that drove the transformation of the BLF should provide a case study.

The film charts the rise and fall of the BLF, as a group of rank and filers took control of a workforce riding the cusp of the development boom of the 1960s; developers were making massive profits on the backs of builders labourers risking their lives for a pittance.

Fiske seamlessly weaves archival footage with interviews with the key players: Mick McNamara, who led the rank and filers to power in 1961 at the tender age of 22, Joe Owens, Tommy Hogan and, of course, Jack Mundey.

From the takeover of the union to its historic alliance with other community groups through the Green Bans placed on a series of unpopular developments, the BLF showed what's possible when a union genuinely reflects its constituency.

Listen to Jack Mundey describe the ideas behind the BLF and you could be listening to Michael Cosby presenting a TUTA lecture:

"We tried to give strength to the rank and file and say: you are the union. While of course you can use the officials, in the main you can do the work at bargaining from the grass roots level. In this way we started to bring out worker control of the union itself ... it stood us in good stead when later the union was challenged by the joint force of the state and big employers."

Of course, the fall of the BLF rank-and-filers is just as compelling as their rise and Fiske chronicles the Gallagher takeover and its tragic implications to the BLF.

As the film so skillfully brings out, this was not just about union power; it was about building an organization that reflected the principled dignity, humility and - from 21st century eyes - innocence, of its members.

'Rocking the Foundations' is more than a doco, it is a piece of industrial art. Watch it when you can.

Your union can borrow Rocking the Foundations from the Labor Council Information Centre - Just Ask Neale to organize a loan!


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 50 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: The Gospel According To ...
Green Bans legend Jack Mundey looks back on his days in the BLF and the lessons that can be drawn from that experience today,
*  Unions: Spinning at the Casino
In the lead-up to this weekend's historic strike, active LHMU members at Sydney’s Star City Casino have been making their own news.
*  East Timor: Rebuilding From the Nightmare
NSW Attorney General Jeff Shaw travelled to Dili to get a first-hand perspective on the reconstruction work required.
*  History: Internal Democracy and the BLF
How the rank and file team that took over the BLF in the early sixties attempted to devolve power to the grassroots.
*  International: Towards Liberation
Zimbabwe trade unions are at the centre of the democratic struggle going on within the African Nation
*  Republic: The Referendum We Had To Have
Paul Norton finds some hope in last year's resounding defeat of the republic proposition.
*  Work/Time/Life: @work in the e-century
Marian Baird takes stock of how far we’ve come, or not come, in terms of our working life.
*  Review: Rocking the Foundations
Pat Fiske's wonderful documentary on the BLF should be compulsory viewing for anyone in the union movement talking about shifting to an Organising Model.

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»  Packer, Pratt to Profit at Unions' Expense
»  Telstra Discrimination: 'Round one' to the Workers
»  Timor Fundraiser a Blast
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»  Employment National Workers Win CES Conditions
»  Teachers Deal Still Undone
»  Pressure Builds for Compo Pull-Out
»  Pacific Unions Increase Regional Ties
»  Ellis to Give May Day Toast
»  Special Comp: Just Who Are Our Friends?

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