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Green bans movement, Australia

Meredith Burgmann and Verity Burgmann

Subject History
Social Movements » Collective Behaviour

Place Australasia » Australia

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics labor movements, labor unions, social change

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405197953.2009.00656.x


The Australian green bans movement lasted from 1970 to 1975. It was the first such action in the world. It occurred when builders' laborers (BLs) took the unusual action of refusing to work on environmentally or socially undesirable construction and a significant social movement developed in support of these bans. The movement saved Sydney from much of the devastation that would otherwise have been wrought by developers and had international ramifications within environmental politics. The trade union involved was the New South Wales branch of the Australian Builders' Laborers' Federation (NSWBLF), which covered unskilled and certain semi-skilled workers employed on building sites. The NSWBLF, with about 11,000 members, was guided by many committed officials, including three particularly outstanding union leaders: Jack Mundey , Joe Owens, and Bob Pringle. They were strongly influenced by new left ideology with its emphasis on equality, participatory democracy, and direct action. The union became committed to the principle of “the social responsibility of labor,” insisting all work should be socially useful and ecologically benign. Mundey maintained unions had to become involved with environmental issues because “too few people question the products we make” (Mundey 1988: 179–80). Owens argued that unions had the ability to restrain corporations and prompt governments to reconsider ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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