UK police/spies colluded with giant construction firms to build illegal blacklist database of whistleblowers, trade-unionists

Today's lead story in the Observer is a maddening and excellent investigative piece revealing that for three decades, the UK's biggest construction companies worked with British police and spy-agencies to build illegal dossiers on whistle-blowers who complained about unsafe working conditions and trade-unionists. The victims of these investigations -- thousands of them -- were economically ruined as the firms conspired to keep them from being hired at any job-site, and saw to it that if they were ever hired, they were promptly fired.

Previous attempts to sue over this haven't gotten very far, but the evidence of police/spy collusion may be enough to prompt Parliamentary action. Be sure to click on the related links to the side of the piece for Daniel Boffey's collection of stories of workers who were targeted. One man discovered that his file contained information about his participation in an anti-fascist demonstration.

The Consulting Association was closed down and a 66-year-old private investigator, Ian Kerr, was fined £5,000 for administering the database, although the construction firms escaped prosecution. At Smith's tribunal, Carillion admitted that two of its subsidiaries covertly supplied information to the database to "penalise" Smith for being a trade unionist, even though he had "reasonably brought health and safety concerns to their attention". However, Smith lost his claim for £175,000 in lost income because he worked through an agency and was not directly employed by Carillion.

Police are linked to blacklist of construction workers


  1. One man discovered that his file contained information about his participation in an anti-fascist demonstration.

    Yeah, because overt opposition to fascism obviously makes him an enemy of the state…

    Is there a name for this broader Streisand-ish scenario where taking steps to avoid a certain perception is evidence that the perception is correct?

  2. This is why policing should not be allowed to mix with private corporations. The police are already security guards for the rich as Hakuin said above.
    Of course the UK is currently considering privatizing their police functions aren’t they? Looks like this prior art suggests its not a good option… unless you WANT a police state that is

    1. Removing the police from the equation would hardly fix anything, the corporations would just hire private security companies to do the same crap.  All you have to do is look at how they interacted with unions here in the US.  Probably most notably the Pinkertons.  

      1. Don’t forget Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency (aka hired thugs by coal mining companies trying to keep their workers from unionizing.)

    2. The basic problem is that corporations have managed to usurp real power in the world, while convincing the population that government still has it. The corporations are non-national, but maintain the national system to divide and conqueror. This by having the ability to move money and resources around globally, so that if a nation do not bend over it can be starved for resources and bled of currency. In essence, corporations are the aristocracies of our day. And they have gone back to behavior that would make even a East Indies Company man blush.

      1. This is true. There is nothing to encourage moral behaviour in a Corporation. Its sole motive is profit – either for its owner or its shareholders etc – and if it fails to focus solely on profit, it is failing as a corporation and likely to be beat by its competition. Therefore if corporations can gain enough control over politicians, its in their interest to do so. Then they can leverage the law to combat their competition and increase their profits. The only time a corporation will act for the moral good is when it gains it good publicity and therefore aids sales. There are undoubtedly some exceptions but arguably that makes them inefficient corporations.
        The problem is of course that the largest, most influential corporations are now global. They are like the Hydra in Greek myth: cut off one head and 2 more grow back. They are too powerful to be effectively combated, and we are rapidly approaching the point where they control much of the world. Not literally yet, but figuratively given their disproportionate influence/control over government.
        It seems we are devolving into a feudal state year by year. The addition of private police forces enforcing the laws is just the next step.
        I heard a professor on CBC Radio program here in Canada commenting on the robocall scandal that is currently in the news. They were also talking about the heavy influence of  Corporations on elections and in particular the SuperPACs down in the US.  The show’s commentator asked him how he felt this affected modern democracy – the professor responded that we no longer live in a democracy.
        I think we have the Illusion of a Democracy now both up here in Canada and in particular down in the US. Its a subtler form of Oligarchy, which preserves the appearance of a democracy without the actual function. Sure, you get to vote, but the candidates you get to vote for all represent the same interests more or less in the same way. All that changes is the flavour of the rhetoric.
        It would be easier if we could force politicians to wear the logos of the corporations and organizations that contributed to their campaign, like sports figures do. Then we would know who bought them their office.

  3. “…the evidence of police/spy collusion may be enough to prompt Parliamentary action.”

    Let me see… how does it normally go? Parliament orders IPCC to investigate, IPCC spends a whole lot of money so that police can investigate police, finds “some” evidence of “systemic” problems but clears individual officers of any wrongdoing, reports back to Parliament, by which time the media cycle is no longer interested and nobody faces any kind of punishment for their systematic corruption and illegal behaviour.

    Did I miss anything?

    1.  …passing a law that sounds like it should solve the problem, but actually does nothing to alter the dynamics that caused the abuses in the first place.

      1.  you left off the small notation on the law making it a crime to complain about abuses of your rights.

      2.  Yeah it would be named something like the Anti Collusion and Policing Act but would end up making sure no one can be prosecuted for this crime.

    1. I get the impression that they will tolerate anything, as long as they can congratulate themselves on not having id cards and joke about it with fake German accents.

    2. We don’t tolerate it – in fact CCTV is one of those universal enemies, irrelivant of political persuasion.

      But like with any population, it’s not like we have any control over what the government does; we just get to vote in 1 of 3 idiots every now and then to keep doing the same crap.

      Sometimes we have political demonstrations, but again, like in every country, that just gives the government another excuse to add more CCTV and take away more freedoms.

      And they wonder why there are riots?

  4. And of course conspiracies never happen and if you’re paranoid it’s because your crazy. And remember, as Lucy Parson said so long ago: 
    Never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth. 

  5. but we don’t actually know if this is police collusion or police corruption, quite a different matter.

  6. This was covered in Private Eye’s ‘In The Back‘ investigative section three issues ago, so well done to the Observer for picking it up.  

    If I recall correctly (and I might not), the guy who helped set up the blacklist was a former policeman.  It’s sickening, but nothing’s going to happen, is it?

  7. This is exemplary of why Republicans in the US make “tort refom” a signature issue on their agenda.  The courts are often the only way to combat the big corporations and they’d like to remedy that situation.

  8. I believe that this was first reported in Private Eye, who deserve a lot more credit than they get for investigative journalism. The bigger papers often run with their scoops and fail to credit them.

  9.  Ooops. Didn’t notice @boingboing-daa7887268c551b0986601b81e3a3efc:disqus pointing out the exact same thing. Sorry!

  10. Whistleblowers and reformers, just keep doing what you’re doing.  Keep finding new ways to get more sophisticated about your data collection and retention.  Keep finding new resources, new techniques to safeguard your findings.

  11. This case is so exemplary of everything that’s wrong in modern industrial relations, I don’t know where to start. A quick recap:

    1) Corporations colluded with the State to keep uppity workers “in their place”.

    2) Corporations outsourced their “dirty” activities to escape accountability.

    3) Corporations outsourced *their own workforce* to escape accountability.

    4) The State let them get away with it, with only a gentle slap on the wrist, in order to avoid a public humiliation of its own “servants”.

    And last:

    5) Big Media ignored all this for years until it came out on Private Eye. This is because their conflicts of interest are so huge, they can’t get themselves to criticize the people who, through advertising and other payola, keeps them in business. 

    6) Big Media rip off Private Eye and never acknowledge the immense work they make with a budget that is a small fraction of what big papers and TV crews can enjoy.

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