'Blacklisted' - Interview with Dave Smith

Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain have written a book exposing how secret files held on workers by an organisation called 'The Consulting Association' have been passed between employers, the police and security services, and led to workers being stopped from earning a living. Dave Smith is currently on tour promoting the book. Ritchie Hunter interviewed him for Nerve.

By Ritchie Hunter - 11th May 2015

Companies, police and governments have always had lists of 'undesirables'. They would say this is to protect jobs and security. So why should we be surprised at them having this Blacklist?

I'm not surprised that they have this blacklist; I'm not surprised at all. I'm shocked by the level of intrusion. I'm shocked by the fact that people are on the list because they've complained about overflowing toilets or unpaid wages. I'm surprised by the complete and utter paranoia of the companies and the state. But am I surprised? No, not at all. This is how capitalism works; it's labour versus capitalism. In any dispute between labour and capital the state isn't neutral. The state is on the side of big business. It always has been and always will be. So I'm not surprised, but we should be outraged by it.

How have workers named on the Blacklist been compensated for their and their families' suffering?

There hasn't been any compensation. Companies have always refused to give us any. Literally, a couple of days before eight construction companies were due in the High Court they announced a compensation scheme, completely unilaterally, without the support of the Trade unions or the Blacklist Support Group. They actually sent a letter to every MP in Parliament saying that this scheme was supported by the trade unions! They deliberately lied to Parliament, and were accused to their faces of this by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, [a Parliamentary inquiry set up to investigate blacklisting in Scotland]. So now there is a pitiful compensation scheme - in a local case a blacklisted worker got ?4,000, but this is an insult really, for someone who's been out of work for many years because of this blacklist. So this is one of the reasons we are still going to the high court; they deserve to pay. It's not about money, but they do deserve to pay.

Your book has details of how trade union leaders have been the source of information on the blacklist files? Can you explain how you know this?

Unfortunately, some of the Blacklist files name union leaders as the source of the information. Now whether that's deliberate, or that the information has been inadvertently hoovered up by industrial relations officers, you can't tell. We argue in the book that some of the relationships between employers and full-time union officials was a bit too cosy. You have to question the strategy of some trade union officials, who go out drinking with employers in the evening or at weekends or to restaurants, if their members information ends up on a Blacklist file. Effectively the industrial relations officers are 'playing' them. People should know that these industrial relations officers are not your friends; they're the enemy.

How do you think your campaign to expose secret files has affected other cover-ups, such as in the Hillsborough and the Stephen Lawrence cases?

There is masses of evidence now of police and establishment cover-ups, whether its Hillsborough, Stephen Lawrence, Orgreave or Shrewsbury, or whether it's in the child sex abuse stuff. The people in authority just protect themselves, with the full backing of the state and the judiciary to do it. The more we can expose this the better it's going to be for everybody.

It is a credit to the campaign that these files have been exposed, but they cover mainly construction workers. Why is this?

The Consulting Association was specifically set up by building industry companies just to stop, what they perceived to be, troublemakers getting on to building sites. Not everyone on their list is a construction worker: there are journalists, academics, and even postal workers or gardeners, so it's not all building workers. Are there other blacklists out there? Almost certainly. The Consulting Association files originally came from the Economic League. They bought them for ?10,000 when it closed down and the Economic League had files on everybody, in every industry. So what happened to all the other files? If they sold files to the building industry, who's to say they didn't sell files to other industries as well?

How can others, such as environmentalists, get more details on files kept on them?

First anybody can check to see if their name is on The Consulting Association list, whether you're a trade unionist or an environmental activist, by contacting the Information Commissioners office. You can do this via their website, which has a telephone number. They will tell you over the phone if there is a match. You can then fill in a form and they will send you your file.
Secondly, there is a separate database that is kept on 'domestic extremists' by the Metropolitan Police - Baroness Jenny Jones, the Green member of the House of Lords, is on this for doing her campaigning. Anyone can apply to see a copy of their file, which is called a 'Subject Access Request'.
There are only two reasons they can deny you access to your file - I've applied for mine - National Security or that it might endanger ongoing investigations. In my case they replied: "We can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a file" and they quoted the two reasons. So we've drawn from this that, we think, there is still an undercover police officer spying in the Blacklist Support Group and that if they gave us our files we would be able to identify who this is.

Where does the campaign go now. Can we stop this blacklisting?

I don't think we will ever stop the blacklisting of workers in capitalism; this is how things work. Sometimes they're on the offensive and sometimes it's us. Big business and Neo-liberalism has now been on the up for many many years and I see this as an opportunity to push them back. They're on their guard now, we're having an effect. They're still doing it, but they are definitely on the back-foot. While we have this opportunity to push them back we should take it.

What are your hopes for the future?

I hope this all finishes so I can go and do something else. I would like to talk about football and music and beer rather than this all the time. I just want to get back to real life!

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Sorry Comments Closed

Comment left by Pete Farrell on 14th May, 2015 at 16:50
The construction companies were killing around 200 a year not that long ago 20 years, admitting that it was cheaper to ignore Safety and pay a paltry fine. 200 killed yet if you spoke out your Blacklisted ! These are despicable people it must be made a criminal offence. Labour promised to do more than look into it, before the election, they must honour and fight to do so !