In general, the UK isn’t known for being a particularly militant place. While there are exceptions, from striking doctors and cleaners to rent-striking students and other organised tenants, in general we do often tend to let our rulers get away with walking all over us. There are undoubtedly a huge number of different factors that combine to make up this picture, but several related recent events have highlighted one important, but often over-looked reason: the fact that when people do try to get organised and take collective action, the state and employers respond by unleashing an absolutely vicious set of dirty tricks to try and bludgeon us back into line.
First off, the results of the Hillsborough enquiry, which exposed the lengths the police are willing to go to try and hide the truth, smear their victims, and duck any responsibility for their actions, have led to renewed calls for an investigation into South Yorkshire Police’s actions at Orgreave five years earlier. As the scale of SYP’s wrongdoing after Hillsborough becomes impossible to ignore, voices ranging from Andy Burnham to the former head of Manchester police are echoing what ex-miners and other trade unionists have been saying about Orgreave for years now. The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign are currently planning a big rally in June to mark the anniversary of the battle, which looks well worth attending if you’re in the area, or if not you can still donate, or just get in touch with the campaign to ask how you can help them out.
Meanwhile, another long-running fight for justice by organised workers has led to construction companies having to pay out millions and millions of pounds in compensation to the workers they blacklisted. It’s an important victory, but it’s not the end of the fight, because, by settling out of court and avoiding a trial, the bosses involved have managed to avoid having to reveal the full details of how the blacklist was compiled, and what role the cops and union officials played in helping to gather information.
In the words of blacklisted electrician Steve Acheson:
““Seven years ago when the files were discovered these firms denied everything and offered us nothing. Two years ago, their misnamed compensation scheme offered most people £1,000. These wretches have now been forced to pay out millions in compensation, as well as legal bills for four sets of lawyers. That’s a big kick in the profit margin. The construction firms may ‘wish to draw a line under this matter’ but for blacklisted workers this is still unfinished business. Until such time that the full conspiracy is exposed and those responsible for the human rights abuse are called to account in a court of law, we will never stop fighting.”
“Despite all of the denials and attempts to cover up their secret conspiracy, the largest multinationals in the construction sector have been forced to to pay out millions in compensation. Make no mistake, the High Court action is a historic victory for the trade union movement against the vicious face of free market capitalism.
The blacklist firms might have hoped that by buying their way out of a show trial, that the scandal that has disgraced an entire industry will go away: it won’t. Blacklisting is a human rights conspiracy against trade unionism by big business and shady anti-democratic political policing units within the British state.
These fat cats and their friends in the police took food off of our children’s table, causing years of family hardship. We take this personally. A few quid and a mealy mouthed apology is a long way from justice. We intend to continue our fight to expose those who orchestrated and colluded with blacklisting.”
Meanwhile, in yet another example of state dirty tricks being brought to light by the courage and determination of ordinary people, the Pitchford Inquiry into undercover cops is still slowly rolling on – Police Spies Out of Lives and the Undercover Research Group are the two best places to keep up with the latest news from this particular case.
None of these things are separate from each other. The links between Orgreave and Hillsborough are particularly glaring, but it’s worth remembering that the Blacklist Support Group are also core participants in the Pitchford Inquiry due to the evidence that undercover coppers were involved in helping construction bosses compile evidence against militant workers. And, of course, the Inquiry also includes the police spying campaign against the Lawrence family – knowing what we do about the police’s fondness for spying on bereaved families, how much confidence can we have that similar tactics weren’t used against the Hillsborough families?
These things aren’t separate; they’re moments in a larger struggle, the constant battle that employers and the state wage against anyone who tries to challenge their authority. It’s worth uncovering these murky stories, not just out of historical interest or some kind of abstract concern for the truth, but because the more we understand about the methods the bosses and coppers use, the better prepared we’ll be to defend ourselves when you and I, or our friends or workmates or neighbours, try to improve our lives and find ourselves targeted in similar ways.