Today friends, unionists and activists gathered at the Town Hall to celebrate the extraordinary life of Jack Mundey. Jack had been a rugby league player, labourer, unionist and left intellectual. The Green Ban era was ground breaking. But he packed in so much more. His dedication to building mass movements was inspirational. I was fortunate to know Jack since I was a young teenager. It was an honour to speak at today’s State Memorial for Jack Mundey. My speech follows.
I do acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we are on – the Gadigal of the Eora nation – and pay tribute to their history, their culture and their many ongoing struggles for justice.
Jack Mundey continues to inspire young and old. The Green Ban era alone would be an exceptional accomplishment for one lifetime. But Jack packed in so much more. The role he played in building the great social movements of the later half of the 20th century is to be honoured and built upon.
A frequently asked question about Jack’s work is – how did he win the active support of so many; how did he win the support of often poorly educated labourers – for environmental, feminist, LGBTI and international solidarity campaigns?
The answer is education and involvement of union members, and most importantly Jack’s ability to convince people to support just causes.
Rebuilding the Builders Labourers Federation as a democratic, members run union was a major achievement of Jack’s. It was certainly one that laid the basis for the Green Bans and the social movement unionism that came to characterise Jack’s political work.
As well as being a rugby league player, labourer and union organiser Jack was a left intellectual – an intellectual who frequented the barricades. Jack widely promoted the concept of social responsibility of labour. He argued that workers had the right to insist that the work they undertook was not harmful to the environment or other people, and that society could move past the destructive practices inherent in capitalism.
Jack’s other great contribution in terms of analysis and practical involvement was his commitment to social change movements. We see this in his work to build broad, cross class alliances and where necessary to use direct action to advance radical demands.
The latter was well illustrated in Jack’s contribution to the anti-Vietnam War struggle. In May 1965 the Menzies government decided to send Australian conscripts to fight alongside US troops in that shocking war. Jack was part of a small group of protesters who recognised the need to respond with more radical action.
On the night of the Menzies announcement Jack Mundey, Bill Brown and Bruce Steele were arrested at a sit-in blocking traffic in the CBD. History was made on this occasion. This is thought to be Australia’s first political sit-in. This protest and similar arrestable actions helped build the anti-Vietnam War struggle into the massive movement that within a decade saw Australia withdraw from the war in Vietnam.
Jack’s Green Ban work and political activities were influenced by the constructive, collective work of the Communist Party of Australia. Jack had joined the party in the 1950s and in the 1970s was elected party President. He was a strong advocate for socialism with a human face.
In the early 1990s Jack joined the Greens. Years earlier he had had a role in the name of this new left party. German peace activist, Petra Kelly was inspired by the Green Bans and Jack’s work when she visited here in the 1970s. She was looking for a name for a new German left party. In 1980, with Petra Kelly a driving force, the German Green Party was formed, and a few years later the name came back to Australia when the first Greens party was formed in this country.
Jack was an active Greens member supporting the party’s many campaigns, standing for elections, writing endorsements for candidates and handing out how-to-vote cards.
Jack actively supported progressive campaigns up to his late 80s, and in 2016 he was involved in another Green Ban win. This time at Bondi where he spoke at a press conference with CFMEU Construction officials when they announced a Green Ban on Bondi Pavilion. The ban had been requested by the local community to stop a Liberal privatisation plan.
The principles that Jack had advanced decades earlier of strong community engagement, rank and file union support, and democratic and direct action were successfully utilised to win this campaign.
It is fitting I conclude with Jack’s own words. In 2011 at an event to mark forty years since the first Green Ban at Kelly’s Bush Jack stated: “If we are going to have a twenty-first century, and if socialism is going to be successful, it should be directed towards harmonising with nature and other living species. … Capitalism cannot be humanised.”
I extend my condolences to Judy Mundey and thank her for the support and love she shared with Jack – a partnership that was the key to so much of Jack’s life which we celebrate today.