Unions complicit in blacklisting militants ...

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Unions complicit in blacklisting militants ...
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At the same time hasn't there

At the same time hasn't there been a campaign going back several years to eliminate blacklisting in the UK, and not just in construction:


Isn't that accusation similar to bringing up the SWP rape scandal and saying "Communism complicit in sex abuse"?

No, it's not similar at all.

No, it's not similar at all. The details about the blacklisting in the construction industry going back to the 1970's started to come out a few years ago and the latest details show the full extent of all the unions that make up Unite involvement. The union collusion seems to take place as a matter of course. The campaign against blacklisting - maybe it's a bit too strong to call it a "campaign" - has mostly taken place through the legal system and into the courts and, while there might be some individual satisfaction, it show a weakness in a class response. It also shows the strength of the bourgeoisie and its trade unions. The trade union campaign against blacklisting is a phoney one because it does and will go on and it's in the nature of the unions to subvert any struggle that it doesn't control.

In my time in and around the unions there were many examples of various officials, including shop-stewards - who tried to isolate and finger a miitant worker or groups of workers. Isolation of workers is the job of the unions and this was clear in the miners' strike at both the general and specific levels: Not only was there isolation across the NUM's structural divides there was isolation of the miners behind the NUM and the isolation of other workers, steel, rail, power, forbidden to join the strike by their union's diktats, often accompanied by threats. Militant miners were grassed up by some officials and some went to prison and many were sacked. Miners were directed by their union to cross picket-lines of sacked miners looking for solidarity. .

Even the blacklisted workers'

Even the blacklisted workers' organization (Blacklist Support Group) isn't making the claim that this was a systematic-orchestrated union-employer arrangement. The employer representatives quoted in the link supplied by Demogorgon support the workers' claim that this particular aspect of the overarching situation involved/involves a small number of unnamed officials/representatives from UCATT-Amicus-Unite. The blacklisted workers' focus is on the fact that the blacklist was and is an employer program, tool and weapon; not some kind of trade union conspiracy to silence dissidents and revolutionary workers-- as stated in their platform:

"Justice campaign and support network for anyone caught up in UK construction industry blacklisting scandal. Trade unionists, safety campaigners, lawyers, journalists, academics and environmental activists were all blacklisted by big business.

Multi-national building contractors have for decades compiled a secret database of union members in the UK construction industry. It was finally exposed in 2009 after a raid on the offices of the Consulting Association that operated the blacklist on behalf of the major companies.

Union members were denied work over many years because they had been stewards or safety reps on previous building projects. Raising concerns about asbestos, poor toilet facilities or unpaid wages would result in a union members name being added to this blacklist.

Evidence has come out in court cases and in parliament that shows that some of the blacklist information was supplied by the police or the security services.

Blacklist Support Group demand:
A full public inquiry by UK government
A public apology from the firms
Set up a compensation Fund
Employ blacklisted workers on their projects
NO public contracts for proven blacklisting companies
Criminal charges against the human rights abusers"

With the news of possible collusion between (what is being portrayed so far as mere handfuls of officers, reps and/or staff of various unions since the '70s), their open letter to Unite on the subject is rather subdued:


I agree that the legal campaign, that was most likely launched shortly after the "Consulting Association" raid going public, will likely drag on and join a long list of other parliamentary initiatives that work out like trying to turn an aircraft carrier around, though I don't know the in's and out's of TUC (and individual unions) involvement in the passage of the "Employment Relations Act 1999 (Blacklists) Regulations 2010" that technically made blacklisting illegal in the UK. But, I find it hard to imagine such a law being passed without it/them.


Blacklisting: aberration or part of a pattern?

At the same time hasn't there been a campaign going back several years to eliminate blacklisting in the UK, and not just in construction.

There are also campaigns to improve democracy, but that doesn't mean democracy is something that functions in favour of workers. The unions lead these campaigns, just as they organise struggles, in order to fulfill their function: forming a cordon sanitaire around class struggle and making sure it can only take on forms that don't threaten the system.

Isn't that accusation similar to bringing up the SWP rape scandal and saying "Communism complicit in sex abuse"?

Well, you could challenge that statement by pointing out that the SWP has nothing to do with communism. But, to tackle your real argument, that statement could still be valid if you were able to demonstrate that the SWP rape scandal represented a pattern within Trotskyist political organisations.

So the question is whether the blacklisting scandal can be seen as part of a systematic pattern of behaviour by the union structure.

The "pattern of behaviour" in the case of the unions is the systematic isolation of radical elements and tendencies within the working class.

To recount an episode from my personal experience, I shocked not a few of my colleagues when I pointed out that a union statement about a forthcoming strike was factually incorrect. They had stated that non-union members couldn't join the strike. This is legally false: as long as the strike is legal, any worker can join the strike. Even the union members I spoke to on the picket line were shocked when I told them the actual situation. The usual official union line on this is usually to avoid the issue and, when it comes up to say, "you can, but we can't represent you if you get in trouble". On this occasion, they appeared to outright lie.

During an earlier strike, at a union meeting (different union) I identified myself as a non-member from a section of the workforce that had not been called out. I  said I was joining them because I didn't believe in crossing picket lines. The union official attempted to shut me down extremely quickly. She refused even to speak to me at the picket or the "mass meeting" (well, about ten of us), because I was ... showing solidarity with the strike! (This strike was also a classic where only one union was going on strike: official guidance from other unions was to cross the picket.)

That's not to say there was no solidarity. The rank and file members didn't care if I was a member or not (they were surprised, of course, and didn't understand my point but happily accepted my presence and support) and even the local reps were very nice - one in particular asked if I'd had any trouble whenever he saw me and obviously cared. Another worker came up to me after the meeting, in obvious disbelief, and said what I had said was inspirational. But from the union structure itself, I had nothing but hostility.

The sabotage of class struggle, the isolation of militants, etc. is inherent and systematic in the structure of the unions. (This doesn't necessarily mean conscious or planned - although it can be - I mean systematic in the way economic crises are systematic). At their most basic level, unions defend the anti-strike laws put in place by the state. I remember another meeting - not in my workplace, different sector, different union - where I challenged the officials to take on a more radical stance. They responded with "we'd love to, but it's illegal". When I said "of course it's illegal ... it might be effective! ... are you defending us or the rules put in place by the bosses?" they had nothing to offer but regret, chagrin and moving the meeting onto something else.

The days of unions being tools of workers against the state are long gone. Today, they enforce the state diktats and bosses agreements within the working class and police the latter to make sure troublesome elements and tendencies remain neutralised. They tell members to cross the pickets of other workers, refuse to support their members that do, work to isolate those who challenge these policies, etc. Whatever their subjective intentions, their practical activity makes them enemies of the working class.

When these methods of neutralisation become overtly repugnant to the point where it threatens their credibility, they launch "investigations". Just like the police launch investigations into their systematic infiltration of political groups or police brutality. And, it's fair to say, there may be many within the union hierarchy that are genuinely horrified by what some of their colleagues have done - but you'll find individual police officers with great personal integrity who are disgusted by some of the things that go on in their workplace, too.

None of this changes the fact that all these "aberrant" behaviours are, in fact, concrete expressions of the fundamental role that these organisations play in the social structure. A particular act may be the product of  "a few bad apples" or a more conscious, planned strategy, but that is ultimately irrelevant: these behaviours are expressions of what the unions are ... just as police counterintelligence, individual acts of brutality, etc. are expressions of the fundamental role of the police.

My main issue is with the

My main issue is with the method to reach the political position here. I think these statements are equal:

“Unions complicit in blacklisting militants”

“Communism complicit in sex abuse”

Demogorgon writes, “that statement could still be valid if you were able to demonstrate that the SWP rape scandal represented a pattern within Trotskyist political organisations.

So the question is whether the blacklisting scandal can be seen as part of a systematic pattern of behaviour by the union structure”

The problem is, the latter statement starts from the premise that the SWP calls itself communist; so it wouldn’t be that Trotskyism is culpable, but that all nominal communists (Trotskyist and non-Trotskyist) are culpable for the actions of its members and leaders; the same as saying that all unions (leaders, members, organizations) are culpable for the actions of a handful of officials-reps-staff from British construction unions over a period of decades. The ironic part of the former accusation is that at least some if not most or all of the blacklisted construction workers are still involved in their unions in some capacity, so they too would be as guilty as those handfuls of officials-reps-staff in their own blacklisting!

This method is essentially cumulative, and works the same as the method of The Black Book of Communism: Jim Jones’ Red Brigades are the same as the Cheka, the Petrograd Soviet is the same as Democratic Kampuchea—everything every self-identified communist has done anywhere in any context throughout history is then deposited on the threshold of communism itself, communism is culpable for everything everywhere all the time. That’s a dangerous political method.

The other issue is the interpretation of the facts-in-evidence. Of course, it’s entirely possible that when more of the investigation goes public, more people testify, possible leaks are made to the media, etc., it could come out that either individual unions or a group of unions in the construction industry were formally involved in the blacklist of construction (or other industry) workers going back decades—but does anyone think that is at all likely? Is it likely that there was a formal link between the employers, state (since the police and security services have been proven complicit in the blacklist) and trade unions? I don’t see how that kind of claim can be made.

Going by what is available, it’s hyperbolic to suggest a larger conspiracy when even the employers are only speaking to what were/are essentially casual, personal, incidental links between a handful of officers-reps-staff and the employers’ blacklisting operation.

There's no conspiracy, just

There's no conspiracy, just the unions doing what they've been doing all over the world for decades: acting as functionaries of the state. Another very important example from the miners' strike of 84: at the beginning of the strike there was a real possibility that steel workers in South Wales would join the action. At Llanwern particularly there were thousands of steelworkers concentrated and there were close personal and family links with many miners and their communities. The ICC had been leafletting Llanwern for some time and I thought that is was certain that the steelworkers would walk out en masse and this, at the beginning of the strike, would have given an enormous boost to its extension. But the ISTC steel union branch inside the plant (having done a secret deal with the Tory government) explicitly warned the workers that if there was any solidarity action by workers the support from the union would be withdrawn, i.e., they would be sacked with no recourse to appeal. I didn't think it would wash but it did and the unions turned out to be stronger in disciplining the workers by threatening them with losing their jobs, than the ties of solidarity. This was a generally familiar story of all the major unions throughout the strike.

From the 1960's and the waves of militant strikes throughout Britain, more and more clear evidence is emerging of the role of some very important trade union officials, some very militiant, in the secret services with some acting as paid agents for MI5. In the face of this, blacklisting or isolating militant workers would have been bread and butter issues for the unions.

There's other issues here,

There's other issues here, but primarily what I'm getting at is that the available information does not suggest that the organizations Unite, Amicus & UCATT (all Unite now anyway) were formally, structurally, even unofficially, complicit in the blacklisting of construction workers in the UK-- and further, that the conduct of trade union officers-reps-staff and organizations in other struggles in the UK are not evidence of such complicity by Unite-Amicus-UCATT in the 'Consulting Association' blacklisting scandal that became public circa 2009. It's dangerous to use that particular method. That doesn't mean that it can't be true re: Unite and co., just that with what's available, there's no basis for it. I mean, what is public is bad enough, and enough to work from. The same could be said of this:

"From the 1960's and the waves of militant strikes throughout Britain, more and more clear evidence is emerging of the role of some very important trade union officials, some very militiant, in the secret services with some acting as paid agents for MI5"

I don't doubt it. There's some really great (and frightening) details available of the involvement of a very small number of American trade union officers and ex-communists in splitting and sabotaging the labor movements in a very large number of countries after 1945--funded by and at the behest of American intelligence--with the results still visible and alive today. 

But the same can be said of revolutionaries, with our own lurid history of snitches, spies, provocateurs, etc. That doesn't mean anything in particular about communism (beyond the interest of the bourgeoisie in its rending, marginalization and ultimate extinction).