Blacklisted is a chilling exposure of corporate discrimination against trade unionists, says NUJ general secretary MICHELLE STANISTREET
Blacklisted: The Secret War Between Big Business and Union Activists by Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain (New Internationalist, £9.99)
It’s not often in these bleak days of austerity and government hostility that trade unions have something to celebrate.
So that is why victory tasted extra sweet when recent protests against the targeted redundancy of one of our union reps led to a clear NUJ win.
Phil Turner is the NUJ’s long-standing Father of the Chapel at the Rotherham Advertiser. When the paper was taken over, the new owner wanted to make one post redundant and — surprise, surprise — he was singled out. Not prepared to stand by and let this happen, colleagues voted to go on strike. A rally in the town, where Turner is a popular reporter and well-known by readers of the paper, made clear this was a fight the local community were prepared to get behind.
After a brilliant campaign, joined by trade unionists across the movement and the country, the company backed down and Turner’s job is now safe. This sends a strong message to companies out there that we won’t stand by and watch our reps picked off for the work they do standing up for colleagues.
Being a trade union activist is not a crime. Being a journalist is not a crime. So why do we see our colleagues being targeted again and again by their employers and the authorities?
Turner’s case is not an isolated example. The NUJ is in the process of taking legal action on behalf of six of our members who have had their lawful journalistic and union activities monitored and recorded by the Metropolitan Police. The NUJ members involved in the legal challenge include comedian and activist Mark Thomas, Jules Mattsson, Jason Parkinson, Jess Hurd, David Hoffman and Adrian Arbib.
All have worked on media reports exposing corporate and state misconduct and have previously pursued litigation or made complaints arising from police misconduct.
Now they find themselves on the Met’s National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit. The supposed purpose of the unit is to monitor and police so-called “domestic extremism.” Clearly, journalism is not some form of home-grown terrorism.
After putting in subject access requests to see their files, our members discovered their phone numbers, past addresses, appearance, sexual orientation and ex-partners’ names were recorded. Even a family member’s medical history had been put on file. The colour of Thomas’s bike was thought a relevant piece of intelligence to include and the comedian found himself spotted at locations when he had clearly been elsewhere.
That is why Blacklisted: The Secret War Between Big Business and Union Activists by Dave Smith — a former construction worker who was himself blacklisted — and journalist Phil Chamberlain is so important for us all.
It is a forensic exploration of how trade unionists, including health and safety officers who play such a critical role in workplaces, have been systematically targeted and put on secret blacklists which, in many cases, ended their careers. It is a chilling catalogue of corporate corruption and mass intimidation. And it is an exposé of the industrial scale of this outrageous practice.
For 16 years the Consulting Association at its seedy office in the West Midlands compiled a secret database on thousands of construction workers, holding names, addresses, national insurance numbers, comments by managers and newspaper clippings.
This was work funded by the construction industry and when people applied for work on building sites, senior employees at Carillion, Balfour Beatty, Skanska, Kier, Costain, McAlpine and more than 30 other companies would fax their names to the Consulting Association.
If your name was on the list the outcome was pretty simple — you didn’t get the job. If you’d ever raised concerns over health and safety breaches, represented colleagues who had avoidable accidents at work or simply stood up for yourself, chances were you’d have a file. Worse still, the Consulting Association’s activities were just the tip of the iceberg.
This book puts a human face to the impact these practices have had on the countless individuals who have been damaged by blacklisting and tells of the courage of those who have stood up and exposed its operation.
This important piece of investigative journalism also lifts the lid on the many years of collusion by the police and security services, which has led to surveillance and ultimately the targeted victimisation of trade unionists.
The authors provide first-hand accounts from the building workers, their family members, union officials, construction managers, former policemen, environmental activists, blacklisted academics or journalists and the blacklisters themselves.
Their book is an essential read for all in the trade union movement.