Friday, September 20, 2013

State snoops and private blacklisting

 POLICE supposedly keeping watch on "extremists" in order to counter terrorism co-operated with the so-called Consulting Association, which kept illegal files on trade unionists whose only crime was that they sought better and safer conditions at work, and thus fell foul of employer blacklisting. 

Many of us have long suspected collusion went on between the police Special Branch and employer-funded outfits, but evidence was anecdotal or circumstantial, or concerned chance finds of documents in firms. Now however the Information Commissioners Office (ICO), which deals with data protection, has come across solid evidence of the relationship between governmental and private snoops.

Reporting the breaking news, Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Association says:
"The ICO have revealed that they have in their possession minutes from a Consulting Association meeting held in November 2008 where a senior police officer from an undercover police unit called NETCU gave a Powerpoint presentation. Despite a FOI request, the ICO have refused to provide the documents to lawyers Christian Khan, representing the Blacklist Support Group in our complaint against the police to the IPCC.

"However, the IPCC have written to Christian Khan admitting that the police were aware of the Consulting Association and that all Special Branches provided information about prospective employees". In February 2009  officers sent by the ICO raided the Consulting Association offices in Droitwich. It was revealed that the Association, which had taken on the business of the notorious Economic League,  held files on about 3,200 construction workers, including political activists, shop stewards and health and safety representatives. The database was seized four years ago and Ian Kerr, who ran the operation gathering and exchanging information among member firms  was fined £5,000. Invoices were discovered showing that 44 companies in total had paid for this service. They included big names in the construction industry like Skanska, Laing, McAlpine, Balfour Beatty, Taylor Woodrow and Mowlem. 

As workers who were able to see their files took legal action, the scale  of the blacklisting and snooping has become more evident. An ICO official told an industrial tribunal for a person who had been blacklisted that he believed the information on the database could only have been supplied by the police or the security services.  

Carillion, whose business ranges from building and railway maintenance to hospital services management, figured in the legal action brought by Dave Smith over blacklisting. Carillion management was also at the centre of a dispute with Swindon hospital workers who complained of  corrupt practices and bullying.
This week it was reported that Carillion had lost its space at Labour Party conference as a result of pressure from GMB, to whom it has been reallocated, and UCATT, though the latter union has reportedly had to cough up so the party can compensate Carillion.

This followed the good news that blacklisted sparks and Unite shop steward Frank Morris had won reinstatement on the Crossrail project. The move to get local authorities to bar contractors who carry out blacklisting received a big boost with the Welsh government announcing it was banning them.
But the collaboration between police and private agencies is a whole further dimension to the blacklisting scandal.

Here is Dave Smith again:

'In a recent Guardian front page article, undercover police officer Peter Francis, from the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) section within Special Branch admitted spying on a number of union activists who were involved in an anti-racist group that he had infiltrated. He says that specific information on their blacklist files almost certainly originated from his evidence gathering.

Brand new confirmation that police colluded with blacklisting trade unionists has now come to light. The Blacklist Support Group submitted a complaint to the IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) in 2012. The IPCC and Met  Police initially refused to even register the complaint but after an Appeal by Christian Khan solicitors the IPCC passed the complaint over to Operation Herne (the ongoing police investigation looking into the conduct of undercover police units).

In a recent letter about the Blacklist Support Group complaint, the IPCC update progress in the investigation and admit:
"initial scoping by the Operation Herne team identified that the
Consulting Association was an organisation that had developed from a number
of other organisations dating back to 1917. The scoping also identified
that it was likely that all Special Branches were involved in providing
information about potential employees" *(full letter attached)

This is an absolute admission by the police that Special Branch colluded with the blacklisting conspiracy which has been described as *"the worst human rights abuse against workers in the UK since the war"* by Michael Meacher MP during a debate in the House of Commons.

Another undercover SDS officer called Mark Jenner (aka Cassidy) spied on
activists in London in the late 1990s. Jenner used a cover story that he
was a building worker and attended picket lines about unpaid wages and even
chaired meetings of rank and file building workers campaigns. Information
about those picket lines and about the campaign that the undercover SDS
officer chaired appear on a number of Consulting Association blacklist

One of the blacklisted union activists that was spied on by Mark Jenner is
Steve Hedley, current RMT Assistant General Secretary, who even invited the
undercover SDS officer to stay in his family home in Derry during a trip to
Ireland at the time of the peace process.
Steve Hedley said:
"I feel utterly violated by a police officer befriending me, then spying
on me and passing information on to the blacklist which resulted in me being unemployed for a year.This man stayed at my family home as a guest.
Are we now living in a police state?"

Brand new documentary evidence has now come to light that proves beyond
doubt that senior officers from the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU) attended secret Consulting Association meetings. NETCU was set up in 2005 after lobbying by big corporations.'

According to the Association of Chief Police Officers, "The National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit’s role is to support others to prevent, reduce and disrupt criminal activity associated with domestic extremism and single issue campaigning.
Because domestic extremists don’t work within police force boundaries, NETCU works with police forces across the country to provide tactical advice and guidance in order to promote a co-ordinated and consistent approach to tackling domestic extremism.
Acting as a crime prevention unit, NETCU supports industry, academia and other organisations that have been or could be targeted by extremists, by raising awareness and building resilience through security advice..."

Dave Smith continues:
'Last week the Information Commissioners Office responded to a Freedom of Information request which requested "a copy of any minutes/notes/powerpoint presentations in relation to and the list of attendees of the meeting between the NETCU and the Consulting Association in November 2008 held by the ICO." In an email response dated 3rd September 2013, the ICO have now stated:
"We can confirm that we do hold information in the scope of your request  which are dated November 2008. It is unclear whether this is a formal minutes or just notes taken by an attendee at the time or afterwards." This is documentary evidence that senior police officers attended secret meetings of the Consulting Association blacklist. The ICO have refused hand over this documentary evidence claiming it would be a breach of the Data Protection Act. The IPCC are investigating police involvement with an illegal blacklisting conspiracy - the ICO have the documents that prove this and they are refusing to hand it over to the lawyers of the blacklisted workers. A similar FOI request to the police has also resulted in no documents being disclosed. This smacks of a cover up.

(We might remember here the government's refusal to release all documents relevant to the Shrewsbury pickets trial, which also involved collusion between the law, police and big employers, forty years ago).
"To make matters worse, when the ICO gave evidence to MPs as part of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee investigation into blacklisting they were asked specifically about possible police involvement in the Consulting Association blacklist and completely failed to mention that they had documents in their possession that proved the police attended CA meetings.

Blacklisting campaigners believe that the police officer who gave the powerpoint presentation at the CA meeting in November 2008 was previous head of NETCU, Superintendent Steve Pearl, currently director of a firm which provides employment vetting.
But as Dave Smith says, this is not just a matter of individual officers:

"Blacklisting is no longer an industrial relations issue; it is a conspiracy between multinational construction firms, the police and the security services. The parallels with phone hacking are obvious. There is, however, a significant difference from phone hacking, where the police involvement was supposedly due to individual corruption. The police collusion in blacklisting is not one or two rogue officers, but standard operating procedure by the state to target campaigners under the guise of "domestic extremism", routinely sharing information with big business.'

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