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21 November 2013
Protest day against construction blacklist
Comedian Mark Thomas joined blacklisting protesters outside the Merrion centre in Leeds on Wednesday 20th November.
Around 15 protesters, mostly members of construction union Ucatt, gathered outside the Merrion shopping centre where blacklisters Robert McAlpine have offices, as part of a TUC national day of action. The protest coincided with a number of others up and down the country.
Blacklisting is a national scandal, revealed in the light of day when an illegal blacklist of 3,213 construction workers used by over 40 companies to vet new potential employees and screen out trade union and health and safety activists was found in the offices of the 'Consulting Association'.
Protesters in Leeds were joined by Mark Thomas for part of the morning as well as a number of local trade unionists.
The PCS union, who have offices in the same building, had kindly offered protesters use of their toilet facilities.
When some protesters attempted to avail themselves of this, managers tried to block their entrance to the shopping centre, with one assaulting two protesters and shoving them into the doors with one ending up in hospital.
Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party
Lobbying parliament, 20.11.13, photo by N Cafferky
A 7am start in the freezing cold and driving rain did nothing to dampen the turnout outside the 'Cheesegrater' building site.
The protest at this Laing-O'Rourke run site was the beginning of the TUC National Day of Action on blacklisting in London.
Laing-O'Rourke was the natural choice to begin protests given this company is a notorious blacklister. Despite grudging movement from other big construction companies towards greater cooperation with the union, Laing-O'Rourke continues to bar union officials from its sites.
The Unite 'leverage' team along with the famous 'Scabby Rat' were out in full force along with rank and file construction workers and supporters from the labour movement, including NSSN supporters.
The protest blocked Leadenhall Street, one of the main routes through the City of London, for over half an hour, causing serious disruption and a tense stand-off with City of London police.
The blockade only finished when a prison van arrived and police started to draw their batons!
NSSN chair Rob Williams speaking outside the Francis Crick Institute site, 20.11.13, photo N Cafferky
The protest then moved on to the site of the new Francis Crick Institute building. This site is also run by Laing-O'Rourke and was the scene of the tragic death of Richard Laco.
Speaker after speaker, many of them blacklisted workers, made clear that a union-organised site is a safer site.
Speakers were adamant that Laing-O'Rourke's failure to cooperate with unions on the site to install a proper safety regime contributed to a dangerous work environment.
The day ended with a large gathering at Parliament Green that included GMB General Secretary Paul Kenny, Unite Assitant General Secretary Gail Cartmail and other senior union leaders.
Steve Gillan from the Prison Officers Association also joined the protests in solidarity. His own union was also lobbying MPs over prison privatisation.
The lobby then marched as a body over to Parliament where a lively meeting on fighting the blacklist was held.
Marching to parliament in London, 20.11.13, photo N Cafferky
Trade unions, in particular Unite, have come in for strong criticism and attack from the media and establishment politicians recently.
The big turnout from rank and file workers shows the determination to fight hard-nosed employers has not been diminished. The fight to build strong unions on site and destroy the blacklist is far from over.
Steve Gillan, POA General Secretary (second from right) joins NSSN on lobby of parliament, photo by N Cafferky
Text of the Socialist Party leaflet given out on the day of action:
Organise the sites to stop the blacklist
The recent death of Richard Laco on the Laing O'Rourke Francis Crick Institute site in London wasn't just a tragedy. It was a crime.
A crime committed by a notorious blacklisting firm, Laing O'Rourke, owners of electrical contractors Crown House.
Laing O'Rourke has taken an exceptionally hard line, even by the low standards of building bosses, against trade unions and health and safety reps.
It has banned union officials from sites in London and Liverpool. Elected Health and Safety reps are being denied facility time to carry out their vital duties.
At a recent vigil by union members at the site of Richard's death, Laing O'Rourke security managers were openly taking pictures of union activists, no doubt to add to their blacklisting file.
This blatantly provocative act shows this leopard hasn't changed its spots one bit in regards to blacklisting.
Although other firms have been pushed back by victories over BESNA and Crossrail, no construction worker can feel safe that other construction firms have turned their backs for good on blacklisting and victimisation.
This shows that there is still a lot of work to be done in making the construction blacklist history.
Day of action
The TUC day of action on 20th November will be a reminder to construction bosses that the campaign against the blacklist will not go away.
The protest comes at a difficult time for the trade union movement with the setback at Grangemouth and the witch-hunt against Unite and in particular its leverage campaign.
We may have constructive criticisms about how that dispute was conducted but the whole trade union movement should act to defend Unite from this attack from the right-wing press and politicians from all the main parties.
The ferocity of the right wing media's response to the leverage campaign is itself a testament to the role it has played in exposing blacklisting firms.
Leverage campaigns are a useful tactic in the battle against the bosses but as a supplement to the most effective weapon which is still strong union organisation with active reps elected from the workforce on site.
Health and Safety
Evidence shows that where workers are organised on sites and have the industrial strength to enforce proper health and safety, there is a dramatic reduction in 'accidents' and deaths.
An important demand must be union monitoring of hiring practices to ensure any blacklisting can be quickly exposed.
Trade union organisation on the sites with elected stewards based on active rank and file workers remains the strongest defence against blacklisting.
Alongside the bosses' offensive on the sites the Tory government is also tearing up health and safety regulations that will be a death sentence for many workers in industries like construction.
David Cameron has called regulation "an albatross around the neck" of British business. The Labour Party has made no commitment to reverse this legislation.
The anti-trade union laws, supported by all three main parties, remain an obstacle to union organisation.
Blacklisting of trade union activists and 'business friendly' legislation are two sides of the same coin.
It is the combined use of legal and illegal methods to prevent workers from organising themselves to improve their working conditions.
Strong union organisation is the starting point for the fightback. But to combat the 'legal' attacks workers also need a political party that stands in their interests.
A party that is in favour of more health and safety regulations, not less. Of a properly funded inspection regime.
A party that is in favour of trade unions organising and effectively representing their members.
Unfortunately at the present time politics is dominated by three parties of big business. We believe that especially after Falkirk, Unite and the other affiliated unions should break the link with Labour and form a new mass party that stands up for working-class people.
As a step to this, the Socialist Party, alongside the RMT trade union and others took the step of forming TUSC.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 21 November 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.
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