The strengthening of the inquiry into Unite union officials colluding with bosses to blacklist construction workers is to be welcomed. Now Unite members must continue the struggle to fully democratise the union
In August 2021, outgoing Unite general secretary Len McCluskey launched an independent-led inquiry to investigate allegations of union officials colluding with bosses to blacklist construction members. Now this inquiry has been stepped up by new Unite leader, Sharon Graham.
This consists of appointing a lay member-led panel to oversee the inquiry, made up of those with direct experience of being blacklisted.
The panel includes chair of the Blacklist Support Group, Dave Smith; blacklisted electrician Frank Morris; and blacklisted scaffolder Tony Seaman. Morris and Seaman are also both democratically-elected construction delegates on the Unite Executive Council.
Thank you, Sharon Graham.
Blacklisted workers have been waiting a long time for this. I applaud this announcement and will continue to push for any malpractice to be uncovered. https://t.co/ATFPKcMrxM
— Dave Smith – Blacklist Support Group (@DaveBlacklist) December 5, 2021
No stone unturned
This panel will agree the appointment and supervision of the work of external forensic data experts, who will search union servers for evidence of collusion with bosses in blacklisting members.
The panel will also oversee the work of external lawyers who are sorting and passing on relevant evidence to the QC leading the inquiry.
This is a welcome development, and will help assuage any concerns of a stitch-up. Appointing stalwart campaigners on the issue establishes the inquiry as credible in the eyes of Unite’s construction membership, especially in the mechanical and electrical trades.
“It is very important that blacklisted workers and their families can have total confidence in this inquiry,” Graham has stated. “I said we would do it and that no stone would be left unturned. I meant it.”
As GS of @unitetheunion I will lead on Unite’s transparent review into the blacklist enquiry. A panel of lay members with personal experience of blacklisting will now oversee the gathering of evidence to be fed into an independent QC led inquiry. #SGGS100 #JobsPayConditions pic.twitter.com/5MwRoj90KF
— Sharon Graham (@UniteSharon) December 8, 2021
The blacklisting of union members by construction industry bosses was allegedly done with the collusion of both former and current Unite officers and officials. As a result, many members had legitimate concerns about the genuinely independent nature of the inquiry.
But through involving lay members in the inquiry, as Dave Smith has commented, “any lingering doubts about the independence of the investigation have now been removed.”
The scandal of blacklisting continues to hang over the heads of many workers in construction. Many have not been employed for years as a result of being blacklisted, ruining their lives. The campaign to uncover the true extent of blacklisting and bring those responsible to justice is therefore an important one for the labour movement.
It is also important as it exposes the extent to which some in the labour movement will go to betray their own members and ally with the bosses – and even the British state, as Norman Tebbit revealed earlier this year.
The brutal reality of capitalism is increasingly making itself felt in construction and other industries, hitting workers square in the face. Many workers are once again looking to their union to fight for their interests, such as the Scunthorpe scaffolders.
They must be able to trust their union and its representatives that they will have their best interests at heart – not the interests of the bosses.
Democratise the union
As such, Unite members in construction, along with the rest of Unite’s membership, should be pushing for the democratisation of our union. Only when our representatives are truly under the control of the rank and file will the root cause of the blacklisting scandal be tackled.
Therefore, at the next Unite rules conference, the following three rules must be passed:
- All Unite full-time officials/officers must be democratically elected for a set period of time – no more appointments by the bosses!
- All Unite full-time officials/officers to be paid the average wage of the Unite lay membership. Financially, our officials should have more in common with the Unite membership than the employers.
- All Unite full-time officials/officers, during their period in office, to be subject to the right of immediate recall from their positions by the Unite membership.
These three demands will act as the starting point for real and proper democracy in our trade union. After all, the bosses already run our lives in the workplace, which is bad enough – so why should they get to run our unions as well?
With these three demands, grouped together with the recent passing of a policy that commits Unite to fighting for nationalisation and workers’ control over the economy, we can ensure that our union is truly fit for the class struggle in the battles that lie ahead.