By John Millington
The publicity surrounding blacklisting and calls for a government inquiry is being welcomed by blacklisted workers and their families with Labour MP Chuka Umunna leading the charge in parliament.
MP after MP spoke about constituents contacting them about being blacklisted and how it has ruined their lives.
Birmingham MP Jack Dromey called for construction companies to be put in the dock over the abuse and others pointed out that blacklisting had taken place in other industries such as manufacturing.
And Labour MP for Derbyshire North East Natascha Engel took a different tack and evoked the memory of the socialist classic The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists which details the appalling working conditions and the perils of being a trade unionist at the turn of the 20th century.
The book is not only a great read as a story but goes to the heart of working in capitalist Britain – exploitation and profit.
The “Money Trick” performed by the lead character Owen in the book explains how no matter how many hours workers work they will always be poor if they stay a worker.
At the same time the example reveals the class nature of British society.
It is an old example to be sure but workers still sell their labour today and bosses still own companies and workplaces.
What has been missing from this whole blacklisting debate is why employers took it upon themselves to invest time energy and resources into the Economic League and then the Consulting Association – all for the purpose of keeping certain workers off their sites.
Labour MP’s have attempted to extol the virtues of trade unionists in that they keep people safe and in some cases improve the profits of companies by being more efficient.
This is the crux of the matter.
Employers have not gone out of their way spending money, keeping files in secret offices of thousands of workers just to be nasty to annoying trade unionists.
It is because they felt not to do so would damage their profit margins.
Health and Safety – the issue that many of these activists have been blacklisted – even of the most basic kind costs money. If you have few criminal sanctions and a plentiful labour supply then the cost to you of an employee being injured or dying is reduced.
Where is the incentive to invest in preventative measures?
In a time of recession when unemployment is high and people are prepared to work for less especially workers from abroad, the employer has the upper hand.
The fact is profit in capitalist society comes from the excess labour performed by workers; that surplus labour that is above and beyond what they need to perform in order to support themselves.
This surplus is profit for the employer. And the more bosses can reduce wages, conditions including health and safety, the more they can boost their profit margins.
Appealing to the better nature of employers is not a way forward as profit is and will always be king.
Blacklisting is a systematic problem linked to the need of employers to constantly increase profits at the expense of workers, underlined by the fact that Consulting Association chief Ian Kerr has accused security services of being present at blacklist briefings.
Many activists and blacklisted workers believe the practice is still going on today; the technology is there through the internet and so is the incentive to blacklist.
A public inquiry followed by criminal prosecutions of blacklisting employers as a minimum is a step in the right direction.
Challenging the systematic nature of exploitation is the next more difficult step.