24 July 2018
Newly released records have revealed that the Thatcher and Wilson governments spied on trade unionists, according to the Guardian.
Under Margaret Thatcher, Whitehall teamed up with MI5 to identify 1,420 individuals deemed ‘subversive’ within the public sector, most of whom were people with left-wing beliefs and trade unionists.
Of these, 723 were considered Trotskyists, 607 communists, 45 fascists, and the remaining 35 were Welsh or Scottish nationalists, “black or Asian racial extremists” or anarchists.
The blacklist was created to keep these individuals under observation, ensure they were not promoted, and to keep them away from roles that involved computers or revenue collection.
Another list was created by MI5 for trade unionists and local councillors, while school inspectors surveilled teachers and reported directly to the intelligence agency.
Under Harold Wilson, influential trade union leaders Jack Jones (Transport and General Workers Union) and Hugh Scanlon (Amalgamated Engineering Union) were targeted for a smear campaign to remove them from their roles and replace them with individuals that would represent less of a challenge to the government.
James Callaghan, the Home Secretary, was recorded as being keen on this action, according to a memo written in 1969 by Principal Private Secretary at the Cabinet Office, Daniel Gruffydd Jones.
The document with others that detailed the activities of the Information Research Department (IRD), a secretive body within the foreign office that made and distributed propaganda both at home and abroad.
“Sir Denis Barnes said … that detailed exposure of Jones’ behaviour from time to time, perhaps by way of inspired leakages to the Press, might be useful and productive. He would discuss this with the First Secretary of State in the course of the next few weeks,” the memo stated.
Further papers revealed that John Peck, head of the IRD, prepared a briefing for Cabinet Secretary Sir Burke Trend, and that he had visited ministers twice for meetings.
The IRD distributed “unattributable propaganda” through books, academic articles, radio programmes, news agencies, and by influencing the BBC (including the world service) and Reuters.
According to the Guardian, the IRD was one of the largest and best-resourced sections of the foreign office until it was closed in 1977, and it continued to target trade unionists throughout the 1970s, including by creating the documentary Red Under the Bed.