UK: MPs call for inquiry into construction blacklisting scandal


An explosive new book has revealed how information uncovered by police spying units was used by corporations to illegally blacklist thousands of UK union members.

Blacklisted: The Secret War between Big Business and Union Activists lifts the lid on how undercover police officers infiltrated some of the UK’s biggest trade unions to pass on information about workers who were considered a threat to corporate or state interests.

British MPs said last week that construction companies implicated in blacklisting were more interested in protecting their reputations than “addressing the crimes of the past”.

The MPs have now joined trade unions in calling for a full public inquiry into what the book’s authors call a “national scandal”.

The book details how the industrial section of Special Branch, the UK police national security unit, passed information on to the shadowy Consulting Association – an organisation funded by construction businesses to compile a blacklist of 3,213 members of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT).

Many of those targeted were being punished for raising health and safety concerns. Workers on the list were frozen out by companies and agencies, denied work, and unable to see the information listed about them.

Former engineer and UCATT member, Dave Smith, who wrote the book with journalist Phil Chamberlain, was blacklisted for complaining about asbestos contamination on sites.

“My salary dropped from £30,000 (approximately US$44,600) to just £12,000 (US$17,900) a year,” he told Equal Times.

“Agencies stopped ringing me, and jobs ground to a halt. But not one of these corporations who supported blacklisting has been punished. In fact, many of those responsible were promoted.

“Some have apologised since. But they are not sorry for blacklisting; they are just sorry for being caught.”


Tip of the iceberg

Smith said that the numbers uncovered in the book are ‘just the tip of the iceberg.’

“This is still going on across other industries. Unionists in the North Sea oil industry, the railway industry, as well as the Fire Brigades Union and the National Union of Teachers, have all been blacklisted. Without being overtly political, it is the state acting as an agent of big business against the trade unions.”

Former undercover police officer turned whistleblower Peter Francis spent four years undercover infiltrating political activists as a member of the now-disbanded Special Demonstration Squad (SDS).

Since the book’s publication, he has said he spied on five unions - Unison, the Fire Brigades Union, the Communication Workers Union, the National Union of Teachers, and the National Union of Students.

He added that information he passed on has appeared on blacklists. Last week, he also disclosed that he spied on a string of UK MPs, many while they were working as activists within anti-racism organisations.

Undercover police officer and SDS member Mark Jenner also posed as a trade unionist. He was a member of UCATT for three years from 1996, and had a five-year relationship with a female activist.

Some undercover officers fathered children with activists, while others used the identities of dead infants.

The book was launched the same day UK Home Secretary Theresa May announced a full public inquiry into undercover police spying on environmental and anti-racism protest campaigns.

UCATT, the general workers’ union GMB and the UK’s national trade union centre, the Trades Unions Congress (TUC), all say there should also be a full public inquiry into the blacklisting of unionists.

Last week, UK opposition leader Ed Miliband promised an inquiry if he is elected in May’s UK general election.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This shameful practice caused misery for thousands of workers and their families, who were punished for joining a union or raising health and safety issues. Blacklisting is a fundamental abuse of our human rights and needs to be outlawed as a criminal offence."

Speaking at the book’s launch in March, Peter Francis said: “I would like to take this opportunity to unreservedly apologise to all the union members I personally spied upon and reported back on whilst deployed undercover in the SDS.

“I am prepared to repeat all of this under oath at the public inquiry and should UCATT or any other union or the blacklisted campaigners wish me to, in any court cases they might bring against the relevant UK authorities.”

The Consulting Association was paid to supply information about union members to more than 40 transnational construction companies, including Balfour Beatty, Skanska and Carillion, before the Information Commissioner Office (ICO) raided it in 2009.

In 2010, regulations were introduced to make it unlawful to make and use a blacklist, or refuse employment due to a blacklist entry.

UCATT called the new rules a “great disappointment”, and have called for blacklisting to be made a criminal offence; for the ICO to inform all those on blacklists; for victims to be compensated; and for companies guilty of blacklisting to be barred from public contracts.

Smith said: “It is laughable. We know who the companies behind blacklisting are. Yet not one of them has faced any consequences for blacklisting, while others have lost their jobs.”