Roaring Jack : 'Lads of the B.L.F.'





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Published on Sep 9, 2009

From the album 'The Cat Among the Pigeons' (Mighty Boy, 1988). The B.L.F. -- Builders' Labourers' Federation -- was an Australian union (1911--1986) de-registered by the Australian Labor and various state governments in the 1980s.

"Before the mid-1980s, the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) was one of the most militant trade unions in Australia, if not the world. The BLF was characterised by repeated workplace-by-workplace strikes. For the most part, these were victorious, and the BLF was able to secure for its members a series of improvements in their pay and conditions. The Federation also took up other causes, including migrant, women's, gay and Aboriginal rights. The union's most famous actions were the 'Green Bans', the refusal to work on socially undesirable demolition or development. But as one of Ross' many interviewees, former BLF activist Peter O'Dea, recalls, 'We were far too successful in elevating labourers. We were cheeky. Precisely because the Federation won so often, it made a series of industrial and political enemies. Liberal governments attempted to crush the BLF and failed. Labor succeeded.

In 1985, a series of laws were passed to derecognise the Federation. Members of the BLF were denied access to negotiated rates of pay and hours of work. State governments were given the powers to ban not just the BLF, but any union which BLF members joined, or any union that might emerge in the future with a substantial ex-BLF minority. Former members of the Federation were forced to sign declarations saying they were not in the union before they could work. Deregistration was not simply a matter of passing a few laws. A press campaign was waged against the BLF leader, Norm Gallagher. The police were instructed to enforce the bans. The Federation's headquarters were repeatedly raided, including on one occasion in October 1987, by 150 Special Operations police in full riot gear. The government sequestered the union's funds, and handed them over to an Arbitration Commissioner, paying the princely sum of $1,000 for every day he worked. The Commissioner published 21 reports. The investigation continued for 14 years long after the BLF had ceased to exist. No financial misdemeanours were found."

Review of Liz Ross, 'Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win: Builders' Labourers' Fight Deregistration, 1981-1994' by David Renton (University of Sunderland, UK), 'Labour History', No.87, November 2004.

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