Fighting Blacklisting – Interview with Dave Smith

National Shop Stewards Network chair, Rob Williams, recently interviewed Dave Smith, a blacklisted construction worker. At last there has been publicity about the disgraceful blacklisting of workers, largely because Ian Kerr of the Consulting Association (CA) had to go in front of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee which is investigating these anti-union practices. Dave explains the significance of these new revelations.

What was the CA and how did the big companies use it to victimise union reps and activists?

The CA ran the blacklist for the 44 largest construction firms in the UK. It held a database of over 3,200 union members. The senior HR managers supplied information on workers – including work history and union activity.

What has been the effect on the lives of blacklisted workers?

The firms paid for access to the database. They checked the names of workers applying for work. If a name came up the worker was refused a job or sacked. Union activists were out of work for years. Some lost their homes. Two blacklisted workers from the Jubilee Line project in London have committed suicide.

After Kerr’s testimony, what should happen?

GMB union general secretary Paul Kenny has written to every Labour councillor in the UK arguing that no blacklisting firm should be allowed to tender for publicly funded projects.

In September, 28 workers on the Crossrail project were sacked. The shop steward, Frank Morris has been protesting daily. Crossrail and the contracting consortium Bam Ferrovial Kier deny wrongdoing. Does this show that blacklisting and victimisation is still going on?

Blacklisting is definitely still going on. Ian Kerr admitted that there was an awful lot of discussion at blacklisting meetings about the Crossrail project. He also admitted there was lots of blacklisting on the Olympics. We have known it for years – Frank Morris is the latest.

The Sparks’ defeat of the Besna contract showed how workers can fight back and win. Two union reps at Ratcliffe and Grangemouth were suspended but through action and pressure by their members, both were reinstated. What does this show?

Blacklisting takes place across every sector of the economy; it is part of the struggle between capital and labour – and is not likely to go away. But we will fight for justice in every way – in the courts, in legislation, in the press – but most importantly industrially. The Besna and Crossrail dispute put blacklisting centre stage – thousands of flyers have gone into building sites. Thousands of building workers have responded by taking industrial action to defend our reps. It was interfering with production that won successes, not reliance on employment tribunals.

This is not about one or two people but a collective struggle based initially among blacklisted workers. We try to draw in support from the unions, lawyers, academics, politicians, Occupy and human rights activists. Our small fight is part of a bigger struggle to change the world.

The NSSN is playing an ongoing part of the campaign against blacklisting.