Victory for Blacklisted Workers – and NI authors!

United Kingdom
Work
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In a landmark moment in a campaign for justice that has lasted for many years, a group of leading construction firms formally apologized to workers in the High Court in London on Wednesday 11 June for having secretly blacklisted them. The companies – including McAlpine, Carillion, Laing O’Rourke, Skanska and Balfour Beatty – agreed to pay out-of-court settlements totalling around £75 million ($105 million) to 771 blacklisted workers.


Blacklisted tells the controversial story of the illegal strategies that transnational construction companies used to keep union activists away from work. By Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain. Buy the book. New Internationalist

The companies’ lawyer read out to a crowded courtroom what was described as an ‘unreserved and sincere’ apology for the ‘distress and anxiety’ caused to the workers and their families. The statement was interrupted by Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group – and co-author of the New Internationalist book Blacklisted – who shouted: ‘Under no circumstances do we consider this to be a sincere apology’. He was backed by 40 other blacklisted workers who chanted ‘no justice, no peace’.

The Blacklist Support Group is still campaigning for a public inquiry to expose the full scale of the blacklisting scandal – and will, along with New Internationalist, be organizing a special conference to be held in September that will widen the focus of the campaign to consider the illegal use of blacklisting in many other areas of the UK economy beyond the construction industry.

So the story is by no means over but nevertheless the High Court settlement and apology is an extraordinary vindication of workers and trade unionists who spent years in the wilderness and whose testimonies were dismissed and ignored for so long. The companies admitted that ‘their secret vetting operation should never have happened. It caused harm to the employment opportunities of many workers. The secret nature of the operation meant that those on the database had no way of establishing whether they were included in it, or any chance to challenge the information that was kept and available for dissemination.’ That information included ‘suspected political affiliations or sympathies, or perceived militancy’ as well as sometimes private information about their health or personal relationships.

Dave Smith said later: ‘The High Court action shows that even the most rich and powerful can be defeated when determined rank and file campaigns work together with investigative journalists, unions and progressive lawyers. This landmark victory has exposed one of the biggest establishment cover-ups in the UK for decades but our fight for justice continues until all those responsible for the human rights scandal are personally held to account. A full public inquiry is now essential.'

Phil Chamberlain, who co-authored Blacklisted: The Secret War Between Big Business and Union Activists, added: ‘The book was six years in the making and we were able to reveal a huge amount; not least because of the work of a lot of activists, lawyers and journalists. Only a few people knew the full story and even for those relatively familiar, being able to set out the full scope of what occurred, and is occurring, was vital.’

Smith and Chamberlain will now start work on a fully revised and expanded second edition of the book, which was recently shortlisted for the Bread and Roses Prize.

Chamberlain said: ‘In the last year the story has moved on tremendously. If you were shocked first time round, be prepared for the second edition.’

Copies of the first edition are still available from nin.tl/Blacklistedbook