Frank Morris came to symbolise the struggle the unions are waging against the illegal blacklist of their members by major construction firms after he was dismissed last September. His reinstatement sends a message out: unions are back and we are ready to fight our corner if we have to.
The dismissal of Frank Morris took place soon after he took on the role of union steward and raised safety concerns about tunnelling operations on the largest publicly funded construction project in Western Europe. The Crossrail dispute was a central part of the a BBC One Panorama TV documentary: Blacklist Britain.
Blacklist campaigners and UNITE argued from the start that Frank’s dismissal was due to the blacklist and have been fighting a bitter battle against the Bam-Ferrovial-Kier (BFK) consortium. The senior HR managers on the project including Ron Baron (head of HR for Crossrail) and Pat Swift (head of HR for BFK) are proven blacklisters, both having been exposed in parliament.
The 12 month dispute has rallied thousands of union members to new tactics unseen in industrial disputes including mass civil disobedience with Oxford Street, Earls Court and Park Lane being blockaded during rush hour on over 20 occasions. The Office of the Rail Regulator was occupied by protesters the day after a gantry collapsed on the very section of the site where Frank Morris had raised safety concerns. Google HQ and major corporate investors offices in the City were occupied. Videos made by Reel News went viral around the world and turned the dispute into a cause célèbre.
The Crossrail dispute has resulted in questions being asked in parliament, Holyrood and the London Assembly. UNITE Assistant General Secretary Gail Cartmail raised the Crossrail case as an example of ongoing blacklisting when giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee which then referred the case to government for a full,investigation. Local Authorities have passed motions at full council meetings refusing to grant public contracts to blacklisting firms.
The dispute entered a new phase when Unite General Secretary Len McLuskey addressed the AGM of the Blacklist Support Group and promised to use the full resources of the union to “Blacklist the Blacklisters” until Frank Morris got his job back. This leverage strategy included union protests in Holland, France, Spain, Canada and last month Chicago in an attempt to pressurise major clients to refuse contracts to firms that blacklisted union members. In the UK, dinner jacket attendees of awards ceremonies were greeted by giant inflatable rats and 40 foot banners. At one protest outside Manchester City Football ground a blacklist campaigner called George Tapp was run down by a car and suffered two fractured knees. Meetings have been taking place at ACAS with executives of Bam and Ferrovial flying in from Holland and Spain to participate.
There is a gagging order on the agreement to get Frank Morris his job back and UNITE the Union and Frank are both unable to discuss the detail of the agreement but the following Joint Statement has been issued by UNITE and BFK
BFK and Unite Joint Statement
“Today, Unite the Union and the BAM Ferrovial Kier Joint Venture (BFK) are pleased to announce that they have successfully concluded matters between them in relation to BFK’s Joint Venture on the Crossrail projects.
BFK acknowledge that the conclusion of the EIS contract could have been handled better and BFK and Unite have agreed to work together to continue the provision of transparent working practices including safeguarding the right of workers to choose whether or not to join a trade union.
BFK and Unite agree that there has been no contravention of the Blacklisting Regulations on the BFK Crossrail projects.
BFK and Unite are committed to improving ways of working together.
The above allows BFK and Unite to further build upon their working relationship for the good of all involved and both parties look forward to working with each other in the future.”
Dave Smith – Secretary, Blacklist Support Group said:
“The Crossrail dispute was totemic.
It was not just about Frank Morris. It was about the future direction of trade unionism in the building industry.
Such blatant blacklisting was a declaration of war by the big contractors against all unions.
If they thought we didn’t have the stomach or the troops for a fight – they were wrong.
For 12 months Frank Morris has stood outside Crossrail.
He has suffered a year of unemployment, financial hardships and physical attacks.
But Frank never gave up.
The rank & file never gave up.
UNITE never gave up.
We are no longer prepared to sit back when our best activists are victimised and blacklisted.
We have been calling for an industrial solution to end the blacklist and UNITE have delivered the goods.
The joint statement comment that there has been no contravention of the Blacklisting Regs on the Crossrail project is simply an indication of how ineffectual the Blacklisting Regs are. Frank Morris lost his job because of blacklisting on Crossrail – everyone knows it. The legal system could not get him his job back, so we had to rely on our own strength to achieve justice.
A massive ‘thank you’ to the thousands of people, from many unions and organisations who have supported the campaign. This was solidarity at its very best. We couldn’t have won this alone.
The reinstatement of Frank Morris is a kick in the teeth for the blacklisting firms and a turning point in industrial relations in the construction industry.
This is a historic union victory. And Frank Morris is a working class hero.
Raise a glass to celebrate – the rest of the trade union movement, please take note.