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Peter Lazenby | The police link to industrial blacklists demands a response

The police or members of the security services who helped to compile industrial blacklists should face action

The disclosure of a police or MI5 link to a blacklist of construction workers known for political and trades union activity, revealed by the Observer, comes as no surprise. Industrial blacklists of workers with either leftwing connections, or simply a record of health and safety activity, have existed for decades.

The inclusion of a victim’s name can have a devastating and lifelong effect. As a young man my paternal grandfather returned from the trenches at the end of the first world war. He became a skilled engineer working in Leeds, and was a union steward. In a strike in the 1920s he pushed a scab (strikebreaker) from his bicycle. He was blacklisted and was never able to work in engineering again. He got a job as a tram and bus conductor and driver, which he held for the rest of his working life.

Following the Russian revolution and the spread of communist ideology, the 1900s saw blacklisting reach new levels in Britain, with the foundation of the Economic League in 1919, funded by large companies wishing to vet potential employees before taking them on.

As industrial reporter on the Leeds-based Yorkshire Evening Post in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, I received booklets from the Economic League detailing every left political party and organisation in Britain, with analyses of their backgrounds, motives and operational methods.

The League’s activities embraced more than political party members and trades union activists. Any organisation deemed to pose a threat to the activities and profits of big business – including “green” groups set up in the 1980s as awareness of environmental issues mushroomed – were investigated by the League, and their activists listed.

The redoubtable investigative journalist Paul Foot, himself a member of the Socialist Workers’ party and employed by the Daily Mirror at the time, managed to obtain a copy of the blacklist. He offered to inform individual activists of their inclusion or otherwise on the League’s list of alleged agitators and troublemakers.

The League went out of existence in 1994 following exposure of its activities by the Guardian, but the work of blacklisting continued. The League’s successor, which involved former directors of the League, was known as “Caprim”. Then came the Consulting Association, subject of this weekend’s revelations. The involvement of state security forces in supplying information first to the Economic League, then to its successors, has been suspected, even assumed, by union and other activists for decades. The weekend’s revelations confirm those suspicions.

The question now is: what action is to be taken against those responsible?

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