There must be a full and independent inquiry into the blacklisting scandal
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s suggestion that the Government’s review into industrial relations could also examine blacklisting is an insult to all the victims of this disgusting practice.
The Government has already announced the chair of this review will be Bruce Carr QC. Mr Carr is not what one would call an impartial arbiter of blacklisting cases given he has acted for employers against unions, including the notorious blacklister Balfour Beatty.
Thousands of construction workers had their lives ruined by 40 major construction companies as part of a practice which continued for decades. Many of the victims were placed on the blacklist because they acted as union safety reps and had the courage to challenge management about dangerous working practices. For their diligence they were rewarded by being barred from work, and many were forced out of the industry altogether.
While the devolved assemblies in Scotland and Wales are introducing measures to bar the construction companies involved in blacklisting from public sector contracts, the British Government has done nothing. Instead Business Secretary Vince Cable and his deputy Jo Swinson have been engaged in hand wringing, bleating about requiring evidence of continuing blacklisting, without taking any positive action.
The review into industrial relations will reduce blacklisting to nothing but a fig leaf for another round of government-sponsored union bashing. We demand a full public inquiry into the blacklisting scandal.
If a public inquiry was required to get to the bottom of the phone hacking of the rich and the powerful, then it is certainly required to uncover the truth behind the systematic blacklisting of ordinary workers. A public inquiry has real teeth, as it has the power to force people to give evidence. The blacklisters who have been hiding behind corporate doors would finally be forced out into the open.
Blacklisting was conducted on an industrial scale. In 2008, the year the Consulting Association – which maintained blacklists – disbanded, Skanska and Sir Robert McAlpine (the two most prolific blacklisters) made 12,783 and 12,201 blacklisting checks respectively. For Skanska that works out as 35 blacklisting checks a day.
A full public inquiry into construction blacklisting needs to be all-encompassing, dealing with every aspect of the scandal, including the involvement of the state in the scandal. It has become clear that information on the files of blacklisted victims could only have been supplied by the police or the security forces.
A public inquiry should also investigate the botched seizure of the Consulting Association files by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO). The ICO’s failure to prosecute any of the companies involved in blacklisting and the four-and-a-half year delay by the ICO in contacting any blacklisted worker should be given proper scrutiny. Finally, the inquiry should investigate the failure of successive Governments to outlaw blacklisting.
The campaign against blacklisting is gathering pace. On Wednesday of this week, the TUC held a highly successful day of action against blacklisting involving parliamentary lobbies both in Westminster and Holyrood. Protests were held at construction sites up and down the country.
This week UCATT commenced legal action against the key blacklisting companies for the misuse of private information and breach of confidence. The campaign will continue to grow until all victims of blacklisting have received justice and this disgusting practice has been stamped out once and for all.
Steve Murphy is General Secretary of construction union UCATT