ISLINGTON Council’s decision to remove a council housing repairs contract from notorious blacklist firm Kier should serve as a beacon to other public bodies.
Despite excellent work done by Parliament’s Scottish affairs committee in rooting out the truth about construction companies’ links with the Consulting Association blacklist and decades of protests by trade unions, these firms have got away with murder.
There has been no retribution for their conspiracy to deny workers their trade union rights and, above all, the right to work in a safe environment.
The Consulting Association list made clear to employers that the workers it identified as troublemakers were active trade unionists and campaigners for health and safety standards.
How many building workers have lost their lives or been injured because the blacklisters refused a job to a qualified health and safety rep?
The Consulting Association blacklist contained over 3,200 workers’ names, which it supplied to the 44 companies that subscribed to its conspiracy.
What was the full cost in human misery of this denial of the right to work, which forced many building workers to seek employment further away from home or to exist on meagre state benefits?
How many families had to live apart or were broken up because of financial problems brought on by a man’s misjudged failure to find work in his chosen field?
Eight of these big companies — Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and Vinci plc — got together last October to set up the Construction Workers Compensation Scheme.
But these leopards have not changed their spots. They are simply trying to patch up their tatty reputations with a PR exercise.
Apart from making it difficult for workers to qualify for their scheme, the construction majors offered a pittance in terms of compensation and demanded that participating workers forfeit their right to take legal action for redress.
The bosses’ unilateral ploy can only be seen as a pre-emptive strike to short-circuit involvement by the trade unions or MPs in drawing up an effective and adequate compensation scheme.
The construction companies, with combined annual pre-tax profits of over £1 billion, can afford to dig deep for those whose lives they ruined.
Any objective and fair-minded assessment of their directors’ role in having workers spied on, enlisting Special Branch officers to report on their political affiliations and then denying them jobs for which they were qualified would conclude that most of them deserved to be in jail.
It’s now 40 years since the Shrewsbury 24 building workers were fitted up by the Establishment on conspiracy charges for leading a successful national building workers’ strike.
While jailed trade unionists were innocent of any conspiracy, Tory ministers, the judiciary and construction companies were up to their necks in one — conspiring to undermine trade unionism by smearing activists as men of violence and threatening the movement with their fate.
The record of the Shrewsbury 24, the chronic blacklisting of construction trade unionists and the kid-glove treatment of the blacklist conspirators should serve as a reminder of the class nature of the English legal system.
All the more reason to celebrate the example of Islington in punishing Kier directors and shareholders in their pockets.
But Islington should not be isolated. Other councils should emulate its example, making a stand for decency, fairness, trade unionism and safety at work.