Sunday, September 15, 2013

Building a City for 'The People': the green bans in pictures


I'm very excited to say that I've got an article on the green bans coming out soon in the journal Antipode. The article is part of a Special Issue on Grammars of Urban Injustice that has been put together by Gordon MacLeod and Colin McFarlane -- big thanks to Gordon and Colin for including the piece. Here's the abstract:
How can we act to contest urban injustice? This article grapples with this question through an analysis of the green ban movement that emerged in Sydney in the 1970s. For a time, this unruly alliance of construction workers, resident activists, and progressive professionals powerfully enacted a radical right to the city, blocking a range of unjust and destructive “developments” worth billions of dollars and proposing alternative development plans in their place. Drawing on archival research, I demonstrate how the figure of “the people” was crucial to their action. The article examines the rights and the authority that was invested in “the people” by green ban activists, and traces the work of political subjectification through which “the people” was constructed. “The people” was not invoked as a simple majority or as a universal subject whose unity glossed over differences. Rather, in acting as/for “the people”, green ban activists produced a political subject able to challenge the claims of elected politicians, bureaucrats and developers to represent the interests of the city. The article concludes with reflections on the implications of this construction of “the people” for urban politics today.
The article is available on now on Antipode's 'early view'. If you want to read it and can't access that, please get in touch!

Anyways, this post is not (just) an exercise in self-promotion. There was no room to include any illustrations with the piece, and I promised in the article that I would post some illustrations here at Cities and Citizenship. I think these images add quite a lot to the story. They're annotated here with some basic notes, so they might be of interest regardless of whether or not you read the article. These images are all courtesy of the very generous Meredith Burgmann, who has made her papers on the green bans available for researchers at the Noel Butlin Archives in Canberra, and who also shared some pictures with me. Enjoy...

Demonstrators stopping demolition at The Rocks, 1973. Jack Mundey (who was at that point Secretary of the NSW Branch of the Builders Labourers Federation) in foreground, Meredith Burgmann on right of picture wearing very snazzy suit. The green ban at The Rocks was one of the most dramatic and successful of the bans ... although as Evan Jones has written recently, working class housing in the area is once again under threat.

Jack Mundey gets arrested at The Rocks, 1973.
NSW BLF Journal article about the green ban in the Rocks ... "People or Profits"? A big part of my article talks about the way that various green ban activists invoked the needs of 'the people', and considers the importance of this figure in the building of alliances between building workers, residents, and others.

Joe Owens (Secretary of the NSW BLF who took over from Mundey in 1973) negotiates with police in Victoria Street, Kings Cross, January 1974. The Victoria Street ban was another of the most high profile bans, and involved squats and barricades against developers and their hired thugs. For a great accounts of the squat, visit Ian Milliss' webpage, where there copies of a couple of great articles from the City Squatter that he wrote at the time.


Juanita Nielsen, Victoria Street resident and editor of the community newspaper Now!, disappeared in 1975 at the height of the conflict over Victoria Street.

Joe Owens (NSW BLF Secretary) and Bob Pringle (NSW BLF President) speak with BLs occupying a crane at Institute of Technology site, Broadway. The crane was being occupied in a dispute over coverage between the NSW Branch and the Federal Branch of the union, which launched an 'intervention' against the NSW leadership in 1974.

Joe Owens addresses a crowd, with Bob Pringle (NSW BLF President) looking on (on his right as you look at the picture)

Graffiti in Woolloomoolloo


Anti-expressway graffiti, Glebe


Col James, an architect/planner who worked closely with residents to develop People's Plans and who died recently, with Mary Kristensen, Woolloomoolloo, 1974. The green ban here bought previous time for the development of alternative plans which did not evict low income residents from the area. Col was funded by the Commonwealth Department of Urban and Regional Development to work with 'loo residents to come up with alternative development plans for the area.


NSW BLF Christmas Card, 1971, listing a range of causes to be supported in the following year. Right on...



Female BLs march at International Women's Day March 1974, Left to Right: Glenys Page, Lyn Syme, Rhonda Ellis, unidentified, Michelle Fraser, Janne Reed, Caroline Graham. The NSW BLF was very active on women's liberation issues, including the 'working in' of female workers onto building sites that I describe in more detail in the article.

'Moratorium for Black Rights' banner flying from crane. The NSW BLF were also very active supporters of Aboriginal rights. This included enabling activists from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy to address workers on building sites to talk about their protest and raise money for their cause.

Broadsheet newsletter produced in support of the green bans, 1973
Broadsheet newsletter produced in support of the green bans, 1973. Here again, we see the explicit reference to the people. If you click on this picture, it should be large enough to read...
Master Building Association full page anti-BLF advertisement, 1973. During a very fractious dispute in 1973, the Master Builders Association took out several full-page newspaper advertisements against the NSW BLF. Coupled with editorials in some of those newspapers, these constituted a sustained attack on the goals and tactics of the union.

Master Building Association full page anti-BLF advertisement, 1973

Master Building Association full page anti-BLF advertisement, 1973

Master Building Association full page anti-BLF advertisement, 1973
Mick Fowler, one of the residents of Victoria St in Kings Cross, entertains a crowd at an anti-Gallagher rally. Norm Gallagher was the Secretary of the Federal Branch of the Builders Labourers Federation that expelled green ban activists from the union after working with the Master Builders Association to have the NSW Branch of the union deregistered.
Advertisement in support of NSW BLF, 1974. This advertisement exemplifies the way in which the union had become a 'pole of attraction' for many dissident groups in the process of alliance-building, to quote Sydney Gay Liberation activist Richard Wilson.
Protesters in support of NSW BLF outside Master Builders Association office, Sydney. Their banner reads "The Master Builders and Gallagher are colluding to destroy the only socially conscious union in Australia. NSW Builders Labourers care about people. So we care about NSW Builders Labourers"

Flyer advertising rally in support of NSW BLF, 1974

Builders Labourers for Democracy was formed by supporters to try to protect the NSW Branch against the Federal Branch intervenion

Advertisement taken out by expelled NSW BLF leadership after the Gallagher intervention

Badges in the Bob Pringle collection at the National Library, Canberra









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