I have been an active trade union member of Unite the union in its various forms since 1986 when I first joined EEPTU. I was first properly involved in rank and file activity in 1988 on a site in London where I was an elected safety rep. Then in 1990, I became a deputy steward, and again in 1991, I was elected as a safety rep.
I regularly attended union branch meetings in London for many years. I am an electrician by trade. While I was on sites, there were constant battles with various firms as well as union officials who always seemed to be trying to undermine our rank and file activities, especially when we hit the gate or cabined up.
On every occasion they always told us to get back to work and the union put out a disclaimer to disassociate themselves from our unofficial actions. Given the strong feelings the workers would reject such advice, believing that the union officials were often as not in bed with the bosses.
From 1996 to 2000 I worked on the Jubilee Line extension. At one point there were 600 workers involved, all of who were union members. We were well organised with 12 elected stewards and deputy-stewards, as well as safety reps and two full-time elected convenors.
Boy oh boy, when needed, we got stuck into the employers hard. We had many disputes, none of which we lost, as we always stuck together. In addition, we ignored the pleas of those who said we should get the job finished on time and at all cost. Our main concern was to carry out our work with proper safety and without cutting corners.
This experience on the JLE was the best 4 years of my working life. It will be the subject of much discussion and fond memories for years to come.
However, after the work finished, I found great difficulty getting work on other sites and was eventually forced to leave the construction industry in 2002. I did eventually find work in the maintenance industry but it was never the same. I missed the solidarity of the building sites. I miss the struggle and the fight on behalf of the men.
Given my failure to secure work in construction, it was clear to me that I was on some kind of blacklist. Many of my ex-workmates were in the same boat. However, when I raised the issue at union branch meetings, the union officials always denied that there was a blacklist.
A few weeks ago, I managed to obtain my file from the Information Commissioner’s Office, which clearly proved that a blacklist was in operation for all those years. It was an 18 page document containing allegations that I was a “trouble maker”, “trade union militant” , “strike organiser” , “intimidating workers to join the union”, “threatening supervisors”, and even “writing abuse on the toilet walls”!
It went to state that I was an EPIU activist who was in an alliance with Manchester EPIU activists to “take over other union branches throughout the country.” (The EPIU was a breakaway union from the EEPTU trade union for electricians.) The fact of the matter is this is completely untrue. The document also contained personal information about my home addresses, National Insurance number, letters I had written to newspapers, copies of leaflets advertising rank and file meetings with my name on it, and even a copy of a union branch meeting minutes where I was present. As a union member, I wonder how this information ended up on the blacklist file.
I believe that I have a claim under the Data Protection Act against Ian Kerr Associates, who set up the blacklist and charged companies a fee to obtain ‘information’ about trade union activists, who have never committed any crimes, and whose only aim was to improve the health and safety of fellow workers. Last year, some 72 workers were killed and 1,000s seriously injured on building sites. There is likely to be similar numbers for this year.
I honestly believe the state and government are involved in this conspiracy with the employers. They are trying to prevent rank and file workers obtaining decent working conditions and nationally agreed rates of pay, as the Lindsey dispute recently showed.
They see the militant actions of construction workers as a real threat to their profits and want to undermine workers’ solidarity and organisation. As in the 1972 building workers’ strike, the employers, along with the state, were even prepared to frame and imprison the leaders of that dispute. (See http://www.socialist.net/justice-for-shrewsbury-24-campaign-lobbies-westminster.htm) Only through effective trade union organisation, especially at a rank and file level, can we resist these attacks and prepare the ground for the future.
Despite the blacklist, we must do everything in our power to further the struggle of working people and use the valuable lessons from previous struggles to educate, agitate and organise. Contact the Information Commissioners Office – telephone 08456 30 60 60 (free call) or 01625 545 745 – if you think you might be on the blacklist. You could be one of the 3, 200 heroes! Also contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need help.