By John Millington
Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna called for a government investigation into blacklisting today, following new evidence put forward by Sir Robert McAlpine director Cullum McAlpine.
Speaking to the blacklisting debate in parliament Mr Umunna urged Business secretary Vince Cable to launch an investigation into the practice and whether security firms have been involved in supplying information of trade unionists to employers.
He told the House of Commons that he had seen the blacklisting files and it was “clear” that it “seems improbable” that personal information on workers and their activities came solely from the construction firms.
Calling for a government inquiry, he added: “Questions over the police role in blacklisting must be investigated.”
However Mr Cable merely stated he would look at evidence from the Scottish Affairs Select Committee and from trade unions that blacklisting continues to carry on in workplaces today.
Blacklisted workers and their families have gone one step further and called for a full public inquiry into how they were disqualified from working in the construction industry, simply for being active trade unionists.
Sir Robert McAlpine director Cullum McAlpine yesterday dithered and danced around questions about his personal involvement with the Consulting Association – a company that kept details of workers on secret files which were available to major construction employees.
He admitted to being the first chairman of the shady outfit from 1993-96 and that his company was the biggest user of the list in the last 12 months of its existence before it was wound up in 2009.
Mr McAlpine admitted that checks took place on thousands of workers at the Olympics, MOD projects and other major publicly funded projects across the UK for over a decade.
Scottish select Committee MP’s led by Labour’s Ian Davidson grilled the construction boss for nearly 2 hours but a stubborn Mr McAlpine repeatedly avoided answering several questions for “legal reasons.”
Former construction worker and Dundee Labour MP Jim McGovern suggested in that for over years the company had been “up to its neck and beyond in blacklisting workers.”
“I was an apprentice in the mid 70’s, I worked with a Dundee company on a building site in Perth and we were told when we went on site not to say we were from Dundee because McAlpine’s did not allow Dundee people on their site,” he said.
“So it is not true to say that McAlpine did not only blacklist individuals but in fact blacklisted a whole city?”
Mr McAlpine retorted that his company had “never ever operated a blacklist, full stop” and suggested that site Edinbrugh site managers were merely more comfortable with workers from Edinburgh.
But a bemused Labour MP Pamela Nash asked Mr McAlpine: “You just said that McAlpine ltd have never operated a blacklist. Are you saying that the Consulting Association list was not a blacklist?”
“I can’t answer that,” said Mr McAlpine.
Mr Davidson then asked: “What do you think the Consulting Association was doing then?”
“Can you define what you think blacklisting means if it is not what the Consulting Association was doing?”
A dithering Mr McAlpine suggested a blacklist was something that automatically denied people work rather than merely providing companies with information on individuals.
Reacting to the comments, Scaffolder and blacklisted worker Mick Abbot who has been unable to work for McAlpine’s since the 1970s said: “Cullum McAlpine is the ugly face of big business. Completely unapologetic about the lives he has ruined or the torment he caused our wives and children.”
“Tax payers money has been spent on blacklisting workers who raised legitimate health and safety concerns or who were members of a trade union.”
“This is a human rights scandal bigger than phone-hacking. Corporations should not be above the law: blacklisted workers demand justice.”
“Given McAlpine’s evidence and the story about police involvement in The Times today, only a full public inquiry will expose the true web of lies, collusion and abuse of corporate power.”
The bumbling boss’s performance has only added fuel to calls for a public inquiry and further suggestions by blacklisted workers that secret “encrypted” blacklists are being operated by companies on the net.
RMT assistant general secretary and blacklisted worker Steve Hedley said: “One of our members Frank Morris along with 28 other workers were dismissed from the Crossrail project because he raised health and safety concerns.”
A Blacklist Support group spokesman who did not want to be named added: “We still think blacklisting is in operation.”
“The evidence today shows that trade union reps are still being refused work by construction employers.
“The only difference between the Consulting Association and today is that companies will be using an encrypted website with a code or login to see a list.”
The Times newspaper also revealed that the late Ian Kerr who worked for the Consulting Association claimed in his final interview that security service representatives attended meetings of the firm.
According to the Times: Mr Kerr alleged that:
Local trade union organisers, including officials from Ucatt and Amicus, passed the names of some of their own members to senior HR managers at construction companies.
The association had close links with the police and security services, exchanging information on environmental activists and construction workers, and at least one senior officer attended a CA meeting.
Two companies, Sir Robert McAlpine and Vinci Construction, contributed towards Mr Kerr’s legal and winding-up costs in closing down the association. Mr Kerr claimed that McAlpine also agreed to pay a court-ordered fine in exchange for his silence, repeating an allegation he made to MPs in November.