A rigorous examination of blacklisting cannot be tacked onto a party political inquiry set up to help the Conservative Party bash unions, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has said. She was speaking after deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said a government review of industrial relations announced last week can be extended to include blacklisting of union activists by employers.
The review’s terms of reference make no explicit reference to blacklisting but both coalition parties said the issue could be addressed since the review will look at “existing legislation to prevent inappropriate or intimidatory actions in trade disputes.”
The government kicked off the review in response to Unite’s highly effective use of ‘leverage’ techniques to get companies to take safety and other union concerns more seriously, making no reference at all to blacklisting at the time. Unite’s smart organising methods, which include demonstrations outside the homes and offices of company directors and targeting shareholders and the wider supply chain, were used to startling effect in the recent Crossrail blacklisting dispute. Electrician Frank Morris was reinstated in September, a year after the union says he was fired for his trade union activity and safety whistleblowing.
Unions say feigning concern about blacklisting when the real objective is a bout of old-fashioned union-bashing is unacceptable. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady told a 20 November union lobby of parliament on blacklisting: “Blacklisting is real. It has ruined thousands of lives. Families are still suffering because a worker joined a union or raised a health and safety issue.
“We need a full inquiry into its scope. It must have the legal power to call witnesses, seize records and put employers on the spot. Companies guilty of blacklisting should be barred from public contracts until they can demonstrate that they understand the basics of human rights and good industrial relations.
“Blacklisting cannot be tacked onto the government inquiry set up purely to devise laws to limit union campaigning. The inquiry is a cheap electoral stunt set up in response to a non-existent problem, a taxpayer-funded initiative devised to generate a union-bashing headline or two for the Conservative election campaign. Everyone knows that we already have the most restrictive laws on unions in any advanced democracy.”
The Blacklist Support Group also rejected the government move. A spokesperson told The Industrial Reporter: “The Tory proposals are nothing more than an anti-union witch hunt masquerading as an inquiry. To equate the blacklist scandal with unites leverage campaign exposes the government’s entire attitude towards organised labour.
“Blacklisting is a human rights conspiracy involving multinational firms and the state. Leverage is perfectly legal protest with an inflatable rat.”
The Guardian reported that Nick Clegg’s remarks suggest the Liberal Democrats are anxious to rebut claims that they have been drawn into a union bashing exercise constructed by the Conservatives. The 20 November TUC-called Day of Action on Blacklisting, which was backed by unions and the Blacklist Support Group, saw hundreds of events and protests organised nationwide.