Thursday, September 21, 2006

Balfour Beatty: blacklisting trade union activists?

The practice of employers running 'blacklists' - lists of trade union activists and workers with leftist political affiliations, in order to vet job applicants - was commonplace until comparatively recently.

The best-known organisation of this kind was an extreme rightwing grouping known as the Economic League, which operated from 1919 until officially being wound up in 1993. It kept records on around 20,000 people.

Most of them weren't hardcore Leninist cadre. In many cases, they were simply people who may have, say, attended a few Communist Party meetings or handed out leaflets on a picket line. Still others were victims of mistaken identity.

Some, of course, were paid-up commies, anarchists or Trots. But so what? Being a member of a far left organisation wasn't against the law last time I checked.

But however names ended up on the files, the end result was the same. Working class people were denied employment opportunities and thus the chance to provide for themselves and their families.

When the Economic League formally shut up shop, I was working as a journalist on a couple of radical newspapers. Presumably because they thought I might be interested in the story, person or persons anonymous sent me details of a new company called Caprim Ltd, set up by former Economic League personnel and obviously in the same line of work. It was a nice little scoop for me at the time.

Caprim seems to have been functioning as late as 2000. But I've just checked on the Companies House website and there is no record that the company still exists or, indeed, ever existed. Never mind. I still have a microfilm of its details sitting in a box file for the sake of posterity.

Now there are renewed claims that blacklisting continues in the building industry, always one of its main bastions. Alan Wainwright is a former manager with Haden Young, a subsidiary of construction major Balfour Beatty, and is in the process of taking the company to an Employment Tribunal, alleging constructive dismissal.

The case is likely to be heard in Birmingham in November. Mr Wainwright says that he will provide proof that the company operates a blacklisting procedure, and several victims are reportedly willing to back his allegations. Meanwhile, he taken to writing a blog, on which he has actually published some of the blacklists concerned. This is what he has this to say:

'I have reasonable grounds to believe that certain UK construction companies and their mechanical and electrical subsidiaries operate a blacklisting procedure to ensure certain electrical operatives do not gain employment on their projects. This is based on procedures I have undertaken in the workplace in previous roles ...

'I am therefore very interested to hear from any electricians, especially those on the lists, who have experienced difficulty in gaining or maintaining employment on any Carillion plc, Crown House Engineering, Drake and Scull Engineering, Balfour Beatty plc, Balfour Kilpatrick, Haden Young or ... other project over the last six years.'

Anybody that can help his case should contact him through the website.

Oh, and for those that don't know them, Balfour Beatty is of course a major beneficiary of PFI, and is part of the Metronet joint venture that runs about 75% of the London Underground network.

[Hat top: Freedom, the excellent anarchist fortnightly]

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