Royle Family star Ricky Tomlinson addressed a packed public meeting of almost 200 trade unionists on Wednesday night as part of a TUC campaign against the blacklisting of union activists. Tomlinson, who was jailed for 2 years in the 1970’s after taking part in the first national builders’ strike in 1972, has been campaigning for the release of Government documents which he claims will show the charges of “conspiracy” brought against him and other strikers to be spurious and politically-motivated.
York & District TUC, who organised the event, claim that blacklisting is still taking place today, citing the example of the blacklisting firm The Consulting Association, whose director Ian Kerr was fined in 2009 under the Data Protection Act for circulating names of union activists to clients in the construction industry. Maggie Hazlehurst, senior organiser for the Unite union, raised her concerns about the Crossrail project and said that major construction companies were engaging in unlawful activity by blacklisting trade unionists, but that because of lack of action on behalf of the Government the practice itself was not a criminal offence. She said it was “scandalous” that Mr Kerr’s legal costs had been paid by the MacAlpine Group, one of the Consulting Association’s clients.
Denis Doody, former president of the construction union UCATT, spoke about the personal tragedy of Des Warren, one of Tomlinson’s co-workers, who was jailed for 3 years and subjected to treatment with Largactil, an anti-psychotic drug that causes Parkinson-type symptoms; he died from Parkinson’s Disease in 2004. Referring to the appalling health and safety conditions of construction workers in the 1970’s, Mr Doody said that “even today, construction workers who raise legitimate concerns about health and safety are finding themselves blacklisted. This practice is a fundamental breach of human rights.”
York TUC president Leigh Wilks said that companies who blacklist workers because of union activity are “a boil on the backside of humanity”. Referring to York City Council’s proposal to build thousands of new homes in the city, he said he had been advised that an outright ban on tenders for contracts from companies engaged in blacklisting could leave the council open to legal action, but that the unions would attempt to find a way around it. “It’s not the job of the TUC to prosecute these people”, he said. “But it is our job to ensure that those who want to do business in this city do so in a way that is honest, fair, open and transparent. Going forward, we will be consulting with lawyers from Unite and UCATT to find a way to ensure that is the case.”
Ricky Tomlinson said previous Home Secretaries including Kenneth Clark and Jack Straw had refused to release the documents relating to the convictions on the grounds of “national security”, and that some time ago he had launched an e-petition demanding the documents be released. “However,” he said, “For reasons unknown to us, thousands of people found they were unable to sign it, so we are now reverting to paper petitions instead. And when we have the number of signatures we need, we’ll be knocking on the door of No.10.”