Monday, August 24, 2015

Review: Blacklisted: The Secret War Between Big Business and Union Activists

Review: Blacklisted: The Secret War Between Big Business and Union Activists

Blacklisted: The Secret War Between Big Business and Union Activists
Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain
Published by New Internationalist
£9.99 pbk at Bookbuster
review by Tim Barton

From the founding of National Propaganda, the precursor to the Economic League, in 1919, through '50s America's McCarthyism, 80's Britain's 'Boys from the Black Stuff', to today's The Consulting Association, and revelations regarding police infiltration of eco-activism, 'blacklisting' has been an open 'secret'.
'Proving' it formally, well, that has been more challenging.
This book relates the story of the exposure of Construction industry blacklisting in this country, and transnationally, by investigative reporter Phil Chamberlain and campaigner Dave Smith, who has himself been on the blacklist. The book also exposes the long history of blacklisting and the efforts of capital, police and state to infiltrate and undermine groups and individuals looking to defend workers' rights.
Over the last century, those with power and money have consistently sought top justify spying on heir workforce, and suppressing 'bad eggs' on the grounds of, variously, theft, aggressive behaviour, and, more 'honestly' anti-Communism.
The authors have exposed third party agencies involved in running blacklists for industry, and in doing so reveal the unsurprising reality: that these agencies are run in collusion with police government and industry, often with ex-Metropolitan Police as staff; that they are clearly targeting organisation that support workers' rights (primarily the Union movement); and that they are targeting individual workers' who 'cause trouble' – where 'trouble' is statistically far more likely to include raising safety issues with management and union than any of the 'unethical' behaviours those running and using blacklists claim are the issue.
And some 'reasons' appear absurd: for example, Syd Scroggie (whose interesting biography is briefly outlined in the book) was blacklisted as a 'subversive' after 'writing to a newspaper in support of Edinburgh District Council's decision to buy a portrait of Nelson Mandela'. The authors have interviewed 100s of workers that appear on blacklists, as well as union reps, company reps, and Special Branch spies.
The book took years to complete, with considerable effort made to suppress it on spurious legal grounds. Many documents needed to create the full picture were never forthcoming – one, telling, example is the blocking of a construction industry report held in the National Archive 'on grounds of national security', said report containing 'considerable background information on unions and industry from the Department of Employment, and some from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office's Information Research Department' on 'subversion' in 'public life'.
The picture emerges of an Orwellian national and transnational propaganda machine, establishing close linkage between corporations and state security, aimed clearly at workers' organisations that seek to protect our rights. The agencies were small offices, with a small secretarial team, selling clearance on a £3000 a year subscription with a 'per search' fee on any workers taken on in many large industrial combines. Personnel departments would call in by phone, and if a name was on the list you would not get the job. Sometimes, new employees, already on the job for a few days or even just a few hours, would be sacked – a few relate here how sympathetic managers on site had shown them the list (on large projects, long lists) on which they appeared. The actor Ricky Tomlinson, originally a plumber, was reportedly 'gobsmacked' when his name was revealed (in 2002) to have been on a late 70s / early 80s industry blacklist. A whole chapter is given to blacklisting on the Olympic site in East London, and another on police and security service connivance and infiltration.
However, this is not just of 'historical interest': it is still going on, daily, and is ruining the lives of decent and rightly aggrieved workers who have a will to support the health and safety, as well as pay and employment rights, of their fellows – often issues that are literally 'a matter of life & death', but the fixing of which will hit someone's bottom line. Ask the wrong questions, and your card is marked. The practice is not deemed relevant at employment tribunals, exposing 'fundamental problems in the current tribunal system', but some unions (not all, some regarding 'subversives' as negatively as companies do) have pursued redress as they class such blacklisting as 'unlawful conspiracy', with some successes over the last three years.
It wasn't until 2013 that the TUC were moved to organise a day of action against blacklisting. In that year, Michael Meacher MP gave 'an apology for the way you have been betrayed by the state, by the courts, by the Information Commissioner's Office, by the political parties – all of them – and by the police and by the media'. Hollow words to those who have witnessed divorce, poverty, suicides... as a result of being unable to work.
How do things stand now, in 2015? 'All monitoring of domestic extremism [sic] is now under the auspices of the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command SO15 unit with police spies now deployed by the Special Project Teams of SO15. So state spying on trade unionists and peaceful leftwing activists is now categorised as counter-terrorism'. This book is a must-read eye-opener, indeed.


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