Something Is Rotten in Unite Ucatt: Jerry Swain remains!

5

14/03/2019 by socialistfight

In the Unite diary Bernard McAulay and Jerry Swain are listed as the National Officers of Unite Construction, Unite Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (Ucatt). It is now ten years since the Blacklisting scandal broke. When their offices were raided in February 2009 the Consulting Association was found in possession of blacklisting files on 3,213 workers and probably had many more; the figure of 60,000 is mentioned. It compiled the names from public records but also secretly and perhaps illegally from police spies (“Mark Cassidy”, Mark Jenner of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad [SDS]) and others, including union officials.

The public inquiry set up by the then Home Secretary Theresa May in April 2005 revealed that Metropolitan Police units, the Special Demonstration Squad, the Special Operations Squad, the Special Demonstration Squad and the Special Duties Section spied on the following groups:

Anarchist groups, Animal Liberation Front, Anti-Apartheid Movement, Anti-Fascist Action, Big Flame, Black Power movement, Brixton Hunt Saboteurs, Colin Roach Centre, Dambusters Mobilising Committee, Dissent!, Earth First!, Essex Hunt Saboteurs, Friends of Freedom Press Ltd, Globalise Resistance, Independent Labour Party, Independent Working Class Association, International Marxist Group, International Socialists, Irish National Liberation Solidarity Front, London Animal Action, London Animal Rights Coalition, London Boots Action Group, London Greenpeace, Militant, No Platform, Antifa, Operation Omega, Reclaim the Streets, Red Action, Republican Forum, Revolutionary Socialist Students Federation, Socialist Party, Socialist Workers Party, South London Animal Movement (SLAM), Tri-Continental, Troops Out Movement, Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, West London Hunt Saboteurs, Workers Revolutionary Party, Young Haganah, Young Liberals, Youth against Racism in Europe. [1]

Up to 40 of the top construction firms availed itself of the service of the Consulting Association, including Carillion, Balfour Beatty, Skanska, Kier, Costain, Laing O’Rourke and McAlpine. Almost two years ago there was an election for Unite General Secretary. Rob Evens published an article in The Guardian, on 4 April 2017, Union officials face allegations of collusion over blacklisted workers, sub headed, Files revealed during high court action show some employees were labelled ‘troublesome’ by union staff and were denied work by companies. [2]

Len McCluskey and Gail Caertmail:
In 2015 McCluskey promised to “set up an independent union inquiry to investigate all evidence made available, I will not allow any officer who has colluded in blacklisting to work for Unite,” and Cartmail said: “Only a full public inquiry with judicial authority will fully explain the depth to which the state and employers colluded to deny construction workers employment.”

Evans recounted that both Len McCluskey, the incumbent GS, who was seeking (and got early) re-election and the acting General Secretary (now Assistant General Secretary), Gail Cartmail, promised action on the evidence that was in the public domain and which he had highlighted. Evens tells us that McCluskey promised to “set up an independent union inquiry to investigate all evidence made available, I will not allow any officer who has colluded in blacklisting to work for Unite,” and Cartmail said: “Only a full public inquiry with judicial authority will fully explain the depth to which the state and employers colluded to deny construction workers employment.”

Two years later we are still waiting for any enquiry of any type. Ucatt had merged with Unite on 1 January 2017, following a Ucatt conference decision in May 2016 and an 85.5% vote of members in favour in November. But a huge scandal hung over this merger. Because during the court case of the blacklisted workers seeking compensation Evans tells us that:

“According to signed statements by managers involved in running the blacklist, trade union officials helped to get some of their own members excluded from jobs as they wanted to prevent disruption on industrial sites. Files from the blacklist show that trade union officials described individual workers as “militant”, a “troublemaker”, or with a warning to be “careful”. Evidence of the apparent collusion between trade union officials and managers has led a group of 41 blacklisted workers to call on Unite to commission an independent inquiry into the claims.”

And he points to yet more evidence:

The blurb says:
“DANNY SULLIVAN GROUP WIN “BEST CONSTRUCTION SUPPLIER TO WORK WITH” AT THE CONSTRUCTION ENQUIRER AWARDS “.
Building workers blacklisted by this scoundrel have a far different tale to tell.

“Daniel (Danny) O’Sullivan, who was once chairman of the secret agency that operated the blacklist, worked for more than 30 years until 2008 as a manager in the construction industry. He said that as part of his job, he had meetings with senior union officials. These included representatives from Unite and the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (Ucatt), which has merged with Unite.

“O’Sullivan said his discussions “made clear to me that the union officials were also concerned to prevent unnecessary disruption on site. Occasionally, union officials would give me information concerning a particular individual”. He gave as an example a worker who was described on his file in 2005 as a “troublemaker” by a union official.

“Another manager involved in running the blacklist was Dudley Barratt, who worked as the head of industrial relations at the Costain construction firm in the 1980s and 1990s. He said he was friendly with officials in a number of trade unions who appeared to be aware of the covert blacklist.

He added they “would occasionally tell me names of individuals who they thought should not be employed on sites, on the basis that there might be a risk of these individuals using the opportunity to cause trouble to undermine a project and the official trade union activities on that site.”

“Overall, I gained the impression that there was a quiet acceptance by certain construction trade unions of the [blacklist] and the ‘benefits’ of the checking service as such individuals could be disruptive of organised labour and the unions saw the benefit of having an organised site.”

Even though these “senior union officials” were not named by these two blacklisters and the task of any inquiry would be to find and sack these class traitors, we do have one name of a senior union official who participated in the blacklist and who is still employed by Unite; Jerry Swain, the joint head of Unite Construction, still called Ucatt, although the “U” now stands for Unite.  

Evans points us in the direction:

Brian Higging (right)
“The book says I raged against the blacklist. I did and still do. But I have to say the thing about it which angers, in fact, enrages me most, is that some fulltime officials undoubtedly aided and abetted blacklisting of rank and file union members and some are probably still doing this as the Blacklist continues.”

“Entries in the file on bricklayer Brian Higgins, who has also received compensation for being blacklisted, identify union officials as the source of information about his union activities in 1992, 2002 and 2003. In one, an official state that Higgins “is connected” to a rank-and-file organisation of builders that campaigned for better conditions.”

Campaigning for better condition for building workers was a very serious crime in the eyes of the employers and those senior union officials who assisted in operating the backlist. In early 2015 Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain produced a book, Blacklisted, The Secret War between Big Business and Union Activists. The book revealed that Brian Higgins had succeeded in getting his own blacklisting file and a page showed a union official handing over his name, with the name of the official redacted. Subsequently he obtained the un-redacted paper and that name was Jerry Swain, then London and Eastern regional Secretary of Ucatt.

Brian, Secretary of the rank and file Building Workers Group, reviewed it:

“The book says I raged against the blacklist. I did and still do. But I have to say the thing about it which angers, in fact, enrages me most, is that some fulltime officials undoubtedly aided and abetted blacklisting of rank and file union members and some are probably still doing this as the Blacklist continues.

“It is painfully obvious building employers – who regularly wined and dined fulltime union officials, took some on golf outings and to sporting contests, to very expensive posh hotels, and even on visits to the Naval and Military Gentlemen’s Club – would demand some things in return! After all there is no such thing as a free lunch and we’re talking about this with knobs on here! Don’t tell us that sometimes the names of site union militants and activists did not come up, and what fulltime officials said, in these circumstances, did not end up on some Consulting Association (CA) files. This sort of socialising, fraternising and consorting with building employers masquerading as ‘negotiations’ is corrupt and corrupting in the extreme. It’s absolutely disgusting to think that while fulltime union officials were doing this many rank and file union members were being blacklisted out of existence!”

This is not just a fight about historic injustices. On the sites today very often, the agency pays the union for members who never get a card or even know they are nominally members of the union. This is apart from the regular brown envelopes officials get to assist in sacking militant workers, etc. We have reports from one of the supposed best organised sites by Unite Construction (Ucatt), Hinkley Point, in Somerset, a £20 Billion job. Here, we are told, a named Agency Director attends union meetings at the invite of the union. Obviously, no worker can complain of anything in these circumstances. Back in March 2018 over 500 workers sat in and refused to work when they found that the company was refusing to pay them for time laid off because of the snow (the ‘Beast from the East’), despite union agreements. They got no support from Unite, who then claimed credit when the management caved in because of the militancy of the workers. So outraged were the union members at this treachery that they all declared their intention to leave Unite. But the Agency Director told them at the ‘union meeting’ that this was a union job and if they left the union, they would all be sacked! So, this is not a union at all, it is company union whose job is to make sure that the site is not organised.

And Construction Agency employment terms are even worse than Zero Hours Contracts in other gig economy sectors; militant workers are simply refused the offer of further work on flimsy excuses and no need to apply to Unite for assistance. Or they may be sent to jobs hundreds of miles away, if they don’t go, they have breached their contract and are sacked by the Agency. A missing glove or a hard hat or goggles temporarily removed gets the sack for any mouthy worker. The past gains of workers in struggle are used to victimise workers today.  

How can the sites be organised when the likes of Jerry Swain heads Unite’s Construction section?

Notes


[1] Undercover Policing Inquiry, https://www.ucpi.org.uk/cover-names/?cookie-state-change=1552550785914#_ftn1

[2] Rob Evens, The Guardian, 4/4/2017, Union officials face allegations of collusion over blacklisted workers https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/apr/04/unite-officials-face-allegations-of-collusion-with-firms-that-are-blacklisting-activists

5 thoughts on “Something Is Rotten in Unite Ucatt: Jerry Swain remains!

  1. Geoff S says:

    Disgusting (but perhaps not all that surprising) to hear about contemptible gaffers’ fingermen like Jerry Swain. Hope he and any others like him will be kicked out of the union movement but will left-talkers like Len McCluskey act? Gail Cartmail is surely even less like to do anything and how many Assistant General Secretaries does Unite have these days? I ask ask the Unite official controlling the negotiations with scabby Labour-run Birmingham City Council is Howard Beckett (also in the unelected position of AGS). I would not say all officials are as bad as Swain but the largely appointed and unaccountable bureaucracy in Unite and other unions helps create a bloated caste which in turn helps breed the Swains of this world.

    The other thing I wondered about is whether or not the list of organisations you piece cited ad being spied on in 2009 was surely not exhaustive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • peter TOBIN says:

      Fair play Geoff – am retired chippie/UCATT official & recognise type of corrupt ‘knife & forkers’ identified in post above

      Like

  2. Geoff S says:

    The reference to Birmingham City Council and Unite in my previous posting concerns the bin workers’ strike.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Geoff S says:

    Sorry about this but my first posting was hastily drafted and the last para should have read:

    “The other thing I wondered about is whether or not the list of organisations your piece listed as being spied on by the state in 2009 was exhaustive”.

    Like

  4. I found that stuff here:

    UK political groups spied on by undercover police – search the list
    Database shows overwhelming scale of spying on leftwing and progressive groups

    Do you have information about this story you would like to share?
    Rob Evans

    Wed 13 Feb 2019 10.33 GMT First published on Mon 15 Oct 2018 07.00 BST
    Shares
    14,009
    Undercover police officers have spied on more than 1,000 political groups since 1968. However, no official list of these groups has been published.

    This database is an attempt to compile such a list. It is a work in progress and will be updated as more information is made public. The aim is to make more visible the nature and scope of a covert operation that has spanned more than four decades.

    The information has been compiled following investigations by the Guardian and the Undercover Research Group, a network of activists that scrutinises the covert infiltration of political movements. The group is also publishing a similar database.

    The HN or EN ciphers have been allocated to individual officers at a public inquiry that is examining the infiltration.

    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/ng-interactive/2018/oct/15/uk-political-groups-spied-on-undercover-police-list

    Like

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