By Pete Shaw
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Issue 401

This is the long-awaited investigation of the fight of the blacklisted men and women who would not give up their fight for the right to be represented by a trade union. Blacklisted, The Secret War between Big Business and Union Activists, is a credit to the authors Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain in the fact that it took six years to be published.

Smith and Chamberlain outline the illegal strategies that construction companies resorted to in their attempt to keep sites union-free. The authors collated evidence of how, after many official denials, this blacklisting was possible. When the information commissioner’s office raided construction industry consulting association offices in the West Midlands in 2009, they unearthed some 3,219 files on construction workers. These files represent only one in ten of the documentation that is believed to have been held on trade unionists. The other 90 percent were destroyed.

Yet the files that were found reveal the lengths construction bosses were prepared to go to vet workers. The price of this procedure, and the end of someone’s career, was £2.20 per search. Your name could be added if you attended a political meeting or were active in the union.

Construction sites are not there for long, so workers are forced to constantly apply for work, often far from home. But when someone gets a knockback from a job it makes them doubt themselves. Long-term relationships have gone to the wall, marriages have broken down and in some cases men have committed suicide having been out of work for decades.

Many workers had suspicions that their names were on the blacklist but there was never enough proof. The book reveals how this practice extended beyond construction activists to include environmental campaigners, journalists, politicians and academics. Those who suspected they were on the blacklist formed a support group. This organisation became instrumental in the electricians’ dispute in showing the younger workers how to organise.

In the fight for Frank Morris’s reinstatement on Cross Rail the blacklist activists joined the picket lines and held demonstrations across the country. The book looks at the involvement of the full-time union officials, who are not above getting jollies from the bosses. I believe this book is a must for all trade unionists as a reminder of what we are up against.

Some 43 major construction companies are named in the book that used the services of the consulting association. To this day not one apology or admittance of the acts that they committed were detrimental to the earning potential of the blacklisted workers over decades have been given.

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