Exposing the dirty secret behind the construction hoarding and scaffolding

Issue date: 09 March 2015

book cover

A new book co-authored by Phil Chamberlain from UWE Bristol names and shames those who orchestrated the blacklisting of thousands in the construction industry.

Entitled Blacklisted: The Secret War between Big Business and Union Activists, the book is by Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain, who is Associate Head of UWE's Department for Broadcast and Journalism.

Between 1993 and 2009, the biggest construction companies in the UK funded a secret spying operation based in an anonymous building in the West Midlands. Its purpose – to create a classified blacklist of individuals whose behaviour was deemed a threat to the “smooth running” of the building industry and, in turn, prevent them from gaining employment on other construction sites. For thousands of individuals across the UK the effects of what one MP has called “the worst human rights scandal of the post war era” has been devastating.

In their powerful and thoroughly researched new book (one that has taken seven years to get to publication and in which everyone from company directors to QCs, trade union secretaries to the Prime Minister have had their say), Phil Chamberlain and Dave Smith, a victim of blacklisting and Chair of the Blacklist Support Group, lift the lid on the shameful and immoral practices that went on behind the scaffolding and name and shame those who helped to orchestrate the blacklisting of so many.

Through hundreds of interviews with both blacklisted workers and others involved - from Special Branch spies to company representatives, union members to the spying organisation's bookkeeper - Blacklisted exposes the human stories behind the secret war between corporations and activists, divulges the involvement of the security services in maintaining these blacklists and reveals the legal, parliamentary, media and corporate failings which have meant that despite exposure, to date, only one person has been held to account.

John McDonnell MP concludes in his foreword to the book, “There is still a long way to go to secure justice for the blacklisted workers and to bring to book those blacklisting companies and their directors who scarred the lives of so many workers and their families. Nevertheless, a start has been made and this book will make a major contribution to securing the righting of an appalling wrong.”

Phil Chamberlain has 20 years' experience as a journalist. He has written for a number of national newspaper and magazines, primarily on social policy issues. He is currently a senior lecturer in journalism at UWE where he specialises in investigative journalism. It was his article for the Guardian in 2008 on blacklisting which led to the exposure of the blacklist. No other journalist has followed the story as closely nor written more about it not spoken to as many people involved. Phil is an experienced public speaker as an academic, as a journalist and as a prospective parliamentary candidate for the Green Party.

Dave Smith is an ex-construction worker from East London. He was blacklisted for his union activities after he complained about unpaid wages and raised concerns about safety issues such as asbestos. He is the secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, the campaign body that represents blacklisted workers and has given evidence to the parliamentary Select Committee investigation into blacklisting. Dave has a test case awaiting hearing at the European Court of Human Rights and is one of the lead cases in the High Court group litigation on blacklisting. It was evidence at his Employment Tribunal that exposed the police link to blacklisting. Dave is an experienced public speaker in conference, academic and festival settings.

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