This week my union UCATT announced that it had secured compensation worth £5.6 million for 71 of our members who had their lives ruined by blacklisting.
This is a major milestone in a seven year battle, on behalf of workers who were blacklisted on an industrial scale by major construction companies.
Other workers are likely to secure compensation in the coming weeks and a High Court case is scheduled for May, when those guilty of blacklisting will be held to account.
This is only part of the battle, even if the victims are financially compensated there is still an urgent need for a public inquiry to reveal the full truth on blacklisting and to properly explain how it happened and to explore the dark recesses of the involvement of the state, the police and the security forces. We will also find out how the organisation the Consulting Association, which was behind the blacklisting, was able to operate unchallenged for so long.
Equally there remains an urgent need for effective laws to stamp out blacklisting once and for all. The regulations introduced by the previous Labour Government, are not a deterrent and are as effective as a chocolate fireguard. Make no mistake blacklisting still continues today, maybe not on such a large and such an organised basis but still ruining the lives of workers in construction. However because of its secretive nature the trick is proving it.
Given the longstanding fight against blacklisting and the general condemnation of the disgusting practice, it is deeply disturbing that the Government’s Trade Union Bill, effectively creates state sponsored blacklisting. One of the key areas of the Bill is a crackdown on picketing, although quite why this is necessary, as the vast majority of picket lines are currently, well-ordered is beyond me. Under the plans, for a picket to be lawful, a picket supervisor will have to be appointed. They will be required to wear a brightly coloured armband which denotes their position, they will have to register with the police and carry a letter of authorisation from the union at all times.
If a picket supervisor was found not to have met all these requirements the employer will have the power to go to the courts and bust the strike.
Keith Ewing the Professor of Public Law at Kings College London and an expert on employment law has said of the proposals. “The police are being asked to become agents for the employer, while the employer is being asked to become an agent for the police.
“The police would now be empowered to have picketing stopped by triggering civil liabilities at the initiative of the employer – even though the picket is peaceful and no offence has been committed.”
The formal identification of picket supervisors in industries such as construction is deeply sinister given the blacklisting scandal. Workers are not on fixed sites and work is often casual and short-term. Most workers don’t have employment rights (it takes two years to qualify) and are vulnerable to being dismissed on the spot for putting their heads above the parapet. By forcing a picket supervisor to provide their details you are putting a target on their head and allowing vindicate employers to dismiss them and then blacklist them from future work.
Equally the police’s involvement is alarming. It has been previously revealed that personal information on the files of the people blacklisted by the Consulting Association can only have come from the police or the security forces. Nothing in the new proposals will stop the police from passing the personal details of a picket supervisor to other employers.
The anti-picketing provisions are just one aspect of the Trade Union Bill, which is designed to prevent legitimate disputes, starve the Labour Party of funding and hobble the union movement.
Those who will suffer most are workers particularly those in low paid and vulnerable work. The big winners are of course the Conservatives and their paymasters the unscrupulous employers, who will increasingly ride roughshod over workers.
It is why even if this appalling piece of legislation is passed the entire Labour Movement must be united in ensuring it is revoked at the earliest possible opportunity.
Brian Rye is Acting General Secretary of construction union UCATT. This article is part of a series to mark heartunions, the TUC week of action against the Trade Union Bill.