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Builders Labourers' Federation

The Builders Labourers' Federation (BLF) has played a dramatic role in Melbourne's industrial and labour history. First registered with the Arbitration Court in 1911, the union sought to represent the less skilled building workers. After the election of Norm Gallagher as State secretary in 1961, it adopted a more militant approach to industrial bargaining. With a combination of resolute direct action by members on building sites and tough, pragmatic dealing with building contractors, the union dramatically improved wages and conditions. From the 1970s they also imposed 'Green Bans' to protect the natural environment and built heritage from inappropriate development. The BLF's robust contempt for the restraints imposed by governments and the arbitration system provoked two deregistrations. Its tactics created an uneasy relationship with other trade unions and their peak councils. It was twice suspended from membership of the Victorian Trades Hall Council. In 1986, after its second, permanent deregistration, Gallagher was sentenced to 18 months' gaol for accepting bribes from employers and, amid factional turmoil, the union began to lose members. By the early 1990s most BLF members were absorbed into the Building Workers' Industrial Union which, in turn, merged with the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union. To many of its members during the 1970s and 1980s the BLF, and its adopted Eureka flag, came to symbolise the fighting spirit of Australian workers, while opponents depicted it as the embodiment of disruptive trade union militancy.

Peter Love