Friday, November 02, 2012

White Elephants, Blacklists and Conspiracies

CONSTRUCTION firm Skanska is to show guests around a new £100 million Civic Centre in Wembley which is claimed to be a "green building" but is dismissed as a costly white elephant by Brent borough residents who have seen six libraries closed among other cuts by the supposedly cash-strapped council.

Skanska and the College of North West London will be co-operating in the open day on November 9-10, to give those who are interested some idea of career openings in the construction industry. But Skanska does not want just anyone working in their industry. The firm was one of the main customers of the Droitwich-based Consulting Association, the firm owned by former Economic League officer Ian Kerr which kept thousands of files on building workers.

These workers who had brought attention to themselves by being union activists and raising safety work could then find themselves unable to get work for years. 

On February 23, 2009, the company's office was raided by the Information Commissioner acting under the Data Protection Act. But it is now known that only a fraction of the files were confiscated and that many more men were blacklisted.

UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy and the union's national political officer Jim Kennedy have told MPs this week that during the Consulting Association’s final year of operating a blacklist of construction workers, Skanska paid for £28,122.60 of checks and Sir Robert McAlpine £26,842.20.

Bro.Kennedy said:  “In an internal review, Skanska admitted that they were both using the Consulting Association to vet workers and were supplying information to the list, yet they escaped without penalty or sanction.”

Bro.Murphy drew the committee of MPs attention to the spike in Sir Robert McAlpine’s blacklisting activity in the third quarter of 2008. From July to September 2008 McAlpine spent £12,839.20 making 5,836 blacklist checks, an average of 63 per day.  This peak corresponded with McAlpine’s building of the Olympic Stadium which began construction in late May 2008. McAlpine was also part of the consortium involved in the building of the M74 in Glasgow, which began work at the same time.

In other words, these companies were taking public money for contracts with one hand, while with the other hand they signed cheques to a man running an operation which, in breach of the law let alone human rights, made sure people could not earn a living, being blacklisted for the "crime" of exercising their democratic rights to organise, to stand up for theimselves and colleagues, and to try and get safe and decent working conditions.

Whose Conspiracy?

Big companies like Skanska and McAlpine get most of their work from the public purse in one way another, whether in major building and engineering contracts, roads and infrastructure, or the host of outsourced services into which some companies have moved.

Being close to government must help, and that is not just with contracts.

Forty years ago the country's first national building strike brought gains for workers, but in its aftermath some two dozen workers  were brought to trial at Shrewsbury, charged with "conspiracy to intimidate", affray, and "unlawful assembly". From the dock, Des Warren said there had been a conspiracy, not by building workers, but by the bosses, the police, and the Tory government. Des got three years imprisonment. 

Was there a conspiracy? Home Secretary Robert Carr had instructed the Chief Constable of West Mercia and the Chief Constable of Gwynedd to investigate picketing in the Shrewsbury area during the dispute. The employers provided a dossier included reports of alleged instances from building sites across the country over a twelve-week period, but the Government decided to order an investigation only into alleged instances on a McAlpine site in Shrewsbury on September 6th 1972.
Oddly the police had accompanied the pickets wherever they went and made no arrests that day, but now they had their instructions.
A tean of detectives were set to work. They were billeted in a hotel in North Wales, which was used as a central point for the huge investigation. 800 statements were taken of which 600 were discarded.
The preliminary report of the two Chief Constables went to the Director of Public Prosecutions in February 1973. Shortly afterwards, on the 14th February, 24 former pickets were arrested and charged with 210 offences between them.None were charged with assault.

The Shrewsbury 24 Campaign which is working to get the truth and to have the sentences on pickets overturned notes that:

Robert Alistair McAlpine became the Treasurer of the Conservative Party in 1975. The McAlpine family had great political influence in the North Wales area. The High Sheriff of Denbighshire, which is a large part of the county of Gwynedd, is the senior person responsible for law and order. Up to the 1970’s the past nine High Sheriffs had been members of the McAlpine family. The person appointed in April 1974 was Mr Peter Bell, a director of McAlpine and the son-in-law of the late Sir Alfred McAlpine, who was also Mr Bell’s predecessor as High Sheriff. McAlpines were the main contractors of the Brookside building site in Shrewsbury, which featured prominently in the charges against the pickets.

An indication of the power and influence of the Construction Industry is shown by this report of a private Christmas dinner organized by McAlpines in 1970.
“Anyone who can hold a private party and make it virtually impossible to get a cabinet quorum cannot be without influence or friends. In what other industry can any person boast of such a wide and diverse circle of acquaintances? None.”
 Construction News 17 December 1970
The Occasion: the McAlpine’s Christmas beano December 1970
The Venue: The Mc Alpine’s own hotel, the Dorchester, Park Lane, London
The Menu : La Friande de Perdreau, whatever that may be, washed down with Chateau Rancan Gassies and rounded off with a copy of a biography of Ted Heath as a presentation for every guest.
The guest list: Unbelievable, 700 of the wealthiest, most powerful people in Britain. The following were on the top table.
Edward Heath yachtsman Lord Chandos of Panmure Gordon stockbrokers
Sir Gerald Templer ex boss of the British Army and chairman of the British Metal Corporation
Harold MacMillan ExTory Prime Minister
Sir Joseph Lockwood boss of EMI director of Smith’s Industries, Beechams and Hawker Siddeley
Lord Thomson owner of Thomson Newspapers
Lord Inchape boss of P&O, director of Burmah Oil and BP Lord Renwick of W Greenwell stockbrokers
Selwyn Lloyd former Tory chancellor and Foreign Secretary
Sir Charles Forte boss.of Trust House Fortes
Sir Desmond Plummer former boss of the Greater London Council
Lord Perth boss of Tate & Lyle
Lord Amory former Tory chancellor of the Exchequer, ex director of Lloyds, ICI and
John Heathcoats
Ray Gunter former Labour Minister of Labour and director of Securicor
Gordon Brunton boss of Thomson Newspapers.
Lord Citrine former Electricians Union official, former Genral Secretary of the TUC, former Chairman of the Electricity Board
Charles Clore boss of the British Shoe Corporation, director of Scottish Motor Traction, Selfridges etc,
Dr Finniston boss of the British Steel Corporation
Sir Ronald Leach of Peat Marwick company doctors
Lord Hall former head of the Post Office
Lord Stow Hill formerly Frank Soskice, Labour Home Secretary Sir David Brown owns David Brown Tractors
J A Boyd Carpenter ex Tory Minister and chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority
Lord Mancroft Ex Tory minister, Cunard and Great Universal Stores director
Sir Louis Gluckstein head of Great Universal Stores
Sir Alec Douglas Home former Tory Prime Minister and smallholder
Sir Halford Reddish free enterprise fanatic, boss of Rugby Portland Cement and director of Granada.
Reginald Maulding director of several dubious companies
Lord Showcross former chairman of BSA, and former Labour Attorney General
Sir Arnold Weinstock boss of GEC
Duncan Sandys former Tory Minister director of Llonrho
Lord Hill former boss head of the BBC and the ITA
Sir Max Rayne head of London Merchant Securities, the property empire
Lord Aldington friend of Jack Jones, director of English China Clays and G EC
Sir Harold Samuel property king and boss of Land Securities
John Peyton Tory Minister of Transport
Sir Miles Thomas director of the Thomson Organisation and of a dubious gambling club, ‘The Pair of Shoes’
Sir Paul Chambers formerly of ICI now insurance magnate and director of National Westminster

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At 1:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't doubt for a second that there is considerable corruption that our government is a part of. Until campaign contributions are officially taken care of and are completely transparent, there will always be a form of access and trade that parties and businesses can be a part of. That being said, I think it's important that we focus on the construction industry in times of recession. It is hard to create demand but buildings will always be needed and right now, those of us who have paid a great deal for machinery such as promax access platforms are struggling to make ends meet.

At 7:09 AM, Blogger Construction Companies said...

Activists and raising safety issues is very useful!
Construction Companies Australia


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