Tuesday 17 March 2015

 Author Q&A: Dave Smith

(New Internationalist, £7.99)

Big Issue in the North magazine 
Dave Smith collaborates with investigative journalist Phil Chamberlain to tell the explosive story of the illegal strategies used by construction companies to deny union activists employment – abitter struggle, in which collusion with the police and security services resulted in victimisation, violence and unemployment. Smith, a blacklisted union activist, explains more.
Why write this book?
To expose the scandal, to name and shame the senior managers, company directors and police spies who systematically orchestrated the undemocratic attack on trade unions. Essentially, to give a voice to blacklisted workers who were repeatedly sacked, suffered years of unemployment and whose families suffered financial hardship.
What was on a blacklist file?
Virtually every file is about an individual being a member of a trade union or being involved in a work dispute. Honest, hard-working people who complained about unpaid wages or raised concerns about safety issues. Most files record the person’s name, address, NI number and the big companies referred to these files to carry out name checks during site inductions. If your name came up on the list then you were sacked.
Has evidence of blacklisting brought legal redress?
Hundreds of claims were submitted to employment tribunals (ET) and virtually every single case was lost. Most were thrown out before getting to court because
the judge decided the claims had been submitted “out of time”. In my ET the company, Carillion, provided a written statement that their managers had blacklisted me because I was a union member who had raised safety issues on their building site. I still lost the case.
Comparisons have been made between phone tapping and blacklisting. So why has the authorities response been different?
We are not celebrities. Working class trade unionists are not considered important by politicians. Also, the police involvement in phone hacking was illegal corruption while blacklisting was standard operating procedure – senior officers actually gave PowerPoint presentations at the illegal meetings. Any public inquiry would inevitably raise the question of why undercover secret political police units were infiltrating trade unions.

What must be done to ensure blacklisting companies make amends?
Companies need hitting financially hard by being denied publicly funded contracts, including within the NHS. Blacklisted workers deserve compensation for loss of earnings, defamation and human rights. Crucially, they deserve jobs. A few quid means nothing if union members continue to be blacklisted. For real justice, the company directors who secretly orchestrated this conspiracy should face prison sentences.

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