Seems like all of the community organizations in Australia rely on government funding alone mainly because the tax structure in Australia isn’t conducive to philanthropic foundations. Like government funded nonprofit service providers in North America they rarely, and if ever effectively, stand up for their constituents outside of a closet. The culture of effective, or real, community organizing is weak or nonexistent in Australia. Really, it would be hard to think of any government funded service provider mobilizing working people on the streets of Kalamazoo, Michigan against cuts to state social programs and expect the state Leg to pay the rent the following year. It’s no different in the suburbs of Australia. As a result, many of the organizations deliver direct services, while trying to build power and address policy issues in a closet.
For instance, Immigrant Women Speak Out, located in Sydney, formed in aid the immigrant women who were victims of domestic violence. The group advocated changes in the laws so that women who were immigrating to Australia were not at the mercy of their husbands. However, when they want to directly engage government officials around policy changes, they have to be very careful and creative about who shows up and who they are representing. The fear of losing funding keeps many organizations relatively unable to move beyond service delivery.
Civic Institutions Search for Relevancy
One of the most fascinating, albeit disheartening, similarities between North America and Australia is the decline in and weakening of civil society. To have a healthy, and robust community there must be a balance between Government, Civil Society, and the Market. These three spheres exert influence on one another, creating a system of checks and balances. Civil Society, where community organizations, unions, and congregations dwell, is critical. In particular, these institutions are responsible for creating an organized response to the Market. The mediating institutions of Civil Society are and must continue to be mediating institutions between the People and the harshness of Capitalism in the Market.
Congregations, unions, community radio stations, and other organizations are experiencing dramatic decline in participation and membership. In Australia, about 20% of the population attends church at least once a month, which is on par with the United States. Union density has dropped from, in some cases, as high as 60% and 70% to 19%. 3CR, the community radio station we visited in Melbourne, had 80 members at its height, and now has 40—and 50% decline.
Each of these institutions offers a unique service to its members. Congregations provide a place for spiritual development, religious rituals, and for community around common values. Unions offer services, pride in work and self, increased wages, and improved conditions. However, community-based organizations all offer their members the opportunity to participate in a collective that exists to build a different world. Yet, almost across the board, community-based organizations have declined.
While they decline for different reasons and need different fixes in some ways. Many argue that the resurrection of civil society requires organizations with different constituencies engaging one another. Others wonder whether a collective approach among organizations with a membership decline that threatens their existence would be sufficient to check the power of capital. The survival of these institutions requires a serious and sober look at services, programming, and values so that what these organizations offer is exceedingly relevant to the population. This is the hard work that will first have to be realized than done. No small feat.
Collaboration and the New Sydney Alliance
Collaboration is key as community organizations struggle for relevancy. Cooperation and collaboration can increase the capacity of individual organizations as well as the collective. Unions New South Wales, essentially the labor council for that state, has begun engaging a host of community organizations in forming the Sydney Alliance. Based directly on the Saul Alinsky / IAF model the Sydney Alliance is avoiding the deathtrap of government funding by relying entirely on dues from member organizations. Faith institutions, of varying religions, unions, and community-based groups in Sydney are building relationships between each other to lay the foundation for a strong alliance. In addition, their goal is to build the capacity of the individual organizations. This point key because by making each organization stronger and more capable, the entire Alliance is stronger. In addition, as the Alliance grows, its will gain a reputation as a great organization to join if one wants to build one’s organizational capacity. That’s the goal, whether this brand new IAF affiliate actually does rebuild the civil society in Sydney remains to be seen, because of the enormity of the challenge!
A look at the Sydney Alliance’s members gives a good read on how much they have to build. For example, the Uniting Church of Australia lead staff person (??) was happy to join the Alliance but knows that there are allot of in house issues to deal with as a matter of survival as an independent organization. Can a progressive church, with a dwindleing, aging, more conservative congregation provide the leaders that the Sydney Alliance depends on? The Church lady is worried that in the coming years her church will have a bigger budget for the government funded services they provide than for the operation of running a religious institution . It will be a challenge for the Sydney Alliance to grow when many of its member institutions have declining individual memberships which forces them to rely more on government funding to survive.
This does not faze its staff person working out of the beautiful Unions New South Wales building. After Unions inspiring victory of the Your Rights at Work campaign, which lead to the new Labor government in Australia, Unions New South Wales knew it was time to grow after a decade of unprecedented losses for Unions in Australia. The Your Rights at Work campaign was in ways a realization on the unions part that having community partners was essential for them to win their struggles. A more complicated question is whether a victory for labor unions means a victory for Immigrant Women at Work and all other community organizations involved in the Alliance. Can community organization dependent on $100 K from the government every year get their issues addressed with equal weight in the Alliance as does the larger members like Union New South Wales. This is a complicated question that the Sydney Alliance will surely confront over its methodical development on building a collaborative alliance hell bent on rebuilding a damaged civil society.
Obama ACORN Burgmann
Australians in the Obama Campaign
By Verity Burgmann
In my normal life, I am a Professor of Politics at Melbourne University in Australia, but in late October I entered a parallel universe doing “participant-observer research” as a Democratic Party activist in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for the final week of the general election. Fascinated by the presidential contest this time, seven other Australians (Beverley, Meredith, Penny Cynthia, Dan, Wendy and Gary) also came along to lend a hand at the Portsmouth Democratic Party office, an opportunity offered us by Bev’s American friend Bruce, who helps out in this office every election. We were not the only foreigners assisting here: there was also a Swedish man and a Welsh woman, evidence of the international interest in this election.
Naturally, we were interested in understanding just how different two democratic systems could be and the implications for political practice. ACORN’s voter registration drive was hugely impressive, but we found it alarming that ACORN was obliged to perform this vital function. In Australia, a federal government authority, the Australian Electoral Commission, aims to enrol every Australian by the time they turn 18, regardless of where or how they live. Children about to become adults receive a letter from the AEC shortly before their 18th birthday with electoral enrolment form enclosed. If this is not returned, the AEC pursues the matter. We wondered whether there was any possibility that the Obama administration could be prompted to establish a body similar to our AEC, which is an extremely efficient and well-respected federal authority. This would reduce the disenfranchisement of those uninterested in registration because of understandable discontent with the normal politicians on offer (which becomes a vicious circle) and those lacking the resources to seek registration or the status to secure it.
In Australia, voting is also compulsory. People are fined $20 if they do not vote. This does not mean they have to fill out their ballot papers if they do not wish to, but they do have to front a polling station and have their name ticked off. The ramifications of this are immense. It means that political parties do not engage in the extensive visibility, canvassing, data entry, making of phone calls, offering of lifts to supporters and elaborate food provision, which we engaged in during your campaign. We were impressed by the energy and effort expended by activists on the ground. Obviously, this election was an exceptional one. Indeed, it seemed that the extraordinary ground-level campaign to elect Obama had the characteristics of a social movement that fused labor movement aspirations for economic levelling with new social movement hostility to racism, sexism, homophobia, militarism and environmental degradation. Yet even normal elections would obviously be conducted in more vigorous ways than in Australia, with rank-and-file activists so necessary to Get Out The Vote. Instead, Australian electioneering emphasises centralized advertising strategies to persuade voters to support each particular party rather than grass-roots tactics to prompt them to turn up on polling day. Compulsory voting is probably not a good idea in principle, though it does in practice normally advantage the Labor Party.
So we were intrigued by the “GO TV” emphasis of the campaign, in particular what you call “visibility.” In Australia, we would never bother to stand at major intersections waving candidates’ signs at passing traffic. We found this activity novel and fascinating. We enjoyed the way Democratic drivers honked their horns and cheered and passing children asked if they could hold Obama signs and kept chanting “O-BA-MA.” Of course, Republican drivers gave us the thumbs down and occasionally hurled abuse. One yelled: “You look like socialists!” But some of us were. The only similar experience in Australian elections is on election day when party stalwarts hand out How to Vote cards at polling stations—because our electoral system is more complicated than yours, with proportional voting for our Senate and preferential voting for our House of Representatives. To cast a valid vote for the House, voters must number each and every box in order of preference no matter how many candidates there are and these proliferate precisely because of the preferential voting system. If no candidate gains 50% plus one vote of first preference votes, preferences are distributed until a candidate has a majority.
On the other hand, although your system might appear simpler when voting for President, Senator and Congressperson, in Australia we do not vote for positions such as Sheriff, County Attorney, County Treasurer, Register of Deeds, Register of Probate etc. Australians find this strange, because such positions in Australia are public service ones and strictly non-political. But perhaps most extraordinary to us was the revelation that volunteers run the polling stations. Back home, the AEC employs avowedly neutral people to conduct this important activity and so election results are never dubious such as the 2000 result in Florida. And of course your electoral college system seems to us a strangely roundabout way of electing a President. We were relieved that Obama also gained a clear numerical majority.
There was also a sporting final atmosphere to the campaign that is less apparent in Australia. You only have two political teams. With our Senate elected on a proportional basis, with six vacancies per State and two per Territory every three-yearly federal election, minor parties are significant and break down the bifurcated partisanship typical of American elections. The two major parties, the Liberal Party (conservatives) and the Labor Party would normally win only four or five of the six Senators from each State, leaving room for other political players such as the Australian Greens (currently with five Senators) and other minor parties and Independents.
The sacrosanct nature of some of your issues intrigues Australians. We abolished capital punishment without fuss in the 1960s, we have always had strict controls over guns and religion is of little importance. We also find your class terminology perplexing. In Australia, “middle class” has quite different connotations. It suggests those who are much better off than average, economically secure and comfortable; it even encompasses the wealthy. So our political language is different though no more precise. The Labor Party used to use the term “working class” but the stock phrase now uttered by all major parties is “working families”, a problematic construction given that certain working families could be very wealthy.
The significance of your recent election was brought home to me when I departed Boston airport two days after this historic event. I saw a conga-line of people wearing Service Employees International Union purple t-shirts weaving their way through the airport chanting “The people united will never be defeated.” We must hope that the extraordinary hopes unleashed by the Obama campaign—not just in the USA but around the world—will enjoy some realization.
Organizers Inspired by Australian Green Ban Movement
Organizing and advocacy for social justice causes is hard. We all know that, and those of us who work to support such things often tire of the uphill battles. Even when we are winning, it feels so fragile. But then, every once in a while, you run across a story about how people dealt with something that just amazes you. Here’s one.
We just returned from Australia where we were with a delegation from the Organizer’s Forum, a project of Tides Center. Barbara Bowen has been working with this project for six years. They bring together groups of organizers – labor and community – and have two dialogues each year, one overseas and one at home. So this time around, our motley crew from Gamaliel Foundation, ACORN (US & Canada), British Columbia Government Employees Union, SEIU, Amalgamated Transit Union, and a Chicago group called Albany Park Neighborhood Council spend a full week in Sydney and Melbourne meeting with labour (Aussie spelling!) and community groups. Early on, we met with two women – Amanda Tattersall with Unions New South Wales and Verity Burgmann, Chair of Politics, Melbourne University – who briefed us on the history and general state of social movements in Australia in a somewhat dizzying, and brilliant, barrage on our jetlagged brains.
Australian Green Ban Movement
We first learned about the remarkable union leader Jack Mundey and the Green Ban movement. Mundey started the Green Ban movement which involved union workers refusing to work on building projects for environmental reasons. In Australia, resident action groups, environmentalists and union labourers linked up through the Green Ban movement, took on corporate developers and won!
Born in the hot northern stretches of Australia, Mundey arrived in Sydney in the early 50’s, having left school at the age of 19. He soon became a metal worker and then a “builders’ labourer” working on the large scale construction projects in the fast growing city. He also became an ardent unionist. By 1968, this bright energetic unionist had led efforts to get the union involved in both workplace and broader social issues, including the Vietnam war.
Though still a young man, he was elected Secretary (leader) of the New South Wales Builder’s Labourers Federation (BLF), the major construction union based in Sydney, Australia’s largest city. By all reports, he broke the mold for union leaders, readily taking on issues from gay rights to feminism.
The US was just beginning to look at environmental issues with the founding of Earth Day. Meanwhile, in Australia, Jack Mundey wanted to go further. He wanted unions to think about how the work they performed, including construction, would benefit the entire community and the environment. It was a truly radical idea. This idea was tested in 1971 in the first Green Ban campaign involving Kelly’s Bush, near the Sydney harbor.
This first Green Ban campaign took on powerful developer A.V. Jennings. Jennings wanted to build 25 luxury houses on Sydney’s shoreline, while destroying one of its last remaining bush areas.
A community group was formed to preserve Kelly’s Bush. The group approached Prince Phillip, the Governor-General, the Premier, and many members of parliament. Finally, they approached union leader Jack Mundey, whose union members were building the project. The Union convened a community meeting to learn more of the residents’ concerns for the bush area.
What happened next changed the skyline of Sydney forever, and deeply affected the evolution of civil society in Australia.
The workers lead by Mundey declared the first Green Ban. No Builders’ Labourers Federation member would work on the project because the union decided the project should not be built. Period.
“A building couldn’t be demolished unless builder’s labourers went on. Conversely, when the first footings of a new building commenced we were the ones in the bowels of the earth digging up and putting those footings in place. So we had enormous bargaining power as to the demolition of buildings and the building of buildings.” Mundey recalled during one radio interview.3
Succumbing to the pressure of these forces, the builder A.V. Jennings finally gave up the construction project. In 1977, the state government purchased the rest of the site and declared it a ‘State Recreation Area’ which serves the entire community to this day.
Mundey was determined to challenge and overcome what he called trade unionists’ “high degree of ignorance about the seriousness of the ecological crisis.”4
After the first Green Ban campaign, Jack Mundey and Sydney’s Union labourers refused to work on 42 projects worth millions of dollars that they deemed against the broader interests of the community. Indeed, many credit Mundey and his BLF rank and file for having preserved hundreds of historic buildings and a number of neighborhoods including low income housing in the Rocks area. The Rocks area was first settled by the British displacing Aboriginal people from their ancestral homes.
Green Bans Inspire German Green Party and Other Movements
This was a remarkable period when labor groups forged the ability to use their considerable power for larger, non-workplace issues. Dozens of Green Bans were declared in the early 70’s.
Ultimately, Mundey was expelled from his union by the national leadership, to great celebration among developers and others. These union leaders were eventually convicted of corruption involving developers, though the case was later over-turned. But once sent packing, Mundey and friends never returned to power, and the Green Ban movement faltered.
Had Mundey and his allies had more time to consolidate this ‘new way’ about thinking, organizing, and acting, it is quite possible – even probable – that labor would have developed differently in Australia in ensuing years.
Nonethless, Australia’s Green Ban movement reached international shores. In 1997, the well-respected Australian Greens Senator, Bob Brown from Tasmania, recounted that Germany’s Petra Kelly “took back to Germany this idea of Green Bans, or the terminology. As best as we can track it down, that is where the word “green” as applied to the emerging Greens in Europe came from.”5
Labor historian Verity Burgmann recounts examples of the revival of the Green Ban movement. For example, in 1998 in Werribee, west of Melbourne, unionists and residents fought successfully CSR Ltd’s attempt to establish a toxic waste dump facility. Again, in early 1999, residents, unions, conservationists, and governmental organizations joined forces to prevent Quadry Industry from filling Niddrie quarry with toxic soil. In 2000, unions fought for and won a ban of contaminated soil from major projects to existing landfills.6
Australian unions and the environmental groups have also joined forces to take on the uranium industry and the government. Burgmann traces the history of this effort, and describes the early 1970’s, when trade unions were also involved in the Movement Against Uranium Mining (MAUM). According to Burgmann, unions often refused to transport and handle uranium, and even “prevented uranium from becoming a major [Australian] industry.” 7
Various Australian organizations carry on this legacy. In a small storefront in Melbourne, we met up with Cam Walker and Jono La Nauze from Friends of the Earth (FoE) Australia. Cam is the National Campaigns Coordinator, while Jono is the coordinator of the Barmah-Millewa campaign. FoE Australia takes pride in its commitment to grassroots activism, social justice and alliances with labor unions. “Maintaining good working relations with trade unions is also a hallmark of FoE’s philosophy, as evidenced by FoE’s efforts to establish Earthworker, a green-trade union alliance in Melbourne in 1998.”8
The Earthworker alliance carries on the legacy of the Green Ban movement. FoE joined with the Electrical Trades Union, the Australian Nursing Federation and others in 1998 to launch the Earthworker alliance. FoE’s Cam Walker explained that Earthworker helped provide a forum where union members and environmental groups can work on shared projects, including a solar and wind energy industry development program. The Earthworker alliance continues to build a movement based on common interests.
What We Can Learn
We were inspired by the work and relationships between Australian unions and environmental groups.
US labor movements are now reaching out to community-based environmental organizations to support their work. Blue Green dialogues and alliances have been springing up ever since the “Battle in Seattle” in 1999. Apollo Alliance – an explicit green infrastructure strategy backed by both labor and the environmental community – is gaining traction and political recognition. Perhaps there is hope that the Australian Green Ban movement can once again inform the movement for social justice.
It appears to us that the critical element in Australia is that labor took a risk and reached out to build partnerships on issues such as Climate Change that benefit the wider community. With current shrinking union “density,” this may seem daunting to some labor organizers. On the other hand, this could also be the key to a revitalized labor movement and a very different public profile.
At a 2004 conference on environmental jobs, Mundey reminded the audience of unions’ larger role: “The union movement and the environment movement have a mixed history. They are natural allies, but it hasn’t always been so. Big business is always prepared to drive a wedge between natural allies….The history of the union movement shows that its richest areas are when unions have reached out to other organisations. This includes the campaign for women’s rights, the anti-war movement, indigenous struggles, anti-apartheid, gay rights and the various national independence movements. The union movement has a fine history of fighting all these issues for the lower echelons.” 9
We should heed Mundey’s words and take heart that concern for climate change and land use issues are once again bringing together Australian unions and environmental groups. As Mundey explained: without a healthy environment, there will be no jobs.
As US and Canadian unions take on more issues that impact the broader community, they should look remember the Green Ban movement. The history of the Australian Green Ban movement captured our imagination; we think it is a model that could energize and activate membership here in the United States. As organizers and activists, we should help carry on that energy and vision.
General Note: thanks to Wikipedia’s article on Green Bans, and several papers by Verity Burgmann from the University of Melbourne: “Labour and the new social movements: the Australian story” and “A perspective on Sydney’s Green Ban campaign, 1970 74,” Burgmann, V. Power and Protest 1993.
Kevin Tory held us spellbound with stories of the Green Ban fights and how he knew Jack Mundey. He was part of that movement when he was an operator before becoming a teacher. Kevin Tory is an Indigenous trade unionist working for the Trade Unions Committee on Aboriginal Rights (TUCAR). Kevin has been a member of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Indigenous Committee for 15 years assisting in the development of their policy. Kevin is the Australian Services Union representative on the Committee. In ACTU’s Indigenous Committee 2006 report to the ACTU Congress, Kevin Tory notes that “when he was first involved with the ACTU there were no Indigenous people working for Unions, now there are quite a few which he says is very pleasing indeed. Kevin says this helps keep his People’s issues on the political agenda, Trade Unions being very supportive of Reconciliation and Social Justice issues affecting Indigenous People.”
Our Delegation had a wonderful welcome by NUS Teacher Federation and Unions NSW Indigenous
Committee representative Charline Emzin-Boyd. In keeping with Aboriginal tradition, she gave respect to the traditional owners of the land where the meeting was taking place: “I would like to show my respect and acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which this meeting is taking place – the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation – their elders past and present.” Welcome to Country is also a representation of sovereignty and a ceremonial characterization of the fact that Indigenous peoples of Australia have never ceded their rights to or responsibilities over their country.
1 Drummond Pike is founder and chief executive officer of Tides. Awarded as an Outstanding Foundation Professional, Drummond helped pioneer the advent of donor advised funds in philanthropy. Through his leadership, Tides has helped increase the capacity and effectiveness of thousands of social change organizations.
2 Margaret Cary works for SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, a union of more than 22,000 healthcare workers in the State of Washington. She works in-house as a contract negotiator and labor attorney.
3 Radio National Earthbeat, Saturday 5/12/98, Greens Bans Revisited;http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/earth/stories/s18145.htm
Meredith Burgmann and Verity Burgmann, Green Bans, Red Union Environmental Activism and the New South Wales Builders Labourers’ Federation, University of NSW Press, Sydney, 1998, pp9- 10.
6 Ibid, p. 8.
7 Verity Burgmann, Labour and the new social movements: the Australian Story. University of Melbourne, Australia; p. 15.