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Did Labour MP help Thatcher spy on unions?

Spellar urged to clarify whether he assisted Tories as an EETPU official – Bethany Rielly reports

A SERVING Labour MP has been urged to clarify whether he helped Margaret Thatcher’s government spy on left-wing trade unionists. 

Lawyers for the Blacklist Support Group (BSG) have written to John Spellar MP, a former minister in Tony Blair’s government, seeking clarification on his potential involvement in secret meetings between Norman Tebbit and a leader of electricians’ union EETPU in the 1980s. 

The Tory peer recently revealed that he had met with a leader of the now-defunct union while he was Thatcher’s employment secretary, seeking advice on how to deal with left-wing trade unionists. 

Appearing unannounced at a parliamentary Zoom meeting on the Undercover Policing Inquiry, Lord Tebbit also admitted that he had received regular briefings from Special Branch on union leaders. 

Suspicion soon turned on Mr Spellar, a senior official in the EETPU at the time, who campaigners said had a close relationship with the union’s leadership.

Mr Spellar was re-elected as MP for Warley in 2019 and held various ministerial posts in Mr Blair’s government. 

The lawyers’ letter says it is understood that Mr Spellar was EETPU’s political officer between 1969 and 1992. 

“If that understanding is correct, it follows that you would likely have been involved in meetings with the Secretary of State for Employment,” the letter reads. 

“As such, our client considers that you may hold information relating to these meetings that could be of importance to the work of the Undercover Policing Inquiry.”

It urges the MP to clarify what his role was in setting up the meetings between Lord Tebbit and the EETPU, whether he attended them and if documentation relating to the meetings exists.

Mr Spellar had not responded to requests for comment as the Morning Star went to press.

Lord Tebbit told the Star that meetings were held both at his home and at his ministerial office at the request of union officials, but he did not comment on who those officials were.

He also said that he did not think the meetings were officially minuted. 

The EETPU was expelled from the TUC following its role in undermining the print unions in the Wapping dispute of 1986. It had only two general secretaries, Eric Hammond and Frank Chapple. The latter was ennobled after being nominated for a peerage by Thatcher.

The union was accused of giving names of left-wing trade unionists to a blacklist firm, resulting in them being kept out of work. BSG is also seeking answers as to whether information gathered by spycops was passed on to such firms. 

BSG secretary Dave Smith said the EETPU “abandoned the most basic principles of trade unionism and openly colluded with the employers.

“If John Spellar, as a senior national official of the EETPU for nearly 25 years, had any knowledge or involvement in these secret meetings with Tebbit, then he should own it. The whole labour movement would like to hear the story.”

Former EETPU members told the Star that they believed Mr Spellar was behind much of the union’s decision-making.

Blacklisted electrician Sandy MacPherson said: “We called Spellar the poison dwarf — he was Chapple’s right-hand man. I don’t think there was much Chapple did that he wasn’t behind.

“I used to get disciplinary warnings, and always under Chapple’s signature it was JFS — John Francis Spellar.

“So I can imagine he was certainly involved in the Tebbit stuff in one way or another.”

Former member Stevie Stevenson told the Star that the right-wing leadership of the union, including Mr Spellar, had sought to isolate its left wing during the 1980s. He recalled how the more left-wing branches of the union were closed.

Those running it had “total control,” he said. 

“Unfortunately, without the EETPU, I dont think Thatcher would have been as successful as she was in destroying traditional craft unionism,” he added. 

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