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Outlawing Blacklisting is a Vote Winner

10th September 2014

Outlawing Blacklisting is a Vote Winner

Articles from the LRC TUC 2014 special

By Dave Smith, Secretary Blacklist Support Group

Blacklisting has united the entire labour movement. Workers who raised concerns about safety or unpaid wages were repeatedly sacked or denied work on major construction projects, including the Olympics. The natural revulsion to evidence that multinational construction firms kept secret files on 3,213 union members has rekindled the best traditions of solidarity.

Only a few weeks after The Consulting Association (TCA) blacklist was discovered, John McDonnell MP chaired the first meeting of the Blacklist Support Group (BSG) whose aim was to expose the full conspiracy and win justice for those affected. But a few dozen building workers could not have achieved this success on their own. BSG have worked with the trade unions; Unite, UCATT, GMB, RMT to apply pressure in court, in Parliament and industrially. MPs, MEPs and councillors have worked together with unions, academics, lawyers and grassroots activists to make blacklisting a mainstream political subject.

Blacklisted workers are indebted to Ian Davidson MP and all the MPs on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee for their groundbreaking investigation; conclusively linking the blacklisting of safety reps to the appalling fatality rates in the industry. The Select Committee interim reports effectively called upon the blacklist firms to Own Up! Clean Up! Pay Up!: the slogan used in the TUC Day of Action on blacklisting.

To date not one company has complied with the Select Committee recommendations. Instead they launched a unilateral compensation scheme that ignores the concerns of the unions and blacklisted workers. It is a PR stunt intended to deflect attention away from the High Court trial in October and has been described as designed to “mislead Parliament”.

One of the Select Committee recommendations (supported by Tory and Liberal members) was that no blacklisting firm should be awarded publicly funded contracts unless they could clearly demonstrate that they had “self-cleansed”.

Because of rampant privatisation, many blacklisting construction firms are now operating across the public sector, even employing nurses and ancillary staff in the NHS. The Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament and local authorities have passed resolutions stating that no public contracts should be given to those firms guilty of blacklisting.

Islington Council recently became the first local authority to go beyond passing a resolution to actually implementing it. Kier were thrown off of the £16.5million annual housing contract they had carried out for the previous 14 years. The demand taken up by elected representatives, for no public contracts for firms involved in blacklisting, should be a manifesto pledge. It would be a vote winner.

But blacklisting is no longer simply an industrial relations issue. The Guardian has exposed the horrendous story of undercover police officers from the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) who were sent to discredit the family of Stephen Lawrence and had long term sexual relationships with women environmental and anti-racist activists they were sent to spy on. The very same undercover police were also involved in spying on blacklisted union activists and senior officers actually attended secret TCA meetings.

Theresa May has already announced a public inquiry into the role of the SDS spying on the Lawrence family but the remit for the inquiry will not be announced until after the General Election. The public inquiry should be wide enough to cover all the activities of secret police units that spied not just on the Lawrence family but all legal democratic campaign groups and trade unions. This is something that Labour could announce before the election. It would be another vote winner.

Blacklisting is a major human rights conspiracy between big business, the police and security services. There are already two cases lodged at the European Court of Human Rights.

But, so far, not a single director of a blacklisting firm has suffered any sanction and only one gave evidence to the Select Committee investigation. For the full conspiracy to be uncovered, all of the directors and police officers who attended TCA meetings and orchestrated the blacklisting of trade unionists need to give evidence under oath in a fully independent public inquiry.

Blacklisting is a working class version of phone hacking. Celebrities got the Leveson inquiry – blacklisted workers are asking, “where is our Leveson style public inquiry?”

A report compiled by a senior BIS civil servant or QC will not suffice.

David Cameron and Vince Cable have both repeatedly refused a public inquiry into blacklisting. In contrast, Ed Milliband has stated that “Blacklisting is about a race to the bottom: lower standards, insecurity at work, fewer rights and worse conditions,” and has called on the government to “end its refusal to act and hold the inquiry into blacklisting that common sense and decency demand.”

At the Labour Party National Policy Forum the following wording was agreed on blacklisting: “If the current government will not launch a full inquiry into the disgraceful practice of blacklisting in the construction industry the next Labour government will. This inquiry will be transparent and public to ensure the truth is set out”

Taking on the blacklisting construction firms – just like taking on energy companies and the banks – is what working people are looking for. It’s a vote winner.

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