GMB ‘Campaigns For Justice’ Conference

5th and 6th September 2014
Liverpool John Moores University

By Minnie Stacey - 13/10/2014


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 Campaigner
Dave Smith – Blacklisting Support Group
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 East
(David Conn – Award-winning Guardian Sports Journalist and Author was unable to attend due to work commitments)

President 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.


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 lives.

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 up’.

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 gems’.

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 sustaining’.

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 companies.

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.’

Minnie Stacey @minniestacey

For more on these campaigns

Printer friendly page

Sorry Comments Closed

Comment left by johno on 2nd November, 2014 at 9:48
well done a very accurate depiction of that long an intense conference.