This week Sydney lost one of its finest. The labour movement lost one of its great militants.
The Australia Greece Solidarity Campaign (AGSC) mourns the passing of Jack Mundey.
Jack Mundey became patron of the AGSC in 2014 as the economic and political crisis in Greece was kicking into overdrive. He lent his name to our cause and both he and his partner Judy encouraged the AGSC with their support. They were there for this battle like they had been so many others.
It was not surprising that Jack supported our campaign. He had been the leader of the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) in the 1960s and 1970s when many migrants were getting off the ships and looking for any work they could find. The building sites were a rough and tumble place full of industrial accidents and poorly paid. They were an easy place for many Greeks and other migrants to get a job. The BLF was a natural home for many of these migrant workers. They benefited from a union that fought hard with employers for their rights and their conditions. They fought hard and they won. Time and again. There is many an Italian and a Greek that will raise a glass for Jack this week.
But if Jack and the BLF were there for the workers doing some of the hardest, more dangerous and low paid work, they were also there to think about what that work produced and for whom. Perhaps their most radical challenge was to the idea ‘do your job and then go home’. The idea that a bunch of poorly paid labourers could consult a community and then ban construction of a building or a development because it didn’t meet community need was a staggering proposition. If you attempt that today, your union will be bankrupted by civil action and as a leader you will end up in jail. It’s the type of thinking that worries the powerful. It overthrows systems or they overthrow you.
Much has been written about the Green Bans and their saving of Sydney. There were many of these and one directly touched the Greek community. The old Greek restaurant Diethnes was formerly known as Nicks and was run by a member of the Atlas League (a Greek workers association that was the political home of the political and industrial Greek left in Sydney). In 1973 the building went up for auction with keen interest by developers that wanted its demolition. Mundey slapped a Green Ban on the building for its historical and cultural value. The poor old building survived and Diethnes continues to the present day. When the virus is beat we can assemble there again.
People like Jack inspire us to understand our circumstances more fully. They also inspire us to apply all the daring, wit, humour and organisation at our disposal so that we do not accept being prisoners of those circumstances. He lived it and breathed it. We do well to move forward with that spirit.
In Greece they say “history is written on the streets”. In Australia, Jack wrote it on the streets and in the parks. He wrote it with workers who chose when to pour concrete, and when not.
On behalf of our campaign, we extend our condolences to his partner Judy, family and friends.
Adam Rorris is a senior economist in International Relations, Government Financing, Expenditure Analysis, Policy Analysis and Capacity Building.