Sunday, March 04, 2012

Police and Spooks helped make sure many could not work

BLACKLIST opponents and (left) Profesor Charles Woolfson. Targeted for concern about oil rig safety?

THEY told us McCarthy-style witch-hunts and people being denied employment for no reason other than their views or legitimate concerns over matters like safety did not happen here. Those who found themselves on the receiving end knew different, but without the loudmouthed hullabulloo senator as in the 'States, or official bans such as happened in some other countries, it was difficult to prove.

Then when the activities of organisations like the Economic League were brought to the surface we were supposed to thnk it was all unofficial, and relatively small-scale.

In fact the Economic League's subscribers read like a who's who of major UK companies, and even after it officially packed up in 1994, blacklisting continued. Its successor organisation carried on quietly and in breach of the Data Protection law, but such "private" activity has enjoyed the support of forces of the state.

A report in the Observer says " police or security services supplied information to a blacklist funded by the country's major construction firms that has kept thousands of people out of work over the past three decades.

"The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has revealed that records that could only have come from the police or MI5 have been discovered in a vast database of files held on 3,200 victims who were deemed leftwing or troublesome.

"The files were collected by the Consulting Association, a clandestine organisation funded by major names in the construction industry.

"Its database was seized nearly three years ago, but the extraordinary nature of the information held has only now emerged, following an employment tribunal for one of the victims, Dave Smith, a 46-year-old engineer who had a 36-page file against his name and was victimised repeatedly for highlighting safety hazards on sites, including the presence of asbestos.

"David Clancy, investigations manager at the ICO, told the central London tribunal adjudicating on Smith's claims against construction giant Carillion that "there is information on the Consulting Association files that I believe could only be supplied by the police or the security services".

Speaking to the Observer, Clancy added: "The information was so specific and it contained in effect operational information that wouldn't have formed anything other than a police record."

The scandal will be thrown open to further public exposure in the coming months as a class action by 100 victims against at least 39 companies is set to be pursued in the high court by Hugh Tomlinson QC, currently counsel for several of the phone-hacking claimants. The revelations will inevitably raise fresh questions about the probity of the police in a week in which its relationship with major news corporations, and News International in particular, has come under sharp focus. Last week the Leveson inquiry heard that the police were investigating a "network of corrupt officials" as part of their inquiries into phone hacking and police corruption.

Labour MP John McDonnell MP, who first raised the issue of blacklisting a decade ago, is to demand a debate in parliament on the collusion being security services and employers. "I am outraged at the systematic abuse of people's rights. This has destroyed people's lives, broken up families, ensured that people have not been able to earn a living. It has devastated people year after year, and nobody has listened to us. No one has been willing to believe the extent to which there has been collusion between police, security services and companies. It is all about the ability of companies to exploit workers and destroy anybody who stands up against them."

The extent of this collusion in surveillence and blacklisting is shown up by the report that a Glasgow academic was also targeted, and possibly for similar reasons to Davy Smith - his concerns about safety issues.

During the raid on the offices of the Consulting Association, the Information Commissioner's Office seized data held on Professor Charles Woolfson. Woolfson has studied a number of industrial issues, both here and in the Baltic countries, but the report in Saturday's Guardian says the file upon him appears to have been opened when he began writing on the safety of oil rigs, following the Piper Alpha disaster in which 167 people were killed in 1988.

" The file, which was being updated as late as 1996, referred readers to other intelligence held under the reference "file:OILC" . The initials are those of the Offshore Industries Liaison Committee, formed by workers in the oil industry and nowadays part of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union. An extract said: "Funding from oil industry to Glasgow university may now be cut if aboves activities continue or there may be a reduction in his activities to prevent this happening [sic]."

"There is no suggestion that funding for the university was cut or that Woolfson came under pressure to stop his work. However, it is understood there were further databases held by the Consulting Association that the ICO were not permitted under their warrant to seize.

"A statement from Oil & Gas UK said: "Our records offer no evidence that Oil & Gas UK has ever subscribed to the Consulting Association, or has paid anyone to maintain files on people critical of the industry; nor are we aware of such activities being carried out in the past. Given the top priority that the UK oil and gas industry places on the safety of its workforce and the open safety culture that this promotes, Oil & Gas UK does not condone such practices."

Nice to hear it. But somebody evidently did take an interest in the Glasgow University academic, and by the sound of it, it was not an academic interest.

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