When the ABLF entered the Construction Division of the CFMEU during 1994, the Federation’s stalwarts hoped for a history of their old union which looked beyond the previous 25 years when the media had highlighted de-registrations, criminal convictions and internal chaos.

A rider to the terms of amalgamation was the allocation of $50,000 to write that history. Its promoters knew that the project would have to wait until the bitterness abated. The publication in 2004 of Liz Ross’s account of the 1980s, Dare to Struggle Dare to Win, showed that a thorough account of that conflict could lean towards the ABLF yet allow all voices to be heard. The moment seemed opportune to get the ABLF history back on the table. Ten years of sticking apart had taught the antagonists how to work together without liking each other any better.

After addressing a rally in Melbourne ’s Maritime Union hall to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade, I was introduced to the Victorian President of the Construction Division of the CFMEU, John Cummins. We arranged to meet during the following week to discuss my taking the commission.

At the time, building workers were again wording off yet another assault by the state through the Cole Royal Commission and a police force under legislation intended to disorganise labour and organise capital. This was no time for academic pretence of objectivity. The militants needed an author who was sympathetic to their difficulties but not apologetic for their failings. Still less did building workers need another fable that everything had been for the best in the best of all possible unions. Through the tumult of the 1980s, activists had been steeled to recognise that a share of their troubles had been of their own making.

As Cummo remarked: “It’ll have to be an unofficial history because no two officials would agree about anything.” To make that independence real, the Construction Division contracted the Australian Center for Industrial Relations Research and Training at the University of Sydney to produce a history of the BLF. In turn, ACIRRT (now the Workplace Research Centre) contracted me to undertake the research and writing. The contract guaranteed my control of the manuscript. I was under no obligation to show a word to anyone.

Although that arrangement gave me a free hand about what I said, nothing could release me from my reliance on the experience of labourers to avoid errors about their work and their unions. When I began, I could not distinguish a gantry from a putlog. Even today, I double-check the technical terms. Hence, the book has benefited from the corrections of my expert advisers with whom I am happy to share the blame for any undetected mistakes about technical matters.

From within the ABLF/ABCE&BLF and the CFMEU:
First to the late John Cummins.

Victoria: Jock Canning, Ralph Edwards, Dan Hellier, Steve Jolly, Harry Karslake (who has been generous in responding to letters requesting advice), Mick Lewis, Dave Noonan, Bert Twomey and Norm Wallace.

NSW: Lindsay Fraser, who steered the business side of the commission through the union; Peter Galvin, Morrie Lynch, Trevor Sharp, John Sutton and Paul True who shared his research materials.

WA: Kevin Reynolds.

Queensland : Vince Dobinson, Pat Purcell, Greg Simcoe, Justin Stein.

South Australia : Ron Owens, Martin O’Malley and Alan Harris.

ACT: Peter O’Dea.

At ACIRRT/WRC, University of Sydney, Chris Briggs, Merilyn Bryce, John Buchanan, Ron Callus, Dick Hall, Moira McAllister and Ian Watson,

Staff at the State Library of Victoria, especially Walter Struve, one of the threatened species of reference librarians; Fryer Library at the University of Queensland, from where Mark Cryle came to the rescue with three footnote details; the Mitchell Library in the State Library of New South Wales; The Noel Butlin Archives Centre at the Australian National University; National Australian Archives in Canberra, and Melbourne, and the Queensland State Archives.

The book has been completed in defiance of vandalism the National Library of Australia from managers hell bent on turning a Leviathan of learning into a skeleton for scholarship, and in spite of the Visigoths who destroyed the Mortlock Library in South Australia .

Friends and comrades:
In Brisbane: Ruth Blair, Ross Gwyther, Brian Laver, Greg Mallory, Ted Reithmuller, Jeff Rickertt and Jim Sharp.

In Sydney: Peter Cochrane, Steve Cooper, Bruce Cornwall, Drew Cottle, Michael Dunn, Bob Gould, Hall Greenland, Andrew Moore, Nicholas Pounder, Heather Radi and Tom Waddell.

In Melbourne: Peter Curtis, Steve Jolly, Liz Jones, Dave Kerin, Liz Ross, Walter Struve, Ian Syson, Wilma Young.

In Adelaide : Marcus Beresford, Mirna Heruc, Ian North and Peter Strahan.

In Canberra : Tim Bonyhady, Trevor Cobbold, Clinton Fernandes, Les Louis, Kim Sattler, Bill Tully, Quentin Tourner and Chris White.

From New Hampshire : Judy McQueen, as ever, has kept me supplied with printed matter and encouragement.

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