Sunday, March 22, 2015

Questions worth asking

'BLACKLISTED' is a new book out exposing an old practice which has blighted the lives of thousands of workers and their families in this country, and despite breaching laws about data protection, not to mention human rights, is still no doubt going on.

Having unfortunately missed a book launch in the House of Commons on March 12, I was glad that one of the authors, Dave Smith, was able to make it to the Greater London Association of Trade Union Councils' AGM a couple of days later, to talk about the book, and some of his own experiences, and sign copies. 

As well as getting writer's cramp inscribing messages in books, Dave has kept busy in other ways. He has been fighting his case against Carillion over blacklisting, which has ended with the company winning in the High Court because it appears, having been employed via an agency, Dave had no rights. Maybe he'll have to appeal to the European human rights court in Strasbourg, if the Tories don't win in May and take us out of the court (No Rights, please, we're British!?)

And on Wednesday night, Dave was lifted by police after a building workers' protest outside the Hilton hotel spilled over into Park Lane, stopping traffic. About forty workers were demonstrating  outside the Construction News Awards in the Hilton, over the sackings of workers who raised health and safety concerns on the Crossrail project.  

I remember a similar incident a couple of years ago when striking electricians resisting pay cuts blockaded white-tied contractors arriving for a dinner at a Park Lane hotel.  On that occasion the workers and their sound system blocked Park Lane traffic for some time, yet police seemed unsure what to do, and I don't recall any arrests being made. That episode is mentioned in the 'Blacklisted' book. This time it would seem the Met had their instructions, and had decided whom to nick.

Dave Smith is secretary of the Blacklist Support Group. And the book he has co-authored with Phil Chamberlain does not just tell the story of blacklisting by employers and employer-funded organisations, from the Economic League founded in 1919 to its successor Consulting Associations. It looks at the links with police infiltration and spying on trade unionists, environmental campaigners and others.

It is worth remembering that blacklisting and victimisation of workers who raised safety issues does not just hit these workers and their families. It also affects those left in work who fear for their jobs and decide to keep their mouths shut even if they see something which looks wrong. And of course, those workers and members of the public who suffer harm or injury as a result of bad practices or neglect.

Yet while the government has been cutting right back on HSE inspections, and the police are talking about services they may no longer be able to provide, we hear nothing about the cost of police surveillance and infiltration -including use of agent provocateurs -against members of the public and legitimate organisations such as trade unions. Who authorised such operations, and how many are still going on? 

The Blacklist Support Group are demanding a full public enquiry into blacklisting.

It so happened that last week I received an e-mail from the Labour Party, inviting me to "ask Ed" any questions I liked. So I asked whether Labour would launch an inquiry into blacklisting. I am used to chairpersons not seeing my hand at question time, and I was not expecting blacklisting to be an issue our politicians want to discuss, but I was pleasantly surprised to receive this reply - not signed by "Ed" (or anyone else), but I'm not a fan of personality cults, and it is e-mailed from "frontbench" and on record nevertheless.
Dear Mr Pottins,

Thank you for your email regarding blacklisting in the construction industry.

Trade unions are an important voice for people at work and in wider society, and have a central role to play in boosting training, pay and conditions for their members and helping Britain win the race to the top. At a time of rapid global economic change and a cost-of-living crisis at home, it is vital that the UK continues to have strong and modern trade unions as a genuine voice fighting against discrimination and abuse.

That is why the next Labour Government will launch a full inquiry into the disgraceful practice of blacklisting in the construction industry. This inquiry must be transparent and public to ensure the truth is set out. We should also learn the lessons of the actions on procurement taken by the Welsh Assembly Government with regards to blacklisting.

The choice at this election is between a failing plan and a better plan for working families. Only Labour understands that Britain only succeeds when working families succeed. That’s why Labour’s plan offers a better future: for living standards, for the next generation, and for the NHS. You can read more about Labour’s better plan in our Changing Britain Together booklet.

With kind regards,

On behalf of the Labour Party

 It's worth asking the questions like this, because you might get an answer, and if nothing else the politicians can't pretend no one is interested and they have not received any questions about the subject.

I won't be holding my breath waiting for Labour to hold a full public enquiry, but nor will we be holding our fire if Labour having got in fails to honour any such pledges it has made. And whatever public cynicism says about politicians and pre-election promises, you have a much better starting point for protest if the promises have been made.  

On Dave Smith v. Carillion case:

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