More than six years since the construction industry blacklist was exposed, firms involved have paid out millions to affected workers.
More than 3,000 people were on the illegal list run by the Consulting Association and most of the big construction companies would use it to vet applicants for jobs. Trade unionism, political activity, even just wanting the legal minimum health and safety standards was enough to get people barred from work.
Every constabulary’s Special Branch assisted by routinely supplying the blacklist with details of political activists.
In the 2000s the spycop unit NETCU – National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit – met with the Consulting Association. The exact nature of the meetings has yet to be confirmed, but it clearly wasn’t to criticise or arrest the people running it.
The total compensation for blacklisting was about £75m for 771 claimants, with legal costs on both sides estimated at £25m. It will be paid by eight companies; Carillion, Balfour Beatty, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and Vinci.
Dave Smith, secretary of the Blacklist Support Group which has spearheaded the campaign for justice, said
‘Despite all of the denials and attempts to cover up their secret conspiracy, the largest multinationals in the construction sector have been forced to pay out millions in compensation.
‘Make no mistake, the High Court action is a historic victory for the trade union movement against the vicious face of free market capitalism.’
The legal action was led by the GMB whose general secretary Tim Roache added:
‘For decades household-name construction companies implemented an illegal blacklisting system, which denied a generation of trade union activists and health and safety reps an opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. Finally they have been held to account in public and at great cost to them financially and reputationally.
‘Preventing 3,213 workers earning a living to support their families was a gross injustice, and government and employers’ organisations must never forget this sordid episode. Without strong regulation and penalties holding them to account, employers will always be tempted to put profit above people.’
The settlement comes six months after the companies finally apologised in the High Court. The British legal system only measures damages in money, and so claims can be forcibly settled by wrongdoers with payouts to prevent them having to disclose details of their deeds in court.
It mirrors November’s settlement with women who brought a case against the Metropolitan Police after being deceived into intimate relationships. After years of denials and obstructions from their abusers, there was a cheque and an apology but no answers.
As Jacqui, the first woman to settle such a case with the Met, noted at the time
‘The amount of money [in the settlement] shows there is a cover-up. It says the more we dig the dirtier it gets. All they want to do is concrete it in – put it in a box and make it go away. If I had a choice – less money and more truth, I obviously would have gone for that.
As with other victims of spycops, the truth about blacklisted construction workers has had to be revealed by the victims. It has been comprehensively documented in Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain’s book Blacklisted: The Secret War Between Big Business and Union Activists.
For the blacklisted construction workers, after October’s apology Dave Smith declared
‘The blacklisting wretches have run up the white flag. They are guilty as sin and this is a desperate attempt to to try and avoid the spectacle of a High Court conspiracy trail. Personally, I want to see the directors of this national scandal given evidence under oath about their involvement in this systematic human rights abuse. Real justice would see those responsible for ruining so many lives sent to jail.
‘Unfortunately the British legal system is unlikely to provide real justice but we will continue to push for full disclosure of the evidence that has been deliberately concealed and a public inquiry to expose the full extent of this national scandal.’
Accountability has been established. The fight for the truth will continue.