Whenever I hear someone tell me that we live in a “free country”, I laugh and I laugh long, loud and hard. Britain is a country in which people are spied on for being environmental activists and blacklisted if they are members of trade unions. The democratic process is corrupted by right-wing politicians who abolish county councils because they oppose government policy and they gerrymander constituency boundaries to stay in power. Those who speak out about abuses in high places are shut down or marginalized.
This is a country in which you cannot say what you like, even though you know it to be true, because some fat bastard with a fat wallet is going to threaten you with a libel/slander suit. This is a country where members of trade unions are blacklisted and denied employment opportunities because their union activity.
We may not live in what could be officially described as a police state but it’s pretty damned close. The roles that would be carried out by the official repressive apparatuses of the state are carried out, perversely enough, by private institutions like the defunct Economic League, which was succeeded by the Consulting Association. One could say that the Economic League, which was formed in the 1920s, never went away and simply changed its name. It also enjoyed close ties to the Conservative party. Indeed, Ian Kerr, a private investigator who had been hired by the league, worked for both groups. Kerr ran a illegal secret database of 3,200 workers in breach of privacy laws. Kerr died last week, Solfed reports,
His £50,000 a year salary + bonus + BUPA + Mercedes company car lifestyle, funded by the major UK construction firms including Sir Robert McAlpine, Balfour Beatty, Skanska, Carillion, Kier, BAM, AMEC and AMEY came to a halt
Building.co.uk tells us that Kerr
had been set to be a key witness on behalf of more than 80 former workers who are preparing to sue Sir Robert McAlpine in the High Court as part of a major compensation claim mounted by the Blacklist Support Group.
Sir Robert McAlpine, along with Balfour Beatty and Skanska, operated a blacklist for the 2012 Olympics.
It’s now clear that workers across Britain have been systematically and illegally forced into unemployment for trade union activity – often on publicly funded projects and in collusion with the police and security services – by some of the country’s biggest companies, using secret lists drawn up by corporate spying agencies.
Liberty has equated blacklisting with phone hacking, insisting that the “consequences for our democracy are just as grave”. Keith Ewing, professor of public law at King’s College London, calls it the “worst human rights abuse in relation to workers” in Britain in half a century.
But would there be an inquiry? Not on Lord Snooty’s watch.
But whereas David Cameron ordered a public inquiry into hacking, he rejected any investigation of blacklisting out of hand. And while a mainly anti-union media has largely ignored the scandal, all the signs are that it’s continuing right now, in flagship public projects such as the £15bn Crossrail network across the south-east.
We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that blacklisting is a recent phenomenon because it’s been taking place for the better part of 90 years. Indeed we can go back to 19th century classical liberal Britain, where early trade unionists were rounded up on trumped up charges and transported to Australia.
The role of the so-called radical Right should not be underestimated. The forerunner of The Freedom Association also had a close relationship with the league.
In the early 1970s there was an expansion and consolidation of the Radical Right. Amongst its new members was the Freedom Association, which had grown out of the “Private Army” movement associated with the conspiracies of the early seventies. Originally it seems to have been a demobilised version of Major General Walter Walker’s army – “Unison”. NAFF’s subsequent activities have been well documented; it specialises in maverick private prosecutions, and encouraging and funding legal actions.
The “maverick private prosecutions” included taking Greenpeace and the Labour Party to court in an attempt to eliminate them.
For the chinless right libertarians, this equates to “freedom”. It’s the freedom to make a profit at great human cost. It’s the freedom to to restrict the freedom of others to work or to seek work.
Hughes, M (1994), Spies at Work.
Available at: http://www.1in12.com/publications/library/spies/spies.htm. Accessed 15/12/12