Trade unionists targeted by spies

AT AN event entitled Undercover Policing and Trade Unions at the University of Greenwich in November, trade unionists, campaigners and academics gathered to hear the state of play of campaigns against blacklisting and state spies in our lives.

Gail Cartmail, Assistant General Secretary of Unite; Helen Steel of the McLibel campaign and Police Spies Out of Lives (www.policespiesoutoflives.org.uk); journalists Rob Evans and Phil Chamberlain; former MP Dave Nellist; Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group and many more spoke at the event.

We focussed mainly on the story that started in 1968 when the Special Demonstration Squad was formed within the Metropolitan Police. It eventually had 140 undercover officers infiltrating and reporting on around 1000 groups, including trade unions, the Labour Party and environmental campaigns. A number of the undercover police started relationships and families with women involved with the campaigns they were "investigating". The SDS operated until at least 2010 - and is now Metropolitan Police unit SO15.

Dave Smith told of a blacklist set up by major construction employers to prevent trade unionists getting work in the industry. He highlighted how evidence came to light showing the police had been providing the employers' blacklisting organisation the Consulting Association with information on trade unionists, helping it prevent them getting work. As Dave said: "I was a trade unionist trying to stop people being killed at work, or concerned about asbestos, or helping people get their unpaid wages - not a terrorist!"

Helen Steel and others told of the devastating effect of finding out that their partners were or had been undercover police officers working against the interests of the causes they supported.

Much information about the issues covered by the event was made available on the day, which saw the launch of www.spycops.co.uk - other excellent sources of information are linked from the online version of this article.

Attendees were clear that the state had treated trade unionists and campaigners going about lawful activities not as democratic opponents but as political enemies - and that this was a wrong which future governments should address.

The government's Undercover Policing Inquiry into all this is taking forever to progress even to the public evidence stage. The conference was concerned that the issue is likely to be kicked into the long grass if there isn't a major injection of political will to see its work completed fully and properly.

  • See a report of a Branch meeting with a lawyer representing targets of undercover policing in June 2016.