Workers Hammer No. 224
A blow against blacklisting
Victimised union activist reinstated
In early September, twelve months after being sacked for trade union activities, in particular blowing the whistle on unsafe working conditions, Unite union militant Frank Morris was reinstated at his job as an electrician at the mammoth Crossrail construction project. A statement by the Blacklist Support Group (BSG), which has taken the lead within the construction trade unions to expose the scourge of blacklisting and took up Morris’s case, hailed this victory as “a kick in the teeth for the blacklisting firms”. Dave Smith, BSG secretary, continued: “Frank Morris is a working class hero. Raise a glass to celebrate — the rest of the trade union movement, please take note” (hazards.org/blacklistblog, 4 September). This victory over the bloodsucking construction bosses was the result of the efforts of Unite and other union members who joined in actively protesting against his victimisation.
As Workers Hammer reported last issue, Morris was booted off the job along with 27 other electrical workers from subcontractor EIS when the BAM, Ferrovial, Kier (BFK) construction conglomerate terminated the contract after Morris had raised safety concerns over the tunnel boring machine (see “Unions fight blacklisting in construction”, Workers Hammer, no 223, Summer 2013). Morris, a Unite union rep, had earlier been blacklisted after speaking out against the blacklisting of a co-worker on an Olympics site. In a 3 September statement issued jointly with Unite, BFK, the lead contractor at Crossrail, lamely conceded that “the conclusion of the EIS contract could have been handled better” and acknowledged “the right of workers to choose whether or not to join a trade union”. The agreement is subject to a gagging order which prohibits Unite from revealing the details, including the crucial question of whether or not the union has won recognition at BFK sites. What is needed in fact is a union organising drive across the giant project, including workers employed by the myriad contractors, subcontractors and agencies.
BFK’s climbdown came after the anti-blacklisting campaign had cast a floodlight on the practice at Crossrail and throughout the construction industry. The campaign has brought wide media coverage, a House of Commons select committee hearing and a parliamentary debate, punctuated by sanctimonious displays of shock by Labour, LibDem and Tory politicians alike. But workers should be under no illusion that parliamentary lobbying and appeals to the conscience of investors, which is what the “pressure” strategy of the Unite officialdom under Len McCluskey centres on, will put an end to hazardous working conditions, blacklisting and union-busting. Such practices are not only rife today but are intrinsic to the capitalist profit system, whose very existence is premised on the incessant drive by competing groups of capitalists to increase the rate of exploitation of labour. This means lower wages, productivity speed-up, more dangerous working conditions and escalating attacks on the unions, the defensive organisations of the working class.
What is needed to combat the ever increasing immiseration of the proletariat is a full-throated campaign centred on unleashing the social power of the working class, ie its ability to disrupt the flow of profit by withdrawing its labour. To prevent workers’ lives being held hostage to the relentless drive for profit, it is necessary to fight for union control over site safety, with union representatives having the power to immediately shut down unsafe sites. To reverse the attrition of union power and organisation over the years, what is needed is a fight for one union of all workers in the construction industry, encompassing skilled and unskilled workers and drawing in the vast numbers of workers who are currently hired by parasitic employment agencies, not the building firms.
Launching such a fight will not be easy, especially in this time of global recession. But the starting point is the recognition by the most advanced and militant workers that the interests of labour and capital are irreconcilably counterposed, that there can be no “social partnership” (class collaboration) of the two except at the expense of the workers. In the course of struggle to rebuild the power of the unions there will be both the opportunity and necessity to forge a class-struggle leadership which is committed to the understanding that those who labour must rule. Only in this way will the dedication and courage of workers such as Frank Morris be harnessed towards the goal of putting an end once and for all to the capitalist blacklisters and union-busters.