GMB ‘Campaigns For Justice’ Conference
5th and 6th September 2014
Liverpool John Moores University
By - 13/10/2014
LIST OF SPEAKERS:
Margaret Aspinall – Chair of
Hillsborough Family Support Group
Andy Burnham – Shadow Secretary
of State for Education and MP for Leigh
Brian Davies – Former GMB Convenor
at Remploy Wigan
Neil Findlay – Member of the Scottish
Parliament for Lothian
Dave Hopper – General Secretary
of the Durham Miners Association
Dave Hulse – National GMB Officer
Eddie Marnell – Former Cammell
Laird Shipyard Worker
Alistair Morgan – Anti-Corruption
Dave Smith – Blacklisting Support
Brian Reade – Mirror Columnist,
Kop Season Ticket Holder and Best-Selling Author
Ricky Tomlinson – Shrewsbury 24
Activist, Award-winning Actor and Comedian
Tom Watson – MP for West Bromwich
(David Conn – Award-winning Guardian Sports Journalist and Author
was unable to attend due to work commitments)
Dougie Henry gave thanks to all GMB North West and Irish staff involved
in organising the conference, to Panel Members Kathleen Walker Shaw –
GMB European Officer, Paul Evans GMB Branch Secretary, and to Neil Smith
– Political Officer. Thanks were also conveyed to Liverpool Socialist
Singers, and to all attendees for a great turnout and their participation
in proceedings with questions and ideas.
COME TOGETHER, RIGHT NOW!
GMB North West and Irish Regional Secretary, Paul McCarthy, foregrounded
the ‘Campaigns for Justice’ Conference as the first of its
kind. We were welcomed into the John Lennon Art and Design Building at
John Moores University by Liverpool’s Socialist Singers airing ‘Fat
Cat’ lyrics to the ‘Top Cat’ tune.
In a lecture theatre setting, the designs of the state, the fourth estate
and big business were academic. Each speaker was a direct source of experience
attesting to the tragic facts of how organisations providing work, together
with authorities and agencies tasked to protect us, have colluded to ruin
The cause of this conference remains the active recognition of what all
the heavy, heartfelt truth holds in common - a clear pattern of abuse
against the working class.
Margaret Aspinall, Chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, provided
the testimony of what all these powerful campaigns have in common - the
tenacity of not giving up. Due to the current inquests, she couldn’t
focus on detail but her indignation, strength and sorrow was ours when
she took to the lectern, saying ‘We are all in hell. It’s
torture for all of us.’ She lost her son James at Hillsborough and
has been fighting for justice ever since. While public officials’
legal costs have been paid by the state, the Hillsborough families have
endured cover-ups which they’ve had to pay for, during which time
Special Branch photographed friends and family as they left court.
Betrayed by a Labour Party and buried alive by mud, it was mass support
from the public that gave HFSG the strength to go on after the accidental
death verdict of their private prosecution. At that trial, Judge Hooper
had directed the jury to think what kind of message a guilty verdict would
send out. Years later it was confirmed that he had assured the two senior
police officers accused of manslaughter, Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield
and Superintendent Bernard Murray, that no matter what the verdict they
would not face jail time.
Brian Reade, a life-long Liverpool supporter, was at Hillsborough and
has campaigned from day one as a journalist. He read out extracts from
his first Liverpool Echo article after fans had died in front of his eyes.
These were words written in raw anger. They prove that the truth was out
there at the start and beg the question - how was it caged? How did it
take 25 years before the lies were shot down? After this initial piece,
he was labelled a ‘lefty whinger’ and censored for years for
wanting to print the truth. Brian received the Cudlipp Award for Journalistic
Excellence at the 2013 British Press Awards, in recognition of leading
the two decade-long Mirror Hillsborough campaign for justice.
When Shadow Secretary of State, Labour MP Andy Burnham took to the floor
he described how he had seen post-it notes with orders to change Hillsborough
evidence on police logs. A statement telling how a distraught policeman
stood by without direction from his higher-ups while people in the stadium
were organising, was marked with the reason it had to be altered: because
it meant ‘they’ looked strong against an ‘us’
of police. This is very revealing of the ‘us and them’ culture
of the establishment.
Andy Burnham commended the North West Irish region of the GMB for organising
the conference, adding that when British justice didn’t deliver,
it’s often been the Trade Unions that have given support. ‘The
power of the system to grind people down is terrifying’, he said,
but ’In the end it is only the politicians who can open these things
Something Margaret Aspinall raised at this GMB ‘Campaigns for Justice’
Conference was chillingly present throughout: ‘Everyone who fights
for justice somewhere along the line will be on a list’.
Dave Smith from the blacklisting support group said this was the best
two-day fringe meeting. He held up the blacklisting file that was kept
on him. Graphic with personal details, it describes him as ‘small
and looking like a young Alf Garnett’. It is 36 pages long. ‘Do
we want to live in a country where being a Trade Union representative
can get you dismissed and placed on a list as a domestic extremist?’
he asked, adding that for simply going on an anti-racist demo you could
be banned from working.
While Dave’s children were on free school meals, blacklisting itself
was big business. Construction companies paid £2 to check for names.
Invoices have been discovered to the value of £20K which adds up
to 40,000 of these checks. This was a human rights conspiracy against
Unions carried out on an industrial scale - and it’s still going
on. People who have lost family members, livelihoods, relationships and
homes are being bought off with paltry sums of compensation.
‘It will be a shock to people’, said Dave, ‘but Unions
were involved in blacklisting’. There’s a revival in Trade
Unionism in the construction industry now and Unions are assisting workers
in the process to be awarded proper compensation without having to pay
fees. But the GMB has had to begin enforcement proceedings in the High
Court over the failure of the Information Commission Office to comply
with a High Court ruling that they hand over the addresses of 3,213 blacklisted
workers used by 44 companies.
Neil Findlay is a Member for Scottish Parliament and sees himself as
being on the political wing of the Trade Union movement. He spoke about
blacklisting as a class justice issue. Because campaigners refused to
go away, the GMB worked with them. Simply for wanting toilet roll in the
toilets, workers could end up on a list of ‘troublemakers’.
The Scottish Parliament has issued new guidance which should mean companies
can’t get access to contracts if they were involved in blacklisting
but O’Rourke and Balfour Beatty have recently been awarded multi-million
pound contracts. Neil told conference that police brutality and trumped
up charges are common to Scotland. Scotland now has a centralised police
force, routine arming of the police and massive stop and search. He stressed
that the Freedom of Information Act has been vital to his campaign and
urged people to use it, ‘Frame your questions well and you can get
Blacklisting in the construction industry was happening as far back as
1972. Ricky Tomlinson has been campaigning for justice for the Shrewsbury
24 for years. He hailed the GMB ‘Campaigns for Justice’ Conference
as a fabulous meeting that’s so relevant. Then he had the guts to
entertain us whilst setting out the tragic events he and his fellow workers
went through. ‘They stitch you up and send you to jail then you
have to find the evidence and give it back to them,’ he shouted,
rousing tremulous laughter.
For being a safety rep on a McAlpine site, Ricky Tomlinson was jailed
for two years. A few weeks after being at a demo where there was no trouble
at all, a cavalcade of police cars, bikes and vans with Alsations took
him and fellow workers away. Before any charges or even a trial, they
were told they were all in ‘shit street’ and would get two
years. Doctored statements, a 55-day £1 million trial, lies, intimidation
and a judge illegally interfering with the jury was followed by being
banged up as political prisoners for between 9 months and three years
- on hunger strike and naked.
Ricky was choking up telling us about his co-worker Des Warren, who almost
hanged himself after being given the liquid cosh in prison. It brought
on Parkinson’s disease and led to his early death after he was made
to sign a disclaimer for a few grand in compensation. The actor said he
knows his phone is still being tapped. His message to us all was ‘We’ve
got to stick together, fuck them!’
Dave Hopper from the Miners’ Association was mournful that the
UK is ‘a terrible rotten society where workers are not rewarded
and lies, corruption and deceit are the order of the day’. ‘We
are living in dangerous times’, he said. Durham has 400 food banks
which are just soup kitchens rebranded. ‘I’m an international
socialist and it makes me sick to tell people I am British’.
Dave told us the miners’ strike was not an industrial dispute -
it was a war, with Thatcher directing industrial terrorism to break the
Unions. The coal industry was profitable. With 10,000 miners arrested,
sequestered funds, police brutality, trumped up charges, this was a war
where not one policeman was ever indicted or charged with an offence.
Instead they were assisted by the media framing of state propaganda. ‘It
is scandalous what we went through in the name of work’, said Dave,
and led directly to Hillsborough through West Yorkshire Police learning
that impunity is strength. But if life is hardly worth living, this is
a fight Dave won’t give up for the sake of future generations.
Former Shipyard worker Eddie Marnell and GMB National Officer Dave Hulse
told conference the story of a Cammell Laird strike. It was the result
of workers hearing that the Nationalised Industry of British Shipbuilding
was up for privatisation, which Frank Field denied - though recently revealed
government papers from 1984 prove he was in full knowledge of this. Redundancies
followed and the men occupied a frigate and a rig in protest. In 1984,
37 legitimate strikers were charged, found guilty of trespass and sentenced
to one month in prison, in a gut-wrenching miscarriage of justice. ‘It
was to deter the miners’, said Eddie. Special branch had been photographing
him in a local park at the swings with his daughter and he’s convinced
it was the SAS who were sent in to threaten the men with their lives if
they didn’t abandon their occupation.
The men were sacked, and their redundancy and pension rights rescinded.
Blacklisting followed jail and one Cammell Laird worker who had lied about
his age to join the Atlantic convoy in WW2 died in poverty for trying
to protect jobs and common ownership. The GMB has been supporting their
campaign for justice for 8 years now and has financed a well-attended
play ‘Rough Justice’, with a film still in the offing. Having
exhausted all channels at national level to get access to information,
the campaign has put a petition in to Europe.
In today’s climate of austerity it is frightening that unemployed
disabled workers are suffering a hate campaign, one that focuses on them
as ‘scroungers’. Brian Davies, former GMB convenor at Remploy,
told conference they are facing poverty and depression through denial
of work. ‘It feels like disabled persons the last 2 years have been
crucified,’ he said. Remploy used to have 96 factories and was 97%
unionised with GMB membership. Conference heard how he and fellow employees
had fought tooth and nail to keep Remploy open. Labour brought the number
of factories down to just 17. Then the Tories decided to get rid of them
all. A rule that 3% of a company’s workforce should be sourced from
the disabled population has been scrapped.
80% of the Remploy workers are still unemployed after 2 years and one
person from this GMB region hung himself. ‘We are not workshy’,
said Brian, asserting that it was a combination of self-rewarding managers
and six charities which ‘banged us up’. The charities reward?
People on benefits can now be forced to work in charity shops under the
threat of benefits being removed if they don’t comply.
Brian is currently in talks with Labour on the understanding that some
kind of sheltered employment is needed. Referring to the support he and
fellow ex-Remployers have received, Brian praised the GMB as ‘This
great Union of ours.’ GMB political officer Kathleen Walker Shaw
pointed out that we have EU law on our side as contracts can be reserved
for disabled workplaces. Also, Scandinavian models prove there’s
no reason why sheltered employment shouldn’t be current practice.
Like all the speakers on the platform, Labour MP Tom Watson’s personal
experience of corruption has changed him. The realisation that ‘Fear
lubricated Murdoch’s empire’ helped him to understand the
enabling of a whole network of people working illegally for News International.
He said we were all amazing people to care enough to be here, affirming
that it’s only the Trade Unions that can draw these campaigns together
- ‘The GMB did something special today, I found it nourishing and
Tom repeated a persistent theme of this campaigns conference: police,
Parliament and prime ministers have all collectively failed people. He
stressed that no-one has attacked the central ownership of media. Pushing
through the emergency Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act was
an ‘atrocity of democracy’, when even the head of the CIA
said meta-data kills and we can be sure the Trade Unions are on the list
of the surveillance state. Picking up on blacklisting, he told conference
that Ted Heath directed the intelligence services to work with construction
MP Tom is also involved with uncovering a torment of paedophilia. Ex
civil servants have asked him to help them to get justice for crimes they
were prevented from following up on in the past. ‘You could be driven
to insanity by the injustice of it all’, he said, ‘we need
to come together collectively through twitter and social media’.
Alistair Morgan had the hideous experience of his brother Daniel being
axed to death in a South London car park. He suspected police and media
corruption, and 30 years later is still fighting for justice. The case
involves The News of The World and the wholesale selling of information
to the Murdoch press. The Morgan family have endured a corrupt investigation,
a cover-up, a secret investigation, another investigation which was undermined
by News International with no investigation into that. A fifth investigation
collapsed due to police incompetence in dealing with a supergrass. Alistair
said ‘I lobbied the government till I was sick’ but even having
an MP sitting in cabinet with Jack Straw and Hazel Blears didn’t
help, they just swept it aside. Like Margaret, Alistair told conference
he and his family have been through hell. Finally, after 30 years a second
panel, including a solicitor from the Hillsborough Panel, is making progress
with the investigation.
This was a forum where generations came together. There was an impromptu
speech by revolutionary Young Socialists, whose March for Jobs meant they’d
walked all the way from London to Liverpool to demand that the TUC call
a general strike. They want a just society that doesn’t treat the
young like ‘absolute dirt’ - denying them jobs, enabling the
slavery of zero hours contracts ‘in a state in which the police
kill with impunity’.
The GMB ‘Campaigns for Justice’ Conference gave us an up
close and personal view of injustice, where we swept for the mines of
a surveillance state and corporate control, including the TTIP - the text
of which Andy Burnham was refused a copy by the EU. How can we achieve
justice when for the blood of profit even information hardly trickles
down? How can we achieve justice when grieving families striving for this
are spied on? How can we achieve justice when cover-up after cover-up
is served to silence us? How can we achieve justice when we have corrupt
organisations conspiring against us? South Yorkshire police alone have
been involved in Orgreave, Hillsborough and Rotherham. Also, we already
have data protection laws so would an EU revision of these to ban blacklisting
be something corporations would abide by?
An action list from the audience and speakers included: reform the Freedom
of Information Act, ask Labour for a full public enquiry into the effectively
joint enterprise of blacklisting, stop legal costs for public officials,
give the ICC more resources, lobby politicians harder - tell them what
we want and don’t let them tell us what we can have, get as many
MPs on your side as you can, get more working-class people into Parliament,
get apologies from government, get more people to vote, set up Trade Union
parties, rely on political strength in the workplace, engage in ethical
procurement and divestment, stop PFI, get rid of quango courts and talk
about Magna Carta. Stay together, be strong, be more determined and, above
all - do not give up.
When the UK establishment treats people as terrorists for demanding justice,
uses corrupt police forces, questionable courts and staggering corporate
creep to kettle us in, while at the same time submitting us to death by
cuts and bleeding money to wage wars - enough is enough. The general evidence
from the platform was that where the people are being wronged the Trade
Unions support them. The politicians generally don’t. The judiciary
don’t and the police don’t. With the right to bargain collectively
and freedom to associate already in the European Social Contract, the
UK government is planning a further stranglehold on Trade Union laws.
If courage is contagious, networking campaigns for justice encourages
solidarity and builds momentum. Summing up, Neil Findlay observed ‘There
are common threads for all campaigns against state power and it is our
duty to resist. I hope this is the start of something - we owe it to ourselves
and our class.’
For more on these campaigns
Comment left by johno on 2nd November, 2014 at 9:48
well done a very accurate depiction of that long an intense conference.