Blacklisted Unite candidate speaks out

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Blacklisting of workers is a ‘national scandal’. And the scandal is that it has gone on for so long and not enough was done by those shouting the loudest now, say grassroots candidate Jerry Hicks

Millions of people would be forgiven for thinking that the illegal blacklisting of over 3,000 construction workers has suddenly been discovered. Yet it has been the worst kept secret for over two decades that those who spoke up with concerns for Health and Safety on construction sites or defended wages and conditions were punished and denied employment.

Brave people paid a heavy price as each year, each month, each day brought more discrimination – more lives were being wrecked, houses lost to repossession, stress induced ill health, heart attacks and even worse.

It was more than 3 years ago in 2009 when the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) raided the offices of the Consultancy Association and found the illegal records of files kept on 3,200 workers. Ian Kerr was fined a paltry £5,000 for storing information contrary to the Data Protection Act. To add insult to injury, the fine was paid not by Mr Kerr but by the employers who had enlisted his services.

Then last year before he met with his untimely death Ian Kerr ‘spilled the beans’ when he gave evidence to the Scottish Select Committee.

Jerry Hicks UniteJerry Hicks, who is on the illegal blacklist, says, “There are those that liken this to the ‘phone hacking’ scandal, but I believe this has more similarities to the Jimmy Saville scandal. How many institutions knew or suspected? How many employers outside of the contributors knew? How many MPs suspected or knew? How many union officials suspected or knew and perhaps benefited? What and how much did the police know?”

Why the lack of effective action? Why has it been left to the determined struggle of the Blacklisting Support Group along with some very courageous people already on the list to expose the abuses and attempt to redress the wrongs and bring those responsible to book?

As a spokesperson for the Information Commissioner’s Office rightly pointed out to today’s outcry from trade union leaders, “Where were the unions 3 years ago?”

Jerry Hicks, the only challenger in the current election for Unite General Secretary, said “The union had the perfect opportunity to confront blacklisting employers. The Olympics could have, should have been the time and the vehicle to take on and defeat the blacklist, It would have propelled the abuse into the national news. It was an opportunity lost.”

Back in 2010, Jerry Hicks was among those protesting at the Olympic site over workers failing to find employment there. At the same time, trade union leaders at the TUC conference only a mile away made speeches about the need for ‘civil unrest’, yet not one of them came to the protest.

It would seem that some band standing is going on here. After all, who spoke out the loudest or even at all during those long grim years? Labour in office? Unite’s leadership? Jerry Hicks pointed out “Two years ago during the last election for the top job in the UK’s biggest Union I was the only one of four candidates that made blacklisting in construction an issue and to promise to redress the wrongs – both in my campaign and election address. Mr McCluskey and Ms Cartmail – also candidates – chose not to mention it. They obviously had other priorities. Perhaps for them it has only just become a National Scandal.”

Now there is another election on for Unite’s General Secretary, it having been called ‘out of the blue’, brought forward 3 years and fast tracked.

To many it seemed as though it would go uncontested, allowing McCluskey to extend his term of office without actually going to the members. But Jerry Hicks has challenged and is well on his way to securing the 50 branch nominations required to force the ballot of 1.5 million members.

Jerry Hicks said “There are two candidates, one on the blacklist who has always spoken out and acted against it and one who decides to shout about it now it has hit the headlines. In life everything is about timing. I have my views as to why Mr McCluskey has chosen now, but I leave it to you to draw your own conclusion.” He added, “Labour ‘shadow business minister’ Chukka Ummna is now calling for an investigation into allegations that firms involved in major projects, including the Olympics and Crossrail, blacklisted workers. Great! But why wait until in opposition? What did Labour do during its 3 terms and 13 years in government? As every year went by demands for justice went unanswered, while trade unions poured money into their coffers.”

Unite’s General Secretary Len McCluskey calls for a “Leveson-style enquiry” which is correct but also an easy demand now that it has already hit the headlines. Why didn’t the Unite leadership maximise the opportunities that previously came their way to highlight the abuse?

Assistant General Secretary Gail Cartmail, who openly supports Len McCluskey in his election campaign, described the 40 or so guilty firms on Radio 5 Live as  – “an industry in denial, failing even to apologise”. She is right. However, it’s not just employers that Unite officials can be hard on. In 2011 when 8 construction companies gave notice of unilateral withdrawal from a national agreement ‘BESNA’, 500 Unite electricians took matters into their own hands, met, agreed and embarked on a year long campaign of protests and unofficial actions which proved to be a very successful strategy. Official backing did eventually come ‘better late than never’.But Unite’s initial response to this campaign beggars belief.

In an email to Gail Cartmail copied to every Unite construction official and some staff, the National Officer for Construction Bernard McAuley began “Good morning Gail, in reference to our conversation last night” and went on to spew his bile at those very same members of the union describing them as a ‘cancerous group’, ‘opportunists’, ‘mindless individuals’ and mentioned Jerry Hicks by name.

When he received this email fourth hand, Jerry Hicks challenged this outrageous and libelous diatribe and its wide circulation. No formal apology ever came nor condemnation, and both officials are still responsible for ‘looking after’ construction members. It is easy to see how by design or carelessness names can appear on blacklists.

Legal action is being taken on behalf of a number of construction workers, who are seeking compensation for having their names on the blacklist. But shamefully this, the only major court case, is a private case brought by the workers themselves and not funded by Unite. It has been left to the good offices of Guney, Clark & Ryan to take legal action on behalf of the construction workers.

Just as the blacklist was more than just rumoured for years, so was the possible involvement of some union officials in supplying information to the consultancy agency. A Leveson-style enquiry that Len McCluskey now calls for, may embarrassingly prove if union officials were involved, where internal union investigations have failed in the past to find sufficient evidence.

Jerry Hicks said “In life, chances to really make a difference come and go. The Vestas occupation on the Isle of Wight was one. It was wasted, I believe the best chance to save the Remploy factories would have been protests and occupations during the Paralympics but that chance went begging. There will be other chances to fight injustice and the Con-Dem cuts but who will recognise them and act and who will inspire people to believe that big victories are possible?”

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Jerry Hicks was runner up in Unite’s General Secretary election of 2010 beating two senior national officials and securing 52,527 votes. He can be contacted by mobile 07817827912 or email [email protected]

Anyone who believes they may be affected by the Consulting Association Blacklist should first contact the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on 0303 123 1113.

If you find you are on the list, you should immediately contact Guney Clark & Ryan Solicitors (GCR) on 02072757788 between 8am and 8pm. GCR have been representing innocent blacklisted workers in their fight against the major construction giants since 2009, and have over 100 clients on board already. Most importantly, GCR and the barristers they have instructed (led by Hugh Tomlinson QC) are working under a Conditional Fee Agreement (no-win-no-fee type arrangement) and have insured the case with QBE Insurance.

Anyone who contacts GCR can be assured of their confidentiality and professionalism, and that the call will be on an obligation-free basis.

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