Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 17 February 2010

The construction industry blacklist: Paltry punishment for attacks on workers

Construction workers have been fighting an employers' blacklist for many years. The big construction companies have been using it to try to stop workers on their sites joining trade unions and getting organised.
Any effective union shop steward or safety rep ran the risk of getting put on this illegal blacklist and thus barred from working on such sites.
The blacklist has been exposed, but the task of union organisation is still difficult as Colin Trousdale, an electrician on the MediaCity project, Salford, Greater Manchester explains.

I have been campaigning for the trade unions to organise workers in the MediaCity construction project in Manchester. Now I have reported to my union Unite and to the Blacklist Support Group that myself and two others were put on enforced paid leave following an attempt by management to dismiss us on 22 January, falsely claiming that our jobs were redundant.

This followed a series of meetings with management where the three of us raised health and safety issues and the fact that the New Year pay rise has not been implemented. We also refused to work on Saturdays for the weekday rate.

There are seven of us working for an agency alongside seven full-time employees (not cards-in ie not directly employed) none of which are in the union. Two of the agency lads are non-union and have no desire to join, despite my best efforts. So if we formed a shop it would comprise only five lads in a workforce of 14.

However the full site has 300-350 men who are traditionally Unite members, amongst a total workforce of 1,800. These men are completely unorganised and most are lapsed members due to the abolition of the check-off system, whereby the companies used to pay union dues direct to the union.

There is a full-time building workers' union UCATT convenor on site who is trying to help our lads. I recently advised him on three cases:

It is his opinion, and one which I share, that we should be organising the workforce, putting stewards and safety reps in place with all the sub-contractors. Then a convenor could split his time between working for one of the main mechanical and electrical (M and E) contractors and coordinating the efforts of the stewards and sorting out industrial relations problems amongst the subbies.

The trend on site at the moment amongst the M and E companies is to see who can get agency labour the cheapest, with no thought for national agreements or ratios of skilled to unskilled labour. I myself am approached on a daily basis to advise on some problem or another, something that has not gone unnoticed by management.

On 15 January I was called to a meeting with our project manager at which he said he had been made aware of the alleged blacklist. My reply was that we now had irrefutable proof of it. Although this meeting was minuted he is refusing to give me a copy of the minutes but has sent them to head office and my agency. I feel this meeting was the catalyst that led to the attempt to remove the three of us from site.

On 29 January we met with management. I had contacted the Unite national officer for construction and the Unite regional secretary. They each sent me a one-line email passing the buck to the regional officer for construction.

We were left by Unite to fend for ourselves at the meeting, though aided by the UCATT convenor. We managed to secure re-instatement for the following Monday.

Why do I persevere? Because if I didn't, what would happen to the people that aren't as gobby as me? They would be left to the mercy of the bosses. I don't want platitudes or medals, I just want some help and assistance from our full-time officers. Is that too much to ask, when it's supposed to be a union for the members like me who pay their subs to the union? Yet again, on this showing, it is too much to ask.

We must organise the Media:City site, and sites like it. We must defend our members and agreements, and our union should be leading from the front instead of being notable only by its absence.

Blacklist exposed

I could fill The Socialist with my tales of horrible injustice done to my fellow construction workers because of blacklisting. Although me and my fellow workers had long known of its existence, we were eventually given irrefutable proof of it by a disgruntled human resources manager.

In June 2008 myself and Steve Acheson were quoted in an article in the Guardian. This was read by an officer from the Information Commissioner's office who contacted us and said: "If this is true, then I must investigate."

We confirmed that it was all true and gave him the evidence we had. With that he was able to launch his investigation, which resulted in his raid of the Consulting Association in February 2009.

After his investigation, the Information Commissioner found that a blacklist had been in existence for at least 15 years and that private investigator Ian Kerr was making thousands of pounds a year giving information on trade union activists to major building firms.

Kerr was fined a paltry 5,000 in July 2009 and his database was shut down. But construction workers have no guarantees that the blacklist will not continue under another guise.

On the blacklist

Graham Bowker is a little-mentioned hero of the Manchester construction industry disputes. Graham has stood shoulder to shoulder with Steve Acheson during the Marks and Spencer, DAF and Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) disputes. He has spent four of the last ten years out of work through being blacklisted, or on picket lines as a result of being removed from sites due to the blacklist.

He managed to secure work with a small family run company where he worked quite happily for six months with no myther (Lancashire dialect, problem or trouble).

Then they got a contract for one of the big boys involved in the MRI dispute. The big company highlighted Graham to his firm and demanded his removal from the site. This resulted in him losing his job and adding another venue to our peaceful protest roadshow. The banners go down well with the passing public.

Fiddlers Ferry

Socialist Party members were at the Fiddlers' Ferry power station on Tuesday 16 February to show our continued support for blacklisted electrician Steve Acheson who was unfairly dismissed from the site in 2008.

Members of the Unite and RMT trade unions were with us to make a stand against the continued attempts by site security to intimidate Steve into ending his protest. This has included a failed high court injunction against Steve in October 2009. When the judge threw out the bosses' accusations, he described them as: "fanciful bordering on paranoia."

On 8 February site security, along with an officer from Cheshire police, confronted Steve and confiscated his banners pointing out the use of blacklisting on the site. They claimed they where "offensive" to the site operators Scottish and Southern Electricity.

In response to this, Tuesday's protest was organised by Warrington trades council to make it clear that these actions would not end Steve's protest but instead strengthen the support for him that has built up over the last 14 months.

As Steve himself said: "It's the solidarity I've been shown that has made all this possible." Steve will continue his protest with the support of the Socialist Party, Unite and trade unionists up and down the country.

Adam Smart

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

In The Socialist 17 February 2010:

Fight council cuts!

Socialist Party campaigns

Nominate Roger Bannister: Council workers need a fighting union

Notts Tories attack the vulnerable

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition

TUSC to fight cuts in Spelthorne

New TUSC sponsors

Socialist Party news and analysis

New health inequality report reveals widening class divide

Ministers and MI5 colluded in the cover-up of torture

BNP's phoney changes

Fast news

Workplace analysis

The construction industry blacklist: Paltry punishment for attacks on workers

Oppose university cuts - defend jobs

Socialist Students

Sussex student union elections: Support for socialist campaigners

Student places crisis

Youth fight for jobs

Youth Fight for Jobs: Leeds march for jobs and education

Socialist Party feature

Wales: New challenges for socialists

Celebrate May Day this year with The Socialist

International socialist news and analysis

Greece: Massive public sector workers' strike against savage austerity plans

Capitalist crisis threatens the eurozone project

Winter Olympics: Shortage of snow but no shortage of debts?

Protests as Canada's Tories suspend parliament


Home   |   The Socialist 17 February 2010   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:


triangleHull: Construction workers' walkout forces employer to back down

triangleHull construction workers strike against blacklisting

triangleSocialist Party member Janet Gibson advertising NSSN conference at a protest of steel construction workers outside a Siemans factory in Lincoln (click for report)

triangleTen years since Lindsey strike: when militant action stopped the 'race to the bottom'

triangleTories ensured Carillion meltdown went unchecked


triangleCorbyn promises 'power in the hands of workers' - how can Labour do it?

triangleWaltham Forest Socialist Party: The role of trade unions in the fight against racism in Britain

triangleClimate protests: which way forward after 20 September?

triangleUnions must fight to make bus drivers and passengers safe

Trade unions:

triangleWaltham Forest Socialist Party: Labour and the trade unions - a complicated relationship

triangleClimate Crisis: Socialist Green New Deal needed

triangleInterview with Sean Hoyle - left candidate in RMT general secretary election


triangleManchester Socialist Party: Tories Out - General Election Now!

trianglePeterloo - fighting for democracy and a better life

Construction workers:

triangleChina: Impressive, coordinated and daring crane drivers' strikes


triangleEnd low pay - support Salford Royal security workers' action


triangleWales: Hundreds march to save the Orb works


triangleMass united action against the war on Syrian Kurds


triangleMinimum wage debate: how can we end the scandal of low pay?


triangleLetter from blacklisted construction workers

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns


Postal workers

Massive vote for strike action: - "We're out to win!"



General secretary election: Marion Lloyd - standing for action on members' pay, jobs, pensions and more


Socialist Party

Be part of the future: join the Socialist Party


Waltham Forest

Mass union mobilisation needed to counter anti-choice group


Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance

Pressure needed to force secret police disclosure


Climate change

Trade unionists discuss climate change



Workplace news in brief


National Education Union

NEU support staff dismiss Tory 'extra funding' hype



Hackney SEND transport workers achieve victory



RMT: Jared Wood - Fighting cuts, defending jobs, pay and conditions



Wales: Hundreds march to save the Orb works



Flooring workers strike, Derbyshire



Attacks on Caerphilly waste management workers



BEIS: Outsourced caterers' indefinite strike victory



York freshers success

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777


Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0784 114 4890

North West 07954 376 096

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551



Alphabetical listing

October 2019

September 2019

August 2019

July 2019

June 2019

May 2019

April 2019

March 2019

February 2019

January 2019