Friday, 8 February 2013

Blacklisting of construction workers in Camden by ‘Consulting Association’

GMB, the union for construction workers, has revealed the areas in London where it is known that at least 454 workers on a construction industry blacklist either lived or worked. Less than 10% of them know they are on the list and none have been compensated.

At least 12 workers are from Camden. 

The blacklist first came to light when in 2009, the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) seized a ‘Consulting Association’ database of 3,213 construction workers which was used by 44 companies to vet new recruits and keep out of employment trade union and health and safety activists. The ICO has never contacted anyone on the list to let them know they were blacklisted.

By autumn 2012 only 194 of the 3,213 people on the blacklist knew three years later that they were on the list as these had contacted the ICO directly. The list shows where 2,554 lived or worked.  For 659, or20%, no proper addresses are given. The ICO using National Insurance details could, with help of DWP, find current addresses for most of 3,213 but they have not done so.

Construction workers from these areas who were trade union and health and safety activists and were denied work for reasons they could not explain are asked to get in touch so that GMB can cross check the records for them. 

One of my first jobs was campaigning for the Public Interest Disclosure Act, a law passed by Labour in 1998 to protect whistleblowers at work from reprisals. 

Our view is clear - blacklisting blights lives.  Firms contracted with Camden, involved in blacklisting should come clean on their past activities, as revealed by a recent debate in Parliament and by the GMB. Camden takes workforce rights in our outsourced work very seriously and took steps in 2011 to strengthen our stance on union recognition and anti-trade-union activity.

This is not just a question for the construction industry.  We have also spoken out against offshoring workers’ rights away from accepted European standards by big, often American, multi-nationals who have engaged in union-busting.

Camden has the biggest self-financed capital programme in London, now totalling nearly £1bn in public works: by 2020 Camden will build over 1000 new council homes, two libraries, a swimming pool, 3 primary schools and major repairs to 58 schools in Camden - including new buildings.  Our relationship with construction forms will therefore grow over the next few years. 

At this stage I know that the Council is contracted with BAM (Swiss Cottage Academy and Netley School).  Keir are building the new council offices in King's Cross and BAM are building King's Cross with Argent.  

I am in the process of confirming via officers which of the 30 (+) firms currently holds contracts with the Council - the list seems to include all of the major names construction industry.  We publish all monthly payments over £500 to suppliers here and have done so since 2010.

We introduced a new workforce standards code in 2011 which stresses compliance with the law for our contractors.

The GMB is calling on local councils not to award any new public work to the companies that operated the blacklist till they compensate those they damaged.  Hull Council have passed a motion to support the GMB campaign and we looking into the extent to which legislation permits us to remove companies who have been identified as using this information from our approved suppliers list for future work. 

As we will issue more contracts via the Community Investment Programme, at the very least we are pressing for clarity from the Chief Executives of firms we contract with. 

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Why Tories won't answer questions on Europe

According to our local paper local Conservative candidates in Hampstead and Kilburn – the most marginal constituency in the country – wouldn't answer questions about Europe until the end of their Open Primary.   

There is a dark logic to why Conservative candidates run away from expressing their views on the future of our country.  This is the emergence into mainstream thinking of the isolationist tendency within the Conservative Party.

It's true that Cameron’s Euro-credentials haven’t been great since he withdrew the Conservative Group from the Centre Right grouping in the European Parliament, but at least he was the only Conservative since 1992 to not fight an election based on ‘saving the pound’, as his two predecessors tried to do and failed.  There was some hope that a brand of less-than-slavering Euroscepticism might be being pursued by Downing Street.  

But a number of factors, culminating in Cameron's Europe speech, have confirmed a marriage between grassroots Euroscepticism and an ideological expression of isolationism founded on opposition to the social democratic social model.      

Cameron’s insistence on boundary changes and reducing the number of MPs created an instable dynamic in the Parliamentary Conservative Party, where for the first half of this Parliamentary term Conservative MPs in both safe and marginal seats started vying with each other for survival.  This manifested itself in pocket rebellions on Europe and other cause celebres - and MPs engaged in active courtship of a notoriously right wing and Eurosceptic Conservative grassroots membership for their own political survival.

Once emboldened, this tendency has proved themselves as keen as Tea Party activists in Kansas to root out voices of moderation in their Party.  This can’t be shut down – the Conservative Party from top and bottom has been well and truly captured.  Pragmatic engagement with the reality of European relations, as we see even in Hampstead, dare not reveal itself.

Cameron’s speech reminds us that the debate about the future of Europe is not just about our relationship with the Commission, it is fundamentally one about the future of Britain.  

Cameron’s argument for more ‘flexibility’ is a proxy for deregulation and the Small State, an a la carte Europe where our country becomes an ‘offshore nation’ of low taxes and even lower social rights.  It aims specifically to end the social democratic trade-off between labour rights and business freedoms, a quid-pro-quo which ensured that free movement of goods and services were matched by workforce protections and enhancements. 

Trading on our strengths internationally means, unbelievably, less financial regulation for the City and more secrecy in banking.  

Pandering to the isolationist tendency carries the danger of empowering other fringe beliefs which have made common cause with Euroscepticism.  

Isolationists and extreme Eursceptics tend not to believe in man-made global warming, or why we should have international aid.  They don’t believe that Europe should interfere with working hours or rights at work for women when British business failed for decades to develop decent safeguards themselves.
The debate has also moved on:  too often the Pro-European Left remove themselves from the debate about sovereignty because they feel ill-equipped to debate the false juxtaposition between the sanctity British versus European institutions.    

But if the isolationist tendency hates European institutions, we should remember that they don't particularly like British ones either.  Whether the Courts, Parliament, local authorities, the welfare state – to your average isolationist British institutions are so infected by European rules and thinking that only exit or renegotiation will reform them - the only legit British-made institution, the NHS, is often seen as giving too much treatment away to the undeserving foreigners.  

For Cameron’s Conservatives embracing the isolationist tendency is convenient: Europe is a fundamentally a social democratic block on deregulation.  A preference to renegotiate or ‘go it alone’ is no compromise with his grassroots Right, it is an expression of his Conservative future for Britain, a country responding to the rise of the Far East and technological change by going it alone rather than seeking strength in numbers.  

During the late 19th century the term ‘Splendid Isolation’ was a popular conception of the foreign policy pursued by Britain, under the premiership of Conservative grandee Lord Salisbury.  It was characterised by a new reluctance to enter into permanent European alliances and by an increase in the importance given to British interests overseas in an era of increasing competition in the wider world.  It marked a departure in Britain’s approach to European affairs from earlier in century.

The developing Conservative narrative around Europe pays homage to this policy shift over one hundred years ago.  The problem was that Splendid Isolation was ultimately an unsustainable position – driven by elites in whose interest disentanglement served.  Faced with increasing international competition, was ultimately short-lived.