“If you have a blacklist, I want to be on it” … and then I was

I remember a Billy Bragg line “If you have a blacklist, I want to be on it” and it kind of felt like being on a blacklist would kind of be cool, but thankfully it would never really happen. And then it did, and I didn’t want to be on it.

As trade union activists we all know that bosses will be making sure their mates know who to and who not to employ, and that there probably is an unspoken Blacklist knocking around somewhere, but it still came as a bit of shock when a mate of mine from my anti-racist activist days called me to tell me he’d found me on a real blacklist, on a real index card in a real filing cabinet.

He had been following up an exposure about the existence of a builders’ blacklist created by the Consulting Association, a blacklist generated by and referred to by Construction Industry Human Resources managers. Any worker complaining about Health and Safety or terms and conditions on a building site would find themselves on it, and swiftly out of work for months and then years. 

I’d done a bit of activity with the builders’ Joint Site Committee (JSC) and stood on a few picket lines with mates who’d been sacked for no apparent reason, so I knew the blacklist was bang out of order, but not really a surprise and why on earth was I on it.

I’d been a shop steward in the Transport and General Workers’ Union (T&G) for years, but as a homelessness worker, and by the time I found out I was on the builders’ blacklist I was a teacher and had never done much more with my hands than put up a shelf.

It turns out you don’t need to be a builder to be on the builders’ blacklist, you just have to be spied upon by an undercover police officer who was part of the Special Demonstration Squad or National Public Order Intelligence Unit which, as it turns out, I was.

As an anti-racist activist someone, somewhere secretly decided millions of pounds needed to be spent spying on me. Yet despite all the spying, and even attempts to lure me, unsuccessfully, into petrol bombing a charity shop, not a single act of crime did they find.

Nevertheless, just in case, the police decided to pass on my details illegally to the blacklisters to make sure that I wouldn’t go around being a ‘trouble maker’ at work too. Why it was the builders’ filing cabinet my card ended up in I’m not sure, maybe my JSC or T&G links. More likely it’s because the only filing cabinet of the blacklisters that ever got searched was the builders’ one and all the others, from all the other industries, quickly got burned before they were checked. I suspect I may have been in those too.

I did win my court case against the blacklisters, thanks to the Blacklist Support Group, but the undercover policeman who put me on it, illegally, has gone unpunished. This is supposed to be one of the points of public enquiry into the undercover police that at last, after six years, starts to hear evidence in court next week.

However, given that no public can actually go into the public enquiry, but have to watch it, on delay, some way away in a carefully-monitored hotel down the road, I’m not sure that I’ll get any justice from it.

But maybe my female friend who the undercover police office decided to move in with and ask to marry him, just because she knew me, will get some justice out of it. Here’s hoping.

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