Blacklisting – the Biggest Civil Liberties Scandal

There is a danger that the print media’s own self interested obsession with regulation and the Levenson Inquiry could drown out other substantive news. Quietly, and almost unreported by the mainstream press, the Scottish Affairs Committee in Westminster has been uncovering the most appalling scandal of workers being unlawfully blacklisted, and denied employment, often for no more than being a trade union member, or objecting to unsafe working practices on building sites.

Yesterday, Ian Kerr, who ran the Consulting Association, gave evidence. As Left Foot Forwards reports.

The activities include providing names and details of trade union members and “troublemakers” to enable corporate giants to exclude workers from employment on some of the country’s major projects.The construction projects include the Olympics site, road and rail contracts, new shopping centres, media hubs, Wembley Stadium and various other government contracts.

Mr Kerr, a former primary school teacher, told MPs the Consulting Association (CA) was set up with the aid of the Economic League - leading construction firms including Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd. The construction giant chaired the group at the beginning, according to his testimony.

Construction companies paid an annual subscription fee and records were kept by the CA which Kerr facilitated as the Association’s chief executive. …

Kerr was fined £5,000 after pleading guilty to offences under the Data Protection Act following raids on his office by the Information Commmissioner’s Office in 2009. Information was held on more than 3,000 construction workers and more than 40 contractors and companies were using Mr Kerr’s service.

During his grilling, an uncomfortable Mr Kerr – who was on £50,000 working for the Consulting Association – did admit all the information contained of each individual worker “implied criticism” of each one.

Yesterday’s evidence reveals that the blacklist was in operation during construction of the 2012 Olympics site; and that the police and security services were involved in providing information, according to the Construction Index

Ian Kerr, chief officer of the Consulting Association., confirmed to MPs today (27 November) that his organisation was involved in blacklisting on the Olympics.

Mr Kerr stated that “Robert McAlpine, Balfour Beatty and possibly Skanska” were involved in running blacklisting checks on construction workers applying for work on the Olympics.

Ucatt general secretary Steve Murphy said after the hearing: “When Ucatt gave evidence to the select committee we revealed that taxpayers money which should have been spent on building the Olympics was spent on blacklisting. Ian Kerr has revealed more major companies involved in Olympic blacklisting.”

Mr Kerr also drew light on the information supplied by the police and the security forces in the blacklisting of trade unionists. He confirmed that this information was supplied to the Consulting Association by the main contacts at the construction companies involved in blacklisting.

Mr Murphy added: “There is an urgent need for a public inquiry into the blacklisting scandal. Kerr has cast some light about how information from the police and security forces was obtained and used for blacklisting, but we need the full information, so that blacklisted workers can receive justice.”

GMB, as well as being a major trade union in the construction sector, was further drawn into the campaign against blacklisting once linkages were revealed between Carillion’s HR Director, Liz Keates, who was a major user of the blacklist, and Ms Keates’s involvement in the long running industrial dispute between GMB and Carillion at Swindon’ Great Western Hospital, where Carillion managers operated a systematic regime of extorting gold, money and other favours from predominately South Asian women workers. Carillion had been advised of these corrupt practices carried out by their supervisors in at least 2007, and had confirmed they were aware of it at Director level in 2009, but the company presided over a series of cover ups, and did not act to stop the practices until after GMB members took strike action in February 2012.

The CEO of Carillion, Richard Howson, now denies that Carillion have at any time participated in blacklisting of trade union members. In an attempt to protect the Carillion brand, he claims that the only part of the Carillion empire ever to have used the Consulting Association was a subsidiary called Crown House and that ended in 2004. That statement is not bourne out by the facts:.

A spokesperson for the Blacklist Support Group said

“Richard Howson says in his statement that it is important that people have access to information on blacklisting so that the whole industry can have a rational debate about this issue. He needs to look carefully at the facts we have set out here in this press release.

We would like to remind Richard Howson of documents that are in the public domain and statements that have been made by Carillion managers under oath in court.

That Carillion blacklisted workers was proven in 2009 when the Information Commissioners Office ( ICO) got details of the 3,213 construction workers held by the Consulting Association and used by 44 companies to keep trade union and health and safety activists off jobs.

There is clear evidence that Carillion involvement with the Consulting Association blacklist goes beyond Crown House to include Tarmac, John Mowlem, Schal International, SkyBlue Employment Agency as well as Carillion itself. There is evidence that:

· The Information Commissioners Office has specifically identified both Tarmac and Carillion as being subscribers to the Consulting Association. Carillion came into being after the demerger of Tarmac in 1999. Prior to this date Tarmac was a major subscriber to the Consulting Association blacklist. After 1999, Carillion carried on the same operations.

· The Information Commissioners Office has released hundreds of pages of un-redacted blacklist files which highlight the role played by Carillion and a number of their subsidiaries in blacklisting. Crown House is only one of those firms identified. Schal International and SkyBlue Employment Agency (both wholly owned subsidiaries of Carillion) are also specifically identified in the blacklist files. John Mowlem Ltd – now trading as Carillion (JM) Ltd is also identified. So far there is evidence that 224 workers were blacklisted by Carillion.

· The Consulting Association sales book, records and invoices show that Carillion itself was charged subscription fees, additional fees for checking names and charges for attending Consulting Association meetings between 1999 (when Carillion was set up) and 2008 (a few weeks before the Consulting Association was closed down). Between 1999 and 2006 alone, Carillion paid the Consulting Association £32,182.74 + VAT This is one of the highest amounts charged to any of the subscribing companies. Prior to 1999, Tarmac was being invoiced for these services.

· John Mowlem Limited now trading as Carillion (JM) Limited had a separate set of invoices and salesbook records.

· Carillion was charged for attending numerous Consulting Association meetings in Scotland, the North West, London and the South East region and Woodstock throughout this period. Senior managers employed directly by Carillion were attending Consulting Association meetings as late as 2008.

· The unredacted blacklist files and financial documents on many occasions identify the name or provide the initials of the senior managers who passed on information to the blacklist. This information supplied by Carillion continued to be used for blacklisting up until 2009.

· John Edwards is identified as attending Consulting Association meetings in 2008.Two individuals are identified as the “Main Contact” for Carillion. LK – this is Liz Keates. JB – this is John Ball – Head of Human Resources at Carillion in 1999

· John Blake a current senior manager for Carillion admitted collating information that appeared on a blacklist file and sending it to John Ball at Carillion Head Office whilst giving evidence during the Smith v Carillion Employment Tribunal in January 2012.

These claims about Carillion’s role in blacklisting have been put forward on numerous occasions in undisputed written witness statements and oral evidence at various Employment Tribunals. Much of the information was first exposed on Alan Wainwright’s online blog (ex-Director of Industrial Relations for Carillion who became a whistleblower)

If any of these facts were incorrect, Carillion have had every opportunity to refute them in court but have always declined to do so.

The statement presents that Liz Keates, current Head of Human Resources at Carillion Health as some kind of heroine who put a stop to the blacklisting when she found out about it. Liz Keates is not a hero of this story – Liz Keates is a serial blacklister. Un-redacted blacklist files show LK repeatedly provided information to the Consulting Association over many years. Even Richard Howson’s own statement admit that Liz Keates was “the HR manager responsible for accessing it” (the Consulting Association database).

The Blacklist Support Group politely suggest that Richard Howson checks the information he is being given before making any further statements. We will be happy to send him copies of any documents that are in the public domain. The longer Carillion deny their involvement, the bigger the scandal when the full truth is unearthed.”

42 comments on “Blacklisting – the Biggest Civil Liberties Scandal

  1. ALAN M DRANSFIELD on said:

    I applaud Ian Davidson and his Scottish Select Committee (SSC)for their stance against this evil crime of Blacklisted and we will never know how many lives have been ruined.Ian Kerr is a FALL GUY for the Big Boys,Carillion,Bafour Beatty ,Macalpine but to name a few.
    At best,the ICO were sleeping on the Job and at worst sleeping in the same bed as crooked Contractors afforementioned.
    It is inconceivable that Ian Kerr could have have operated without complicity of the Authorities.

    This is AS BIG as the Levison Enquiry and I hope MR Davidson pushes this ALL THE WAY for a Public Inquiry.
    Shame on my MP for Exeter Ben Bradshaw for NOT supporting the SSC but he is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard and he has been truning a blind eye to MAJOR crimes in Exeter Construction for years.
    More Power to your elbow Mr Davidson. You should be our next PM??!! At least there is no question at the size of your BALLS and BACKBONE, well done mate.

  2. Jimmy Haddow on said:

    I know this is slightly off-topic on this thread but it is a trade union story in Scotland that will spread to the whole of Britain.

    Unison’s Scottish Council has voted to instruct the union to immediately take the necessary steps to promote with all STUC affiliated unions the need for a coordinated industrial action strategy, beginning with a one-day strike across Scotland. All 200 delegates representing 160,000 Unison members working in local government, health, education, charities, Quangos and police support staff, unanimously supported a motion from the Glasgow City branch.

    Brian Smith, Glasgow City branch secretary and a member of Socialist Party Scotland explained that the trade unions “must step-up our campaign to defend wages, jobs, pensions and services by organising coordinated strike action across all sectors of then economy. At a time when Unison members are facing yet more pay cuts, further attacks on pensions and tens of thousands of jobs losses its clear the ConDem government will not stop unless they are forced back. A 24-hour general strike must be organised urgently to stop these attacks.”

    The reality is there is no shortage of issues that unions can ballot on. The SNP government this week agreed to impose a second year of pension contribution increases for 250,000 workers in the NHS, police, fire service and the civil service. CoSLA, the local government employer dominated by Labour and SNP politicians, offered a miserly 1% pay increase for 2013/14. This fourth year of effective pay cuts would mean local government workers will have seen a 16% drop in income since 2009.

    The full motion passed today is as follows:
    “This meeting notes that the political parties in the Scottish Parliament and local councils are making the overall level of cuts in public spending asked of them by the UK Government. Much of the UK Government’s policy programme is a direct or indirect attack on jobs, wages, pensions and services which UNISON can never agree to. The UK Government’s wider austerity measures, attacks on welfare benefits and overall management of the economy represent further attacks on working people and the most vulnerable in our society. The trade union movement must now step-up its campaign to defend jobs, wages, pensions and services by organising co-ordinated strike action across all sectors of the economy. This meeting therefore agrees that UNISON Scotland immediately take the necessary steps to promote with all STUC affiliated trade unions the need for a co-ordinated industrial action strategy beginning with a one-day strike across Scotland, and to co-ordinate the strike with any action by trade unions at a UK level as appropriate. In addition to the above, this meeting agrees to produce written material and publicity in support of this policy for distribution amongst members and the wider community in line with UNISON industrial action procedures.”

  3. Jimmy Haddow on said:

    Post 3 says “#2 ultra left posturing by a union committee knowing their bluff wont be called.”

    Same old same old negative and pessimistic pretentiousness dictum from the low level Labour Party and trade Union bureaucrat who cannot see above the parapet to give guidance to working people who have opposition to the austerity programme of the Government. Of course the contributor considers it ultra-left, and no doubt sectarian, for an official workers organisation to begin to stand up to the National, and Scottish, Government’s in their onslaught against their against employees, and their families, working and living conditions.

    Of course the contributor as usual has not read the post and has concluded immediately that it is ultra-left and sectarian. If he had read it properly he would have seen that it is not some “union committee” but the Scottish Council of Unison which represents 160, 000 public service workers in Scotland. The reality is that the outcome of these important, and other, conferences also indicates the mood and desire for effective action by the Unison membership in Scotland against the savage attacks members face on a day and daily basis.

    The contributor considers it ultra-left because it was the key role played by Socialist Party Scotland members in Unison, and other unions, in formulating a fighting policy against austerity that was clear from the start. In fact a special Socialist Party Scotland bulletin for the Unison conference calling for a 24-hour general strike, a fighting policy on pay and highlighting the recent victory of the Unison four that was enthusiastically received. I consider that Socialist Party Scotland members and the Left generally should use the Unison conference decision to increase the pressure on other unions for urgent coordinated strike action as a first step in taking head-on the cuts agenda pursued by the ConDems, aided and abetted by the SNP and Labour in Scotland.

    Of course in Scotland we will be in the exciting period of the Independence Referendum debate and vote over the next two years. So while campaigning for the building of a 24-hour general strike in Scotland and Britain, Socialist Party Scotland is also supporting a Yes vote in the independence referendum in 2014. However, we will also campaign to expose the utterly false outlook of the SNP leadership, and many on the Scottish Left, such as the SSP, ISG, who believe an independent capitalist Scotland would represent a significant step away from austerity and brutal cuts. This is a ruled out unless decisive measures were to be taken against capitalism.

    The Socialist Party Scotland’s central demands are for a 24 hour General Strike and the need to fight for an Independent Socialist Scotland. This would form part of a voluntary socialist confederation with England, Wales and Ireland as a step to a socialist Europe. The slogan of a socialist confederation is a crucial one as it sums up the idea of working class unity and cooperation, an essential counterweight to bourgeois nationalism that seeks to divide the working class.

    Unlike the majority of the Scottish Left, Socialist Party Scotland is not prepared to dip our socialist banner. Today, and for many years more to come, savage austerity, the picking apart of the gains made by workers in the past is all this system has to offer. The only alternative for the working class, young people and the poor is to build a mass movement against austerity in the form of a 24-hour general strike as a first step. And for a complete break with capitalism in the form of decisive socialist measures. So while participating in Yes Scotland and other pro-independence events with our socialist programme we are initiating with others the idea of a Trade Unionist and Socialist Campaign for the Independence Referendum. The campaign is based on promoting a distinct working class voice

    So if the contributor of post three along with other contributor consider that campaigning for a 24 General Strike in the first instance and campaigning for an independent working class voice and socialist programme amongst the Scottish and British working class is ultra-left and sectarian, then so be it.

  4. Jimmy Haddow: it is not some “union committee” but the Scottish Council of Unison

    Sorry, is the Scottish Council of Unison NOT a committee?

    As regarding the fact that it “represents” 160000 members, well quite apart from UNISON’s habit of counting feet and not heads when it comes to claimed membership, my experience of union committee’s is that some delegates are more interested in sounding like the most left wing person in the room than in giving real leadership based upon what can be delivered in the current industrial, political and ideological context.

  5. Jimmy Haddow: So if the contributor of post three along with other contributor consider that campaigning for a 24 General Strike in the first instance and campaigning for an independent working class voice and socialist programme amongst the Scottish and British working class is ultra-left and sectarian, then so be it.

    Last week I met up with an old pal for a drink. She is an elected full timer in Unison. She talked about union density and how generational attrition via redundancy is eating away at an already much diminished base. Younger people in her experience were not joining the union in the same way hers or mine once had. She despaired at the reluctance of colleagues to focus on a recruitment campaign to address this. Said colleagues were promoting a general strike.

    If union density is low talk of a general strike is beyond ultra left posturing its fantasy politics.

  6. #7 The fact that the comments originate from someone who bangs on about the Socialist Party of Scotland as if that’s some influential organisation of the working class to which substantial sections of that class are looking to for guidance is an indication of the extent to which they can be taken seriously.

    And it is notable that for Jimmy H, Andy is a low level bureaucrat. Who are these Unison committee members if not, by the same token, bureaucrats themselves? Are they higher level? Does that make their views more representative?

    All it indicates to me, again, is the fact that significant parts of the leadership of the organised working class are to the left by a long way of the majority of the rank and file.

    I have enough experience of working for a big unionised employer to know how easy it is to get a brilliant motion passed at a union meeting that has no basis whatsoever on the mood or opinions of the majority of the workforce.

    Perhaps Andy’s role as a ‘low level bureaucrat’ who has been involved in actually organising industrial action allows him an insight into where we are at the moment which needs to be taken seriously, and the ‘analysis’ of an organisation which has single transferable speeches, leaflets and newspaper articles to cover every struggle in every country in the world a little less so, particularly one that seems incapable of making a distinction between the reality of how things are and how they would like them to be.

    I would also suggest that being under the ‘guidance’ of such an organisation is as likely to be a hinderance as a help.

    Btw I discuss politics with normal people (ie those not involved in left politics) all the time, particularly the current government’s policies.

    I promise that the first time someone says to me that what we need is a general strike I will report it on here.

  7. John Grimshaw on said:

    tony collins:
    I don’t even know if it reaches the level of posturing. It calls for the union to talk to other unions about the need to have a strategy.

    Ahh. Tony so you’ve spotted it. The cmmitte in question has decided to promote a strategy and produce materials. This of course has been going on for some time across the TU movement and is largely a strategy designed to appear to be doing something whilst not doing so. Of course Scottish Unison could be a fundamentally different beast but somehow I doubt it. “English” Unison (if there is such a thing) under Prentis has taken on the role of left witch-hunters and primary mouth pieces for soft (new) Labour. Mind you on the ground in London GMB has no better reputation.

  8. John Grimshaw on said:

    Vanya: I promise that the first time someone says to me that what we need is a general strike I will report it on here.

    We need a general strike! Well you asked for it. By the way define normal.

  9. John Grimshaw on said:

    Vanya: All it indicates to me, again, is the fact that significant parts of the leadership of the organised working class are to the left by a long way of the majority of the rank and file.

    Vanya, this is a good place for a serious disscusion. There is a hierarchy of bureacracy within unions, as indeed there is with any vertical organisation, so I assume the “lower” ones are closer to the base of the union than the “higher” ones. Sometimes a bureaucrat can be more militant than the the membership but isn’t this because often they don’t have to face the difficulties of life that their members have to, so in their enthusiasm they misread the situation? I think its also because that even though they are militant because they spend most of their time in meetings etc. they neglect the fact that the union needs to be with its members supporting them on a daily basis in their struggles. My (growing) experience of such comrades is that ultimately they become the people they previously disavowed.

  10. John Grimshaw on said:

    #11 Sorry in answer to my own post thats a little too crude. I was thinking of A. j. Cook or even Scargill. But they were mavericks, and in Cooks case , I don’rt know how differntiated he was from his members?

  11. stuart on said:

    It’s worth recalling that when the Donovan Report in the 1960s effectively sought to curb the power of shop stewards and thereby increase the power of full time officials, the stewards were more than likely no more ‘political’ than the full timers, probably less so. The problem for bosses was the stewards’ proximity to the rank and file (who were themselves not regarded as ‘more left wing’ than the stewards), not formal politics.

  12. Let us be clear, the swivel eyed , brain washed cultists of the SP are doing the bosses work here, by promoting a strategy that cannot be achieved and forcing debates in union committees to revolve around a strategy solely selected to differentiate themselves as a sect and prioritise recruitment to their own microbe group, they are seeking to make the debate rotate around a strategy rooted in passivity.

    Instead, we should be arguing for the most active and inclusive policy that we can actually achieve, based upon mobilising not idealised members who are champing at the bit for action, but our real life members, and their actually existing confidence and willingness to act.

  13. John Grimshaw: There is a hierarchy of bureacracy within unions, as indeed there is with any vertical organisation, so I assume the “lower” ones are closer to the base of the union than the “higher” ones. Sometimes a bureaucrat can be more militant than the the membership but isn’t this because often they don’t have to face the difficulties of life that their members have to, so in their enthusiasm they misread the situation? I think its also because that even though they are militant because they spend most of their time in meetings etc. they neglect the fact that the union needs to be with its members supporting them on a daily basis in their struggles

    This substitutes cod sociology for politics.

    Let us look at the ridiculous distinction that Jimmy Haddow makes that I am a “low level bureaucrat”, though I am in fact a branch secretary of a large GMB branch who is not even on full time release, and I stil have a substantive post as an engineer; in contrast the people on UNISON’s Scottish cuncil who are lay members in a similar position to myself are presumably not bureaucrats?

    The real distinction is both formal politics, the diference between left and right in the unions, and also the questions of competance, confidence and combativity.

    We have all expereinced working with colleagues in the unions who have formally left politics, but are tired and pessimistic; indeed there are also people who are committed to militancy, but who lack the social and leadership skills to nurture confidence in the members.

    The pragmatic left now is engaged in a battle to overcome passivity in the membership, and promote activity and confidence. BUt this needs to be founded ona realistic assessment of the current relative strengths of the unions, and our ability to actually deliver.

    The impractical left are mouthing off about proposed actions that they could not deliver; and by so doing they are overlooking or pooh-poohing the practical steps we really could be doing now.

  14. SA: She despaired at the reluctance of colleagues to focus on a recruitment campaign to address this. Said colleagues were promoting a general strike.

    Of course of a general strike was anything more than a fantasy, and there really was a mood for it, then the circle would be squared, as you could recruit to the unions on the basis of building the general strike.

  15. Andy Newman: Of course of a general strike was anything more than a fantasy, and there really was a mood for it, then the circle would be squared, as you could recruit to the unions on the basis of building the general strike.

    Actually its worse than that in the case I mentioned said advocates of a general strike were ‘too busy on the strategic issue’ to do case work. Everyone whose ever been a union rep knows how good casework builds confidence or so I had thought. Its quite worrying really.

  16. stuart on said:

    andy newman:

    That of course is a wholly inaccurate account of the Donovan Reports recommendations, but more to the point completely irrelevant.

    It is neither inaccurate or irrelevant. The Dononvan Report did not favour using the law to attack stewards organisation or unofficial strikes (although both Labour and Tory governments tried to implement laws), but it favoured bringing stewards under the control of formal union structures and increasing the role of full-time officials. The aim was to increase the competitiveness of British industry by reducing strikes- and it couldn’t simply rely on the fact that full-time officials will have been formally more left wing than rank and file workers, it sought to increase the power of full timers.

  17. #10 Have another look at my comment, where I have, albeit for the purposes of the comment.

    John Grimshaw thinks there should be a general strike.

  18. stuart: The Dononvan Report did not favour using the law to attack stewards organisation or unofficial strikes (although both Labour and Tory governments tried to implement laws), but it favoured bringing stewards under the control of formal union structures and increasing the role of full-time officials.

    Any comparison between the industrial relations landscape of the 1960s and toda is utterly fat headed.

    But you are anyway largely wrong, the main thrust of Donovan was the emphasis of increasing professionalisation of unions through the creation of full time convenors and stewards through facility time.

    For anyone on the left, at the current juncture, to be touting around a criticism of lay activists being on full time release means that you are literally working for the bosses.

    And your approach is utterely sociological and ahistorical, becasue in the big strugges of the 1970s it simply did make a difference whether the the left was in charge or the right – Ken Gill was not the same as Clive Jenkins

  19. John Grimshaw on said:

    Andy Newman: This substitutes cod sociology for politics.

    Let us look at the ridiculous distinction that Jimmy Haddow makes that I am a “low level bureaucrat”, though I am in fact a branch secretary of a large GMB branch who is not even on full time release, and I stil have a substantive post as an engineer; in contrast the people on UNISON’s Scottish cuncil who are lay members in a similar position to myself are presumably not bureaucrats?

    The real distinction is both formal politics, the diference between left and right in the unions, and also the questions of competance, confidence and combativity.

    We have all expereinced working with colleagues in the unions who have formally left politics, but are tired and pessimistic; indeed there are also people who are committed to militancy, but who lack the social and leadership skills to nurture confidence in the members.

    The pragmatic left now is engaged in a battle to overcome passivity in the membership, and promote activity and confidence. BUt this needs to be founded onarealistic assessment of the current relative strengths of the unions, and our ability to actually deliver.

    The impractical left are mouthing off about proposed actions that they could not deliver; and by so doing they are overlooking or pooh-poohing the practical steps we really could be doing now.

    By cod Andy, I presume you mean some reference to an old fashioned item of male clothing? Try starting your responses to what people say in a more positive fashion, old boy, its better for your stress levels.

    First, as I am sure you know, I have never been a member of the SP/Militant nor would I ever be. I am just as capable of picking holes in some of their arguments as others, although I like to think I can be balanced enough to admit it when I think they’re right. I’d hesitate to call them swivel eyed cultists though. Therefore why conflate what I was saying with what comrade Jimmy was saying? I am sure that the members of this Scottish Unison Council are for want of a better way of putting it “union bureacrats” as you point out. Something which the SP would be reluctant to admit because presumably they have members on said committee. Thats just standard sectarianism. As was pointed out previously they are merely calling for “…steps to promote…” a general strike rather than actually calling for it. So I wouldn’t get too excited. Is that only sort of like the motion that was passed this year at TUC conference this year. Which will of course remain unacted upon.

    Secondly, I am intrigued by the way that you chose to come back to me on the points I was mildly asserting about trades union structures. As far as I can see you are saying that the only meaningful difference within a union is that between right and left (whatever you thin k that means) and between those activists who are worn out and those who aren’t. Frankly I think this is an incredibly simplistic view of what happens in TUs and ignores the now huge body of obvious evidence that shows that not only do they have a life of there own rather than simply being a tabula rasa that can be written on by the right person, this “life” mirrors the society which they come out of including the existence of semi or completely self-interested cliques. You can call this crap sociology but rather I would say IT is part of the politics. An example is the miners strike of 1984-85. Why were the miners not meaningfully supported by the TU movement with solidarity action? Since we now know its not because the government was too strong to resist there must be other reasons. Presumably you would argue that it was because the membership had become so struck down with lassitude that they would not follow the direction of their valian t leaders? Which of course historically is a standard excuse used by TU leaders to avoid having to do anything/somethng meaningful. Or maybe it was because the TU higher ups had forgotten to read their Marx and thus shifted to the right? In fact over the years some right-wing led unions have been involved in very successful action, although of a limited nature in terms of challenging the limits of state authority. Could it be that the people who run TUs have their own interests and supporting the madcap Scargill and his merry men in open conflict with the government was not on the agenda, especially if it meant losing potential knight hoods at some stage in the future?We now have a peculiar situation in my union which formally is dominated by a mixed bag of leftists. The paid secretary and deputy are leftists as is just over half of the executive. A minority who would come under your category of “non-pragmatists” and the others “pragmatists”. The remainder are “conservatives” (and some stalinists). Despite all this and despite the attacks on our pensions and despite the success of the action on Nov. 30th and despite a considerable groundswell for further action within the union, further action was called off by a majority of the “conservatives” and “pragmatist” left on the executive with the support of the paid left leadership (they can’t vote). The majority of course argued that the membership wasn’t up for it and that we have to be pragmatic. Now I don’t know about you but this rather sounds like self interest to me.

    The “low level” “high level” thing is interesting. I assume you were piqued by comrade Haddow calling you “low level” which implies that your interests were somewhere else other than the members? (or maybe you want to be seen as “higher up?) Hence the reason for your stern reply to my comments. For what its worth I have always assumed that elected and working officers of the union are the same as the membership, and I have no reason to suppose that you are anything other than a good trade unionist doing a hard job. But you are only one man (person) and it is all too easy to become reliant on TU structures for help and advice with their own slant on the world. Personally from my experience of the TU movement I think that facility time can be a two edged sword. It frees up elected reps. to do work but can also mean cosy relationships with management and an increasing drift away from the membership at a local level. For example I know branch secs. in the NUT who haven’t been in a class room for over a quarter of a century and who by their own admission could not return. I would suggest its difficult to keep a balanced view under these circumstances.

    Finally to return to this issue of “general strike”. Me thinks the lady doth protest too much. I think we do need massive action to defeat the governments attacks on us and also to help reinvigourate the TU movement. The recent strikes whilst short of what is needed nevertheless were positively received by members. The real shame is that the TUC/TU leaders did not seek to broaden the temporary advantage our side had created, but then you know my suspicions on this. What the SP reported may well be secatarian nonsense because they were a committee talking to themselves but this doesn’t get round the fact that activists have a responsibility to explain to the wc what we need to do defeat the governemnt. I do not counterpose to all the other smaller activities (strikes, activities) that must be undertaken.

  20. John Grimshaw: As far as I can see you are saying that the only meaningful difference within a union is that between right and left (whatever you thin k that means) and between those activists who are worn out and those who aren’t. Frankly I think this is an incredibly simplistic view of what happens in TUs

    Nothing I have wrtten wuld suggest I have such a simplistic view. However, the cod sociology ignores the politica altogether.

  21. John Grimshaw on said:

    SA: Actually its worse than that in the case I mentioned said advocates of a general strike were ‘too busy on the strategic issue’ to do case work. Everyone whose ever been a union rep knows how good casework builds confidence or so I had thought. Its quite worrying really.

    I think you are perpetuating some Daily Mail fantasy that union reps. spend all their time on politics (the strategic issue) rather than concentrating on their members. Because of course they have no interest in such weighty matters and are only worried about who’s going to negotiate their capability procedure after their latest break down. Of course this hypothetical break down is not at all related to politics and the increasing worsening of conditions?

  22. John Grimshaw: I think you are perpetuating some Daily Mail fantasy that union reps. spend all their time on politics (the strategic issue) rather than concentrating on their members.

    John, don’t be an idiot. I’m recounting what an experienced and committed elected trade union officer said to me. Neither she nor me are Daily Mail types. I take her concerns seriously as I have been an elected officer myself including during strikes.

    Anyone who thinks union density does dont matter or that casework can be neglected in favour of pontificating about an imaginary general strike does no good at all.

    Its very simple insufficent strength/capability = demoralised members = no industrial action. That’s how it works.

    Surely you understand that without babbling about ‘breakdowns’ and the Daily Mail?

  23. Andy Newman,

    Whether in 1968 or 2012 the state and the employers have an interest in drawing union activists into collaborative arrangements. It was Vanya that tried to make a point about union officials being to the left of rank and file workers now- whether we talk about the 60s or now it is IMO a non-point.

  24. John Grimshaw on said:

    #27 Where did I say that case work is not important? I assume you can do more than one thing at the same time? Surely you can understand that our ability to succeed at case work is related to how strong our union is?

  25. John Grimshaw on said:

    Vanya:
    #10 Have another look at my comment, where I have, albeit for the purposes of the comment.

    John Grimshaw thinks there should be a general strike.

    I assume I don’t get a prize as it would be useful as Christmas is coming?

  26. John Grimshaw on said:

    SA: Surely you understand that without babbling about ‘breakdowns’ and the Daily Mail?

    That was an anecdote old boy. So I’m babbling am I? H’mmm. I’d be glad to confer your message of solidarity to the members in my union who are struggling with thr oppression from the their management.

  27. John Grimshaw on said:

    Andy Newman: In the NUT??? *really*

    I assume Andy that you don’t think that for any meaningful action to happen that all the membership of a union must be in agreement? Surely this is a process? If this were the case (which appeals to my anarchist tendencies) then we should have no MP’s and no governement.

  28. ‘It was Vanya that tried to make a point about union officials being to the left of rank and file workers…’ I did more than try I think.

    My actual words were ‘significant parts of the leadership of the working class’.

  29. stuart on said:

    Vanya,

    I do actually agree with what you go on to say, passing left-wing resolutions is a limited form of activity in itself. However, the bit about rank and file being ‘right-wing’ is at best meaningless and at worse a damaging form of left-miserabalism.

  30. I seem to remember that the Economic League use to run the blacklist themselves- funded primarily by some of the large construction companies. They use to get round the law by keeping card records and not on a digital database, has the law changed or did they farm it out to a subsidiary that didn’t know the law?

  31. #34 I don’t know where ‘right wing’ comes from. I certainly didn’t use the term. It would indeed seem a bit meaningless in this context.

    As for ‘miserabalism’ this stuff isn’t about how you feel, it’s about scientific analysis of the concrete situation and assessing the consequent best way forward.

    The best way to deal with depression is sunlight, fresh air, excercise, a healthy diet and, if necessary professional medical assistance. Pretending the political situation is better than it is is no substitute. Believe me.

  32. stuart on said:

    Vanya,

    You said

    ‘significant parts of the leadership of the organised working class are to the left by a long way of the majority of the rank and file.’

    So the majority are to the right, of course ‘right-wing’ is always a relative term. I’m all for realism but the danger with having too pessimistic an outlook is that we can fail to relate to minorities who would be prepared to fight if given a lead.

  33. #37 If someone came up to you and said ‘comrade, we need to prepare for the immediate seizure of power, here’s some guns, go and form a workers’ militia’, I assume you would consider them significantly to your left, but I doubt you would therefore condsider yourself to be right wing as a consequence.

    Nor do I suspect you would feel they were justified in calling you a ‘miserabalist’ if you suggested it wasn’t a very good idea.

  34. #37 By working-class I mean all those people who are employed by someone else, do not own their own means of production and are not senior management.

    By organised, I mean members of unions.

  35. stuart on said:

    Vanya,

    So you now seem to be denying that the ‘majority of the rank and file’ are right-wing. Fair enough. But if in your view ‘significant parts of the leadership of the w/c are to the left by a long way’ then that presumably makes those leaders extreme left-wing by your estimation?