Socialist Worker

Revealed: the true scale of the blacklisting scandal

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2286

Workers protesting against blacklisting at the annual Building Awards in 2010  (Pic: Smallman )

Workers protesting against blacklisting at the annual Building Awards in 2010 (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Socialist Worker can reveal shocking new information about how construction bosses operated a blacklist of trade unionists.

This blacklist enabled bosses to deny employment to more than 3,200 workers.

New evidence shows that the scale of the blacklist is more systematic than previously thought. And files were kept on a number of people outside the construction industry.

It is thought that police or security services may have provided some of the information in the files.

These startling revelations emerge from evidence provided to a potentially landmark Employment Tribunal that began this week.

The case of Dave Smith v Carillion is over the Consulting Association (CA) blacklisting scandal.

A raid by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO), which was set up to uphold information in the public interest, uncovered the scandal in 2009.

Dave was an engineer in the construction industry. Evidence disclosed by the ICO proves that senior managers from construction giant Carillion and two subsidiary companies, John Mowlem and Schal, gave information to an illegal blacklist.

The CA covertly circulated information on this blacklist among the 44 largest contractors in the UK building industry. They used it to deny Dave work in the industry.

Dave was the first person allowed to view the entire CA blacklist, without restrictions.


He says in his witness statement that there is information on some blacklist files that could only have been supplied by the UK security services or the police.

According to Dave there are blacklist files on “elected politicians, academics, journalists and lawyers”.

Dave says that some files name people who were spoken to by police on an anti-racist demonstration.

As he puts it, “Why would an employee of the Consulting Association possibly be following these individuals on a Sunday afternoon, let alone be able to identify them all?”

There is evidence that the CA sent people to spy on union meetings.

Included in the files is a report of a construction workers’ meeting which, while containing inaccuracies, is detailed.

The CA provided videos of trade union activists—for a charge. One manager filmed Dave as workers protested against his dismissal from a Schal job in 1999.

The information on Dave’s file relates to concerns he raised about asbestos and poor toilet facilities as a safety representative for the building workers’ union Ucatt.

His file is 36 pages long.

Invoices shown in evidence prove that Carillion senior managers were still attending CA meetings in 2008.

That was just a few months before the CA was closed down.

They also show that Carillion paid the CA thousands of pounds in fees.

Dave is claiming victimisation due to his trade union and health and safety activities.

The case is groundbreaking. Dave argues that the blacklist breached Article 8 (right to privacy) and Article 11 (right to association) of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Under current UK law, only direct “employees” are entitled to legal protection at work. But the possible human rights breaches call for the Employment Tribunal to interpret legislation in such a way to cover all workers.

A victory for Dave would set a precedent.

It would establish rights for Britain’s 1.6 million agency workers, who are currently deprived of employment law rights.

If the law does not find in Dave’s favour, it will be open to challenge under the European Convention on Human Rights—which protects workers’ right to associate in trade unions.

At the Employment Tribunal Carillion accepted that Dave had been blacklisted but denied that it was legally responsible. The firm is arguing that it did not directly employ Smith as he secured work for its companies through an employment agency or subcontractor.

The blacklist ruined lives. As Dave says, “I was a qualified engineer during one of the longest building booms this country has ever known. My children were on milk tokens.”

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