New evidence of union complicity in blacklisting workers

In the latest development from the long-running scandal over the blacklisting of construction workers, previously confidential files have been released that show the level of union complicity in helping employers to keep workers from getting jobs. The Guardian reports:

“Previously confidential documents from the secretive operation suggest that union officials privately warned managers of large companies not to employ specific workers because they were deemed to be politically troublesome.

According to signed statements by managers involved in running the blacklist, trade union officials helped to get some of their own members excluded from jobs as they wanted to prevent disruption on industrial sites.

Files from the blacklist show that trade union officials described individual workers as “militant”, a “troublemaker”, or with a warning to be “careful”.

Evidence of the apparent collusion between trade union officials and managers has led a group of 41 blacklisted workers to call on Unite to commission an independent inquiry into the claims.

They said officials working for Unite, and another union that has merged with Unite, have been implicated in what amounts to a “running sore” for the trade union movement. “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,” they added.

Daniel O’Sullivan, who was once chairman of the secret agency that operated the blacklist, worked for more than 30 years until 2008 as a manager in the construction industry. He said that as part of his job, he had meetings with senior union officials. These included representatives from Unite and the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT), which has merged with Unite.

O’Sullivan said his discussions “made clear to me that the union officials were also concerned to prevent unnecessary disruption on site. Occasionally, union officials would give me information concerning a particular individual”. He gave as an example a worker who was described on his file in 2005 as a “troublemaker” by a union official.

Another manager involved in running the blacklist was Dudley Barratt, who worked as the head of industrial relations at the Costain construction firm in the 1980s and 1990s. He said he was friendly with officials in a number of trade unions who appeared to be aware of the covert blacklist.

He added they “would occasionally tell me names of individuals who they thought should not be employed on sites, on the basis that there might be a risk of these individuals using the opportunity to cause trouble to undermine a project and the official trade union activities on that site.”

“Overall, I gained the impression that there was a quiet acceptance by certain construction trade unions of the [blacklist] and the ‘benefits’ of the checking service as such individuals could be disruptive of organised labour and the unions saw the benefit of having an organised site.”

Mick Anderson is one of the blacklisted electricians who received compensation after being unemployed for many months. His file noted that a firm was told in 2005 by the Amicus union that he was “not recommended”. Anderson was a member of Amicus which later merged with TGWU to form Unite. The file also records another warning from the union to another firm two days later, to be “careful” about him.

Entries in the file on bricklayer Brian Higgins, who has also received compensation for being blacklisted, identify union officials as the source of information about his union activities in 1992, 2002 and 2003. In one, an official states that Higgins “is connected” to a rank-and-file organisation of builders that campaigned for better conditions.”

The Blacklist Support Group have stated:

“BSG applaud Len McCluskey’s pledge to hold an independent investigation into possible union collusion in blacklisting.

BSG are calling for such an investigation to be led by an independent legal expert.

The investigation should involve reviewing Consulting Association files that name union officials as the source of the information about union activists and other documentation that has become available to the union during its ongoing persistent campaigning against blacklisting.

But crucially, the investigation should also hear evidence from blacklisted workers in order to place the documentation in its full context.

The final remit for any investigation should be drawn up in consultation with blacklisted workers”.

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About nothingiseverlost

"The impulse to fight against work and management is immediately collective. As we fight against the conditions of our own lives, we see that other people are doing the same. To get anywhere we have to fight side by side. We begin to break down the divisions between us and prejudices, hierarchies, and nationalisms begin to be undermined. As we build trust and solidarity, we grow more daring and combative. More becomes possible. We get more organized, more confident, more disruptive and more powerful."
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