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John's life

John was 58 when he died on 29 August, 2006 of a brain tumour.  His working life was spent in the construction industry and he dedicated his life to working people, in particular to construction workers for the improvement of their health and well being; and to advance their status.  

Construction Industry 

John was the President of Victorian Branch, CFMEU from 1996 till 2006.  

Prior to that John held various positions within the Victorian Branch of the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF).  The 1980’s and early 1990’s was a period of turmoil in the construction industry.  During that time the BLF was deregistered.  The BWIU was declared the “legal” union to represent building workers.  In spite of this the BLF retained its members who continued to be loyal to their union.  In turn John supported them and the “right to organise”.   In response to members’ requests John continued to enter construction sites.  As the union was deregistered this was seen as an illegal action.  John was not deterred, in fact he was jailed several times for indefinite periods and multinational construction companies sought civil damages of $87k per day from him.  A broad campaign of building workers, other unions, civil liberties organisations and a range of community organisations rallied each time John was jailed and each time secured his freedom.

It became clear that the building unions needed to amalgamate to not only survive but to be able to effectively represent the industrial rights and safety of construction workers.  John was central to the achievement of the amalgamation of the two unions in 1994.  John held various leadership positions in the state and national union.  He was a delegate to Victorian Trades Hall Council, and represented the union on various industry bodies.

Click here for John's tribute to West Gate Bridge commrades

Social and Political activist

John was also a social and political activist.  He participated in and led many struggles from the 1970’s until the time he died.  These ranged from student campaigns, trade union struggles, the independence of East Timor and many community causes and campaigns.  John was a strategic activist, he was able recognise when trade union support in community issues was warranted and would be effective.  John strongly believed that the union participation in community campaigns was secondary and that community causes needed to be led by community leaders.  Notable earlier campaigns included harnessing trade union support to save Victoria market and the Regent theatre.  Others included public housing and community facilities under threat from opportunistic development.  John demonstrated an unswerving commitment to the right to organise.  

John attended Parade secondary college, and Latrobe University.  He remained connected with a number of his peers from those times whose careers took a range of directions; no doubt these wide connections influenced his social and political outlook.  

Confidence in young people

John was devoted to supporting young people experiencing disadvantage.  He was the president of North Heidelberg junior football club for a number of years, during the time that his sons played with the club.  Under his leadership there was an emphasis on building a culture on inclusion and development of the young players, believing that team sport can be a positive influence on disaffected youth.  He assisted numerous young people into apprenticeships and jobs in the construction industry.

John was able to connect and engage with people from wide ranging backgrounds, industry, business, politics etc.  John treated everyone with respect; he was a role model to his peers in this regard.

He was an inspirational leader who was not only motivated by injustice but also the spirit and strength of those he represented.  


Letter of support 2009

In response to his invitation to the 2009 John Cummins Memorial Dinner, held in August Jack Mundy wrote:

Dear Di,

Because of a long standing commitment on Friday in Sydney,  I am unable to attend John's annual dinner.

The Fund appears to be an ongoing successful venture.  Congratulations on all the good work.

It is gratifying to know the fine name and work of John lives on, not only in the trade union movement, but in the wider community as well.

In my opinion he was one of the most outstanding trade union leaders we have produced. 

Wishing the third annual dinner success.


Yours sincerly, 

Jack Mundy


These obituaries are a heartfelt tribute to Cummo written by his family, friends and workmates. 

Other tributes to Cummo include: