Carillion Must Now Also Face Justice for Blacklisting Trade Unionists

Yves here. It should not come as a surprise to find that Carillion, a bad financial actor, also abused safety rules, and its legal structure insulated it from the consequences.

However, this post triggered another line of thought. First, the headline is misguided, because as with the TBTF banks in the crisis, holding companies accountable is pointless. They pay “cost of doing business” penalties and carry on with the same bad conduct, perhaps more carefully if they got big enough fines or bad enough headlines. Individuals need to be punished, most of all the executives responsible, with hefty fines, clawbacks, loss of deferred pay, and when appropriate (which is vastly more often than it happens) jail time.

But there is a second concern with the idea of holding Carillion, or more accurately, its executives, managers, and key enablers accountable. With the liquidation of the firm, what happens to the enormous volume of records, particularly those kept on computers? Typically in a liquidation, all the equipment is auctioned off. Is there any legal or regulatory process underway to make sure this data won’t be lost? Otherwise, the odds that key perps will get off easy rises considerably.

By Dave Smith, a blacklisted construction worker, secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, trade union tutor and co-author with Phil Chamberlain of Blacklisted: the secret war between big business and union activists published by New Internationalist. Originally published at openDemocracy

When you invite blacklisting human rights abusers to run the NHS and school meals, don’t be surprised when vampire capitalism attempts to suck the taxpayer dry, writes Dave Smith.

Image: Blacklist Support Group protest against Carillion’s involvement in Anfield stadium redevelopment, 2016, Twitter.

On Monday, the Cabinet Office went on Twitter to ask if anyone had been affected by Carillion. I replied:

“Yes, I was #blacklisted by #Carillion for raising safety concerns on their building sites. Can the government help me by setting up a public inquiry to bring those responsible to justice?”

I got 800 retweets in the first 24 hours, which as I’m not a celebrity or a newspaper columnist felt like going viral. But what it demonstrates is how the Carillion saga has outraged public opinion. And quite rightly.

I am just one of several thousand construction workers blacklisted by major construction companies including Carillion. Their secret database meant workers who complained about asbestos or unsafe electrical installation were denied work on major construction projects. This resulted in unemployment, mortgage repayment difficulties and family tensions. In some cases, blacklisted workers committed suicide.

Back in 2009, I took an Employment Tribunal against Carillion. On the first day in court their lawyer handed the judge a document in which the company admitted blacklisting me because I was a union member who had raised concerns about safety on one of their building sites. Carillion even provided the name of the senior manager based at their Wolverhampton HQ who supplied the information to the unlawful blacklist, this included a copy of my official safety representative’s credentials. Despite this admission, I still lost the case.

The reason for the decision was like so many others in the building industry, I was not employed directly by Carillion but via an employment agency and as such was not protected by UK employment law. The written judgement in my case states that:

“We have reached our conclusions with considerable reluctance. It seems to us that he has suffered a genuine injustice and we greatly regret that the law provides him with no remedy”.

We appealed and ended up in the European Court of Human Rights (we still lost). To add insult to injury, Carillion even came after me for £3,500 worth of legal costs.

In 2016 at the High Court, Carillon eventually admitted that they had blacklisted workers who complained about safety on their building sites and paid out millions in an out of court settlement. I was one of those who received a payment. But compensation is not the same as justice. Technicalities in the legal system meant that Carillion and the rest of the blacklisting companies were able to buy their way out of a trial. Not one of the company directors who orchestrated the blacklisting conspiracy has had to account for their actions. This is why blacklisted workers are so angry and are calling for a public inquiry into the national scandal.

Why do multinational companies like Carillion act like this? The simple answer is because they can. For decades, politicians from all the mainstream political parties have become virtual cheerleaders for private enterprise. ‘Unshackle business from burdensome red tape’ became the mantra. It might be good for corporate profits but it’s the increasing number of workers now forced to work on zero hour contracts or via employment agencies without any legal rights who are paying the price.

But the ‘private is best’ ideology has also seen Carillion and the other blacklisting companies being lavished with lucrative public sector contracts. Rampant privatisation resulted in the seedy practices of the construction industry infesting the public sector. At Swindon Hospital, Carillion managers were embroiled in a scandal involving allegations of racist bullying and bribery. At Pentonville prison the company were reported for being 6 months behind in repairs.

Carillion is just a symptom of a bigger problem. Its not about one poorly managed company. The whole neoliberal privatisation agenda is rotten to the core. When you invite blacklisting human rights abusers to run the NHS and school meals, don’t be surprised when vampire capitalism attempts to suck the taxpayer dry.

Why when education, health and social care are facing a funding crisis are we giving billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to private companies and their investors? Whenever privatisation fails, the public sector is called upon to bail out big business, whether its Virgin Trains on the East Coast mainline, the G4S security debacle at the Olympics or Carillion. Yet despite the record of failure, the same private companies get invited back to retender for public contracts time and again. And bosses’ bonuses get ever more eye watering.

Of course, workers on projects run by Carillon deserve to be paid and are entitled to their pensions but not another penny of public money should be given to the bosses of the disgraced company. In a civilised society these people would be facing criminal charges. If the government has another magic money tree hidden away somewhere, it should bail out the NHS not Carillon or their bankers.

The time has come to take back control of our public services from the profit driven leeches who have taken over. The ‘greed is good’ philosophy has had its day. It’s time to think about what is best for society rather than the fat cats. The government should nationalise Carillon now at the current market value of their shares (i.e.: nothing) and run the projects for the good of our people rather than for private profit.

PFI and the myriad of other privatisation mechanisms need to come to an end. We could make a start by following the recommendation of the select committee investigation into blacklisting that called for all of the construction companies involved in the blacklisting conspiracy to be banned from any publicly funded contracts. We don’t have to wait for a General Election; local authorities, the Scottish government and the Welsh Assembly could implement such a policy tomorrow. Those who suffered at the hands of Carillion don’t need sympathy and kind words from politicians – we need action.

I have been campaigning on the issue of blacklisting for nearly a decade and my Carillion tweet has got the biggest response ever. Perhaps it’s an indication that the tide of public opinion is turning.

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  1. Colonel Smithers

    Many thanks, Yves, for keeping the NC community updated, especially those outside the United Kingdom.

    This blacklisting is not new and was first exposed 40 years ago when the British MSM did real reporting / had real journalists. Some of the characters exposed in Nick Curtis’ Mayfair Set were involved and funded private security firms, which liaised with official security agencies. There’s one particular organisation whose name escapes me that was the principal arm of the British oligarchy for such activity. Many of the people involved acted as funders and go-betweens for the far right and Tory right. Some of their then young associates are leading lights in the Brexiteer right now, including one of the three Brexit cabinet ministers.

    As the likes of Carillion and their investors and enablers are international, e.g. France’s ATOS Origin, Sodexho and Bouygues, the response from workers will necessarily have to be international.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Paul. That’s the one.

        Further to your comment last year about Osborne’s triumphalist catamites at the Treasury (in 2015), one of mum’s friends and former colleagues, a lifer, is taking early retirement this spring, disgusted by what’s going on and worn down by decades of neo-liberalism, and setting up a B&B in Normandy. Much younger civil servants are going, too.

  2. Colonel Smithers

    Further to Swindon hospital, but the NHS in general, at lunchtime (breakfast in the UK), the BBC featured the numbers of nurses leaving the profession. As the British BS Corporation has replaced the Church of England as the way to keep the public passive, it did not explain the poor pay and conditions, managerial “incompetence” and bullying, and Brexit (not just for foreign staff, but Brits, too). Just as with Grenfell, something bad just happens. No one is to blame, so no one needs to be held to account.

    This morning’s BBC bulletins gave Trump’s medical more prominence than Carillion or the car crash that is Brexit. A friend at the pink un hinted that the MSM hierarchy are under orders to keep the public distracted and not dig too much.

    1. vlade

      Happy new year Colonel!

      Your last sentence explains what I was wondering about FTA, where you can see the Brexit opinion leaking through (same as NC), but are very quiet (as in if you don’t have anything good to say, say nothing)

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Many thanks, Vlade.

        Further to the nurses leaving, I know two Czech women, sisters in law, in Buckinghamshire. One returned in June. The other is going next summer.

        Hospitals and care homes are struggling to replace EU27 citizens, retirees and younger staff, some local and some from outside the EU and who are going to Canada and the Antipodes.

    2. Clive

      Right on Colonel. When I speak with nursing staff as part of my liaison with the Clinical Commissioning Groups they have had it up the here with the managerialism, the politicking, the grabby private sector “service providers”, the demoralised suppliers and agency staff who are treated like rubbish… on and on.

      I’d quit too.

      And you earned bonus points for the flagging up of the BBC’s anechoic coverage of these salient considerations. They really are neoliberalism’s Lord Haw Haw.

  3. fajensen

    Crazy idea, but, maybe one should buy G4S stock before Brexit? Someone will have to guard all of those new hard borders, do customs inspections stuff and there is just no way that the actual customs will be equipped and manned for that job before that (not that G4S will, btw, but competence is absolutely not a factor in Public-Private “collaboration” projects).

    1. visitor

      I seem to remember that G4S had a contract to ensure security during London Summer Olympic Games, several years ago, and that, shortly before the games started, threw its hands up in the air admitting it could not do it, leaving the government to send its military to do the job.

      My memory is hazy on that, so perhaps a Brit could confirm.

      The fact remains: G4S follows the principle “let us fake it and find some suckers”. Keeping tabs on a few isolated asylum seekers can be faked; really dealing with security at scale — whether olympic games or national borders — cannot.

      1. fajensen

        That ramp in the stock price from 250 to about 300 after that Fiasco (sep-2014 – may-2015) tells me that failure is a decent enough business model and G4S will fail even more bigly on Brexit – not on the scale of the F35-project, but, adequately enough.

  4. Watt4Bob

    “We have reached our conclusions with considerable reluctance. It seems to us that he has suffered a genuine injustice and we greatly regret that the law provides him with no remedy”.

    Feature, not a bug.

  5. JBird

    Apropos of this, Wells Fargo, and I think some other banks, also blackballed employees who complained about unethical, or illegal, actions, even those the bank had encouraged to call on their employee complaint line. Rather cunningly sick as there was an effort to assure employees to call the hotline for any problems, or concerns, and once they did they were put on the industry wide list. If you fired, or laid-off, for any reason, even without cause, they would put you on the list. Even just passively acquiescing was not enough, some former employees say the were fired for not actively supporting the often illegal efforts. So the best, or at least the more strong minded honest, employees, many whom wanted to make a career in finance, were pushed out of the whole industry not just Wells Fargo.

    So figuratively kill any possible ethical leadership, and in this still poor economy, let people know what will happen if you don’t loudly support, and obey, the bank’s and industry’s regime, not only your job but your entire career will end.

    A vile part of this is that if you were mentioned as a possible criminal by somebody you could be fired by Wells Fargo because of your possible criminal actions as well as not being a criminal. Either way, the blacklist for you.

    In the post on Bohemia’s serfdom, which in some places has in practice been recreated by neoliberalism, I mentioned that currently neoliberalism was a kind of social Darwinism,

    You see similar feelings, and thoughts, just not as well articulated or openly spoken, on the poorer American classes today. I think what ever the original ideology was supposed to be, Neo-liberalism, including the belief in the Anglo-American version of Meritocracy, has been changed into a modern version of Social Darwinism; along with added elements of Francis Galton’s eugenics, and the Europeans’ inherent (created maybe, certainly enabled) racism that was used to support 19th and early 20th century Free Market Capitalist colonialism, the new improved version of neo-liberalism supports late 20th and current 21st neo-colonialism that now is world wide including America.

    To that Lambert Strether noted:

    As we see from the life expectancy figures differentiated by income, neoliberalism has created an environment where theft, fraud, extortion, and exploitation are literally adaptive behavior. Social Darwinism at its finest.

    The idea of a meritocracy currently is misleading as it ultimately becomes a regime based on connections and the advantages that wealth brings. However, if the idea be true what we have is a reverse Dark Meritocracy.

    Simply put, Feudalism was based on the idea that the serfs in exchange for working for his lord, the knight, he would be protected. Neoliberalism, in part, is based on meritocracy, which is working about as well for us as feudalism work worked for the serf. There were some good knights who did their duties, but mostly…

    Even when I can see the homeless swarming San Francisco, I am just joking when I mention the tumbrels, but it would sure be nice to have an ethical, moral, even just society that worked for everyone and not just the narcissistic and psychopathic lords living in their bubbles.

  6. Anon

    The reason for the decision was like so many others in the building industry, I was not employed directly by Carillion but via an employment agency and as such was not protected by UK employment law. The written judgement in my case states that:

    “We have reached our conclusions with considerable reluctance. It seems to us that he has suffered a genuine injustice and we greatly regret that the law provides him with no remedy”.

    The UK needs to recognize joint employment, which (depending on the complete factual circumstances) may have permitted him to hold both the agency and Carillion jointly responsible. There’s a legal effort underway to do so in the UK. I believe they’re actually citing US law as persuasive; this is one rare area where US labor law is miles ahead of other countries. (Unfortunately, we’ve recently taken a step back in this area with the Trump NLRB’s reversal of the Browning-Ferris joint employment standard, but that only applies to the NLRA. The two parties are not the same.)

  7. Jay

    Excellent job by NC to keep us updated about this. As the Labour Party member said yesterday the conservatives are destroying the nation in pursuit of their ideological ambitions. Apart from them being voted out they need to Be tried in the courts for treason.

    1. JBird

      I don’t think all of believe that they are destroying the us. Some are observant psychopaths taking advantage of the system, but some probably believe that they are destroying us. So if they ever do wind up on the docket, they will be surprised because they do believe in their ideology (Cue the very small violin).

      I could be absolutely wrong, but I would also like some comments on what all of you do think about our Beloved Leadership Class as individuals. Are some nice people, or crazy, psychopathic, or is just uncaring?

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