Macquarie University
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A new concept of unionism: the New South Wales Builders Labourers' Federation, 1970-1974

posted on 2022-03-28, 00:55 authored by Meredith Burgmann
This thesis examines the activities of the NSW B.L.F. during the years 1970-1974, the period in which the Union's radical industrial and social policies - notably the introduction of the famous "green bans" - brought it national and even international attention. Few secondary sources exist for this subject, the research is based on a study of the Union's archives, other ephemeral material of the period, and extended interviews with participants in the events of the period. Part I describes the Union's history from 1951-1974, including a lengthy account of the Union's activities in support of the right of women to work in the building industry. This area is considered in special detail because it was one of the most remarkable aspects of the Union's "new concept of unionism". Part II considers theoretical questions raised by the material in Part I. It discusses the economic and ideological pre-conditions which enabled the NSW B.L.F. to emerge in the way it did. The B.L.F. experience is then placed in the framework of traditional syndicalism, particularly concentrating on the way the Union leadership transmitted its ideology. Marxist accounts of unionism are considered, especially Lenin's theories about containment and incorporation of trade unions. It is argued that the NSW B.L.F. overcame these factors which normally inhibit revolutionary unionism. The conclusion drawn is that in 1970-1974 the Union acted in a revolutionary fashion. Its green ban philosophy directly confronted capital, taking from the employer the right to decide what to build and where. Mass action by the membership physically defeated employer attempts to break the Union's bans. However in the existing climate of conservative Australian trade unionism and especially because of the lack of support of the other building unions, this situation could not last. A revolutionary union operating in a non-revolutionary situation cannot remain so. It can only draw back from its revolutionary stance (i.e. lift the green bans) or it can be destroyed. The NSW B.L.F. refused to alter its green ban philosophy, even under extreme pressure, and on 24 March 1975 it ceased to exist.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Chapter One. The background - Building industry employers and the building unions -- Chapter Two. The old concept of unionism -- Chapter Three. The 1970 margins strike -- Chapter Four. 1970 -- Chapter Five. 1971 -- Chapter Six. 1972 -- Chapter Seven. 1973 -- Chapter Eight. 1974 -- Chapter Nine. Women in the industry -- Chapter Ten. Economic, ideological and structural pre-conditions -- Chapter Eleven. The syndicalist tradition -- Chapter Twelve. Revolutionary unionism? -- Conclusion -- Appendix A: The fight for control 1951-1961 -- Appendix B: Consolidation 1961-1969 -- Appendix C: Federal-state relations in the A.B.L.F. 1961-1969 -- Bibliography.


Bibliography: pages 427-455

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (Ph.D.) , Macquarie University, Sydney, 1981. | Degree conferred May 1982

Department, Centre or School

School of History, Philosophy and Politics

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Don Aitkin

Additional Supervisor 1

Bob Connell


Copyright Meredith Burgmann 1981. Copyright disclaimer:




New South Wales


1 online resource (cxxv, 455 pages)

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