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Blacklisting: the scandal continues

1 Feb
by Sarah Glenister

It is shameful that so little has been done to acknowledge the scandal of blacklisting and scandalous that even less has been done to compensate those who have suffered from this vile practice. Last week the Institute of Employment Rights released a comprehensive resource document on blacklisting.

Last week saw an opposition debate in Parliament on blacklisting in the Ruined Livesconstruction industry which called for an immediate investigation into the extent of the practice and an assurance “that appropriate and effective sanctions are in place to tackle and prevent blacklisting”.

During the debate, many passionate speeches were heard from Labour MPs, some of whom have themselves been the victims of blacklisting, and many of whom know of constituents who have had their livelihoods snatched away from them by the practice.

With evidence coming to light through the Scottish Affairs Committee’s Inquiry that the police and the Security Service colluded with the activities of blacklisters in the construction industry, and that blacklisting practices have been rife in public works, including the construction of the Olympic Park, it was also argued that a Leveson-style inquiry must go ahead. Blacklisting has been given important exposure by the Scottish Parliament and we must congratulate MSPs for their determination in forcing this issue up the political agenda.

But the practice of blacklisting is not restricted to the UK alone. The construction companies identified as participating in the blacklisting operation include household names based and operating across Europe including: Skanska (Sweden), Bam (Netherlands), Vinci (France), Laing O’Rourke (Ireland), Sir Robert McAlpine, Balfour Beatty, Kier, Costain, Carillion (UK) to name but a few. It is important therefore that European wide action is taken in response.

The Blacklist Support Group and Professor Keith Ewing of the Institute of Employment Rights fought hard to bring blacklisting to the attention of the EU Commissioner in 2011 and there is now much work taking place at the European level with Stephen Hughes MEP and Glenis Willmott MEP taking up the issue in the European Parliament.

In the light of recent evidence and based on the information gathered in Scotland, EU and now at Westminster, we believe the current blacklisting Regulations now need to be strengthened in the following ways:

  1. There should be a positive right not to be blacklisted and workers who find themselves on a blacklist should have an automatic right to compensation without the burden of proof being placed upon them.
  2. A retroactive compensation scheme should be established to compensate blacklisted workers.
  3. Protection against blacklisting should be extended to include “trade union related activities”.
  4. Blacklisting should be a criminal offence and companies who make use of blacklists should be open to criminal prosecution.
  5. The government’s recently announced Advisory Council for the Construction Industry should be a tripartite body.

Last week the Institute of Employment Rights released a comprehensive resource on blacklisting which looks at the historical practice, Government responses, the legal context, evidence from various investigations and case studies. This resource is free and we encourage you to share it widely.

This post was originally published by Class.

A Burns Supper – An Immortal Memory

27 Jan

by Karie Murphy

In 1801 in Alloway in Ayrshire, nine people gathered at the cottage where Robert Burns was born to remember their friend. That was the first Burns Supper.

We celebrate Robert Burns – his words and his motivations. Hopefully we can apply his humanitarian values to our own lives.

To make his humanitarian example a force for good  and, of course, to enjoy ourselves.

As the great man himself wrote in ‘Friars Carsh Hermitage’

“Let prudence bless enjoyments Cup, then

raptured – sip and sip it up”.

This annual celebration of Burns in Scotland and throughout the world – now ranks as the second most celebrated Birthday in the history of mankind.

So, too, “Auld Lang Syne” is the second most sung song in the world, where “Happy Birthday” takes first place.

This is truly remarkable.

But why is this so?

In my view it’s because of Burns’ breadth and vision; through his songs, his poems, his universally quoted lines. Burns’ politics were radical. Much of his best poetry is politically subversive. His satire is withering, revealing himself as a true opponent of cant hypocrisy and injustice. In this respect, he sits with Thomas Paine, William Cobbett and Wordsworth.

Burns was utterly against hypocrisy and injustice. He was – and is – a victim of it. The Government pensioned slaves of Burns’ time – essentially “betartaned” Tory unionists – did a pretty good hatchet job on Burns. As they did to Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft.

Burns, as a direct result of a continual stream of publications and character assassinating obituaries, has been devalued being described as a writer of  “The safe and pastoral”.

He wasn’t. He was a radical political poet.

Revolutionaries have sought solace in the insights of Robert Burns. The bold German duo of Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Leibnecht – the Bonnie and Clyde of the Spartacus League –  were both devotees of Burns. When executed by the German state 94 years ago, Karl Leibnecht had in his pocket a translation of the Burns’ line:

“That man to man the world o’er
Shall Brothers be for a’ that.”

Robert Burns was never an uneducated ploughman. He was a skilled poet – able to suit his style to the occasion and to his purpose. Whether it was the traditional Scottish Stanza – as in, “To a Mouse”,  or to exploit the sophisticated English Stanza as in, “The Cotter’s Saturday Night”.

He would cleverly adopt the language to his objective, and his works resonate with important themes. His faith, that a democratic culture depends on a willingness to take seemingly modest people and their ideas seriously. Burns led a vision of seeking, and relating, to a living community of people and ideas.

This deepens and broadens our sense of who we are, and who we can be.

Had they been around in his time, Burns would have been a natural trade unionist. His confidence in ordinary folk has, inevitably, been appropriated and bastardised by unsavoury elements like the Scottish pro-consuls who have ruled Scotland from Prime Minister Pitt – during the lifetime of Robert Burns – to our own previous Prime Minister – the fetishist Tony Blair.

Each have attempted to exploit the appeal of Burns. They have failed, and will always fail – for Robert Burns speaks to and for ordinary women and men.

The imagination of Rabbie Burns was energised by the American and then the French Revolutions. To understand Burns without these radical commitments is akin to writing about W.B.Yeats without mentioning Irish nationalism.

In New York in 1842, Ralph Waldo Emerson gave a lecture entitled “The Poet”, he told his audience:

“Art is not as much about formal technique as it is about the ability of the artist, in strong clear language, to reveal beauty in the unlikeliest of places”

Ralph went on to confess, “But I look in vain for the poet I describe”.

Not for long. That poet already existed. His name was Robert Burns whom Emerson was later to describe as, “an important figure in world literature, whose works are the property and solace of mankind”.

In the audience that night, listening to Ralph Waldo Emerson was a twenty three year old journalist. Walt Whitman – a direct inheritor of Burns’ Baton. Walt Whitman distilled that inheritance when he described the purpose of his work.

“The Art of Art;

The glory of expression;

The sunshine in the light of letters is simplicity,

Nothing is better than simplicity”.

These were the watchwords of Walt Whitman. This is the essence, today, of the appeal of Robert Burns.

And we can trace that appeal most noticeably in North America. In Whitman, in John Steinbeck and, without being fanciful, in The Boss, Bruce Springsteen.

Steinbeck’s great novel “Of Mice and Men” comes from the same line in Burns’ poem as Sydney Sheldon’s “The Best Laid Plans”. Sheldon is the most translated author living today. From just one line of Burns’ poem “To a Mouse” – we’ve got two titles of blockbuster novels.

Steinbeck’s exposure of the impact of the Depression on agricultural workers was galvanising: creating films, concerts, photo exhibitions, radio broadcasts, and a whole new canon of song.

Through Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan to Springsteen, we experience the themes of Burns’ output. The outrage and injustice of Robert Burns, his distress of poverty, the whole notion of solidarity, and the pain of love.

The similarities are chilling.
Hungry Heart” by the Boss reeks of the frustration of a relationship doomed from the outset. Most popular music is about the downside of loving relationships. “Love Hurts” by R.E.M., “Only the Lonely” by Roy Orbison, “Yesterday” by Lennon and McCartney. And Islington’s sweetheart Adele could bring a tear to a glass eye with “Someone like You”. No one as yet has written as poignantly of the pain of love than Burns in “Ae Fond Kiss”.

“But to see her was to love her

Love but her, and love forever”.

‘Ae Fond Kiss’ the title to the 2004 film by Ken Loach, the most radical and honest left-wing filmmaker of our generation… who incidentally was with us this week campaigning for justice for the Shrewsbury pickets. But enough of fighting let’s get back to love….

Of his doomed love for Mrs McElhrose he wrote         

         “Had we never lov’d sae kindly

         Had we never lov’d see blindly

         Never met – or never parted

         We had ne’er been broken-hearted”.

Truly heart rending: Burns at his best. The theme of honesty runs through his poems and songs and letters. A virtue much lauded by Burns. Burns could be devastatingly honest about himself. Let me quote his letter to Peggy in January 1788: This is what Burns wrote to Peggy:

“God have mercy on me
a poor damned incautious

         Duped unfortunate fool!

         The sport, the miserable victim of
rebellious pride,
hypochondriac imagination,

         Agonising sensibility,
and bedlam passions”.

And to finish off the mea maxima culpa, he writes on 2 March 1790

“God knows I am no saint
I have a whole host of follies

         And sins to answer for.”

Burns never confused artifice with reality. He confronted things as he saw them. With so much heat and indiscretion as to raise a hue and cry of heresy: He covered controversy. Brilliant repartee: Lionised and patronised by society, Sir Walter Scott recalled that his eye literally glowed when Burns spoke.

         “I never saw another such eye in a human head –
         though I have seen the most distinguished men in my time”.

Sir Walter Scott modestly added.

         “That eye was also for the women too”.

No doubt Robert Burns would have been referred by his contemporaries mothers as that Robert Burns, as in

“You’re not going out with that Robert Burns”.

“You keep away from that Robert Burns”.

Robert Burns’ work lives on. Relevant today as it was over 200 years ago. His openness, his honest insights, and genius serve us well. HIs work is timely, too. In attacks by the Daily Mail and The Sun, as we face the demonisation of the working class, Burns’ words in his glorious song “For A That and A That” ring true indeed.

“The rank is but the guineas’ stamp
The man’s the gowd for A that”.

Perhaps it’s common touch and common sense, put pithily and perceptively, that epitomises the global appeal of Robert Burns. Justifiably, Scots feel a special pride in Burns. But he was never simply a Scottish poet. He was a poet for all seasons. The Scots Bard is also the Bard and benefactor of humanity. His songs. His poems. And his birthday celebrated all over the world.


Karie Murphy is standing for selection as the first Unite candidate in Falkirk, Scotland. 

The Spirit Level – a documentary film

22 May

This is your chance: the film which will change the political debate and make the world a better place. Its message: equality works. Tax the bankers, cut the pay of the people at the top and pay more to the nurses, the cleaners, the MacDonald’s worker, the supermarket check-out staff, (well, let’s be frank – 90% of us) and the world will be a happier place, the economy will be more successful and we will live longer.

The gap between rich and poor is at its highest level for 30 years. Over the last year there have been protests from Cairo to New York to London – now it’s time for action, and a documentary is the most powerful way we can raise awareness and mobilise people.


“The Spirit Level” is an award-winning book which uses rigorous analysis of 25 years of research to show how a more equal society is better for all of us, including the rich.  It shows how nearly all social ills – stress, poor educational performance, high crime rates, unwanted teenage pregnancies – are more common in those societies with a big gap between rich and poor.

Lynsey Hanley in the Guardian said, It’s impossible to overstate the implications of (this) thesis”,  The Economist stated “It is a sweeping claim, yet the evidence, here painstakingly marshalled, is hard to dispute”. The New Statesman listed it as one of their top ten books of the decade. It’s impact has been so great that it has provoked numerous attacks from  organisations that support low taxes for the rich such as the Taxpayers’ Alliance (“we oppose all tax rises”) and Policy Exchange (“the most influential think tank on the right”)


Inequality has suddenly become an issue politicians and commentators are talking and writing about, even the International Monetary Fund. Min Zhu, a deputy managing director of the IMF said in November 2011: “We see concerns about the link between tax and social justice almost everywhere we look. In the Occupy movement; in the Arab spring; in the debates on George Bush’s tax cuts in the U.S., on how to distribute the pain of austerity in Europe.” Min was saying this at a time when the IMF published a report saying that taxes should be used to reduce inequality, which their report showed was bad for economic growth.

The argument is being heard right now, with battles over austerity in Greece, and Obama saying “no challenge is more urgent” than inequality in the US.


Documentary films have the power to have a huge impact: An Inconvenient Truth created global awareness of climate change. The End of the Line, about the threat of over fishing, helped force companies and governments to change their policies through screenings at the United Nations, the European Commission, and US House of Representatives. Our executive producer was the driving force behind this film, and everything that we learnt from this, and other films since, about creating a social network to disseminate and distribute a film will be used on The Spirit Level.

We will make a film that is talked and written about, that gets into cinemas and televisions, so millions can see it. And, most importantly, this will help us achieve real, tangible change in policies and attitudes.

We strongly believe we are at a tipping point and a big international documentary about the need for greater equality can make a big difference.


The film will mix observational documentary, animation and commentary from leading world figures in politics, economics and health, to tell the story of how chasing the capitalist dream of materialism has led us to the point of social, economic and environment collapse. It confronts the critics, exposes the inconvenient truths, and puts forward a manifesto for a better world.

Filmed across the globe, we see at first hand how people in different countries – including Sweden, Portugal, the USA and UK,  are tackling the same basic issues but with different results and why the differences are due to inequality. We will tell the human stories of fear and empathy, of gated communities, the huge rise in anxiety, fatter populations, street gangs, and the lives and futures of our children. It is through the stories and voices of the people in the film that we get a window into how the tide of inequality is affecting us in the developed world.

Over the course of the film, we will hear from expert voices in academia, politics and journalism as they weave together these human stories with hard evidence to explain why we’ve bought into chasing economic growth, and how this has led to rising inequality in our societies.

The film’s clear purpose is to achieve social change. It is linked to a campaign and has clear “asks” at the end of the film: what you can do as a consumer, what you can do as a citizen and what you can do as a campaigner.


There has been an enormous amount of support from organisations and individuals for the film and its message – ensuring we have a solid foundation for wide distribution. Because we have the film rights to the book and the full co-operation of its authors, we’ve also done an enormous amount of research. Now we need to raise the money to hire a professional film crew to start filming here and overseas – and we hope to raise £30,000 in this campaign (that’s 50,000 dollars)

It’s a lot of money by crowd funding standards but then over 100,000 people have bought the book. You can make this film happen by pre-buying the down load of the film. Just 2,500 people worldwide need to pay £12 (20 dollars) for this now, and we will achieve our target. This may seem to be a lot of people, but we are appealing for supporters in all the countries of the world where the book has been sold. And you can give more if you want – see the different ways to support the film opposite.


It really isn’t. Yes, we do need it (for obvious reasons), but whether you can support us financially or not you can help us by spreading the word via facebook, twitter and blogs.

This film is about a movement and a campaign, and by participating, you can help make it happen. Together, we can do for public understanding of inequality what An Inconvenient Truth did for the public understanding of climate change. A better life is possible for all of us.

TELL your friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, students about this campaign and share this page:

SHARE it through Facebook

SHARE through Twitter with our handle @SpiritLevelDoc

SIGN UP to our mailing list for updates on the campaign as it progresses


If you believe in a better future for everyone, please help us get the message out.

 Katharine Round, Director

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