The unlikely little Aussie who could teach Canadian unions a thing or two

Allan Fotheringham June 28 1976

The unlikely little Aussie who could teach Canadian unions a thing or two

Allan Fotheringham June 28 1976

The unlikely little Aussie who could teach Canadian unions a thing or two

Allan Fotheringham

What, pray tell, do Barbara Ward, Buckminster Fuller, Margaret Mead and Jack Mundey have in common? Barbara Ward, of course, is Lady Jackson, the brilliant British economist whose thinking on world problems has earned her the title of Lady Spaceship Earth. Bucky Fuller is the futurist thinker, father of the geodesic dome— as famous as Mead, the best-known anthropologist of our age. When they gather in one room, the static from the collective IQs tend to short-circuit the lights.

Jack Mundey? Well, he’s a short, bandylegged, big-nosed, ill-educated former rugby player from Sydney who has the stance of a man bellying up to a bar and who owns that dreadful Australian accent that absolutely twangs the sensitive bones of the inner ear. He looks not unlike Andy Capp. He is also the bloke who now keeps company with these stratosphere intellects and as a formative thinker will soon be influencing the constipated minds of major Canadian union leaders. Mundey is the laborer who has decided that unions have a greater responsibility than simply to their pay cheques. They have a social responsibility as well and Mundey has achieved his fame by using labor’s clout to block projects in Australia that are deemed by the community to endanger the sanctity of the environment. As leader of the 40,000member Australian Builders’ Laborers Federation, he was the bloke who invented the green ban—labor’s veto over projects that threaten the environment. Shop steward, spare that tree.

It’s an intriguing concept, something quite foreign to the cash register mentality of most Canadian union leaders. The thought of Joe Morris and the Canadian Labor Congress trampling the bushes on Parliament Hill for anything other than to bash the Anti-Inflation Board is unthinkable. The only foliage the CLC is interested in is Jean-Luc Pepin’s moustache. It touches “the hip-pocket nerve” of North American labor, says Mundey, to think there might be any goals but monetary ones. But what’s the use of goosing up wages if the cities workers live in are dreary, faceless prisons? The green ban concept came five years ago when a developer moved in on Kelly’s Bush, the last remaining parcel of bushland in Sydney. When local residents’ protests failed, they appealed to Mundey and his union. Once convinced, Mundey posted his first green ban. When the developer threatened to use nonunion labor, the union said it would leave unfinished another of the developer’s half-completed office towers as a

permanent monument to Kelly’s Bush. Kelly’s Bush today remains a virginal tract.

One of the myths extant is that Australia is predominantly jolly swagmen and sheep stations (just as Aussies believe Canada is all igloos and red-coated fuzz). In fact, Australia is one of the most heavily urbanized countries in the world. More than half the population is crushed into the two conurbations of Sydney and Melbourne. As the Coca-Colonization of Australia progressed, the green ban idea spread. There have been 42 across Australia in the past five years, blocking three billion dollars in construction projects. Mundey, who

will only act at the request of local residents, claims that 25,000 homes have been rescued from freeway obliteration.

All this is pertinent because of the current Afghanistanism afflicting Canadian unions. Afghanistanism (also a recurring disease in journalism) is a malady that encourages pontification on problems far distant while conveniently ignoring the home front. Canadian labor is very bullish on denouncing the Vietnam war, nuclear proliferation and Concorde noise. Local issues that might affect the hip-pocket nerve are given rather shorter shrift. “Morals?” Eliza Doolittle’s dustman father says in My Fair Lady, “Can’t afford ’em.” That seems to be the attitude of big unions in Canada, oblivious all the way to the bank. Mundey, the lad with no education and a crooked nose, thinks differently. The planners of the soaring Sydney Opera House neglected to include a parking garage. To correct the oversight, they proposed tearing down magnificent 140-year-old trees that decorated the site jutting out into Sydney Harbor. The public appealed to the green ban boys and the trees today remain. But where were the unions when the issue of the Spa-

dina expressway divided Toronto? It was a middle-class protest that killed it. What were the unions doing in Montreal, when a municipal golf course in the east end was wiped out for a two-week Olympic Village that thereafter will be an apartment complex? Does labor really have any strong views on the Mackenzie Valley pipeline, or is it all going to be left to the academics and ecologists? There is, implicit, a Nuremberg cop-out that labor is only hired to do a job and has no views. It takes the money and runs.

Jack Mundey argues, in his “socialism with a human face,” that that isn’t good enough. He’s an interesting cat, of “good convict stock,” a rough-hewn Catholic who came to Sydney out of a poor dairy farm in northern Queensland to play rugby. Because of his lack of education, he became a laborer and the rest is labor history. He’s a Communist, his views coinciding with the trendy blue-rinse matrons of suburbia who want to save the flora and fauna and prefer to think of him as a humanist. He’s contemptuous of the supine Canadian Communists or any other branch of the party that follows the Moscow line.

Completely self-educated, at 42 he is the Eric Hoffer of the left, a most articulate conversationalist who talks of how Marx was all wrong about Malthus and of how history will remember “not that bloody Mao” but Barry Commoner, the American pollution-fighter. Brought to the UN conference on human settlements on a grant arranged by Barbara Ward, he was one of 24 world thinkers billed as the Vancouver Symposium that issued the theme document. Dr. Juliusz Gorynski of Poland, Petro-Can chairman Maurice Strong, Dr. Panaysis Psomopolous of Greece, Dr. Laila Shukry El-Hamasy ... the platform awash with PhDs and there was the rumpled, corduroy-jacketed Mundey who does not own a tie (the Bill Veeck of the union hall).

He is off next to Birmingham, England, where union members want some say in the choice of useless products their plant produces. He has established links here with the United Auto Workers. Canadian unions at the UN session sniffed curiously around the Aussie at a distance, as if his ideas might infect them. But eventually the pressure of conscience will force them— now that their “wages” push them past the middle class—to adjust to his communityresponsive causes.

Jack Mundey. Write it down. His is an idea whose time has come.