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Wednesday 6th
posted by Morning Star in Features

We need clear public procurement rules that bar companies involved in blacklisting from bidding for public sector contracts, write GAIL CARTMAIL and HOWARD BECKETT

In recent months Unite has uncovered several cases of contemporary blacklisting, which demonstrates that we are not simply seeking justice for workers historically mistreated but must stamp out blacklisting once and for all.

It is why Unite is holding a lobby of Parliament and a day of action today on blacklisting.

Unite members will be demonstrating across Britain this morning at the sites of major companies involved in blacklisting. Construction workers from across Britain will gather at the Houses of Parliament this afternoon to lobby their MPs and demand they take action.

There will then be a meeting in Parliament which will be addressed by leading Labour MPs, including shadow chancellor John McDonnell, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey and shadow policing minister Louise Haigh.

Workers lobbying their MPs have three key demands:

  • A full public inquiry into blacklisting
  • Blacklisting to become a criminal offence
  • Companies caught blacklisting to be barred from bidding for public sector contracts.

A public inquiry is urgently needed so that we can finally get answers and discover who exactly was involved in blacklisting construction workers.

We know that, when the Consulting Association was raided by the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2009, the organisation was blacklisting 3,213 construction workers.

We also know the vast majority of leading construction companies were involved in ruining the lives of workers as they placed people on the blacklist and then checked the names of potential recruits against that list. Those on the list were denied work.

What we don’t know is the extent to which the police, the security services and the state played a role in the industrial scale blacklisting of workers.

We know from employment tribunals that highly private information on the Consulting Association files of blacklisted victims can only have come from the police or the security forces.

We also know that leading spy cop Mark Jenner infiltrated the former builders’ union Ucatt (now part of Unite) pretending to be carpenter Mark Cassidy in the 1990s in order to spy on left-wing activists.

What we don’t know is the full extent of the state’s involvement in blacklisting and who exactly knew what.

Unite is a core participant in what was originally described as the Pitchford Inquiry into the entire spy cops scandal. But there is a growing concern that the inquiry will be a whitewash.

It is now run by Sir John Mitting, whose primary concern appears to be protecting the identities of rogue police officers rather than discovering what these police officers were up to and why and who they were taking orders from.

What is especially galling for the victims of blacklisting is that the companies involved got away virtually scot-free and have been free to continue to bid and win public sector contracts.

That is why we need clear public procurement rules, for all sectors not just construction, that bar companies involved in blacklisting from bidding for public sector contracts until they have fully atoned for their actions by “owning up, clearing up and paying up” for their crimes.

We have yet again seen the government wash its hands of blacklisting in recent months. In September, with the assistance of Chuka Umunna MP, we exposed how leading construction companies were once again engaged in contemporary blacklisting on Crossrail.

Since then Unite has publicised further cases of contemporary blacklisting, which is frequently undertaken at a local level by subcontractors and agencies.

The cases of contemporary blacklisting led to fresh calls by MPs for the government to step in and bar blacklisters from public sector contracts.

Junior Business Minister Margot James MP has ruled that out. She said: “It is up to individual contracting authorities to apply these measures and take steps to be confident in the current practices of their contractors.” Or in plain English, the government will do nothing.

Public procurement rules barring blacklisters are entirely feasible. Following lobbying from Unite, the Welsh Labour government further strengthened its clear anti-blacklisting stance earlier this year. It introduced clear rules for all public sector organisations in Wales to ensure their suppliers are not involved in blacklisting.

Last year, following a marathon High Court case, Unite secured significant compensation for over 250 members blacklisted by the Consulting Association. Our members received over £10 million in compensation.

Unite’s legal battle has not ended, we are in the process of taking over 70 further cases for blacklisting members and this time we will ensure “the controlling minds” behind the Consulting Association appear in court.

As part of the latest action Unite has issued proceedings against Cullum McAlpine and David Cochrane, the first and last chairmen of the Consulting Association, who were employed by Sir Robert McAlpine.

Action is also being taken against Danny O’Sullivan, formerly of Kier Ltd, and Stephen Quant, formerly of Skanska UK Plc, both of whom were also chairmen of the Consulting Association.

In particular we are taking action for unlawful conspiracy. Since the blacklist was revealed in 2009, these individuals have sought to avoid taking responsibility for their actions.

Justice is about far more than simple compensation and our members who had their lives ruined deserve to see those responsible finally give evidence in court and answer for their crimes.

That is why we need specific laws in future that make blacklisting a criminal offence and ensure that criminality should be on the shoulders of the individuals who decide to blacklist workers and not just on the corporate entities they represent.

Unite’s blacklisting campaign also has an international dimension, since many of the companies guilty of blacklisting British workers are multinationals based abroad.

Last week at the Building and Woodworkers International Congress in Durban, South Africa, Unite won unanimous support for a wholesale review of international framework agreements (IFAs) with multinational companies.

This is a significant decision as IFAs cover companies found guilty of blacklisting and Unite has evidence they are exercising extreme vetting, usually through labour suppliers.

The outcome is the same as a blacklist, good people are deprived of work for the “sin” of being proud trade unionists.

The decision is in keeping with the South African trade union movement’s slogan in its battle against apartheid, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

Today’s day of action and lobby of Parliament places the construction industry and the government on notice that the fight for justice for blacklisted workers continues.

Unite will use every avenue available, be it industrial, legal or political to secure justice for our members. We will work with politicians, activists and fellow trade unionists in the UK and abroad to achieve our goals.
Our campaign will continue until we finally stamp out blacklisting once and for all.

Gail Cartmail and Howard Beckett are assistant general secretaries of Unite.