CLAIMS that trade union officials collaborated with the blacklisters of the Consulting Association are being investigated by Unite.
The union has launched an inquiry into longstanding allegations that union officials colluded with the notorious blacklist, which was run and funded by large construction firms to prevent specific workers from getting jobs.
It was actually the victims of the Consulting Association who fought over many years to expose the existence of the blacklist and then penetrated through to the fact that their own union officers had collaborated with it.
Union officials are accused of having privately passed information to construction industry managers who compiled secret files on thousands of workers.
Previously confidential documents have suggested that union officials warned company managers not to employ some of their own members because they were considered troublemakers. Managers involved in the blacklist have claimed that union officials gave them information as they wanted to prevent disruption on construction sites.
The inquiry has been commissioned by Unite leader, Len McCluskey, following pressure from blacklisted workers who said the allegations are a ‘running sore’ in the trade union movement.
Details of the inquiry have been circulated in an internal letter by Andrew Murray, Unite chief of staff, who is also an adviser to the Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
Murray warned that the position is ‘quite clear’, that any official found to have colluded with blacklisters would be subject to the union’s disciplinary rules.
A team of lawyers will examine claims that the alleged collusion involved officials still working for Unite as well as those who worked for unions that merged with Unite.
The complicity is alleged to have spanned at least three decades to 2009.
In a statement, Unite said it was always committed to transparency about this issue, adding: ‘This ongoing commitment will see us review all documents that are in the public domain, listen to the accounts of individuals and ask people to come forward with any evidence they want considered.’
Evidence of the alleged collusion emerged from documents drawn up for a high court lawsuit which led to more than 1,100 blacklisted workers winning payouts totalling £55m from the construction firms.
As part of an out-of-court settlement, eight construction firms, including Sir Robert McAlpine and Balfour Beatty, were compelled to apologise unreservedly to the blacklisted workers.
However, the question still remains: how did the UK’s top building firms get secret information on their workers?
In 2009, an official watchdog had closed down the blacklist after concluding that more than 40 construction firms had unlawfully stored secret files on more than 3,200 trade unionists.
Construction industry managers pooled information about the workers’ employment records, political views, health and personal relationships in the files.
When workers applied for jobs, the managers ran their names through the files to vet them. Those considered by managers as politically awkward were rejected, and not told why. Some of the workers were denied work for long periods. Some files recorded how the workers had raised simple health and safety concerns on construction sites.
The files suggested trade union officials had described individual workers as ‘militant’, a troublemaker or with a warning to be ‘careful’.
For 30 years, Daniel O’Sullivan was a construction industry manager who was once chair of the Consulting Association, the bland name given to the secret agency that managed the blacklist.
According to the legal documents, O’Sullivan said he often met trade union officials as part of his job.
He said the officials gave him information about particular individuals as they were ‘concerned to prevent unnecessary disruption on site’.
He cited as an example a worker who was described in his file as a ‘troublemaker’ by a union official in 2005.
Another former construction industry manager, Dudley Barratt, has said union officials gave him names of individuals they thought should not be employed as there was a ‘quiet acceptance’ by some unions of the blacklist and the ‘benefits’ of vetting workers who could be disruptive.
Alan Wainwright, a former manager who blew the whistle on the blacklist, has said he told officials at the Amicus trade union, which later merged with Unite, about the blacklist as early as 2005 but his evidence was ignored.
Unite lawyers have helped a large number of blacklisted workers to secure compensation in legal actions which concluded in May.
McCluskey promised to launch the inquiry after the legal action had ended.
Dave Smith, secretary of the Blacklist Support Group which represents blacklisted workers, said his group had received ‘assurances from Unite that the entire process will be carried out by senior counsel and solicitors independently from the union.
‘This is essential and we applaud the union for committing to such a transparent investigation – we intend to hold the union to that promise.’
A key moment in the whole blacklisting saga, was when in 2016 a group of victims wrote and published a devastating open letter (below) to expose what was going on.
‘We the undersigned, are writing this open letter in the spirit of fraternal debate among members of the newly merged Ucatt/Unite construction union.
‘The upsurge in industrial militancy in the last few years demonstrates that when the official union works alongside rank and file activists, it is possible to mobilise workers even in a hostile environment. The merger offers an opportunity to start anew the fight against the appallingly high fatality rates and casualisation of the construction industry by combining the best traditions of the two unions.
‘However, one issue threatens to cause internal friction: possible union collusion in blacklisting.
‘Some years ago, both Ucatt and Unite carried out internal investigations into possible union involvement in blacklisting. But that was at a time when barely any of the documentation was available.
‘Since the High Court case, all that has changed. The employers were forced to provide witness statements and disclose 40 years’ worth of documentary evidence. It is now in the public domain that officials in both unions were recorded as the source of information on Economic League and Consulting Association blacklist files.
‘Some of those named, remain senior officials in Unite and Ucatt to this day. Every union activist in construction knows who the named officials are, as does every major employer.
‘The leadership of both unions have now seen the evidence: discussions about those officials potentially implicated in blacklisting or with overly cosy relationships with industrial relations managers has been part of the behind the scenes discussions in the run-up to the merger.
‘The High Court litigation won a multi-million-pound settlement for blacklisted workers. We fully acknowledge and recognise the tremendous legal, political and industrial campaigns that the unions have undertaken.
‘But compensation is not the same as justice. No-one has been held accountable for their actions. We remain resolute in calling for a public inquiry into blacklisting. But that is for a future Corbyn government. Now is the time to put our own house in order.
‘We the undersigned call upon the new Unite construction section to engage an independent legal expert to carry out a thorough investigation of the allegations relating to union collusion in blacklisting, with a remit drawn up in conjunction with the blacklisted workers. If the implicated officials are completely innocent, then this is their opportunity to clear their name once and for all. But if the independent investigation concludes that there is a case to answer, then the union should take the appropriate disciplinary action.
‘We are not looking for a witch-hunt, we simply want answers into possible union collusion in order to avoid repeating mistakes of the past.
‘This issue has haunted the union for years and until it is prepared to act, it will continue to be a running sore that hinders building unity in the newly merged union. We need to unite in order to fight against unscrupulous employers and the Tories, but the newly merged union needs to start with a clean slate.
‘We urge members to please attend your branch or regional meetings, and send a motion in support of an independent investigation to the Unite EC.
‘Blacklist Support Group; Construction Rank and File (national).
‘And (in personal capacity), • Steve Acheson, ex-Unite branch secretary and safety rep; • Dave Ayre, ex-Crook Ucatt branch secretary; • Roy Bentham, ex-Ucatt steward and secretary Unite Liverpool construction; • Graham Bowker, treasurer Unite Manchester contracting branch; • Graeme Boxall, branch secretary Unite London construction branch; • Ian Bradley, Unite London contracting branch; • John Bryan, retired Bermondsey Ucatt; • Dan Collins, Unite London construction branch; • John Connolly, Unite Liverpool; • Paul Crimmins, ex-Ucatt branch secretary and steward; • Keith Dobie – ex-Ucatt steward & Tottenham branch president, • Stewart Emms, ex-Ucatt full time official; • John Flannaghan, ex-Ucatt, Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group; • Jack Fawbert, ex-Ucatt convener; • Lee Fowler, ex-offshore safety rep, Unite; • George Fuller, ex-Ucatt safety rep; • Jim Grey, Jubilee Line steward, Unite London contracting; • Jim Harte, chair Unite combine committee; • Brian Higgins, ex-Ucatt eastern regional council and branch secretary; • Kevin Holmes, chair, Unite Manchester construction branch; • Stewart Hume, Unite construction NISC; • John Jones, ex-Ucatt London regional council; • Tony Jones, Unite Manchester construction branch; • Steve Kelly, Jubilee Line steward, ex-Unite branch secretary; • Stephen Kennedy, Jubilee Line steward, Unite; • Greig McArthur, Unite construction NISC; • Frank Morris, Unite EC member for construction; • Kenny Newton, Unite construction; • Tony O’Brien, ex-Ucatt convenor and branch secretary; • Jason Poulter, secretary Unite Manchester construction branch; • Jim Ryan, Crossrail steward, Unite London contracting; • Tony Seaman – Unite NISC, Middlesbrough branch secretary; • Pete Shaw, Unite construction RISC, Combine committee; • Dave Smith, ex-Ucatt branch secretary and London regional council; • Frank Smith, ex-Ucatt branch secretary and steward; • Billy Spiers, chair Unite construction NISC, ex-Amicus EC; • Tony Sweeney, ex-Ucatt Liverpool convenor.’