Blacklisting victory – now build union strength

Neil Cafferky

It was a full house on Saturday night, 12 October, in the Bread and Roses pub in London, for a noisy celebration by construction workers and their allies from the labour movement.

The occasion was a victory party for Frank Morris, a victimised Unite rep on the Crossrail project.

After an epic 12-month battle against a multi-billion pound construction consortium, BAM-Ferrovial-Kier (BFK), Frank and the union won a total victory.

Frank is now back at work and Unite have full union recognition on Europe’s largest construction project.

Frank’s campaign was the most high profile example of blacklisting in the construction industry. It came on the back of revelations that top construction firms like BFK, McAlpine, Skanska, O’Rourke and many more were deeply implicated in the funding of a blacklist run by the now defunct Consulting Association.

Despite the euphoria on the night, everyone at the Bread and Roses was well aware that the fight against blacklisting in the construction industry is far from over.

On Friday 11 October an important Employment Appeals Tribunal finished its hearing. The case has been brought by leading anti-blacklist campaigner Dave Smith and argues that blacklisting is a breach of human rights.

The judgement has yet to be released but a victory for Dave Smith will have important implications for workers’ rights, acting to strengthen legal protection for workers.

Through sustained campaigning from the Blacklist Support Group, as well as the effect of Frank Morris’s victory, the leading culprits in the blacklist scandal have announced plans for a compensation scheme.

In a press release, Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska and Vinci all “apologise for their involvement with the Consulting Association and the impact its database may have had on any individual construction worker”.

Now there is the wider issue of police collusion with the Consulting Association. This raises serious questions about the role of the state in disrupting trade union organisation.

And equally important for the labour movement is clearing out any trade union officials who have been working hand in glove with the blacklisters.

The blacklisting campaign still has work to do. The key task is to use the string of victories to build effective union organisation on the sites with democratic control of reps and branches by the rank and file.

An important demand must be union monitoring of hiring practices to ensure any blacklisting can be quickly exposed.

This remains the strongest defence against victimisation and blacklisting.