Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Ethical Silence of the Grave

Trade Unions in a time of apathy
THE failure of the Unite North West Local Authority Regional Industrial Sector Committee, to seriously consider at a meeting on the 5th, March, a motion from Bury Unite Commercial Branch on a proposed Ethical Procurement Policy for local councils is something which will raise a spectre of impotence for one of Britain's largest trade unions. 
Addressing blacklisted workers in March 2013, Michael Meacher told the Blacklist Support Group:
'You have been victims of the worst conspiracy of silence and inaction that I have ever known in my parliamentary life.'
In 2013, two academics from the University of Westminster published their research into industrial relations on the Olympics' building site in London.  Six union officials were questioned as part of the project.  Their names were with-held, but one union officer went on the record to say that blacklisting on the Olympics' site was 'one of the myths of the site'.  Commenting on this Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain in their book titled 'Blacklisted:  The secret war between big business and union activists' write:
'It would appear that some officials, at least, still prefer the assurances of the major contractors over the "anecdotal evidence" of blacklisted workers.'
When Tameside Trade Union Council pressed forward with a motion together with the Greater Manchester County Association of Trade Union Councils at the Annual Conference of the TUCs in 2005, the Trade Union Congress later told us that the Labour government had stated that the evidence for a blacklist was only 'anecdotal'. 
Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain conclude in their book's chapter 'How much did the unions know':
'The sooner the trade unions accept that there have been failings in the past, the sooner the clean-up process can begin.'
Smith and Chamberlain, while they 'make no accusations of illegality or deliberate collusion with blacklisting against any union official', elaborate their case further:
'The virtual conveyor belt of union officials immediately taking up posts as senior industrial-relations managers or consultants with construction firms after leaving office adds to the impression of a cosy club.'
Derek Pattison and I wrote in the conclusion to our book for Tameside Trade Union Council titled 'Boys on the Blacklist'  that '[There] seems to have [been] imported a climate of collusion between some paid union officials and some building site companies in which the union officials helped to identify individual workers.' 
And we were driven to argue that:   'The historic introduction of an American style of trade unionism through the Joint Industry Board (JIB) with the Electrical Engineers & Plumbing Trades Union (EEPTU) in the 1970s, may have been responsible for promoting this situation and creating this culture.'
Since we wrote those words we have both read what Jonathan Jeffries, who like me was involved with the TGWU in Gibraltar, he joined UCATT in London in the 1990s and told Smith and Chamberlain how unions recruit companies rather than workers:
'The contractor would suddenly bring in all these membership forms filled in, in a bundle and then deduct the subs.  This isn't the usual situation where an individual worker decides to join the union or a shop steward approaches them and recruits them.  This is their employer saying you have to be in the union.'
One sub-contractor, Michael Fahey of Daf Electrical Contractors Ltd., even told the Manchester Employment Tribunal in 2004:
'Amicus [trade union] is our union... we pay the union dues for the men.' (see 'Boys on the Blacklist')
In her evidence to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee the Assistant General secretary of Unite, Gail Cartmail said:
'Sometimes employers change tactics.  We have a prominent site in London with Crossrail, and there is evidence of a contractor company suddenly having a conversion on the road to Damascus and paying the trade-union contributions for its workforce.'
Jack Winder, former director of information and research at the Economic League, told MPs on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee;
'While I was with the League we had very good relations with certain trade-union leaders, who were concerned about problems caused by the far left.'
In the light of all this evidence of possible complicity one would have thought, if only to clear the air, that a Regional Industrial Sector Committee [Risc] sitting in Liverpool, with lay members on it,  would have been keen to consider a motion on the Ethical Procurement Policies of local Councils from the Bury Unite Commercial Branch.  The idea of ethical procurement being to ensure that local authorities don't continue to give public contracts to companies that blacklist workers.  What we have here is a kind of conspiracy by a class of bosses in the British building trade, that seeks to weed out people for raising problems of pay, conditions, health and safety.  Gail Cartmail in her e-mail to me describes 'blacklisting [as] a sin of employers'!   If that is the case ought not the North West Unite Local Authority Risc., chaired by Sid Grave, to have at least discussed the motion, and not to have met the proposal with the silence of the grave?

George Orwell said somewhere that all societies suffer from the problem of apathy, and in England trade unions like Unite demonstrate a degree of apathy when they fail to tackle motions over the blacklisting of members.  Yet, if such unions should consequently go on the challenge the freedom of their members to speak out about these things then they display a weakness of spirit and robustness, which suggests that they are about to go into decline.

No comments: