This year universities have a larger intake than usual as caps on student numbers have been lifted. This, combined with other factors, is leading to a boom in construction work taking place on campuses. But there is a very sinister side to the companies being contracted in to do this building work.
In February 2009, a raid by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) exposed the existence of a blacklist containing personal details belonging to 3,213 people, largely construction workers. This blacklist had operated as “The Consulting Association” (TCA) since 1993. Ian Kerr, Director of the TCA, burned the rest of the files, unsurprisingly.
The basic function of the TCA was to provide to construction firms, for a fee, information about workers who have been involved with trade unionism. This was used as the basis on which the TCA forms a judgement on whether an employee is suitable to work for the subscribing company. It has been the source of severe discrimination against trade unionists and activists in the industry.
In many cases, workers have been systematically denied work for decades simply because they had been involved in a trade union, which is their basic human right.
The blacklist targeted specific groups within trade unions. One noticeable trend is that those targeted held positions with the authority to bring up health and safety concerns, or other important issues, on behalf of the workers. Take, for example, safety representatives. After Mickey Guyll, a crane driver, was elected to be a safety representative, he was put straight onto the blacklist aged 24.
George Fuller is another safety representative who experienced the same fate having simply raised the concern about the danger of building the internal and external wall of a building at the same time. As he predicted, this attempt to cut corners by the bosses resulted in 60 concrete blocks falling down four floors.
The result for these men who attempted to raise safety concerns has been to suffer unemployment and underemployment for years.
It is now known that the TCA had the help of undercover police officers who had infiltrated groups of union activists in order to compile the blacklist. This dramatically highlights the collusion between the state and big business against the working class.
Since these files were exposed in February 2009, it is not clear as to whether construction companies have stopped using the blacklist. In 2013, eight construction companies did apologise and offered some compensation, however workers refused this offer and legal action is still being pursued.
On the legal side of things Professor of Public Law, Keith Ewing, in his report on blacklisting entitled ‘Ruined Lives’, has pointed out that the construction companies have breached the Data Protection Act but have faced no prosecution for this to date.
Further legal problems are faced by workers who are employed by subcontractors of the blacklisting firms (a common practice these days) and therefore cannot sue the latter for unfair dismissal. Plus there is the barrier of a three month period after termination of employment in which claims against an employer can be brought. Since the existence of the blacklist has only just been proven, many claims are being dismissed as out of time.
Although the legal battles are ongoing, Howard Beckett, director of legal services at Unite the Union, says: “the legal system of this country has been weighted against victims of blacklisting […] that the establishment again sided with the employers is no surprise.”
Naturally we do not put our faith exclusively in the courts to solve this problem, and any legal battle has to be supported by a struggle at a grass-roots level. The Marxist Student Federation needs to campaign nationally on this issue.
Construction companies operate on campuses up and down the country – every student should do some research into the firms who have contracts with your university. Find out if they are guilty of blacklisting and launch a campaign to kick them off campus. You can start a petition, produce leaflets exposing the company, move resolutions through the student union and lobby the university directly to terminate their contract. We have to blacklist the blacklisters.
For more information about the campaign and to get involved email firstname.lastname@example.org