Vale John Cummins

John Cummins About 10 months ago, Victorian CFMEU president and former Builders Labourers' Federation leader John Cummins was diagnosed with a brain tumour. On August 29th he passed away.He was 58 years old.

I didn't know John Cummins well at all as I spent all of the last 25 years, except 1984, out of Victoria but I did become involved with BLF issues around the time of the MCG towers dispute there in 1984. I spent a lot of time on the picket lines during that dispute which was organised for the Builders Laborers Federation by Cummins.

This was the beginning of the project in which John Cain -- ALP premier -- colluded with his mates in Canberra to destroy the BLF. Later the same cabal went after the airline pilots...

But what is forgotten about comrades like John is that he came out of the (Monash I think)student movement of the early seventies and, imbued with Maoism, went into industry at the behest of the CPA(ML). This is the same background as that of the late Jim Bacon who, of course, later sort a different drum to march to as he died as ALP premier of Tasmania.

But John, I think, was a quintessential hero of that active and unconditional commitment to the working class that was driven by a firm and very conscious political orientation.

I don't know if or when he parted company with the CPA (ML) but the Victorian BLF was like an in-house union for them sharing as it did in its strengths, weaknesses and aberrations. But as others have suggested when it came to drawing the line John Cummins was always on the right side.

This is the sort of trade union activist who warrants his own biography so that we can all learn as much as we can from his life -- because, despite the massive pressures and the terrorism railed down upon all union activists in the building industry, John stood firm --despite the years of orchestrated isolation where the BLF membership was turned -- quite consciously and methodically by other political outfits such as the Aaonite CPA and the Pat Clancy dominated BWIU -- into a pariah.

These were terrible times.The massive shift engineered through the 1980s by the ALP in collusion with the ACTU leadership was a brutal exercise in destroying militant trade unionism by any means necessary such that the formal and ritualised regulation we are experiencing today under Howard's IR agenda is but a shallow echo.The REAL damage being done was done then and people like John Cummins was to experience the brunt of it...experience it all and still come out fighting.

I didn't know he was ill. But now that he has passed on all I can think is there's but one self evident legacy we owe him:to carry on the sort of trade unionism that he fought for all his adult life.

We should not mourn Cummo’s death. No let us celebrate his life Comrades. And those of us, who knew him, make sure that our younger Comrades and future generations of Socialists and Working Class Militants know the contribution he left in fighting this vile, evil and filthy capitalist system.

I first met Cummo in April 1986, just over twenty years ago. At the start of the BLF deregistration, when the armies of police, in their blue uniforms, invaded the building sites of my home town Melbourne.

He drove up to the Banana Alley picket line I was on and organised one of two crane occupations that took place that day, in front of me. He pulled a chain and padlock out of the boot of his car, for the trap door of crane drivers cab and briefed the occupation crew.He was a working class leader who led from the front. Cummo would spend all up, at least six months in prison over the next seven years, showing his contempt for the court orders that tried to stop him and other
BLF organisers visiting our members on building sites It takes more that an act of parliament, the police and prison to knock the fight out of resolute, staunch individual like Cummo. He would not be intimidated or cowed, as none of us should be today in taking on Howard’s IR Laws.

All unionists no matter what union or industry, whether they are an official, organiser, delegate/representative/shop steward or just a rank and file member should think of these words from Cummo when he said, ”Prison is now an occupational hazard for union organisers.”

It was an ALP government that showed the Liberals/Nationals how to outlaw a union. How to attack our civil liberties. Including, the right of union entry into the workplace.

I find it as a sign of the times that on the night Cummo lost his fight with the brain tumour that he had been fighting nearly twelve months, that unionists were showing national solidarity with the 107 construction workers, members of Cummo’s union, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union on the Perth-Mandurah rail link.and Dave Noonan, incoming national leader of CFMEU is now facing fines of up to $2.5 million, also from Howard’s Industrial Gestapo for the building industry.

Cummo was a gutsy revolutionary socialist who fought not just for his beloved builders labourers and construction workers and the working class as a whole, such as organizing solidarity with three month strike/occupation of Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour in 1989 that I was involved in. But he also took on racism and supported Aboriginal rights and opposed imperialism, organizing solidarity with the East Timorese and Irish Nationalists. Anyone who was a victim of injustice was supported by Cummo. I remember talking to him about Tim Anderson’s frame up for the Hilton Bombing in 1990 by then corrupt serving NSW police and the last time I spoke to him was at meeting to get jailed unionist and Craig Johnston out of prison in the John Curtain Hotel.

He was no fan of unions, in his words becoming,”...a cheer squad for the ALP.” during the Kennett era in Victoria, the union movement nationally has missed his opposition to the ALP's endeavor to sidetrack the union campaign against WorkChoices into a completely electoral campaign for Kim Beazley for next years election.

When I think of Cummo, I’ll think of the Woody Guthrie song Tom Joad from John Steinbeck’s classic The Grapes of Wrath, Tom Joad was the character played by Henry Fonda in John Ford’s film of the book.
Think of these three verses Comrades and reflect on Cummo’s life.

Tom Joad he run where his mother lay asleep
He woke her out of her bed
He kissed goodbye to the mother that he loved
And he told her what Preacher Casey said

"Everybody might be but one big soul
It looks that way to me
Wherever you look in the day or the night
That's where I'm gonna be, Ma"

"Wherever little children go hungry and cry
Wherever people aren't free
Where working people are fighting for their rights
That's where I'm gonna be, Ma"

Woody Guthrie based that last verse on Joe Hill before
he was executed for the copper bosses by a firing
squad in the state of Utah, when Joe said,” Don’t
mourn me organise.”

Let us do he same for Comrade Cummo,
Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win, Socialism Here We Go!

John/Togs Tognolini
Reihana Mohideen: A tribute from the Philippines
John Cummins' passing away is truly very sad news.

I worked with John during the Builders Laborers Federation days in the 1980s and maintained contact with him over the last few years while living in the Philippines. John was a central leader of the Australian union movement and a revolutionary socialist who made a significant contribution to the socialist movement through his work in the trade unions. He was also constantly inspired by the struggles of workers in the Third World. He would talk to me about what he had learned about the struggles in Indonesia and the Philippines and organised several work site meetings with labor and socialist leaders such as Dita Sari and Sonny Melencio.

John, like many of his generation, radicalised in the 1960s and 70s. He became a revolutionary socialist, stuck to his principals, and was one of the finest leaders of his generation. His passing away undoubtedly weakens militant unionism and the revolutionary movement. But, as in the case of the many great comrades like John who pass away, his legacy will live on in the thousands of younger militants and socialists he inspired through the years. I mourn a lost friend and comrade.
Farewell, John. We raise our fists and salute you.
Tuloy ang Laban
(The Struggle Continues)
Reihana Mohideen
Laban ng Masa -- Philippines