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Blacklisting is worst human rights abuse against workers in UK since the war

The lodging of legal documents in the High Court in this last week claiming blacklisting by McAlpine and other big building companies exposes, if the charges are proven, just how debased and corrupted employments rights have become over this last half centuryin the UK, and particularly under the influence of neoliberal capitalism in the last 3 decades.

The documents, which specify claims of blacklisting of 81 workers over a 16 year period up to 2009, draw on evidence revealed by a raid on the offices of the so-called Consulting Association which showed a list of 3,213 workers who had secretly been barred from working in the construction industry on grounds that they had raised complaints about health and safety, been members of a trade union, or were simply ‘not recommended’.

Those claimed to have been running this clandestine organisation involved not only Cullum McAlpine, a relative of the former Tory chairman Lord McAlpine, but also over 40 other UK companies including Carillion, Balfour Beatty, Mowlem, Laing O’Rourke and Wimpey. But the revelation of conspiracy goes a great deal wider still.

First, representatives from the Information Commissioners’ Office (ICO) stated at the employment tribunal hearing of Dave Smith (a 46 year old engineer who had a 36-page file against his name for highlighting safety hazards on building sites when construction claims more deaths at work than any other occupation) that some of the information held by the covert Consulting Association “could only have been supplied by the police or the security services”.

If this is confirmed, it reveals a conspiracy between the police/MI5 and many of the biggest building companies in the UK which is comparable to the phone-hacking scandal which exposed widespread illicit information-sharing between the police and Murdoch’s News International. I wrote to the Home Office to demand a public inquiry to have a full investigation to get to the bottom of this scandal, and expose all its wider ramifications, but the Minister replied saying that the matter should merely be referred to the police!

Second, David Clancy, the investigations manager at the ICO, told the Commons Scottish Affairs select committee that the construction worker database amounted to “just 5-10%” of the materials seen during the 2009 raid on the Consulting Association’s office at Droitwich. I therefore wrote to the ICO on 24 October last year demanding that the other 90-95% of the materials should be secured and their contents fully investigated.

I was told in the ICO reply on 30 October from the Deputy Commissioner that “for a long time it had been widely suspected that an unlawful blacklist was operating in the construction industry”. So why did the Home Office not take action to ascertain the truth of this at a much earlier stage?

The letter continues: “There was other material in the Consulting Association’s office, but we did not need to search this to secure the evidence we were looking for, and we did not do so”. Why not, since it was likely that other material held on site would be equally unlawful? And anyway how could the ICO officers identify what material related to the building industry without checking all the other material to find out whether it related to construction or not?

It has since been suspected that the other material related to other industries like shipping and to other individuals like politicians, journalists, lawyers and academics. Why is the Establishment so unwilling to investigate its own crimes, while insistent on exerting the maximum penalties against even the most minor, technical infringements by the trade unions?

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