Muck, Brass and Green Bans


Dear comrades,

In your review of "Where There's Brass there's Muck" in Workers Solidarity no.52, you mention the successful "Green Bans" of the Builders Labourers Federation of New South Wales. The BLF was a remarkable union (it no longer exists having been destroyed in NSW by Maoist intrigues) not just for its Green Bans, but for its policies on sexism, the Aborigines, involving migrant workers, and more.

Sadly, however, the Franklin River dam project was not the subject of any meaningful ban by Australian workers. The Franklin Dam was to have flooded much of the wilderness of South West Tasmania, a rugged area where the only industries are mining and forestry. Tasmanian workers wanted jobs first and foremost, without thought for the future.

The Tasmanian Green movement was overwhelmingly middle class, city based professionals at the time who were unable to make links with the workers, who took to physically assaulting anyone who might have been a "greenie". This went as far as attacking anyone cycling or hitch-hiking in the area.

There were some workers who took the environmentalists' side, notably some of the old piners, who had harvested the valuable huon pine in the area in a sustainable way. They paid a high price and were ostracised once the Australian federal Governmentt stopped the dam, after a number of elections where voters had written in "No Dams" rather than cast a vote for a politician.

The blockade, which lasted months and over 1,000 people were arrested, was the reason the dam was stopped because it focused opinion on it. At the same time, three other wild rivers in Tasmania were flooded - they didn't get the same attention. While the tactic worked once, it would have been far better for there to have been a series of Green Bans like those of the NSW BLF, which would have engaged the people who lived there, rather than weekenders from the city.

Martin,

London


This article is from Workers Solidarity No 53 published in January 1998