2013 12 – Construction Safety

The Construction Safety Campaign Prepares For A Fighting Future

Sean McGouran

The CSC (Construction Safety Campaign) had its 2014 AGM in The Priory, on Bull Street, in downtown Birmingham.  The Priory is, rather confusingly, a Quaker venue. The CSC met in the William Penn room.  There were about thirty people, all men bar two women, and nearly all Irish. Even the non-Irish speakers like the Cockney chap from the Blacklist Support Group (BSG), tended to be second or third generation Irish.

His talk was interesting and disquieting, he got the actual blacklist under the Freedom of Information legislation. It contained 3200 names, including his own. He was a Safety Rep on three different sites and was thrown off all of them.  What was worse is that a team of private investigators compiled it – with help from the police, the employers (often simply gossip), — and from Trade Union officials.  In the nature of the trade, based on the money-in-hand ‘lump’ (sum), and tax-avoidance, union-organising is very difficult, so quite what UCATT and Unite are about it is difficult to guess.

An aspect of this was the case of the Olympic site, investigating blacklistees cost a mere £2 per check.  The Olympic sites’ cost £28, 000.  Police involvement is interesting, a pivotal figure in this is a former policeman David Clancey. Special Branch keeps files on blacklistees and informs employers if one has been inadvertently employed in their area.

This man mentioned that few politicians are concerned about blacklisting (even as a simple civil liberties problem) – one who is, is Jeremy Corbyn – on the side of the angels in such matters.  Steve Hughes, a Merseyside MEP was noted. It is useful having such matters raised at a ‘European’ level. Steve Hughes is retiring at the next Euro-election and will probably be replaced with a Blairite automaton. Interestingly this was not an EU hate session.  It became evident that the EFBW (European Federation of Building Workers) is strong, especially in France, Germany and Poland.  In most European states there are state-wide organisations for the employers – and the state was (relatively) neutral.

There is no such ‘bosses federation’ in Britain. There are panels for every industry – presumably this is a means of breaking up the workers’ resistance – by offering different ‘targets’.  The CSC and BSG are trying to organise a united front of victimised workers.  They include victims of asbestosis. There is a British Asbestos Newsletter, an academic who was present, whose name I did not note, edits it.  Cathy Garvey, from the West Midlands Asbestos Victims Support Group intervened at this point to mention the Newsletter.  Towards the end of the session she got the discussion down from the stratosphere and suggested using electronic media.  There was general agreement with this, though some of the older men looked slightly alarmed at the thought. The Chair, a man with a Galway (?) accent also suggested a hard-copy Newsletter for the two groups.  A book on blacklisting is being put together by victims and their families and friends.

That news was not the only positive note at this event. BSG got Liberty’s Human Rights Award for its work.  That is not really a big deal in itself, but it is encouraging for a still small organisation.  While trade unions are not able to instigate legal proceedings, only individuals can. UCATT is sponsoring a case to be taken to the ECHR (European Court of Human Rights – an arm of the still-existing Council of Europe, which now includes most of the states of eastern Europe, including Russia).

Direct Labour Organisations are being taken back ‘in house’. The London Borough of Islington, Hull and the Welsh Assembly are reviewing their DLOs.  300 blacklistees (admittedly less than a tenth) demanded to see their files, using a West Midlands law firm, Colly, Clark & Ryan.  The Morning Star was noted as “an invaluable resource” — the CSC had paid for an advertisement in the body of the paper, as well as using its free Saturday listings. Regret was expressed at government deregulation of Health and Safety (though nobody mentioned the fact that the employers have been whinging about H&S for decades.  Presumably nobody had illusions about whose side the Coalition government is on.)

The CSC is not wealthy, but has a fair amount in the bank.  This year it again handed out its Robert Tressel Awards: they are very simple metal-on-wood Awards. I am afraid I did not note who got what. Cathy Garvey and the chap from the BSG (Chas Scott?) were both embarrassed to receive one. Some recipients were not present. I should apologise for an element of vagueness in this report – I arrived rather late – and thought I would recall some initials (I can’t).

The leap forward suggested by Cathy Garvey, by no means an aggressive person, but clearly somebody who gets things done, will be very useful, especially in recruiting younger members to these worthy and necessary groups.

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