Jul 16 2019

BRIAN HIGGINS – A PERSONAL AND POLITICAL TRIBUTE

 

 

Communist, Republican, Trade Union Militant,

Scottish Internationalist, Glasgow Bear

 9th February 1941 – 2nd June 2019

 

__________

BRIAN HIGGINS

A PERSONAL AND POLITICAL TRIBUTE

Brian made a big impression upon whomever he met. Nigel Jeffrey, who encountered him on the picket line during the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike wrote, “Brian Higgins stands out because he was 6′ 6″ plus… He was a big lad as broad as he was tall… There must have been half a dozen police went for this Brian Higgins and snatched him… He was shoving them off left, right and centre.” [1]

Or, as Dave Smith, co-author of Blacklisted, The Secret War Between Big Business and Union, [2] has written,  “Anyone who has heard Brian speak will remember his booming Glaswegian voice, disdain for union bureaucracy and his liberal use of industrial language.” [3]

And when I first met Brian, it seemed that my hand was numb for hours after his handshake!

It was as a trade union militant that Brian is best known. Dave states that, “It is undeniable that Brian was one of the leading rank and file industrial militants of his generation, who had a significant impact on trade unionism in the construction industry.” [4] This came at a high personal cost to Brian and his family. Following the exposure of the employer financed organisation, the Consulting Association, [5] responsible for blacklisting, Brian was found to be the most blacklisted worker in the UK construction industry. Brian called the blacklist “an economic, social and political prison”. [6] He very much features in Blacklisted.

Brian was targeted by the employers, particularly Laings; by gangsters hired by sub-contactors; by the state, including undercover police agent provocateur, Mark Jenner; [7] and by trade union bureaucrats, especially UCATT official, Dominic Hehir, in his infamous, but failed attempt to silence Brian through a High Court injunction.[8] Brian, once a member of the International Socialists, then SWP, also exposed the revolutionary pretensions of this organisation, the CPGB, Militant and the one-time Workers’ Revolutionary Party.

Brian wasn’t the first to write about the activities of the UK state, the trade union bureaucracy, and the failings of self-proclaimed revolutionary parties. One of Brian’s favourite books was The Key to My Cell[9] written by Des Warren, jailed for three years for his part in the 1972 Building Workers Strike. Des was to die early in 2004 at the age of 67, after contracting Parkinson’s Disease, following the use of the ‘liquid cosh’, which the authorities administered, whilst he was in prison on trumped up conspiracy charges. He was attacked by the state, abandoned by the incoming Labour government in 1974, and badly let down by UCATT trade union officials, who were still backed by the CPGB.

It was in the aftermath of this strike that Brian, who had to leave Glasgow for England to find employment in 1972, eventually moving to Northampton. He became a hod carrier, then a bricklayer. He joined UCATT, later becoming branch secretary. He also joined the rank and file Building Worker Group (BWG) and the International Socialists, predecessor to the SWP. Brian’s classic, Rank and File or Broad Left? A Short History of the Building Worker Group, describes the many militant struggles the BWG became involved in. [10] Brian was the BWG’s secretary. Although it was in another SWP context that I first met Brian in 1978, we immediately hit it off because of our shared rank and file activities. I was convenor of the Scottish Rank and File Teachers (SR&FT) at the time.

Brian’s forte was on the picket line. I had been the SR&F-led East of Scotland Action Committee’s ‘flying picker’ organiser during the mass unofficial strike of Scottish teachers from 1974-5. Significantly, we adopted the term ‘flying picket’ from the building workers’ actions of 1972, which had made a big public impact. However, the social difference between building workers and teachers is considerable, and Brian and I used to joke over our different approaches to picketing.

The BWG resorted to picketing, confident that any picket line would almost always be automatically honoured. And that was certainly the case when Brian was involved. There was no such historical respect for picketing amongst teachers, who had rarely ever been on strike before the 1970s, and there was the added issue that teachers are understandably unwilling to walk out on their students. So the reality of our teacher ‘flying pickets’, at the school gates during the 1974-5 unofficial action, was to persuade teachers going to work in the morning to organise school meetings later that day, then to take a vote on taking action, either after lunch or the following day, so arrangements could be made for the students. Our picket lines were usually quite genteel affairs!

But, although the BWG could fall back upon decades of working class solidarity amongst building workers, they faced other obstacles completely unknown to teachers. Cowboy sub-contractors would sometimes resort to gangsters to intimidate workers.[11] Brian told me of one workplace meeting where they had to physically throw out a paid disrupter, a decision he hastened to add that was taken after he moved a democratic vote to do so! In contrast, although teachers taking action sometimes faced parent hostility, the one group we always had almost 100% support from was the students, ever eager for a day off school!

Brian and I became much closer during the SWP leadership’s attempt to close down all Rank and File groups in 1982. In the majority of these groups, they had long pushed for party members to treat these as party fronts. However, the BWG and SR&FT had been built on open democratic and united front principles. Therefore, Brian and I both took a prominent part in resisting the attempt by SWP central committee to close us down. The majority of SR&FT were not in the SWP. Its spurious ‘Downturn Theory’ failed to persuade any of these members. This theory was, in effect, merely the left face of the ‘Dented Shield’ strategy. That was Labour’s accommodating response to the on-going employers’ offensive under Thatcher. Furthermore, the wider school organisation, which SR&FT had built, was central both to defending what had already been gained and to prevent the possible victimisation of union militants.

Those in SR&FT (by now including quite a number of SWP teachers, like myself, forced to resign from the party rather than submit to central committee orders) only had to face up to our former party comrades and a full-timer, who lurked about outside the meeting. However, Tony Cliff, the SWP leader, attended the BWG meeting in person. But BWG supporters were also not very impressed by the ‘Downturn Theory’. Cliff “was told the way to respond when the going got tough was not to sound the retreat, as there is absolutely no credibility in this. Rather, political and R&F Organisations should strive all the harder to strengthen their organisation and resolve and give a positive and definite alternative lead, with policies, to that of the craven capitulation and collaboration of the official trade union and labour movement. Otherwise you become part of this dungheap.” [12] Brian didn’t mince his words! Cliff only gained one (an SWP) vote at the BWG meeting. Brian was expelled from the SWP, but the BWG continued, soon to be thrown into a whole series of disputes, culminating in the 1985-6 Laings’ Lock-Out. [13]

However, I first met Brian in a very different context. In the later 1970s, there was a debate going on inside the SWP about how to react to the political issue of Scottish Devolution, now that the Labour government was committed to a referendum on the issue. The Glasgow branch politically dominated the SWP in Scotland. This branch, with its influential industrial shop stewards, was very firmly in the ‘No’ camp. They placed an economistic emphasis on all-British working class trade union solidarity. Cliff, though, was for ‘Yes’, on the grounds of another key aspect of SWP politics – anti-Toryism. Thatcher had become the Tory leader and was opposed to Scottish devolution. Cliff knew that he had a tough sell in Glasgow, and bought in the late Harry McShane, who had worked with the legendary John Maclean, to help him at a specially convened Scottish aggregate meeting – although to no avail. The Glasgow SWP shop stewards’ ‘No’ became the official line.

I was struggling to find a different approach. I eventually found this by seeing Scottish Devolution as a democratic demand for greater national self-determination in the context of the unionist, imperialist, monarchical and bureaucratic UK state. Furthermore, a republican approach would relate to, and politically connect the struggles for national self-determination in Scotland, Wales, and particularly Ireland, the cutting edge of opposition to the UK state. These politics formed the basis of the Republican Faction (RF) in the SWP.

And it was at an RF meeting in London where I first met Brian. Whilst he was not alone on the Left from Scotland in seeing the political importance of Ireland, he was almost unique for somebody from his Irish-Scots background, in linking the situation in Ireland to Scotland. Many Irish-Scots thought, at the time, that Scottish devolution would bring about a second Stormont!

As anybody with any experience of the SWP knows, the formation of a faction, officially allowable only for a short period before the annual conference, is not designed to encourage meaningful debate, but is an indication to the leadership of a threat to be removed. Once a faction has been declared, the central committee moves quickly to ensure that its unelected full-timers work overtime to minimise any faction’s influence. Primarily this means obstructing, as far as possible, faction delegates getting to the annual conference. This involves a lot of behind-the-scenes wire-pulling and rumour mongering.

However, in the wider SWP meetings, Brian was a not only a formidable figure but also the very epitome of the type of rank and file militant the SWP leadership claimed to promote. (Indeed not a few members thought that some of the late Phil Evans’ Socialist Worker cartoons used Brian as an inspiration!) Whilst the official line easily held within the party, it was harder for the central committee and full-timers to dismiss supporters of the RF, since some members had a wider base than the party, particularly in the Rank and File groups.

When three years later in 1982, Brian found himself once more in opposition to the SWP central committee, this time over the defence of Rank and File organisations, republicanism formed the political basis of his politics, “My experience has now led me to conclude that workers will have to adopt a ‘republican’ approach [i.e. act as free citizens and not loyal subjects] to succeed in an all out struggle, including building workers if they go into this, against the very British, Loyal and Bureaucratic Popular Front.” [14] Brian saw union sovereignty residing with the workplace members, and any action they took as being independent, not ‘unofficial’. Trade union full-timers use the ‘unofficial’ label to police their members. Brian promoted independent working class action, coupled to the most thoroughgoing democracy within the unions. This industrial republicanism formed the basis of his Rank and File politics.

In his pamphlet, Brian contrasted Rank and File to Broad Left politics. The latter mirrors the politics of the UK state. It claims union sovereignty lies in the annual general meeting, just as the UK state claims sovereignty lies in parliament. In reality, in trade unions, control lies in the hands of the general secretary and the union HQ, just as control in the UK state lies in the hands of the prime minister and his/her inner cabinet. And Broad Left politics looks to replace right wing union officials with left wing officials, just as the Labour Party seeks to replace right wing MPs with left wing MPs, both without any real challenge to the locus of real control.

Brian’s pamphlet provides abundant evidence to highlight the effect of the Broad Left approach within UCATT, where leading officials were backed by the CPGB/CPB. Indeed the corruption became so acute in UCATT there was even an internal investigation, the Hand Report (which Brian characteristically dismissed as the ‘Hand Job’!). [15] Despite the investigators being carefully selected (as with the UK government’s Widgery and Chilcot enquiries), its findings were still kept secret from the members such was the appalling story of corruption that was uncovered.

Another strong feature of Brian’s politics, which he emphasised, was that serious Rank and File organisation “will also take on board some of the more difficult social and political issues and adopt a principled working class united front position on these.” [16] Brian never held to the shallower economism, which informed the IS/SWP’s earlier support for Rank and File groups.

As a powerful example of this, Brian devotes a whole chapter of his pamphlet to the UCATT National Delegate Conference in Killarney from June 5th-9th 2000. Brian’s own Northampton branch had managed to get a motion to the conference supporting a united Irish Republic completely independent from the British state. The fact the conference was being held in Ireland for the first time (UCATT was an all-islands union) made it more difficult for the motion to be binned beforehand. But massive pressure was exerted behind-the-scenes to get the branch to remit the motion. Peter Cassels, the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, was also brought in to divert delegates’ support to another anodyne motion on Ireland. Helen Jackson, Labour Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was flown in just before the debate for the same purpose – a very overt piece of state interference.

The debate went ahead. BWG member, John Jones, a close comrade and friend of Brian’s, moved the republican motion. After a good discussion, which included the UCATT convenor from Belfast’s Harland and Wolff (opposing naturally!) the motion received between 20-25% of the vote. Brian was very pleased and felt the holding of such a debate was in itself a considerable political breakthrough. He stated that the BWG would continue to champion “important political issues like ‘Ireland’ and do our best to support those struggling against state oppression.” [17]

By the time the commune organised the ‘Trade Unions – Are They Fit for Purpose?’ event in Edinburgh in January 2011, [18] Brian was much less mobile. He had to decline an invite to put the Rank and File argument, and I stood in, using my experience in SR&FT. However, the last part of my contribution was based, after we discussed it, upon Brian’s thinking in the BWG.  When I gave an account to Brian of this event, he was keen to know more about the social union approach advocated by Tommy McKearney, a former Irish republican hunger striker, speaking for the Independent Workers Union. Brian also supported the combined official and independent union approach, advocated by Alberto Durango, of the Latin American Workers Association, centrally involved in the Justice for Cleaners campaign in London. They had to do this when the UNITE officials, with the backing of the local Broad Left, turned on these workers, once their actions took on a more militant (and successful) character.  Those cleaners without papers, the ‘illegals’, were threatened with deportation. [19]

Although Brian was most at home in workplaces and in his local community, political arenas far removed from these did not at all faze him. On the strength of Brian’s campaigning against the blacklist, he was invited to the European Parliament as one of two Blacklist Support Group representatives. In this he also received the support of Aberdeen branch of the Oil Industry Liaison Committee. [20] He had contact with one of its leading members during its heyday.[21]

“The European parliament voted in favour of an amendment to the draft data protection regulation that would make blacklisting on the basis of trade union activity a breach of EU law.” Not surprisingly, though, “The Council of Ministers {the real locus of EU power} has still to address the proposal.” [22] And, in the event of this ever having been passed, Brian would have treated such a law, in the same manner as he treated the health and safety laws. Building site safety was one of Brian’s prime concerns,[23] and he always knew that dependence on the law alone would never deter the employers. Industrial action would still have to taken to force them to comply.

Despite eventually receiving a modest financial compensation for the decades Brian and his family had faced as the consequences of the blacklist, he was still involved in the last months of his life in exposing trade union officials’ complicity in blacklisting. UCATT officials had desperately tried to prevent the issue going to court. This would expose this practice. So, unless blacklisted UCATT members accepted the compensation package agreed behind-the-scenes by the union and employers, they would no longer receive any legal backing. For Brian the issue was never mainly about the money lost, but about ending blacklisting altogether. For this to happen the cancer of union officials’ collusion would need to be ended.

“Brian found strong evidence of collaboration between the employers and a UCATT official in his own blacklisting. That official cited in a redacted document was Jerry Swain. Subsequently, Len McCluskey arranged for UCATT to be taken over by UNITE. In the process, Swain was appointed as a full-timer. Brian, the rank and file Building Worker Group and other union members have tried to raise this issue with McCluskey. McCluskey continually brushes the issue under the carpet.” [24]

In his obituary, Dave Smith wrote that, “Brian was one of the blacklisted construction workers who signed the Open Letter to Unite calling for an investigation to be set up. It is now too late for Brian, but we hope that the UNITE EC will set up the investigation into possible collusion ASAP.” [25] But McCluskey is one of those left-talking, right walking, Broad Left officials who Brian had no confidence in. He did not see McCluskey’s trade union empire building as any step towards ‘One Big Union’, more towards “one big fat pay cheque” for the already highest paid union bureaucrat in these islands.

And if there is indeed to be any enquiry, Brian highlighted the terms on which it would need to be set up. No dependence on “the dreadful performances of union legal firms,” which do exactly what is required of them by the union bureaucrat paymasters. UCATT general secretaries were past masters in this, as Brian had found out personally whilst facing a High Court injunction. Instead, “To have any credibility these will have to be done by independent legal experts and blacklisted members must also have a say in this.” [26]

Brian and I continued to work together, politically and industrially, until the end of his life. After the successful defence of the SR&FT and BWG in 1982, I was invited to speak at some of their meetings in London. These were usually followed by lively socials, on one occasion upstairs in a bar near Kings Cross, with a full Irish republican band! I was able to reciprocate in 1996, by bringing Brian to Edinburgh, following my participation in the local Liverpool Dockers Supporters’ Group. A large and packed meeting was organised in Edinburgh’s grandiose Assembly Rooms. Brian was one of the platform party, along with a Liverpool docker, Women on the Waterfront (WotW) speakers and others. Brian made a bravura contribution, especially appreciated by the WotW speakers.

The initially Broad Left backed, T&GWU general secretary, Bill Morris would have had flea the flea in his ear after Brian’s withering criticism. Morris constantly tried to undermine the Liverpool dockers. The T&GWU, with its 500 Liverpool docker members, was the only union in the International Dockers Alliance not to provide official support. [27] Despite Morris’s Jamaican background, Brian held no illusions that having a black general secretary would make much difference to union members, and that would have gone for women or gay general secretaries too. The issue wasn’t who was at the top, but who controlled the union – the officials or the members. Once New Labour had been elected in 1997 Morris stepped up his attempts to isolate the dockers.  He got his reward, being knighted in 2003 and made a lord in 2006. [28]

With Brian living in Northampton and myself in Edinburgh, there were few chances to become involved in shared actions. I did join Brian on an evening picket line at Wapping in July 1986. However this turned out to be one of the quiet nights! In 1999, on one of Brian’s visits to Glasgow, he came across to Edinburgh to distribute leaflets on the new building site for the Scottish parliament at Holyrood. This job was being run by Bovis, which had backed the blacklisting Consulting Association. Brian had also come into conflict with Bovis over the lack of construction site safety in Milton Keynes in 1997. [29]

The Holyrood building site had a fenced off section with portakabins, where a largely migrant workforce, many from Eastern Europe, stayed. We were able to get into the canteen. Brian spoke to the two workers present, one whom told us there was a union, but most site members did not know they were members! The union had signed a subscription check-off deal with the employer in return for the union’s assistance in keeping the site dispute free! Brian’s leaflet made the case for site self-organisation and how to deal with health and safety concerns. He realised, though, that new leaflets would need to be produced in other languages.

Brian had some sharp words for those self-proclaimed revolutionary parties with their ‘internationals’, and well-financed unions like the T&GWU (the forerunner of UNITE) affiliated to international federations (the ITWF and IUF). They could easily have produced leaflets in several languages. But serious organising amongst migrant workers, with and without papers, would have meant defying both the anti-trade union and anti-immigration laws.

The political chasm between Brian’s approach and those of the Right and Broad Left became clear during the Lindsey Refinery dispute in Lincolnshire in 2009. Here the employers resorted to an imported labour force, entirely made up of Italian workers, who were kept in isolation. There were wildcat strikes by resident oil workers to get more jobs, but no real attempt was made to link with the migrant workers. They were increasingly seen as the ‘enemy’. Strikers, encouraged by then UNITE general secretary, Derek Simpson, resorted to the slogan, ‘British jobs for British workers’. The Labour Chancellor, Gordon Brown, had made this old fascist slogan ‘respectable’. [30] The disgusting term ‘social dumping’ was also used to attack the migrant workers, as if they were garbage.

Back in June 1981, prominent members of the French Communist Party had led a physical attack on a migrant worker sanctuary in Paris. This provided the initial breakthrough for the far right in the city’s Red Belt. [31] Similarly, there has been a continuous political descent, involving a section of the British Left, some of whom became involved in No2EU, and union officials, including those from UNITE, which has contributed to the growth of the right populism of UKIP, the Brexit Party and Tory Right. ‘British jobs for British workers’ remains the underlying theme for many Left Brexiters.  A UNITE member has recently taken the shameful ‘social dumping’ slur into the Labour Party.[32]

Brian, although by now largely immobile, took great heart from the rank and file, Grassroots Left candidate, Ian Allinson standing against Len McCluskey in the UNITE general secretary election in 2018. Ian had issued a statement attacking McCluskey and the right wing candidate, Gerard Coyne, for their capitulation to anti-migrant politics. [33] When I told Brian, that amongst the founders of the First International in 1864 was bricklayer, George Howell, [34] who had joined to organise workers internationally, and to prevent cross-border scabbing, he was very pleased that his own approach solidarity action had such august beginnings!

Brian was also more sanguine than most about the role of the Labour Left, following Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership election victory. He thought as long as prominent trade union officials, like McCluskey, played a central role, then such bureaucrats would limit any potential. This could already be seen in their support for Trident. In return, McCluskey would police his members to enable Labour to hold on to office, in the face of any challenges from below. This was the pattern, during the 1974-9 Labour government, when two major Broad Left-backed general secretaries, Hugh Scanlon of the AEU, and Jack Jones of the T&GWU, used their influence to promote the Social Contract and to break independent working class resistance.

Today, Broad Left, Len McCluskey and the more right wing, Tim Roache (GMB general secretary) are looking for a Labour government to at last bring union officials in from the cold. They want a return, not so much to beer and sandwiches at ‘No. 10’, as in the 1970s, but today more foe canapes and prosecco. Their current infighting is as much to see who would have the greater influence in any future Labour government, than any real Left/Right divide. And McCluskey’s current commitment to a Left Labour leadership could be dropped as easily as it was taken up, if that is what us needed to enhance his influence. Jerry Hicks, an earlier rank and file UNITE general secretary candidate, reminded us that McCluskey once backed Ed Miliband (ensuring his election) over John McDonnell for party leader. [35]

However, Brian did not confine his continued campaigning just to industrial concerns, after he had been incapacitated by the effect of injuries and botched operations. Events in Ireland and Scotland continued to inspire him. He had only once been to Ireland (to the UCATT conference in Killarney), but he been a regular returnee to Glasgow both to see his wider family, and to attend major Celtic games (having Tony Higgins, former secretary of the Scottish Professional Footballers’ Association as his brother, helped!). This was before the fall-off in his visits to the city, due to an inability to travel through growing ill health.

We met up in Glasgow, and sometimes Edinburgh, until Brian could no longer travel. But I continued to visit and stay with Brian and his wife Helen at his home in Northampton. Helen’s hospitality was prodigious, and I rarely needed to have a meal on my drive back to Edinburgh after Helen’s formidable breakfasts, although I was always given a pack lunch anyway! Brian and I also regularly corresponded. He contributed to the Republican Communist Network’s  Emancipation & Liberation blog. [36]

In the early 1990s, whilst still mobile, Brian was involved with others, including myself, in the Scottish Republican Forum (SRF). The SRF was organised to take the republican case for Scottish independence to the Left, at a time when, whatever its political affiliation, it was still overwhelmingly committed to a ‘British road to socialism’. We organised meetings and published pamphlets to promote discussion. Brian wrote an article Settled in England, [37] which is the only piece of writing in which he provides any wider autobiographical information. Unfortunately, Brian never got to write his full story, unlike Dave Douglass, a leading militant in the NUM. Dave has written his own superb three volumes autobiography, a classic piece of working class writing. [38] Brian’s autobiography would have been another.

However, Brian’s involvement in the SRF also followed the major contribution he made in shifting my own politics over the ‘National Question’. In the SWP’s Republican Faction, we had both supported a Federal Republic of England, Scotland and Wales and an independent United Ireland. However, it had become clear that federalism had a long pedigree in the UK and British Empire, and that was as a last ditch option to keep the state together. Gordon Brown provides only the most recent example, in the face of the Scottish independence challenge, with his “federal {UK} state” vow in 2014, [39]. This was soon shown up as another hollow promise.

My own experience as chair of the Lothians Anti-Poll Tax Federation, between 1987-91, had shown me the success of working on ‘internationalism from below’ principles. Independent action was organised first in Scotland, and then taken to England and Wales. (The Tories were smart enough not to try to impose the poll tax in Northern Ireland, in the context of on-going resistance to British repression.)    The anti-poll tax unions defied the state, the Labour Party and trade union officials. Such an approach was not a reflection of the organisational nature of the top down unionist and bureaucratic British state, accepted by the Brit Left, the Labour Party and most trade unions. This new challenge from below was the beginning of the shift of the majority of the Left in Scotland, away from the British road to nowhere. Amazingly, even after the 2016 Brexit vote, and Trump’s ‘Brexit plus, plus, plus’ presidential electoral victory, many of the Brit Left now tail Right populism.

Back in 1989 though, Brian raised another point, which affected my thinking. He said that the Irish experience of oppression and repression, at the hands of the UK state, was not necessarily something unique, justifying socialist support only for Irish independence and national unity. The suppression of democracy, by whatever means the British ruling class and state deemed necessary, was something that people in Scotland and Wales could well face, if their demands for greater self-determination became more serious. With the Brexit vote in the subsequent gallop to the Right, and with reactionary unionism on the rise, [40] highlighted by the Tory/DUP alliance, such a prospect is daily becoming more real.

It was my anti-poll tax campaigning and Brian’s arguments that persuaded me to see the greater relevance of James Connolly’s socialist republican ‘break up of the UK and British Empire’ strategy, and of John Maclean’s early appreciation of this political approach. Brian, with his Irish-Scots (like James Connolly) and Glasgow (like John Maclean) background found this a very easy political step to make.

When I published From Davitt to Connolly in 2010 to provide the historical evidence for this distinct political approach, I wrote a dedication to Brian Higgins – “A Glasgow bear, Celtic mad, Irish-Scottish migrant worker, bolshie brickie, blacklisted militant, republican, internationalist and communist, whose political activity has followed the great tradition of ‘internationalism from below’ established by Michael Davitt, James Connolly and John Maclean.” [40] Brian thanked me. I only wish he had lived to see my second planned volume, From Connolly to Maclean.

Brian took great heart from the Scottish Independence Referendum campaign from 2012-4, and was constantly asking me to update him on the activities of the Radical Independence Campaign, which I became very involved in. [42] He was particularly pleased that working class Glasgow voted for Scottish independence, and the major contribution, the Irish-Scots, once very opposed, had made to this.

Thus it was through rank and file and republican politics that I got to know Brian well and we worked together for forty years. However, when I attended his funeral in Northampton on June 21st, I realised that I had only fully appreciated these two aspects of his life, but there was considerably more to Brian.  Brian’s close family – his wife, Helen, his daughters Monica and Noelle, and his grandchildren Connor, Dylan and Iris – and his wider extended family, were very important in each others’ lives, whether they still live in Glasgow or now in England.

Those of the Higgins family born in Glasgow, even if they have now long lived in England, are still very much Glaswegians, but fully integrated into their communities.  Although their children born in England have local English accents, the reception, held in a Northampton social club, after Brian’s funeral, echoed to Scottish, Irish (and, of course, Celtic) songs, sung by all family members, wherever they were born. And those English neighbours (white and Asian) who attended, lapped up this ‘little bit of Glasgow’ in Northampton. And several of these neighbours, now in their thirties or forties, told us of Brian taking them fishing or other exploits when they were children – ‘the pied piper of Northampton’!

The music chosen for the funeral very much conveyed Brian’s Irish and Scottish roots – The Fields of Athenry by the Dubliners and Robert Burns’ A Man’s A Man by the Corries; his wider internationalism – Three Little Birds by Bob Marley; and finally his world vision – Revolution by the Beatles.

Kenny Irvine, another close BWG comrade and mad Celtic supporter, made us all laugh, at the reception, when he pointed out that the funeral had been held in Wellingborough. Brian had finally defied his ban from the town, imposed by the police and courts, following the picket described by Nigel Jeffrey! [43]

Brian was somebody who linked family, community, trade unionism and his wider politics together. He was a living example of all that is best in the working class and will be sorely missed.

Allan Armstrong, 14.7.19

 

 

References

[1]     David Bell, The Dirty Thirty – Heroes of the Miners’ Strike, pp. 78-9 (Five Leaves, 2009, Nottingham)

 2]     Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain, Blacklisted, The Secret War Between Big Business and Union  (New Internationalist Publications, 2015, Oxford) and Brian          Higgins, Blacklisted (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/04/09/blacklisted/)

[3]     https://www.union-news.co.uk/bsg-pays-tribute-to-the-late-brian-higgins-the-most-blacklisted-building-worker-in-the-uk/

[4]     ibid.

[5]     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consulting_Association

[6]     http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/08/19/major-gains-for-low-paid-at-heron-tower-dispute/ – Brian Higgins and the Anti-Blacklist Success at Brussels

[7]   http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/03/24/undercover-but-within-sites-police-infiltration-of-trade-unions/

[8]     https://libcom.org/library/chapter-5-high-court-writ-served-injunction-threatened

[9]     Des Warren, The Key To My Cell (Living History Library, 2007, Liverpool)

[10]  http://marx.libcom.org/library/rank-file-or-broad-left 

 

[11] http://libcom.org/library/chapter-1-rank-file-construction–  Tony Cliff told to F*** Off!

[12] http://libcom.org/library/chapter-1-rank-file-construction – Tony Cliff told to F*** Off!

[13] http://libcom.org/library/chapter-1-rank-file-construction –   Laings Lock Out Committee

[14] https://libcom.org/library/chapter-1-rank-file-construction – Republican

[15] https://libcom.org/library/chapter-1-rank-file-construction – Capital R&F, United Front Independence

[17] http://libcom.org/library/chapter-7-ucatt-national-delegate-conference-killarney-june-5th-–-9th-2000

[18] http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/02/11/report-of-the-third-global-commune-event/

 [19] ibid.

 [20] http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/09/06/brian-higgins-anti-blacklist-campaign/ – Motion passed by Aberdeen branch of the Oil Industry Liaison Committee

[21] http://libcom.org/library/chapter-1-rank-file-construction  –   Offshore Industry Liaison Committee OILC)

[22] Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain, op. cit. p. 178

[23]   https://libcom.org/library/chapter-3-broad-left-construction-popular-front – Construction Safety Campaign

[24]   http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2019/02/08/a-statement-on-behalf-of-brian-higgins-blacklisted-building-worker/

[25] https://www.union-news.co.uk/bsg-pays-tribute-to-the-late-brian-higgins-the-most-blacklisted-building-worker-in-the-uk/

[26] http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/01/01/collusion-and-betrayal/

[27] Pauline Bradley, A Brief History of the London Support Group in Another World Is Possible – How the Liverpool  Dockers Launched a Global Movement, edited by Pauline Bradley and Chris Knight p27 (Radical Anthropology Group, 2004, London)

[28] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Morris,_Baron_Morris_of_Handsworth# House_of_Lords

[29] http://libcom.org/library/chapter-6-struggle-continues – 1997 UCATT PAYE campaign

[30] http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2009/03/20/browns-appeal-to-british-chauvinism/

[31] https://thecommune.wordpress.com/2009/07/21/frances-cgt-union-doing-the-immigration-polices-dirty-work/

[32] https://www.theredroar.com/2018/01/unite-at-odds-with-labour-leader-over-single-market-membership/

[33] http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2017/01/03/grassroots-unite-leadership-candidate-attacks-mccluskeys-and-coynes-capitulation-to-anti-migrant-politics/

[34] https://spartacus-educational.com/TUhowell.htm

[35] http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/01/23/union-leader-slams-ed-miliband-but-who-put-him-there-in-the-first-place/

[36] http://republicancommunist.org/blog/

[37] Brian Higgins, Settled in England in White Setters or Jockbrits – Who is to Blame? (Scottish Republican Forum, 1995, Edinburgh)

[38] Dave Douglass, Vol. 1 – Gordies Wa Mental, Vol. 2. The Wheels Still in a Spin, Vol. 3 – Ghost Dancers (Christie Books, 2008, 2009, 2010, online)

[39] https://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/gordon-brown-backs-federalism-in-event-of-no-vote-1-3511291

[40] https://allanarmstrong831930095.files.wordpress.com/2019/06/national-populism.pdf. pp. 67-75

[41] Allan Armstrong, From Davitt to Connolly – ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the challenge to the UK state and British Empire from 1879 – 1895 (Intfrobel Publications, 2010, Edinburgh)

[42] https://radicalindyedinburgh.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-story-of-edinburgh-ric.html

[43] see reference 1

 

____________

Brian’s last political statement, 8.2.19

Brian Higgins, a militant in the building industry, first in UCATT and later in UNITE, has been taken into hospital. Brian has been the most blacklisted worker in the UK. For many years before he would have retired, he was unable to get work. This put immense pressure both on Brian and his family, particularly his ever-supportive wife, Helen. Following the public exposure of the blacklist in the building industry, Brian found strong evidence of collaboration between the employers and a UCATT official in his blacklisting. That official cited in a redacted document was Jerry Swain.

Subsequently, Len McCluskey arranged for UCATT to be taken over by UNITE. In the process, Swain was appointed as a full-timer. Brian, the rank and file Building Worker Group and other union members have tried to raise this issue with McCluskey. McCluskey continually brushes the issue under the carpet.

Brian thanks all those who have supported his cause, and the cause of other blacklisted workers. This support has come from many including the Building Worker Group, activists in Grassroots Unite, the Scottish Federation of Socialist Teachers {successor to SR&FT} and the Emancipation & Liberation blog. Until our trade unions have kicked out all those who collaborate with the employers, then our fight for justice, improved pay and conditions and safety at work will be undermined. Despite Brian’s current incapacitation the struggle goes on, and Brian’s supporters will continue to raise these issues.

(http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2019/02/08/a-statement-on-behalf-of-brian-higgins-blacklisted-building-worker/)

________

Other contributions from Brian on the

Emancipation & Liberation blog

See sections 7, 8 and 10 of

FROM FARAGE’S BREXIT TO TRUMP’S “BREXIT PLUS, PLUS, PLUS”, AND ON TO ‘MADAME FREXIT’?

 

WHY NO PITCHFORD ENQUIRY IN SCOTLAND?

 

A STATEMENT FROM BRIAN HIGGINS, SECRETARY OF THE BUILDING WORKERS’ GROUP, ABOUT THE DEATHS IN QATAR

 

BLACKLISTED

 

DAVE WILLIAMS – A TRIBUTE

 

UNDERCOVER BUT WITHIN SITES – POLICE INFILTRATION OF TRADE UNIONS

 

COLLUSION AND BETRAYAL

 

The First Shoots of a New Industrial Fightback?

 

Brian Higgins Anti-Blacklist Campaign

 

Campaign To Fight The Blacklist And To Support Brian Higgins

Rank and File or Broad Left

___________

Other obituaries

Dave Smith, the Blacklist Support Group

https://www.union-news.co.uk/bsg-pays-tribute-to-the-late-brian-higgins-the-most-blacklisted-building-worker-in-the-uk/

Paul Lynch, Northampton Chronicle

https://www.northamptonchron.co.uk/news/people/northampton-bricklayer-who-became-most-blacklisted-construction-worker-in-britain-dies-1-8955980

Marcus Barnett, Morning Star

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/progressives-play-tribute-to-britains-most-blacklisted-construction-worker

 

 

 

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Aug 20 2015

THE SECRET OF ITS WEAKNESS: RACISM AND THE WORKING CLASS MOVEMENT IN BRITAIN

We are posting this  review by Colin Barker (RS21) of Satnam Virdee‘s book Racism, Class and the Racialized Outsider. This book is an important contribution to the debates around race and class. It was first published in the Spring 2015 issue of rs21 magazine. It can also be seen at:– http://rs21.org.uk/2015/03/21/the-secret-of-its-weakness-racism-and-the-working-class-movement-in-britain/

 

THE SECRET OF ITS WEAKNESS:

RACISM AND THE WORKING CLASS MOVEMENT IN BRITAIN

th-5 

Satnam Virdee has written an important book. It is a history of working-class struggles to win economic and social gains, and to gain access to democracy in Britain, viewed through the prism of ‘race’.

From the start, English and then British capitalism was founded on imperial expansion, drawing under its control large parts of the world, and ‘importing’ into its territory large numbers of people from the lands it conquered, colonised and robbed. Yet many accounts of British working class development are silent on the presence and the impact of migrants, their sufferings and resistance, and the vital ‘racial politics’ that shaped both the major waves of popular resistance and the troughs between them.
Continue reading “THE SECRET OF ITS WEAKNESS: RACISM AND THE WORKING CLASS MOVEMENT IN BRITAIN”

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Feb 11 2011

Report of the Third Global Commune Event

Trade Unions – Are They Fit For Purpose?

It was generally agreed by participants that the third Global Commune event, jointly hosted by the Republican Communist Network (RCN) and the commune, on Saturday, January 29th, was a very worthwhile day. Once again, the event was held in the ‘Out of the Blue’ Centre in Leith (Edinburgh) and involved, as well as the organising groups, members of the Independent Workers Union (IWU) in Ireland, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Permanent Revolution, the Autonomous Centre in Edinburgh (ACE), current and ex-members of the SSP, and the Anarchist Federation.

The theme for the day was, ‘Trade Unions – Are They Fit for Purpose?’ There was a shared agreement that the traditional Broad Left strategy for working in trade unions had been shown to be wanting. By and large, Broad Lefts accept the existing union structures and concentrate on replacing Right wing leaderships. However, we now have the situation where new Broad Lefts have to contest old Broad Lefts, which have become as conservative as the leaderships they replaced. This highlights the flawed thinking behind their ‘capture the machinery’ approach.

Mary Macgregor of the RCN chaired the initial and plenary sessions.  The opening platform of speakers consisted of Allan Armstrong of the RCN and the commune, Stuart King of Permanent Revolution, Tommy McKearney of the IWU, Alberto Durango of the Latin American Workers Association (LAWA) and the IWW, and Mike Vallance of ACE. They each put forward different approaches, including organising within or outside existing trade unions, in TUC/ITUC-recognised or independent unions, and the possibility of a strategy involving a mixture of these methods.

Apologies for being unable to attend were given by Brian Higgins of the rank and file Building Workers Group, who is currently involved in the anti-blacklist campaign; and by Jerry Hicks, who has just campaigned on a rank and file platform for the post of General Secretary in UNITE. Therefore, Allan Armstrong, the former Scottish Teachers’ Rank & File convenor provided a rank and file perspective.

Allan used his experience in the Lothian and the Scottish Rank & File Teacher groups. He drew a distinction between a rank and file movement and a rank and file caucus. In 1974/5, the Rank & File Teacher group had been to the forefront of a three month long independent (unofficial or wildcat) rank and file movement of Scottish teachers organised through Action Committees. The central demand was for a £15 a week flat rate pay increase. The Action Committees organised weekly three-day strike action, street activities, large demonstrations, and an occupation of the EIS (the main Scottish teachers’ union) HQ. Negotiations were conducted directly between delegates from the Action Committees and representatives from the Scottish Office at New St. Andrews House in Edinburgh. The teacher delegates were backed by a demonstration outside of striking teachers, whilst the Scottish Office had the backing of the Special Branch (or some other state agency) cameramen on the roof!

The Action Committees held weekly open meetings of striking teachers, and sent flying pickets to other schools to draw them into action. They also worked within the EIS. Many activists were EIS school reps. Eventually there was a palace coup at EIS HQ. This enabled a rejigged union leadership to sanction its own official action. Negotiations were confined once more to union officials and the Scottish Office, much to their mutual relief. Nevertheless, the strength of the independent strike action was enough to force the government to concede the financial equivalent of nearly the whole rank and file movement’s £15 pay demand. However, with negotiations now conducted by EIS officials, the distribution of the money gained was massively skewed in favour of school managements.

The self-confidence gained by teachers meant that further action over the next two years, mostly official, but sometimes involving independent action, was able to win substantial improvements in teachers’ conditions. A new contract clearly defined maximum working hours and class sizes. In the process of these struggles, Scottish education and teacher trade unionism was turned upside down. The employers and union officials were unable to fully reassert their control until the McCrone Deal was implemented in 2001.

After the ending of the initial rank and file movement, around the action over pay in 1975, Scottish Rank & File Teachers continued as a caucus. They campaigned around a very wide range of issues, e.g. pay (for a single salary scale, for flat rate increases), improved conditions (smaller class sizes), for women’s and gay rights, against the use of the belt (the form of corporal punishment in Scottish schools), for the right of school students to organise, for egalitarian educational provision, secular education and support for Gaelic language teaching. They also campaigned to democratise the union – demanding head teachers out and directly elected and accountable union office bearers on the average pay of the members. Most importantly though, they championed the sovereignty of the membership in their workplaces, and defended, and when possible initiated, independent action.

The Scottish Teachers Rank & File caucus was sabotaged by the SWP in 1982, leaving only the Lothian Rank & File group. Later, a Scottish Federation of Socialist Teachers (SFST) brought together the Left once more. However, the SFST became a hybrid Broad Left/Rank & File caucus. Furthermore, the employers had encouraged division amongst teachers by creating a plethora of promoted posts. They also curtailed a vibrant culture of alternative educational thinking amongst classroom teachers, through the top-down promotion of tightly policed ‘educational’ counter-reforms. The Tories’ anti-trade union laws undermined independent strike action, massively aided by trade union officials. However, there was still limited independent action until as recently as the 2003, in protest against the war in Iraq.

Allan summed up by saying that he thought the rank and file approach was still valid in various unions. However, there had been a rapid decline of union membership in many sectors of employment, as well as new areas of work without any union organisation. Union leaderships were often more interested in suppressing any attempts to resist the employers, acting in effect as a free personnel management service for the bosses. Such leaders wanted little more than sweetheart agreements with the employers to ensure a tick-off system of subs collections, primarily for their own benefit. Therefore, socialists should think tactically, and consider when an independent union, or possibly dual official/independent union approach, may be more appropriate than a rank and file caucus approach.

Stuart King of Permanent Revolution then drew on the experience of the early Minority Movement in the trade unions in the early 1920’s. The CPGB’s work in the Minority Movement formed part of the wider work of the Third International, which had organised the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU) in 1920 to conduct united front work within the international trade union movement. Although mostly associated with the official Communist Parties, RILU drew together wider forces within the unions, especially those from a Syndicalist tradition.

Stuart argued that there were some similarities in the early 1920’s to the situation we face today. In April 1921, the two leaderships of the NTWU (later the TGWU) and the NUR, failed to support the miners of the MFGB (later the NUM), in the face of employer imposed wage cuts, despite being part of the Triple Alliance. This ‘Black Friday’ climb-down led to a growing feeling of demoralisation amongst workers. Many left their unions. The Minority Movement launched a ‘Back to the Unions’ campaign, with the intention of getting workers organised to resist the growing employers’ offensive, and to bring the union leaders under the effective control of the rank and file.

Stuart said that we also face a period of retreat today, as existing union leaderships had joined social partnerships with the state and employers. There was also declining union membership. The ‘Awkward Squad’ had also turned out to be not that awkward when it came to effectively challenging the employers and the state. Nevertheless, workers still look to their official unions when it comes to taking defensive action – as recent strikes of civil servants, airline cabin staff and others have demonstrated. This means communists must be active within the existing unions and struggle to bring them under effective rank and file control.

Stuart’s contribution provided a counterpoint to others who emphasised the fundamental differences in the situation we face today, compared to the past. In particular, Tommy McKearney of the Independent Workers Union of Ireland highlighted the major challenges workers now face.

Tommy argued that thirty years of neo-liberal economics have finally done fundamental damage to the system it was meant to promote. Facilitated by globalisation, the enormous transfer of wealth from workers to capitalists has created a situation where consumers in the west no longer have the purchasing power to buy the produce of their own industry and the developing countries have not yet reached a level where they can take up the slack. The contradiction is explicable only by Marxist economists.

What has also happened, almost unnoticed by many commentators, is the collapse of social democracy in the face of the neo-liberal assault and the most recent crisis in capitalism. For a few years the social democratic movements of Europe disguised their collapse by stealing the clothes of the neo-liberals. Tony Blair, Schroder, Mitterand were in reality as far to the right as any Tory or Christian Democrat. In the face of economic collapse post 2008, they could only offer right-wing solutions.

Moreover, the trade union movement that had give birth to and thereafter sustained these parties for almost a century was as ideologically and organisationally bankrupt. There is no longer a viable middle way between socialism and capitalism.

The IWU recognises this fact and has decided to seek out new and more appropriate methods of organisation in order to meet the new challenge. Among other strategic options, the IWU is actively developing a policy of building community and/or social justice unionism. This concept is not new or devised by the IWU but it recognises the need to emphasise the struggle between classes and the need to promote the unity and solidarity of the working people.

Tommy summed up by saying that we are in a new era. There has been a fundamental change in social relationships in the west, and we must recognise this in our ideological analysis, in our policy decisions and in our organisations structures. The IWU may be small but we are confident in our analysis and in our strategy.

Then Alberto Durango gave a thorough and humorous account of his experience as a migrant worker from Colombia now living in London. Migrant workers often had more than one job to make ends meet. This sometimes meant that they could be in more than one union.

Alberto had started as a cleaner in a non-unionised office. First of all, his boss had resorted to Alberto for help, asking him to inform workers who did not speak English that they would have their hours cut and changed. Alberto brought the workers together and told them in Spanish  – “This fucking manager wants to… !” They began to organise, turning first to the T&G. The T&G (now UNITE) organised an official Justice for Cleaners campaign. There were some initial successes against large City of London and Canary Wharf companies. LAWA, which Alberto was very much involved in, was to the forefront of campaigning, and was provided with office space and money by UNITE.

However, there was a limit to how far the UNITE leadership was prepared to push. After organising some demonstrations, it contented itself with signing ‘no further action’ deals in return for minimum pay awards. The employers then started changing workers’ hours and conditions and pressured them over their immigration status. Alberto was sacked, arrested and had his home raided by the police.

UNITE’s leadership wasn’t prepared to challenge this. Therefore, workers had to organise their own independent Cleaners Defence Committee. This had led to an international campaign {including solidarity action in Edinburgh, following Alberto addressing the first Global Commune event}. The UNITE leadership, supported by the local Broad Left, then turned on the workers involved, smearing activists, refusing to back those without papers, and taking away LAWA’s facilities.

In order to organise, LAWA then turned to the IWW. A wider organisation was required to unite migrant workers from many countries. They needed an independent forum for organising, without being directly sabotaged by UNITE officials and the Broad Left. The new IWW cleaners’ branch provided this. However, some cleaners still worked within UNITE too, and had participated in the rank and file campaign to elect Jerry Hicks.

The last of the morning speakers was Mike Vallance. He explained how ACE, with its own premises, had been set up in the aftermath of the successful Anti-Poll Tax campaign. ACE became very much involved in claimants’ campaigns, providing a venue for meeting and socialising, organising support demonstrations and providing advocates to support people in their dealings with various state agencies. ACE also operated as a venue for a wider range of campaigns and various organisations, including the Anarchist Federation. It was also involved in the production and distribution of a number of bulletins and other publications, including the commune.

Currently ACE was involved in the Edinburgh refuse workers’ campaign which was challenging the City Council’s massive cut in pay and worsening of conditions. The Council’s attack was being made under the guise of bringing about ‘parity’ across their workforce. It had begun under the last administration led by the Labour Party, and was continuing under the present Lib Dem/SNP administration. The refuse cleaners’ union, UNITE, was in cahoots with the Council, and they had organised no effective backing, despite the campaign being official. Their main concern was to bring the current official work-to-rule to an end.

ACE had been involved in providing bulletins, posting support stickers, but most of all, in attempts through sit-down actions to blockade scab drivers employed by the Council to break the refuse workers’ work-to-rule. Workers fear that it is the Council’s intention to privatise the refuse collection service, and replace them with non-union workers on lower pay and worsened conditions. Yet, despite the almost total lack of official support, the workers had so far rejected any of the union-backed ‘offers’. In the light of this determination, ACE was hoping to draw others into its solidarity campaign.

This was followed by a short plenary session. Contributions ranged from one participant who said that social democracy had revealed its bankruptcy as far back as the First World War. Matthew Jones of the commune particularly welcomed Tommy’s appreciation that a new political trade unionism was needed after the now evident failure of social democracy and stalinism. In order to maximise participation, the meeting soon broke up into two workshops, with RCN and commune members acting as facilitators and recorders.

After lunch, Paul Stewart and Patricia Campbell of the IWU presented the case for a community or social justice unionism approach. Paul showed a DVD drawing on the experiences of the Kanagawa City Union in Japan. This union organised migrant workers, especially from Latin America. It addresses not only workplace issues, but the wider problems workers face in the community such as racially motivated and domestic violence, sexual harassment, health, welfare and visa problems. It also calls on members to participate regularly in protests outside offending companies. Paul was going to make this DVD more widely available.

Patricia followed this up with a power point presentation (until the technology failed!) of the current work of the IWU in attempting to broaden out union organisation into the communities. The IWU had conducted a participatory survey into the issues that local communities wanted to address. It also sought to address the problems faced by migrant workers. The IWU had already challenged the strong-arm tactics of the PSNI (the revamped RUC) in Armagh City. It had also campaigned on the streets, with red banners, against the DUP/Sinn Fein government’s proposals to limit marches. These would prevent workers from organising their own demonstrations. The IWU had helped to force the authorities to retreat.

The two follow up workshops discussed the possibilities of wider community organising. They also returned to the issue addressed in the morning of whether unions were fit for purpose.

There was a final report-back plenary session with further discussion. The initial platform speakers were provided with an opportunity to say what they thought had been learned and gained from the day. The majority of those in attendance over the day were activists. However, the need for wider forums for strategic debate and discussion, which did not necessarily lead to immediate calls for activity, was nonetheless appreciated.

There was a wide consensus that there was no single approach to organising workers in the complex and changing situation we faced. The long period of working class retreat probably disguised some of the new methods of resistance that were emerging in the face of the current capitalist offensive. It was also acknowledged that learning from wider international experience, especially that of the IWU, had been very useful. There had been differences over whether the situation we now face is altogether different from earlier experiences, and over the longstanding issue of whether ‘to party or not to party’. However, these differences were all aired in a very comradely manner.

A good day was followed by the now traditional Global Commune social session in Wetherspoon’s  ‘Foot of the Walk’, where members from all the organisations present through the day continued their discussions till much later!

Allan Armstrong. 10.2.11

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Sep 06 2010

Brian Higgins Anti-Blacklist Campaign

Updates on anti-blacklisting campaign and Brian Higgins

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Tribunal process grinds on… and on

After months of being involved in the tribunal process, Brian Higgins, with other UCATT and UNITE members, has now reached the stage where he is waiting for a preliminary hearing which will decide whether he has a case that will be heard at a full hearing.  You would think being named on the Consulting Association Construction Database Blacklist (CACD), along with the naming of one of the companies, Laing (now Laing O’Rourke) would be enough for a full hearing. Fraid not.

The wheels of industrial ‘justice’, which are very heavily weighted in favour of the employers anyway, turn ever so slowly, and usually fall off, both for blacklisted trade unionists and for workers in general. Most particularly, when employers want this to be the case and they are clearly slowing things down in the matter of the named blacklisted construction workers versus the CACD and named building employers. Coupled with the fact that industrial tribunals were never meant to deal with something as serious, sinister and political as blacklisting and the attack on and denial of civil, trade union and human rights. No one holds out much hope for any sort of justice via this route. But you have to fail before a British court before you can take your case to the European Court of Human Rights. These cases should be dealt with in a criminal court, but of course it is not a criminal offence to blacklist trade unionists in the UK. This is an absolute disgrace.

British ‘justice’ for building trade unionists – remember Shrewsbury

The British state, building employers and the so-called justice system already have serious form when it comes to building trade unionists organising and fighting for their rights and safety on site. They showed exactly what they think of this when they conspired with MacAlpine to put a group of building trade unionists, who were members of UCATT and TGWU, in jail on trumped up charges at Shrewsbury Crown Court, following the national building workers’ strike in 1972. Des Warren and Ricky Tomlinson got the most severe sentences. Des died prematurely because of drugs – the liquid cosh – they forcibly administer to him, while in prison, basically to try to silence him. This is a campaign going on today to try to clear the names of the Shrewsbury pickets. So it is no surprise that the law continues to allow building employers to get away with conspiring against building trades unionists by the truly appalling use of blacklisting. As a lawyer said, It’s a scandal there is not an effective law against blacklisting.

They also get away with murder

It’s also worth remembering that building employers get away with murder with the killing week in, week out, of building workers in so-called site accidents. So again, it’s really no surprise they get away with blacklisting.

Glenis Willmot, MEP, and leader of EU Parliamentary Labour Party

The only chance of getting any sort of justice for all blacklisted building trade unionists is by going to the European Court of Human Rights, This means going to the European parliament to campaign for a law to outlaw blacklisting EU-wide, and have the UK subject to European law in this regard. Knowing this, Brian got in contact with Glenis Willmot MEP. With the help of Steve Murphy, UCATT Midlands Regional Secretary, Glenis got back to Brian and they now correspond.  She has also put a written question on blacklisting in the UK, and in general, to the European Commission, with the hope of getting a favourable response, If this is achieved, it can be used to campaign for a law against blacklisting in the European Parliament.

Of course, even if the answer is unfavourable, the issue and the need for a Euro-law to cover this, is still the same. Glenis and like-minded MEPs should campaign for a law against blacklisting and blacklists.

Blacklisting is a crime against humanity and any kind of justice, freedom and democracy. It should have no place whatsoever in a modern society, which professes to espouse these values and principles. Surely this cries out for the UK and European Parliaments to make blacklisting a criminal offence and one which sees the perpetrators of this horrific practice punished severely enough to put a stop to this industrial evil once and for all.

Motion passed by Aberdeen branch of Oil Industry Liaison Committee

Blacklisting has always been a curse in both the oil and construction industries. But employers have always denied its existence. However now with the discovery and exposition by the Information Commissioners Office of a list of 3,200 names construction trade unionists held by an organisation entitled The Consulting Construction Database, and naming of so many multi-national construction firms, who used and paid for this blacklist, this has provided undeniable evidence and proof of the blacklist in construction.

The blacklisting by the CACD of Brian Higgins, Secretary of Northampton UCATT Branch, is an example of just how bad blacklisting can get, and will continue to be, for all construction trade unionists if it is not stopped. Bro, Higgins has spent in total about 25 years unemployed as a direct result of the blacklist in construction. An injury to one is an injury to all, we call on the RMT Executive to support all campaigns against the blacklist.

The OILC Branch calls for the Council of Executives to ask RMT-sponsored MO, John McDonnell, to raise Bro. Higgins’s case in Parliament and to work for the existing, toothless law on blacklisting to be massively toughened to deter and punish ruthless, callous employers resorting to this vile and sinister practice that is a denial of human and trade union rights. Blacklisting makes a mockery of all employer/union agreements.

We also ask for the EC to support pursuing the struggle for justice all the way to the European Court of Human rights. Plus a campaign for a European Employment Law which criminalises blacklisting and severely punishes employers who use the practice and which forces guilty employers to pay substantial damages to those they try to blacklist.

Previous article written about this campaign.

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