The biggest blacklisting scandal in the UK led to more than £10 million in compensation payouts
On this day (9 May) five years ago, Thompsons Solicitors supported Unite the union to secure more than £10 million in compensation for families who had suffered the consequences of illegal blacklisting.
Such monumental victories have been the cornerstone of Thompsons’ work within the trade union movement for the last 100 years.
Here, Richard Arthur - head of trade union law – reflects on the victory and what it meant for workers, together with reviewing more recent developments.
“Ever since the formation of Thompsons Solicitors in 1921, blacklisting has plagued the construction industry in the UK. The Economic League, which was formed in 1919 and lasted until 1993, was the precursor to the Consulting Association (CA), but both shared the same goal – to remove ‘troublesome’ trade unionists from key construction roles through illegal vetting, otherwise known as blacklisting.
“The CA operated a clandestine network where member companies, which included household names such as Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, Balfour Beatty and the Kier Group, would call a contact at the CA by phone to check names of new recruits. If any were flagged as a ‘risk’, because of their trade union activities, the company would use that information to decide whether to employ them or not, before destroying any paperwork.
“Thousands of people were shamefully denied the ability to work in construction as a result, simply because they had engaged in lawful trade union activity in the past. Alongside Unite the union, we waged a five-year legal battle against dozens of employers, who felt they were above the law, - and won. This led to payouts of as much as £200,000 for trade union members to cover the significant losses in earnings and the impact of the defamation caused by decades of blacklisting.
“For the members involved, the vindication meant even more than the financial restoration. To be repeatedly refused work, despite being well qualified, solely because you’ve raised legitimate issues in the past, is not what anyone would expect of 21st century Britain. Forcing these giants in the construction industry to finally admit wrongdoing and put their hands in their deep pockets was a major step in righting an historic injustice.
“While CA closed down in 2009, and we saw this landmark victory in 2016, the battle is far from over. Contemporary blacklisting remains a huge concern, and only last year we started acting for a Unite member, Daniel Collins, who claims to have been blacklisted from working on London’s flagship Crossrail project after raising serious safety issues at the start of his employment. We highly doubt he is the only union member who has been denied work and we suspect there is a new network out there that operates in a similar way to the CA, and the Economic League before it.
“Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the trade union movement, we have been relentless in our fight for workers’ rights for 100 years – from employment issues, such as blacklisting, to key legislative improvements on health and safety to reducing the numbers of injuries and industrial diseases for workers across the UK. As long as employers continue to put profits before safety or fairness our fight continues.”