John Cummins Memorial
John Cummins was an inspirational leader who touched thousands of people in the construction industry and beyond.
- 1979-1994 Builders Labourers Federation Official
- 1994-1996 CFMEU Official
- 1996-2006 President, Victorian Branch CFMEU
John Cummins' funeral on 4th September 2006 saw thousands of people walk the streets to honour the life and legacy of this great man.
This page is a testament to the impact he had on so many people and is a constant memorial in honour of his achievements. Dare to Struggle - Dare to Win
John Cummins 1948 - 2006
A Dedicated Trade Unionist and Inspirational Leader
John dedicated his life to working people, in particular to construction workers for the improvement of their health and wellbeing and to advance their status. He played a leading role in the former Builders Labourers Federation and was pivotal to the amalgamation with the CFMEU. John was the President of the Victorian Branch of the CFMEU from 1996.
A social and political activist, John participated in and led many struggles, ranging from student campaigns to trade union struggles, the independence of East Timor and many community causes. He demonstrated an unswerving commitment to the right to organise. John was devoted to supporting local young people; he was the president of North Heidelberg junior football club for a number of years.
Enjoy John's wit and wisdom in Quotations from Chairman Cummo
After John's passing in August 2006 from a brain tumour, family, friends and colleagues got together to form the John Cummins Memorial Fund to keep his memory alive and honour his lifetime’s work.
The fund's main activity is John Cummins Memorial Dinner held annually on the last Friday in August.
Money distributed by the memorial fund in 2009 includes:
- $55,000 for Austin Health to support people with brain tumours and their families
- $20,000 in scholarships for working class high school students
- $6,000 for North Heidelberg Football Club, where John was a president.
For more information see http://www.cummo.com.au/
From C&G Worker Spring 2007
After the deregistration of the BLF in 1986, its organisers were continuously arrested for going on building sites. John Cummins was arrested dozens of times for trespassing and jailed in the watch house for refusing the bail conditions set by the court.
‘The bail conditions were that you had to keep off building sites. And we weren’t going to agree to that’ recalls CFMEU organiser John Setka. ‘If we had agreed, we wouldn’t have been able to do our job.’
In July 1990, things came to a head when John was jailed for contempt of court for disobeying an order prohibiting him from going onto a job on 417 St Kilda Road, Melbourne.
The 417 St Kilda Road dispute took place during the time of the deregistration of the BLF – a situation which forced many people into choosing one side or another. Noel Washington said that although it was a time of division and there were people who didn’t agree with the BLF, John’s actions won the respect of those who disagreed with him. ‘People who didn’t support the BLF had respect for John because of his principles and because of his determination to do the right thing against great odds.’
John Cummins was sent to jail for going on site, and after completing his first stint, he came straight out and back onto the picket line, which was at that stage in its ninth week.
For John, it didn’t matter to him that he was breaking the law, because he thought the law was wrong. In a leaflet published at the time of his second jailing he wrote: ‘The fact is the law upholds this system of screwing the greatest possible profit out of workers so the rich can get richer and the poor, poorer. The courts’ role is to make sure that the whole thing works smoothly.’
No crime to do your job
John was also very critical of the courts and the laws that criminalised workers for taking industrial action. In his case, he always maintained that he was portrayed as a criminal for simply doing his job.
CFMEU President, Ralph Edwards says that John was always firm in his beliefs that he was doing the right thing. ‘As a union organiser, his responsibilities lay with the members – their needs and concerns. And by putting them first and putting all the other issues aside, he ended up in jail.’
John refused to accept that he was committing a crime. In an open letter to the judge, he pointed out that the picket line and his involvement in the dispute were not criminal actions.
‘The nearest thing to a crime in the whole Leighton affair, seems to be Leighton's sacking of workers – some of whom have 30 and 20 years service with the company,’ he wrote.
At the time, John also warned that if Leighton could get away with what they had done and no-one stood up to them, it would lead to more and more employers smashing the labour movement.
"At risk is the very right to take any industrial action at all," he wrote. John was always confident in his belief that you had to stand up and fight for what was right, even if it meant breaking the law. As he said at the time: ‘If workers stand united, sooner or later, their success is guaranteed.’
John Cummins was jailed for standing up for what was right.
West Gate Bridge Memorial
John worked on the West Gate, and was a founding member of the West Gate Bridge Memorial Committee, started in 1990 for the 20th anniversary of the tragic collapse. For more information see the West Gate Memorial Website
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