Private Eye on the Blacklisting of Trade Unionists in the Construction Industry

I found this article in the 23rd August – 5th September 2013 issue of Private Eye.

Blacklisting
Blame Game

No honour among thieves in the construction industry. Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd (SRM) has decided that if it is to go down for illegally blacklisting trade unionists and other “troublesome” workers, it will take its competitors with it.

SRM is being sued in the high court by more than 100 workers who claim their lives and careers were blighted by being placed on a blacklist operated on behalf of the construction trade by the Consulting Association (
Eyes passim). Last month the company decided to dish the dirt and name nine other major contractors, responsible for 34 companies, as co-defendants to the action. It alleges that two of the giants – Balfour Beatty and Skanska – adopted a particularly hardline approach when it came to refusing to employ people who found themselves on the Consulting Association list, often for simply raising safety issues.

SRM says that if it were to be found guilty of a conspiracy to put together a blacklist aimed at preventing people from earning a living-an allegation it denies – the others were, too. As well as Balfour Beatty and Skanska, it has added Amec, Bam, Carillion, Costains, Laing O’Rourke, Kier and Vinci Skanska to the legal action. With individual claims running from £10,000 up to around £300,000, it could see the workers win millions in damages between them, with others to follow if the case is successful.

SRM claims the named companies were all paid-up members of the Consulting Association, which was closed after it was raided by the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2009. The ICO) uncovered details of around 3,000 workers, many of whom, it is claimed, were effectively banned from using their skills.

The original action brought by the workers, all part of the Blacklist Support Group (BSG), targeted SRM because it was believed to have the worst record of blacklisting. SRM even paid legal and other costs for Ian Kerr, who ran the Consulting Association and was fined £5,000 for holding the illegal database.

SRM says that some of the other signed-up members of the Consulting Association, who paid hundreds of thousands of pounds for membership fees and “usage” charges, were “more inclined than the others” to refuse to give work to individuals on its books. “It appears that the Balfour Beatty companies were particularly ‘hard-nosed’ and took a particularly hard line in this regard compared to other members,” SRM alleges.

It says the evidence unearthed by the ICO suggests Balfour Beatty refused workers on it various sites around 187 times. It also handed information on workers to the Consulting Association on more than 300 occasions.

Of the Laing group, SRM alleges that the 85 times its companies provided information to the Consulting Association and the 87 times it refused work “are high compared to other members”. And it accuses Skanska of refusing to permit workers on its sites on approximately 103 of the 127 times it had made enquiries to the Consulting Association.

SRM denies the workers’ claims of conspiracy and breaches of the Data Protection Act, and is contesting the action. However, it says that should it fail, the other companies should pay a contribution to any damages and costs awarded to the workers in proportions to be decided by the court. Watch this space.

This has been going on for a very long time. One of my cousins was turned down for a job years ago, because his father was a Communist. This was also a major issue back in the 1990s, when Panorama or one of the other documentary programmes ran an edition on the Economic League. This was set up as another trade organisation to compile blacklists of trade unionists and other bolshie workers back in the 1920s, when it was founded as the Economic League against Industrial Subversion. Then it was succeeded by another blacklisting organisation, Hakluyt. Both organisations have appeared in Lobster at various times. They had links to the Tory party, and, I believe, British intelligence.

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