Chapter 4: The main unions in construction

Submitted by wojtek on March 12, 2013

The broad left's much bigger brother. I quote Des Warren, the jailed 'Shrewsbury picket', who in his book "Key to my Cell", when writing on his attitude to the trade union bureaucracy and how he saw their role in the struggle for their release, said: "You have to crawl over the trade union officials to get at the employers. Yes we put demands on the trade union officials, but in the meantime praise the lord and pass the ammunition". Quite a healthy attitude to trade union officials.

However, I go in advance of Des and state: "nowadays you have to crawl over the broad left to get at the full-time trade union officials and they won't let you near the employers." We have to choose another route!

It's a complete waste of time putting demands for strike action over victimisation, sackings and imprisonment and such issues of principle on full-time union officials and the TUC for such as Des Warren was asking, as we know that this bureaucracy will capitulate and sell out workers in struggle especially when the law or the threat of it is used.

We should take our R&F demands and campaigns, as should all workers in struggle, directly to rank and file workers and trade unionists in their workplaces, the workplace and not the union being the most basic requisite, because the point of production is the only place workers have real economic power. Workplace sovereignty, control over production - only this can enable them to win all out and difficult struggles against the employers, the courts and the full-time trade union officials who always collaborate with the employers and courts in these situations. Yes, workers need to be continually recruited into the unions, and be prepared to organise and act independent of the full-time officials, and workplace struggles and campaigns are the best way to do this!

It is surely now manifestly obvious that no meaningful battles or advances can be won unless workers are prepared to fight and defy the full-time trade union bureaucracy as well as all the other forces arrainged against them.

However, parallel with this, the BW feels we must mount and support campaigns for the total reform and reclamation of all unions in construction (and everywhere else for that matter) lock, stock, rulebook and barrel from the bottom up. Undoubtedly the only way to do this is with militant R&F site/workplace organisation, policies and action. We rightly urge workers to join the unions. When we do so surely we then have a duty to tell them the state the unions are in and urge them to put the unions under workers' control. Make them subject to workers' democracy and no other - because, rest assured, without democratic workers' unions there can be no real workplace/site democracy and vice versa. It is only when unions are under democratic workers' control that we will be able to really control the conduct of union officials. Given the present grossly undemocratic and corrupt state and nature of the unions we cannot trust, or rely upon, any full time TU Officials.

New independent workers unions? The TUC and its constituent unions are in such a bad state and it's so bloody obvious the bosses and most certainly not the members or workers in struggle who control them that there's some talk about and feeling for the formation of new workers' organisations, independent from the current union establishment, to counter the unholy alliance they have with the bosses and the state. The OILC in the recent past and currently the militant electricians in the AEEU and postal workers in the CWU, who've taken successful industrial action, independent from their full-time officials (in fact as much against them as the bosses), are an embryonic manifestation of the need and desire for new independent workers' organisations/unions.

Workers should owe no loyalty to organisations such as the TUC and constituent unions who've been nothing but disloyal to those they are supposed to represent, particularly in struggle and also when it's blatantly obvious 'corporate trade unionism' (i.e. working hand in glove with the employers and big business, I think they call it 'social partnership') is increasingly becoming the order of the day for the TUC. With the anti union laws and the courts doing most of the ordering!

Witness the sickening sight of the TUC 2000 conference and leaders of its constituent unions and a majority of delegates calling for workers to scab on the blockades and picket lines mounted on oil depots during last year’s extremely popular fuel tax revolt! Witness the nauseating sight of Bill Morris, who’se on the Bank of England Committee which decides interest rates calling on T&G drivers to scab. Most ignored him!

In these circumstances new independent workers' organisations are both a tactical and political question, in fact almost a necessity! Tactically if enough workers decide to form new independent unions in whatever industry then they should be supported and encouraged in this. Politically we would have to call on such workers to ensure any new organisations are a massive (i.e. revolutionary) democratic advance on what they were 'replacing' and that the members of such new unions in the workplaces, where they should have regular mass meetings inside or outside the gate! should exercise absolute democratic and sovereign control over these and all officials at all times. Most especially in struggle. In fact they could only be forged out of and would need to be based on struggle!

UCATT The national UCATT full-time machinery was proven to be corrupt to the core (see more on corruption in next chapter). Unfortunately, but inevitably, this corruption being a political cancer (based on the old political/bureaucratic excuse of needing to 'arrange' the ballot to keep the dreaded communists out) spread to some parts of the rank and file as well. This was covered up by a conspiracy of silence between the broad left, right and centre.

The popular front in UCATT! Look at how they collectively conspired to cover up the results and findings of 'The UCATT Inquiry' and prevented these being shown to the UCATT membership for deliberation and whatever discipline they democratically decided was necessary. Many expulsions would have followed.

Most of the corrupt UCATT national officials of that era, approximately 1984 - 94, were voted into office on a broad left ticket - as were many regional ones. For example, the last General Secretary, the notorious Albert Williams. Also Charlie Kelly and Jack Henry who sat on the Executive Council which was proven to be utterly corrupt. The current General Secretary George Brumwell sat on the same EC as Kelly and Henry. Kelly was voted on to the next EC, with broad left support, in 1991 and sat on this with fellow broad left officials John Flavin, and Peter Lenihan and, although not associated with the corruption of the previous EC, apart from Kelly and covering up for it, to be honest it was not a lot better for the membership than the one they replaced. They got their comeuppance when voted out of office by the membership - as you'll read in the next chapter.

Dominic Hehir of the broad left (one time the darling of it!) and High Court infamy has done so many unprincipled somersaults that he more resembles a circus acrobat than a UCATT Regional Official. Apologies to acrobats everywhere! The financial corruption and ballot rigging might have gone but the political cancer malingers on and, as it has not been surgically and incisively removed, because of the cover-ups, the remaining cancerous cells continue to eat into and destroy the democratic body politic of the union.

This refusal to decisively deal with and remove the political malaise has led to and takes the form of the insidious destruction of democracy within the union, where the General Secretary George Brumwell, with the acquiescence of the current UCATT EC, is stripping away all remaining vestiges of democracy in the union and concentrating and centralising ever more bureaucratic power in his hands, with the support of the broad left for a system which see's him appointing, and thus in control of ALL national and regional full time officials in UCATT. How long before he appoints the EC who are currently elected in a national (i.e. UK and Ireland wide) postal ballot? Talk about 'Turkeys voting for Xmas'!! Such is the disgraceful and pitiful state of UCATT. Who can blame workers for wanting alternatives to such as this?

TGWU Before anyone says "Ah, but the TGWU is not as bad" - they do not even elect their regional officials. This is a gross corruption and dereliction of democracy. To my knowledge and that of quite a few others, all TGWU construction regional organisers and national officials have done, and are doing, dirty deals as much as their UCATT counterparts. I've some personal experience of being brutally sold out by Henderson, O'Neill, Blenerhasset and Crase in the Laings Lock Out in 1986. To my knowledge they are all still with the TGWU.

During the 'Laings Lock Out' in 1986 while me and another lad involved in it were talking to Brian Crase in the TGWU Offices in Tooley Street I noticed Crase was wearing a Laings tie. He was telling us how he advised Laings not to take out an injunction against us as we'd probably ignore it. He was right on that! I playfully pulled his tie and reminded him Laings were poised to put us in jail while he was cavorting about in their tie and I asked him to remove it. I think he did.

AEEU Misled by the benighted Sir Ken Jackson, their regional officials are also appointed but of course thanks to the 'Golden Jubilee Boys' and the militant sparks the bold Sir Ken, who infamously told the 1998 TUC Conference there was not need for workers to go on strike and then the sparks did exactly that!, is not as much in control of his troops as he'd like to be or imagines he is!

Corruption in UCATT

- The UCATT Inquiry and the 1994 National Delegate Conference

I've put this small section after 'The Unions in Construction' to avoid confusing other construction unions [although they're bad enough!] with corruption in UCATT. I've also 'separated' the subject matters and give them a section of their own as they warrant this.

The first thing to register and state categorically is that the BWG and Northampton UCATT branch are the only two organisations in the industry which have ceaselessly, openly and democratically campaigned against the corruption which engulfed and was rampant in UCATT from 1984-94. We are also the only two organisations who exposed much of this, NAMING NAMES in the process, within UCATT and in the 'Building Worker' paper. We continue to fight the after effects of this corruption today.

The broad left has always displayed extreme sectarianism towards us. However a section knew they desperately needed our support against the (broad left!!) UCATT Executive Council who were intent on taking UCATT into TGWU and they ensured that two of us in the BWG, Kenny Irvine and myself, were delegates to the 1994 UCATT National Delegate Conference. The broad left largely controlled the system for electing delegates to conference and still largely does although their influence isn't as strong today due to quite a few retiring and no one replacing them at present. A 'dying breed?' Perhaps physically but not politically!!

The UCATT inquiry - Hand report - ‘hand job’. The UCATT Inquiry' was set up by the EC of that day after an extremely damaging programme on Channel 4 'Dispatches' in May 1991 called 'The Ballot Fixers' which was a massive expose of, naming names of many involved in ballot rigging in the union.

Ostensibly the EC announced the inquiry was set up to investigate and root out the corruption and corrupters or words to that effect. Bullshit, we said, some of the corrupters would be in control of the inquiry and the evidence presented to it. It's a bloody cover-up!!

Two lawyers, John Hand QC and Jennifer Eadie, conducted the inquiry on behalf of the EC, which those wretches on the EC had the audacity to call 'Independent', honest! Albert Williams, the General Secretary when it was set up, had total control over the EC and thus inquiry and he was under investigation! George Brumwell then assumed control via his control of the EC when he first became General Secretary. Yet he also must have been under investigation as he was on the EC which the Channel 4 programme quite openly and clearly accused of orchestrating the ballot rigging along with Williams. Independent? Don't make us puke we said.

Eventually a report and the findings of 'The UCATT Inquiry' was produced and called 'The Hand Report', which we christened 'The Hand Job' (by the EC and General Secretary), as this did not contain the 55 page report on the financial aspects of 'The UCATT Inquiry'.

This contained and contains damning evidence of financial corruption yet to this day has been kept from the membership of the union. Democracy demanded and still demands, in fact screams out, they see and are able to deliberate on this.

VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE. The BWG somewhat managed to counter the cover-up of the financial report and general secrecy (freemasons would be proud of!) surrounding the whole Inquiry. A copy of the 55 page financial report was sent anonymously to me and we took it to the members we could reach via Northampton UCATT Branch, the 'Building Worker' paper, the 1994 National Delegate Conference and on the sites where the paper was sold.

I moved a resolution from Northampton UCATT to the 1994 Conference which proposed a vote of no confidence in the EC for their handling of 'The UCATT Inquiry' and 'Hand Report'. A show of hands (nae pun intended!) was too close to call by the chair John Flavin. He was forced by the floor to call for voting cards to be held up and tellers appointed to count the votes. The EC and General Secretary who were on the platform had a decidedly uncomfortable half hour until it was announced the motion had fallen, but not by much! White handkerchiefs wiping sweaty palms and brows were much in evidence on the platform. Some of the broad left on the floor were sweating quite a bit as well, after all they'd helped 'to put the platform' in office! Once more we'd proved we might be small but we are a force to be reckoned with!!

We produced an anti-corruption special issue of the 'Building Worker' paper for the conference and it is no exaggeration to write we almost took the conference by storm. The banner headline of this paper was "Save UCATT, Sack the Executive Council".

In the spring of 1995, 87% of the UCATT members who voted supported the removal of the sitting full time Executive Council (EC) and for their replacement with a lay one. A tremendous vote and result and one which was enormously heartening for the BW Group. We do not claim sole responsibility for the removal of that EC but the vote proved we were very much in touch with the feelings of the vast majority of UCATT members on this issue. Our campaign had put tremendous pressure on and exposed the EC and was partly responsible for their removal. Not bad for a tiny wee R&F Organisation.

However, to show we have our feet planted very firmly on the ground and in political reality, we have warned all who read our literature, a change of personnel alone, be it lay or full-time, essentially alters nothing. Only new policies and the struggle for these can alter things in favour of the rank and file and democracy.

Not one official named in 'The Hand Report', including the 55 page financial one, as being guilty of dubious conduct or practice (euphemisms for corruption) was or has been disciplined or punished in any way for this.

Some are still in the union! Of course we continue to call for records and files held at UCATT's General Office and ALL evidence presented to and a part of 'The UCATT Inquiry' to be opened up and made available to the membership and investigated by a fully representative lay committee elected specifically for this purpose. The perpetrators of this horrendous corruption and its cover-up have gone 'scot free'. The membership have been excluded from any real knowledge of the inquiry and its aftermath and from democratically deciding who and how, they should be punished as well as how the union should be restructured and reformed to ensure this doesn't happen again, UCATT is in terminal decline.

I'm positive our continual campaigning on the issue of corruption in UCATT and the need to root out and punish the guilty, and don't tell us building employers were not involved, was one of the reasons the High Court Writ and threat of an injunction was served on me in 1996 in an attempt to silence us. But 'the struggle continues', exposition of corruption included!!