Yesterday, the public space outside of Salford Council's Civic Centre was taken over by campaigners against blacklisting within the construction trade. Banners proclaiming `Blacklisting Ruins Lives' and `Blacklisting A National Scandal' were hung over every Salford Council sign in sight, while special Salford music from New Order and Happy Mondays blasted out of speakers.
At the forefront of the protest was a giant inflatable rat with a placard strapped across its chest reading `No public contracts for blacklisters'.
Centre stage of the anti-blacklist campaign are three companies – BAM Construct, Ferrovial and Kier – running the massive Crossrail project in London, where 28 electricians and Unite the Union health and safety steward Frank Morris were sacked for trade union activity and whistleblowing (see here)
"We still think blacklisting is going on" said Mike Thompson from Unite the union at yesterday's protest "We've got information to prove that there are still companies where blacklisting is going on, and they are being awarded public contracts by local authorities. We are here to raise awareness at the Council meeting today."
Salford City Mayor, Ian Stewart, very publicly backed the anti-blacklisting campaign in April this year. There was even a mayoral press release issued, titled `City Mayor Demands End To 'Unfair' blacklisting' (see here). On the release, Stewart was quoted…
"It is secretive, damaging and it ruins lives" he said "Blacklisting carries all the hallmarks of a police state and is entirely foreign to British democracy. It prevents hard-working, honest and careful builders from working, often on the basis of information which has been illegally gathered, or which is simply wrong. That's why I am calling on the Government to end blacklisting – it has no place in our democracy."
The Salford Mayor, a member of Unite the union, was even "applauded" by Steve Acheson, of Unite the Union's Blacklist Support Group…"Salford Council has set an example for local authorities all over the country" he said.
Meanwhile George Tapp, from Salford TUC's Blacklist Support Group, who was run over and seriously injured on a protest against BAM Construction recently (see previous Salford Star article – click here), also praised Ian Stewart's stand…
"We call on other local authorities to follow Salford Council's lead until the blacklisting firms apologise and compensate the workers whose lives they have ruined" he said "They have destroyed careers in order to increase their profits."
There's only one problem with Ian Stewart's stance against blacklisting – over £100million of public contracts have been awarded in Salford this year alone to two of the companies, Kier and BAM Construct, involved in the scandal.
In January a £5million contract was handed to Kier directly by Salford Council for its new Swinton Gateway building… "The new development will provide a stunning new building that will help regenerate Swinton town centre" gushed Stewart.
This month, BAM was awarded the £10.4million contract to build the horrid new free school, UTC at MediaCityUK on Salford Quays, of which Salford City Council is described as a partner (see previous Salford Star article – click here).
In April, Kier, as half of the `Salford Villages' consortium, was awarded the £64million contract to build a new 1,400-room student accommodation complex in the middle of Peel Park by the University of Salford. Its so-called `liberal' Vice-Chancellor Professor Martin Hall said: "The project is a central part of our regeneration plans to offer a student experience that's second to none in the UK."…he never mentioned the `student experience' of living in a block built by, what Unite calls, `human rights abusers'. Salford Council's Assistant Mayor for Planning, Derek Antrobus, sits on Salford University's Council.
Also in April, the University of Salford chose BAM Construct as its `preferred bidder' for the new £30million Arts and Media Building.
The Salford Star asked Salford Mayor Ian Stewart to comment and condemn the BAM Construct deal at MediaCityUK but he didn't respond.
George Tapp, who featured in the official photo when Stewart announced his opposition to blacklisting, said yesterday "I'm surprised that the Mayor hasn't condemned the Bam Construction contract at MediaCityUK."
George is currently confined to a wheelchair after suffering two broken legs on the demonstration outside BAM's Manchester City FC construction site in East Manchester.*
Meanwhile, Salford's Paul Kelly, a fervent campaigner against blacklisting, also expressed his disappointment… "It comes as a surprise to me that Ian Stewart is not condemning blacklisters on Salford building sites" he said "It's contrary to a speech I heard him make at Salford City College awards ceremony a couple of weeks ago, when he praised the actions of blacklisted electrician George Tapp and the Blacklisting Action Group.
"Perhaps he would now like to speak out against BAM and Kier" he added "and denounce the contracts as a breach of what I thought was Council policy."
As the Unite the union flags waved outside the Civic Centre yesterday the Salford Star asked the union why Salford Council and its Unite-backed Mayor, Ian Stewart, were directly and indirectly involved in employing companies targeted by the anti-blacklisting campaign, despite having an apparent policy to the contrary.
"It's frustrating the way that people make the right noises and say `We support the campaign, we've got zero tolerance against blacklisting' but we think they need to follow it up with actions to say to these companies `Blacklisting will not be tolerated and future contracts will not be awarded'" said Mike Thompson, revealing that the union had been involved in `conversations' with Stewart.
"A lot of councils have signed up to the motion we've put forward that calls on them to take responsibility for ethical conduct" he added "We want an end to blacklisting, and to be able to go into these places and have the right to organise and recruit because the blacklisting situation doesn't only affect the workers and their families but it affects the union recruiting in what has always been a strong trade union area.
"Councils are making the right noises but we need them to come forward and actually be a bit more proactive" he insisted "We need them to send a clear message to these companies that future contracts will not be allowed."
In Salford it might be a case of Ian Stewart silently closing the stable door after the `human rights abusing' horses have bolted with the cash.
* Greater Manchester Police has still not responded to the Salford Star concerning potential prosecution of the man who ran George Tapp over at the BAM protest.
For more details of the campaign against blacklisting see previous Salford Star articles - click here and click here