Economics: Super Seduction
Interview: Bono and Me
Unions: The Eight Hour Day and the Holy Spirit
Technology: From Widgets to Digits
Education: Dumb and Dumber
Health: No Place for the Young
History: The Work-In That Changed a Nation
Review: Dare to Win
Poetry: Labor's Dreaming
The Locker Room
Morals Beat Hasty Retreat
Uncounted Cost Of Asbestos
Voting Farce Expands
I Beg To Differ
Dare to Win
"There's no time in this job. You've got to make all your gains fast because when the last door goes on, the last lock's fitted, the job's completed, you're all down the road, out of there," Mick Sage, carpenter.
The construction industry has an exciting urgency and energy. It's probably the emotional manifestation of a workplace that changes everyday until finally it disappears altogether.
And at any level, it's a cut throat game. This only adds to the drama.
Into this world plunges Liz Ross author of Dare To Struggle, Dare To Win! with the daunting task of documenting the last 15 years of one of Australia's most militant and controversial unions.
Ross makes no feint at an undaring objectivity, quoting liberally from Marx, Gramsci, Luxemburg and Trotsky.
But this fastidiously detailed read only benefits from the storyteller's undeniable love for the institution.
An institution that dared to take its brief beyond sticking up for its members work rights but also to their concerns about other issues of the day.
The union threw its weight around in everything from environmental concerns to Aboriginal rights, from community campaigns to its forthright action on behalf of women's, migrant and gay campaigns.
The union slapped green bans on much of the Rocks and ensured no McDonalds was ever built in Centennial Park.
The union was so political it banned work once on a communications tower because of a union wide US bases out campaign, but then lifted it because it was to be used to spy on Russia's forces in Afghanistan - a project union elements believed in.
When the state beat up its members, the BLF downed tools on police station sites. And they weren't afraid to break a concrete pour or two either.
This kind of "opinionated" approach to IR raised the ire of not only employers but also governments - especially as construction represents five percent of the economy and greatly influences employment. It's a major political football, and an important barometer for the economy as a whole.
So it wasn't just the fact many BLF leaders were avowed socialists, that conservative forces sought to destroy it.
Indeed in the union's heyday in the 1960's and 1970's many were members of the CPA, including Jack Mundey and Norm Gallagher.
And so Ross's story begins with the Fraser government's 1981 tri pronged attack on the union - a Royal Commission, de-registration proceedings in the Federal Court and contempt proceedings against Gallagher.
And like the recent Cole Royal Commission into the building industry the media were able to run all of the Commission's unsubstantiated accusations.
But there was only limited success for the Fraser Government which had to threaten many employers to participate. And other more moderate union leaders refused to criticise the BLF for striking or enforcing No Ticket, No Start.
Maybe the public had learnt from Jack Lang's remarks from the 1930's that no
government ever set up a royal Commission without knowing the findings beforehand.
While the union was able to attack the commission as a political witchhunt in full page newspapers ads, the de-registration proceedings left a heavier toll.
So much so the union had to levy members to pay its legal bills.
But the union remained strong and confident, after all, it had had bee de-registered in the 1970's and had actually grown its membership.
But the tide was turning for the BLF.
The culture of radicalism was changing and with Labor sweeping into power in Victoria in 1982 and nationally in 1983, the BLF's 'go it alone' policy was to be its undoing.
Over the years it had made many enemies, not just in the major political parties and boardrooms, but also in the broader trade union movement.
The years ahead would be a struggle, the Accord and other policies of the Labor Governments, perhaps ironically, racheting up the pressure on the union.
But the bitterness and division the next few years would cause for the labour movement is tempered in hindsight by the achievements of a union which had nothing but great 'confidence'.
It's legacy, whether in the geography of the modern day rocks district, or in stopping building workers having to work in the rain, will never be forgotten.
Liz Ross, Dare To Struggle, Dare To Win!, The Vulgar Press, 2004, $35
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