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From The Socialist newspaper, 13 November 2019

Trade union conference to force secret police disclosure

Unite members protesting against blacklisting, photo the Socialist

Unite members protesting against blacklisting, photo the Socialist   (Click to enlarge)

Lois Austin, Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance and Socialist Party

For decades, trade unionists, shop stewards and socialists suspected there was an active blacklist and that 'spycops' infiltrated trade unions. The blacklist was preventing them securing work. Even when work was secured, it was more by accident than design, and often that employment was short lived as invented problems meant the job came to an end quickly.

In 2009, the Guardian led a story about the existence of an illegal blacklist. It was compiled and updated by the 'Consulting Association', but the blacklist was funded by some of the country's largest building firms.

Operating for about 15 years the database named approximately 3,200 workers. The building contractors paid flat fee of 3,000 a year and then a fixed fee for each name they wanted checked. Details of workers' trade union activities and past employment conduct were recorded.

The Consulting Association was established after the demise of the 'Economic League' an organisation that traces its history back decades and also kept a list of alleged trade union and socialist 'troublemakers' who were denied jobs. When the League closed down in 2009 its database was passed over to the Consulting Association.

However, it was not just these private organisations which were involved in blacklisting. The Metropolitan Police and other regional police forces were also involved in sharing specious information with the blacklisters. Operation Reuben was an internal police investigation into blacklisting launched after reports in the media and parliament.

Police and blacklisting

The report by ex-chief constable Mick Creedon on the findings unequivocally states: "Police, including special branches and the security services supplied information to the blacklist funded by the country's major construction firms, the Consulting Association."

Spycop whistleblower, Peter Francis, confirmed the collusion between special branch and the blacklist when he made his revelations about his activity when working undercover for the 'special demonstration squad'.

However, blacklisting and surveillance went to the highest levels of government. One of the predecessor unions of the civil servants' union PCS - the Civil and Public Services Association (CPSA) - was infamous as a battleground between the right wing of the labour movement and the left wing specifically the Militant Tendency (now the Socialist Party).

Secret meetings between the right-wing leaders of the unions and a hated Tory government took place to discuss how to deal with members of the Militant like CPSA deputy general secretary John Macreadie and collaborate to get union reps sacked when they led strikes.

Internal government papers seen at the time show Thatcher's government in the 1980s organising regular meetings of the Metropolitan Police, MI5 and government ministers.

The intention was to take down an elected trade union leader, and then to put in place procedures to stop those who were prior to employment, or after employment, active socialists. The papers state "subversives... cannot be tolerated in such jobs." This political interference by the state into workers' democratic structures must be exposed and campaigned against.

The trade union conference into police infiltration and blacklisting comes at a timely moment. It is also important to note it was not just the big construction firms who carried this out, they were helped by and colluded with the police. Indeed, as is clear in the case of the CPSA, it also involved MI5 and the secret state.

Public inquiry

It is important that we demand a public inquiry into blacklisting and hold Labour to account in ensuring that this is delivered. That inquiry needs to not just inquire into the Consulting Association, but the role of the police in facilitating the blacklist along with the secret state.

The events at Orgreave during the 1983-84 miners' strike require investigating, particularly the military role of the police and the role of the secret state in dismantling the National Union of Mineworkers. In addition, the political trial and witch-hunt of the Shrewsbury picketers in the 1970s must also be examined. The state effectively organised a show-trial to cut across the building workers movement.

It is vital that trade unionists, alongside all the campaigning work to end austerity also campaign for democratic rights which include the right to be active in your union free from police spies, subversion and blacklisting.


London: Cops trade union conference

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In The Socialist 13 November 2019:


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Related links:

Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance:

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