Struggles

The Black Lists

Every fight has its price and sometimes one of these is the stigmatization of the workers who organize for their rights. This could mean that workers are not able to find employment as easily or that companies fabricate excuses to dismiss them.

Jacob Lagnado

These cases demonstrate that blacklists exist and that companies consult each other to find out who they should not employ. The blacklist has various forms and consequences: in some countries like Columbia they are in fact a death sentence. Even though blacklists in this country have not usually reached such extremes in recent times, they do still exist.

Only this year it came to light that for 15 years 40 construction companies, including the giants like Balfour Beatty and McAlpine were paying a company called Consulting Association to keep a database with the details of over 3,213 workers considered `problematic´. Every time someone applied for work with one of these businesses their name was entered into the database (blacklist) to see if there was a match.

Where their name came up you can guess whether they got the job or not. After many years of allegations and protests an official investigation resulted in the head of the Consulting Association being brought before the courts and receiving a £5000 fine. However the companies remain unpunished: almost like when a hitman is captured but not the person that paid him.

In other times the complicity has gone further still: in the 1970’s the authorities and the companies conspired to imprison, on false evidence, four builders from the construction trade union UCATT. The case of the Shrewsbury Pickets (as they came to be known) moved the country. One of the four, Des Warren, died later as a result of his treatment while in prison. Thirty years after the release of these facts a new campaign has been launched so that the innocence of these four men might be officially recognised.

For many years this government has denied the existence of blacklists and therefore never created the legal tools that would allow them to supervise those who keep them. Now thanks to this year’s revelations a consultation has began with the aim of creating such a law.

But for many of the workers that have endured many jobless years because of these lists, this could be a very inadequate solution if the pressure is not maintained at all times. So construction workers have created a mutual support group – the “Blacklist Support Group” – to demand that any new law would render the running of blacklists a criminal offence and oblige the companies responsible to compensate the affected workers – something the current proposal does not contemplate.

However blacklists are usually secret by nature and therefore no law can fully prevent their names from continuing to circulate. The answer can only be solidarity and organisation in the work site. As one worker said “legislation alone will not see an end to blacklists…only organised sites where workers are equipped to progress their collective interests at site level have the capacity to defeat the blacklist” (Terry Brough, Morning Star 25/8/09).

The recent case of Juan Carlos Piedra is a good example of this. When the company Office and General decided to sack this Ecuadorian cleaner from his job at University College London (UCL), because he had protested against immigration raids in London universities, unionised staff from the university, among them teachers, administrators and students, united to demand his reinstatement. With this level of organization it is more difficult for blacklists to work.

Finally, a famous example of solidarity when faced with the victimization of an activist comes from classical times: When a Roman with a blacklist in his hand asked the slaves before him who this Spartacus was that had started the rebellion; every slave replied “I am Spartacus”.  In that moment, in a way they stopped being slaves.

For interviews with individual blacklisted workers: blacklistsg@googlemail.com.

Pix of blacklisted builders at House of Commons available from Mick Holder, mick.holder@yahoo.co.uk. Blacklist Support Group: http://www.labournet.net/ukunion/0907/blacklist1.html, www.shrewsburypicketscampaign.org.uk

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