Thousands have had their lives blighted by blacklisting

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Pickets outside the Hemel Hempstead HQ of McAlpine on Wednesday morning
Pickets outside the Hemel Hempstead HQ of McAlpine on Wednesday morning

THE TRADE UNIONS led by the TUC held a national Day of Action on Wednesday against the blacklisting companies who have prevented trade unionists working for years.

The Day of Action included a mass lobby of parliament in which hundreds of workers participated.

Pickets from GMB and Ucatt Eastern Region braved torrential rain and hail to picket the Hemel Hempstead HQ of the giant Sir Roger McAlpine construction company, as part of the national day of action against blacklisting.

Ucatt full time organiser, Ronnie McKay, showed  News Line his own blacklisting file obtained from the industry’s Consulting Association, he said:

‘I was amazed to learn that they held a file on me as a trade union representative.

‘As a full-time organiser for the union I would recruit members to act as Safety Reps on building sites, but as soon as I recruited them they got sacked and I had to represent them afterwards at Employment Tribunals for unfair dismissal.

‘My file has got all sorts of information about me, information from many different companies relating to my trade union activities.

‘This information was fed into the Consulting Association and they then passed it on to any other company that phoned up for it.

‘One member I represented at a tribunal for unfair dismissal, when we got a copy of his file it had all sorts of information on him – what he looked like, what he spoke like, who his friends were, who his relatives were, everything about him.

‘None of this came from information just picked up on site. It could only have come from other sources like the state.

‘Some of these construction companies are now saying sorry for operating the blacklist and offering compensation – to offer £1,000 to someone who has been out of work for twenty years because of the blacklist is a disgrace, its just two weeks’ wages, a pittance.

‘Saying sorry and offering paltry sums in compensation is not enough.

‘Not only should the blacklist be stopped but these companies forced to encourage trade union safety reps on building sites which are the most dangerous places in industry.

‘That would be a real test of their commitment to change and to workers’ safety.’

Warren Kenny (son of GMB general secretary, Paul) added: ‘Next week’s court case against McAlpine and Carillion for blacklisting GMB members will not be the end of our campaign. The GMB is going to fight for justice for workers who have been illegally blacklisted and who have had their whole lives blighted by these profit-hungry companies.’

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet called for action on the blacklisting and surveillance of journalists.

She said: ‘Today is the national day of action on blacklisting and is a hugely important day for trade unionists.

‘All around the UK, events are taking place to collectively protest against endemic blacklisting in the construction industry and elsewhere, that has led to thousands of trade unionists – individuals like many NUJ members and reps who stick up for their colleagues and enforce basic health and safety requirements – losing their livelihoods.

‘The NUJ is part of the TUC’s campaign to call for a full public inquiry about blacklisting – and certainly not for such an important issue to be tagged on to a kneejerk, politically motivated trade union-bashing inquiry initiated by the Tories in recent days.

‘Members of the NUJ have discovered that their name was one on the blacklist drawn up for construction companies – a list commonly believed to be the tip of the iceberg.

‘Anyone who believes it is possible they are on the list should contact the Information Commissioner to make a subject access request.

‘The NUJ has launched a campaign to find out exactly what information the authorities are holding about journalists – to do so we need your help.

‘As well as finding out he was on the construction industry blacklist as a result of his campaigning work, NUJ member, journalist and comedian Mark Thomas discovered the extent of how the police have also monitored his work and movement when he made a subject access request under the Data Protection Act to find out what information the Metropolitan Police was holding about him on the so-called domestic extremism database.

‘Mark explains the surreal and disturbing level of this surveillance in his piece launching our NUJ campaign today.

‘Journalistic activities are under particular scrutiny and state interference as recent events on the David Miranda case show.

‘On a day-to-day basis, members are being stopped at borders and hassled by police – simply for being journalists trying to carry out their work.

‘As well as Mark, we are aware of some other journalists who are on the domestic extremism database – an initiative run by the same unit responsible for the use of dead babies’ identities by its undercover officers, and for police forming relationships with the female protestors they were monitoring.

‘Given that the police have admitted monitoring nearly 9,000 individuals it is likely other NUJ members will be on the list.

‘The NUJ is supporting Mark in a legal challenge to this police policy and to demand the deletion of files held on journalists, and we want as many other members as possible to find out what information the Met is holding.’

A rigorous examination of blacklisting cannot be tacked onto a party political inquiry set up to help the Conservative Party bash unions, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady told a lobby of Parliament held as part of the TUC’s day of action against blacklisting on Wednesday.

‘Blacklisting is real. It has ruined thousands of lives. Families are still suffering because a worker joined a union or raised a health and safety issue.

‘We need a full inquiry into its scope. It must have the legal power to call witnesses, seize records and put employers on the spot. Companies guilty of blacklisting should be barred from public contracts until they can demonstrate that they understand the basics of human rights and good industrial relations.

‘Blacklisting cannot be tacked onto the government inquiry set up purely to devise laws to limit union campaigning.

‘The inquiry is a cheap electoral stunt set up in response to a non-existent problem, a taxpayer-funded initiative devised to generate a union-bashing headline or two for the Conservative election campaign.

‘Everyone knows that we already have the most restrictive laws on unions in any advanced democracy.

‘Blacklisting is too serious an issue to be trusted to this inquiry on the off-chance it has a spare five minutes after it has carried out its party-political purpose. Blacklisted workers can have no confidence in an inquiry chaired by a barrister well-known for acting for employers and set up with no consultation with blacklisted workers or their unions.

‘I recognise that some ministers are embarrassed by this bogus inquiry. But belated attempts to make the process appear fair are doomed. You cannot have an inquiry that is balanced between a made-up party political scare tactic and investigating a real attack on thousands of workers.’

Len McCluskey, the leader of Unite, said the government’s inquiry into unions should be re-directed at the cartel of 44 employers which colluded over decades to blacklist and destroy the lives of working people.

Over four years have passed since the 44 construction companies were exposed as blacklisters following a raid on the Consulting Association by the Information Commissioner.

McCluskey said: ‘The government’s call for an inquiry into unions would be far better directed at the blacklisters who have destroyed the lives of thousands of working people for no reason other than being in a trade union.

‘The Tories are shamefully diverting attention away from the real abuses of workers by unscrupulous bosses.

‘Over the last 25 years, over 2,800 workers have lost their lives on construction sites, with countless others suffering from serious work-related health problems. Too many construction workers went to work but did not come home again.

‘But the 44 blacklisters believed that many of the courageous and decent union representatives who wanted to support their colleagues and save lives were just trouble makers.

‘Instead of being encouraged and supported, they were blacklisted and robbed of their dignity – lives ruined, families destroyed – in some cases it even led to suicide.

‘There is now a moral urgency for justice. Blacklisting is a scandal on the scale of phone hacking.

‘Except it was ordinary working people whose lives have been torn apart by a conspiracy hatched by a greedy elite who were prepared to go to any length to attack decent hardworking men and women. It is time they owned up, cleaned up and paid up.

‘While the government continues its demonisation of trade unions we will continue the very real task of giving the best legal and industrial representation to members who have been dehumanised by employers.’

Unite has just issued its first tranche of five High Court proceedings against employers with 45 more High Court cases to follow.

The union has issued proceedings against employers including Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, Balfour Beatty, Crown House Technologies, Skanska, Kier and Laing O’Rourke.

In Wales, unions demonstrated in Cardiff Bay over the discovery of the Consultants Association blacklist, which included at least 111 from Wales.

The Welsh Assembly has announced that companies who have been found to blacklist are banned from bidding for public contracts.

At an event in the Senedd, Wales TUC, along with Unite, GMB and Ucatt demanded for a full UK-wide public inquiry.

Most workers on the blacklist do not realise their names are featured.

Wales TUC vice president Sheila Bearcroft said thousands of workers had been ‘unlawfully victimised’.

‘We are delighted to mark the bold action taken by the Welsh government to ensure that companies guilty of this shameful practice are not able to win public contracts.

‘This is an important recognition of the urgent need to act against such a blatant and cruel injustice. Further action must now be taken at a UK level to win justice for workers whose livelihoods have been ruined by a brutal practice that has no place in any modern working environment.’

Electrician George James, from Cardiff, discovered he was on a blacklist after working at a chemical works in the 1970s.

‘I don’t think I ever did get another job on a big site. I just had to find work where I could, do other things and muck in and earn some money for my family,’ he said.

Unite Wales Secretary Andy Richards added: ‘Going forward we are committed to working with the Welsh government and others to put this policy into practice in order to call time on blacklisting.’