Thousands of workers affected by construction industry blacklist

Victimised trade unionist speaks to The Socialist

AN INVESTIGATION by the Information Commissioner culminated this February in the dramatic seizure of computer equipment belonging to an individual operating a blacklist at the service of 40 construction companies – including Taylor Woodrow, Laing O’Rourke and Balfour Beatty – against workers in that industry.

Hugh Caffrey

The blacklist, dating back to the 1980s, contains names and information on 3,213 construction workers, collected by a snoop called Ian Kerr of Droitwich, Worcestershire. Construction companies bought this information (allegedly, for a £3,000 annual fee) so they could refuse to hire, or could sack, trade unionists named in the file.

The Socialist Party has, for years, campaigned in support of those victimised by this wretch Kerr and his paymasters in the construction industry boardrooms.

Fighting for justice

Long-standing trade unionist and electrician Steve Acheson is one of those repeatedly victimised by the employers, as previously reported in The Socialist.

At the Manchester Royal Infirmary site, together with electricians Tony Jones and Graham Bowker, Steve spent three years on a picket line fighting for justice.

Within weeks of Steve gaining work on the Fiddlers Ferry site, again he was victimised and unfairly selected for redundancy. Exposure of the blacklist confirms that Steve and thousands more were persecuted for years by the bosses.

In 1999, New Labour passed a law banning blacklisting but then refused to implement it, claiming a lack of evidence! Now the evidence is there three thousand times over, will New Labour act? The Trades Union Congress demands it should.

To make that happen on the ground, the unions must launch an immediate campaign of action to smash the blacklist. Steve Acheson told me:

“I’ve seen my file and it confirmed definitely that I’ve been victimised on trade union grounds, I’m marked: ‘Do not touch’. In other words, never to be employed again, anywhere.

“There’s a full sheet of data on my last employment to the day I left. In one place it says: ‘At present looking for work in the Merseyside area through agencies’! It’s like a shadow following me around, someone monitoring me, it’s incredible. There’s also information in there about me that is completely wrong – talking about things I’m supposed to have done, on sites I’ve never worked on in my life!

“I want redress, and perhaps now a lot of the lads who’ve been phoning me from around the country over the last years trying to get equal access to employment will get that. Of course it’s not automatic they will, we’ve got to see what happens over the next period. I’m going to be applying for jobs all over the place to test the water, and if I still get nothing I’ll be going back to the press and saying nothing’s changed.

“I think our doggedness and refusal to give up the picket line at Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) is partly what has led to this. Action is never a waste of time, it’s always worthwhile. Against that disgraceful victimisation at the MRI, having fought on for so long I hope everyone can see it did achieve something, it’s a lesson that you can fight and you can win victories.

“The unions need to stop straggling about all over the place on this issue. I’ve been saying for years that if the unions exist for the purpose of improving our pay and conditions, then they need to fight to protect those who are fighting hardest to win those improvements.

“That means our stewards and activists. The unions should immediately give official backing to all the lads victimised as a result of the blacklist.

“If the unions fight and are seen to be doing something it will encourage membership and participation in our unions. They’ve got to fight, that’s the be-all and end-all.

“I will continue to seek justice outside the gates of the Fiddlers Ferry site where the blacklist is still being implemented against me. My resolve remains completely undiminished; I will never walk away from this fight.”