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Cde. John "Cummo" Cummins

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Alice M.

August 26 marks the anniversary of John Cummins’ birth in 1948.

John Cummins was a courageous and inspirational working class leader who dedicated his life to the battles of working people for a better life.

John devoted his working life to organising building workers into a fighting, disciplined union in the harsh and dangerous construction industry, but his influence and leadership extended far wider into the whole of Australia’s working class movement and the community. His commitment to the working class and the ordinary people set the standard for the whole of the union movement.

John made an immense contribution to winning safe and decent working conditions for building workers, and that flowed into other industries. His leadership gave confidence to workers and unions and his legacy continues to inspire many in today’s battles against relentless attacks by capital to slash workers’ wages and conditions and the rights of unions.

John’s courage and optimism were founded on his unshakeable confidence in ordinary people’s capacity to bring about change. John had no personal ambitions to get into parliament or into a top union official position for status or self-promotion. He knew from experience as a unionist and a Communist that parliament was simply a tool of the capitalist class and that the main force for change for ordinary people can only come from organisation and struggle by workers on the job and their supporters in the community.

He fully understood that the decisive power in a capitalist society is in the hands of the monopoly corporations who run this country, not the parliamentary political parties or individual politicians.

John was an exemplary unionist and a true Communist of our times. He was modest and had deep respect for ordinary working people, always listening and learning from others. He had no time for arrogance, pulling rank or imposing his views on workers. He used his elected positions in the BLF, and later as Victorian President of the CFMEU up to his death in 2006, solely for advancing the interests of workers and their unions.

His preferred place was alongside workers on the job, fighting day to day battles. And that’s where John dedicated most of his working life. He was well known and respected by workers and many others from different walks of life. He was always patient with workers, never dismissive, knowing that workers’ own rich experience, combined with persistent political education of conscious class struggle, will move workers to act collectively at the right time and place, “sooner or later”.

John was a wise working class tactician and strategist, taking account of objective conditions, the shifting balances of strengths and weaknesses 

between bosses and workers and always seeking out internal contradictions within the ranks of employers to exploit to the advantage of workers. He was thrown into gaol many times for standing up for his members against the bosses.

John’s partner Di, an equally fearless fighter against injustice and involved in many struggles of the people, had also strengthened John’s determination and ensured unbroken connection with ordinary people.

On the establishment of the Cole Royal Commission into the building and construction industry in 2001, John commented that the ruling class drew lessons from the 1998 MUA struggle. He observed that the mass mobilisation of unions and communities against attacks on the MUA, and all unions, sent fear into the bosses’ peak organisations of the potential to ignite widespread working class rebellion.
The big monopolies concluded that a less openly coercive control of militant unions and workers was preferable to direct confrontation and the open use of force. John predicted early the ruling class’ change of tactics in suppression of the working class through the extensive use of a legal and powerful arm of the state.

Not long after the Cole Royal Commission’s murky findings, the BCIIA, ABCC and WorkChoices were rolled out to suppress struggles of workers through truck-loads of legal threats and intimidation against unions and workers, with heavy financial penalties and threats of gaol. The BCIIA, ABCC and WorkChoices/Fair Work Australia were not new creations. They were built on the existing industrial laws of the capitalist state, designed to disorganise, weaken and suppress the working class in its endless battle with capital.

But John Cummins was much more than a militant and fearless unionist. Importantly, John was a committed Marxist-Leninist Communist and a leading member of the Communist Party of Australia (M-L). From his early adult life John read Marx, Lenin, Mao Zedong and Ted Hill, the founding Chairman of the CPA (M-L). The ideas of Marxism-Leninism gave John a vision and an insight into the inner workings and contradictions of capitalism and the class struggle between labour and capital beyond the one group of workers or unions. Marxism enriched and informed John’s practical experience of struggle and his connections with ordinary people. The tools of Marxism-Leninism gave John political understanding of class struggle, different class forces and a mass line that insists on educating, organising and mobilising the whole of the working class, not just relying on a small group of militant unionists. John strongly supported the anti-imperialist independence struggle as central to the struggle for socialism in Australia.

John made an important working class contribution to the practice of Marxism in Australian conditions and to the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist).

He will always be cherished by the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist).


Watch these video tributes to John Cummins:

WA Branch CFMEU tribute:

Joe Loh's record of John and the fight against deregistration:

Tribute to John Cummins song by Martin Doherty and Leigh Birkett:


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