Trade union activists have for decades complained of being unfairly targeted by employers for dismissal, but for many years those who said they had been locked out of employment entirely through an illicit collusion among private companies were told they were conspiracy theorists.
In 2009, they were vindicated by evidence uncovered by the Information Commissioners’ Office (ICO) during a raid of the premises of The Consulting Association (TCA). There, they found thousands of files on construction workers detailing names, National Insurance numbers and even information on their personal lives. In the scandal that unfolded, it came to light that TCA was set up and funded by 44 major construction firms – including household names like Sir Robert McAlpine, Costain and Skanska. Directors from the companies sat on the board of TCA and fed information on trade unionists and workers who had raised health and safety concerns to the operator of the blacklist – Ian Kerr. When recruiting staff, the employers “vetted” candidates through the blacklist and refused to hire any person found to be on it.
These revelations led to the passing of the Blacklist Act 2010, an inquiry by the Scottish Affairs Committee, and a legal challenge that ended in a confession of blacklisting by the firms in the High Court.
But victims of the blacklisting scandal do not feel that justice has been served. Forced to settle out of court, the workers have only been provided with monetary compensation and not with a public expose of those who ruined their lives – individuals believed to have included agents of the State.
Over a century of State collusion with employers against workers
The Consulting Association (TCA) was not the first organisation of its kind. In 1919, a group of powerful industrialists and MPs established the Economic League – a secret body that aimed to promote the interests of free enterprise and oppress “subversive” left-wing voices arguing for the rights of workers. Among its activities was the blacklisting of trade union activists from work.
Its existence was uncovered in the 1960s and its membership is known to have included powerful employers, high-ranking military officers, politicians, Lords, and newspaper editors. After much press attention and a public inquiry in the 1980s and 1990s, the Economic League was shut down in 1993 – the very year TCA was established and former Economic League employee, Ian Kerr, installed at its helm.
In his evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee in 2012, Kerr confirmed that the TCA was established out of the Economic League. The baton of worker suppression – and, indeed, blacklist files themselves – were simply passed from the Economic League to the TCA, allowing this secret cabal to disappear into the shadows once more for another 16 years until its existence was uncovered by the ICO raid.
It has long been known that the Economic League worked closely with the British State and its secret service agents. In 2018, Scotland Yard confirmed that it is “on the balance of probabilities … proven” that special branch officers supplied the TCA with information.